Memory and Landscape: Travel Writing by 1ywq6g


									                       Memory and Landscape: Travel Writing

                                     Draft: do not cite
                 pp 1-2 of 13, for full article contact


Place is a strong trigger for individual and corporate memory. I may remember
Waterloo, even though I’ve never been to Belgium. Along with sound, smell and
facial recognition, place can impact us in ways beyond cognitive recall. We can have
both a vague sense of having been somewhere before, and an unusually sharp re-
recognition of a particular building or scene. Travel writing in the Chinese context is
both a creative act, a laying down of immediate reflections along an itinerary, and a
passive recall of others’ descriptions of a place; it refers to the land and the observer’s
gaze, the physical landscape and the meaning of place. The resultant text is a third
entity: a diary which combines self-reflection with historical memory, and prompts
the reader’s own participative recall. Although the route may be fixed, travel writing
is one of the freest forms of literature, in that it follows the peregrinations of the
observer’s inward gaze at the same time as it takes in the undulations of the landscape.
As biji, travel diaries were relatively unrestrained by expectations of form and topic;
as novels, they may slipstream between factual and imagined reflection. (Literary and
fictional travels diaries have usually been studied as separate entities, but as this
chapter explores, there are greater differences across texts than within types: and the
site of authority of reflexive consciousness in the text is an important consideration
for all travel writing.
         The classification of travel diaries by dynasty and genre has created an
interpretive problem. Memory does not bind itself to synchronic links; it is
quintessentially diachronic. Lu You’s famous record of his travels to Sichuan is a
medley of poetry, historical sources, local myths and more – travel biji have never
limited themselves to particular generic memories, so it is strange that the corpus
itself has been tied into generic and dynastic classes. An individual’s formulation of
self and memories is precisely fragmented, post-modern, and does not fit neatly in
pre-thought literary categories. Travel diaries demand a hermeneutic that takes note of
the import of literary and textual memory in their construction, an interpretive circle
that accepts the links that exist between texts, rather than unnatural divides. An aim of
this chapter is to try to reveal a Heideggerian ‘covered-up-ness’1 by allowing these
memories to operate as freely as they do in reality – across dynasty and across genre.
This subjective response, weaving together different memory narratives, follows the
inherent intertextuality of the diaries.
         A topological map of China based on the number of travel records accruing in
each location would look very different to a cartographic representation of the extent
of the empire. If the map were three dimensional, famous mountains such as the five
holy peaks would stand out, as they do on geophysical maps, alongside smaller
pinnacles of renowned temples and picturesque cities like Suzhou, but towering over
them all would be the banks of the Yangzi river, the site of countless pilgrimages and

 Cf. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and E Robinson, NY: Harper and Row,
1962, 60.

poems. The concentration of tourist spots in the central heartlands is not surprising,
but begins to suggest the contours of the imagined China, a literary construct (mostly)
untroubled by boundary shifts, invasions from the north or raiders from the west. This
chapter examines the ways in which this mental map, the map of cultural memory has
informed generations of literary travellers, and been as important as a sense of the
geographical extent of the empire. In the absence of good quality or widely available
scaled territorial maps, this imaginary map, with its byways in travel literature and its
highways in poetry, for most writers was their construct of the nation. There was no
common image of ‘China’ as ubiquitously displayed in the modern nation, the
characteristic red bulge of the south east stretching out west to Tibet and north-east
towards Siberia.
         There were many reasons for travel in dynastic China, as now. Emperors made
tours of their provinces; officials were sent to their posts; renegade or unlucky
politicians were banished to the margins of the empire; swathes of population
migrated to avoid droughts or other catastrophes; individuals travelled to return to
their ancestral hometowns, to mourn for parents, or just for interest. Travel was
regarded as much a trial as a pleasure, and many diaries tell of the hazards of road and
water travel, of cholera and capsizings, of highwaymen and boils. Since an official
journey to a distant new post could take the best part of a year, literate travellers might
have much time for musings on their way. Mass migrations as well as individual
peregrinations continued in the late imperial era of Taiping wars, and, if anything,
have only increased since the founding of the PRC. Sent-down youth in the 1960s and
70s discovered new physical and intellectual frontiers among the peasants, and
economic migrants heading in droves to the eastern seaboard have altered the isolines
of Chinese population and provided for a new generation of displacement reminisces.
         While the concept of travel, or the journey, is an important trope throughout
both diary and fiction records, it is subordinate in classical literature to the greater
notion of the landscape. The interaction between traveller, landscape and textual
record is what counts.2 Travel meant experiencing the famous mountains and great
rivers (mingshan dachuan 名山大川) for oneself, and simultaneously travelling
through China’s mythico-literary landscape. What marks the Chinese case out is the
frequent inscription of this textual landscape onto the physical landscape. Almost
every famous scenic spot has a couplet or literary inscription carved into the stone, or
engraved on a temple plaque, and part of the reason for travel becomes this literary or
aesthetic pilgrimage, travel to a certain mountain to see a fine example of famous
calligraphy, for example. The landscape is ever changing, because each new pilgrim
increases the depth of allusion and thus the beauty of the scene. For Lu You to survey
a cliff face with Bai Juyi’s description in mind, is for that cliff to be enhanced and
made more beautiful by the gra ce of the description. The contemporary visitor
climbing the Fragrant Hills just north-west of Beijing passes numerous plaques
carrying Xu Zhimo’s poetic description of those hills; the hills become for the visitor
those viewed by a 1920s romantic. If there are two types of literary memory, real
memories, recounted in literary form, and the construct of memory itself as

  Wang Liqun discusses at some length definitions and genre classifications of travel literature, and
argues that it must always comprise three elements: a record of whereabouts, a description of scenery,
and an expression of reaction or feelings. Wang Liqun, 王立群, Shanshui youji yanjiu 山水游记研究
(Beijing: China Academy of Social Sciences Press, 2008), 11. Wang argues strongly for limiting ‘travel
literature’ to prose writings, and posits its emergence in fixed form in the mid-Tang (pp. 12-13). He
also argues for the requirement of factual, observed truth, something I would contend more vigorously;
the arguments of this chapter presuppose equal validity for fictional travel accounts.


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