Journal of Romance Studies

This is not a photo opportunity: verbal/visual struggle in Francophone travel narratives

Journal of Romance Studies (2013), 13, (1), 65–92.

Abstract

This article explores the ethics and aesthetics of representing travel and intercultural encounter in textual and photographic forms. Taking as its starting point two textual accounts of journeys in the course of which photographic narratives were also produced, the article explores the possibilities and limitations of textuality and visuality and thus considers the implications of, or new opportunities afforded by, reading – and ultimately publishing – these narratives as iconotexts. Focusing on Pierre Loti’s L’Inde (sans les Anglais) (1901) and Ella Maillart’s Oasis interdites (1937), the article also offers an alternative perspective on writers whose work is commonly associated with an imperialist or exoticist discourse, with cliché and one-dimensionality. As such, it aims to replace the monolithic, orientalist vision often attributed to these writers with ambiguity, ethical hesitation and a plurality of perspectives. Using these examples as a springboard, the article seeks to argue that verbal/visual mobility in narratives representing mobility contributes to resisting static, monolithic perceptions of other cultures. Using the work of British graffiti artist Banksy as a foil for exploring photography as cultural commodification and art as commodity, the article also seeks to engage with current debates in Humanities research on ekphrasis and iconotextuality and on the problematics of representing other cultures within an ethical and/or humanist frame.

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Topping, Margaret