Abstract

The Covid-19 pandemic imposed immobility on large sectors of the world’s population, with geographical restriction becoming an everyday reality. The lives of those who previously enjoyed the privileges of being what Susan George previously dubbed ‘fast castes’ were suddenly rendered sessile, while at the same time the mobility of more vulnerable populations along well-established migration corridors was also radically reduced. The result has been a sudden recalibration of the scale of journeying, increasingly associated with questions of environmental sustainability. Travellers have slowed down their journeys and, in the process, readjusted their relationship to the proximate and nearby. This situation has provided an opportunity for those who study travel and travel writing to rethink their object of study. The paper seeks to define, explore and historicize the emerging phenomenon of ‘microtravel’, a term that designates slower, often vertical journeys within a limited geographical radius that allow new forms of experiencing the world around us. Microtravel reveals how these practices are far from new and are indeed evident across numerous examples of journey narratives from earlier periods. The paper is attentive at the same time to the work emerging from cultural geography and mobility studies on the pitfalls of understanding space and place (and our engagement with them) in binary terms: macro/micro, movement/stasis, molar/molecular, perceptibility/imperceptibility, and also on the associated need to understand these pairs not as contradictory but often as coexisting. Notwithstanding the importance of such attenuation, microtravel practices serve nevertheless as a reminder of the (in)exhaustibility of space and place. This is, in part, as a result of the ever-increasing detail to which the microspection, microaudition and micro-olfaction inherent in such approaches permit access; in part because of the multiple defamiliarisations that microtravel generates. In seeking a taxonomy of such a mode of journeying, the paper focuses on confinement and immobility; deceleration and pedestrianism; palimpsestic travel; and microspection and other microsensory practices.

 

Charles Forsdick is James Barrow Professor of French at the University of Liverpool and Adjunct Professor in Translation Studies, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University. From 2012 until 2021 he was AHRC Theme Leadership Fellow for 'Translating Cultures'. He has published widely on travel writing, colonial history, postcolonial literature, comics, penal culture and the afterlives of slavery. He is also a specialist on Haiti and the Haitian Revolution, and has written in particular about representations of Toussaint Louverture.

Organiser: Department of Romance Studies and Classics and Department of English
Contact: Mickaëlle Cedergren
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