Footsteps travel writing—narrative accounts of journeys that retrace the routes of earlier travelers—constitutes one of the most prolific and controversial subgenres in contemporary travel writing. This article examines three broadly illustrative examples of footsteps travel writing drawn from postcolonial contexts: Caroline Alexander's One Dry Season (1990), Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild (1996), and Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia (1977). Highly intertextual and characterized by deep immersion in the discursive and personal space of the subject, footsteps travel writing holds a unique capacity to undermine the still-powerful cultural myth of the self-sustaining, solitary traveler. The effort to re-create a journey in turn refocuses our attention on travel writing's status as a border genre between fiction and nonfiction. Tracing the physical and textual pathways of others for these authors forms the basis of a uniquely evocative, intertextual mode of critical cosmopolitanism—itself a highly contested term that footsteps travel writing allows us to productively reassess. In its most compelling forms, footsteps travel does not just mechanically follow a well-beaten path. Rather, it enables a wider, more measured point of view characterized by stronger attention to the historical and cultural contexts of travel.
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Christopher M. Keirstead; Convoluted Paths: Mapping Genre in Contemporary Footsteps Travel Writing. Genre 1 December 2013; 46 (3): 285–315. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-2345524
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