Representation of People and Landscapes: De Botton’s Atypical, SubversiveTravel Guide
Through their choice of textual form and features, authors subjectively represent their views on the connection between people and landscapes. This is exemplary of Alain De Botton’s postmodern, multimodal text “The Art of Travel” (2002) which persuasively and powerfully represents how personal connections may be evoked by landscapes through an individual’s imagination, receptivity or identity. To represent these notions, De Botton’s subverts the traditional travel guide to provide a less subjective exploration by utilising anecdotal passages interspersed within essay-style writing, amalgamating personal reflection with cultural analysis.
De Botton didactically portrays the ability of imagined landscapes to limitlessly and enduringly transport one from an inadequate reality into a psychologically desired realm. Subverting the traditional travel guide, De Botton employs philosophical musings and travel anecdotes to assert his own insightful opinion that the key to landscapes evoking personal connections may be through the imagination. He purposely presents the power of the imagination to evoke memories and personal yearnings through the intertextuality of his remembered landscape “William Hodges’ Tahiti revisited”, portraying the serene imagery of “a tropical lagoon”. The synaesthesia of “soft evening light” echoes the exhilarating effect created by his imagination, causing De Botton to declare “I resolved to travel to the island of Barbados.” He further drives the responder to view the supremacy of the imagination, juxtaposing it to the representation of a reality filled with “fresh disappointments” through the underwhelmed tone in “I had inadvertently brought myself with me to the island”. The inadequacies of reality when compared to the imagination are powerfully reinforced as De Botton includes the anecdotal passage on the famous literary figure Esseintes, who concluded hyperbolically “I must have had mental aberration to have rejected the visions of my obedient imagination.” Therefore, De Botton skilfully represents the notion that a true, durable engagement with the landscape can be constructed through one’s vivid and boundless imaginations.
However, De Botton also articulates that powerful, personal connections evoked by landscapes are inextricably linked to our receptivity. He proficiently affirms the certainty of his representation through historical figures as well as cultural analysis. The deliberate inclusion of de Maistre’s exclamation in “How few people are right now taking delight in this sublime spectacle which the sky lays on uselessly for dozing humanity!” emphasises the metaphorical blindness that one may exhibit in ordinary, real landscapes. Instead, De Botton didactically proclaims to the responder the importance of inspecting and enjoying everyday landscapes through the inclusive pronoun “we” coupled with the imperative tone constructed in “We approach new places with humility. We carry with us no rigid ideas about what is interesting.” His decision to be receptive to his hometown leads him to new personal connections which metaphorically “bear fruit”. This allows him to personally connect by ascribing specific “layers of values” to the landscape around him, such as the personified “architectural identity”. The cyclical structure of the book reveals De Botton’s return to the “relentless reality” experienced at the start, but with a new, juxtaposed perception of this landscape. This is ingeniously used to reveal that real landscapes can only evoke personal and enduring responses through the paradoxical ability “to notice what we have already seen”.
De Botton apprises the responder that cultural landscapes can attract an individual through its foreign elements that mirror one’s identity, ideas and values. This is represented through chapter three’s guide, Gustave Flaubert, as well as De Botton’s own personal experience. Gustave Flaubert’s deep and “lifelong relationship with Egypt” depicts how he felt home with the obverse of the accumulative repository of France’s “most extreme prudery, snobbery, smugness, racism and pomposity”. Flaubert’s irritation and contempt of France’s ideologies is further seen through the intertextuality of his personal diary in which he sarcastically asserts “How beautiful are the provinces and how chic are the comfortably off who live there. Their talk is… of taxes and road improvements.” Hence, Egypt attracted Flaubert’s values as it acted as a foil, personified to have “silent strength and humility”. Moreover, Egypt’s visual and auditory chaos synchronized with Flaubert’s belief that “life is fundamentally chaotic” and the province’s attempts to create order imply a censorious denial of the mankind’s moral disposition and condition. Upon returning to his homeland, he reflects “How beautiful are the provinces and how chic are the comfortably off who live there. Their talk is… of taxes and road improvements.” His hyperbole and simile, coupled with expletives powerfully convey his representation of the homeland he cannot connect with due to its differing values and principles that he views as superficial and ostensible. Flaubert cogently supports De Botton’s notion that one’s identity ripens a relationship with a landscape due to his attraction with Amsterdam’s “modesty” and “honesty” and its metropolitan design which is personified as it “spoke of order, cleanliness and light”, in comparison to London’s “lack of modernity and aesthetic simplicity.” This strong attraction is personally represented through his rhetorical question “Why be seduced by something as small as a front door in another country?” The author thus challenges the audience to ponder upon this intense reaction.
Some of the strong emotion in De Botton’s account, indeed, is due to the landscape mirroring De Botton’s values and what he metaphorically “hungers for in vain at home”. Hence, it is clear that De Botton proficiently represents the inextricable connection between people and landscapes due to one’s identity. Accordingly, De Botton meaningfully and subjectively represents through his choice of textual forms and features how powerful, personal connections may be evoked by landscapes through one’s imagination, receptivity or identity.
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