Sunday, 21 March 2010

This is no country for old men

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Travel books are like all literary genres from another age, when abroad had another meaning . When John Paget wrote almost no-one among his readers, all people who paid income tax and a tiny fraction of the English population had been to Hungary or heard of Transylvania. For a long time travel was expensive and difficult and travel writing was information for the curious and a story with the writer as protagonist. And funny foreigners. All foreigners for the most liberal Englishmen were very faintly comic until some moment some time after we joined what was then called the Common Market. Now they are something to help us choose where to go on holiday, to prepare for holidays and to compare notes afterwards. And writers create the country they write about. Arabia is about Wilfred Thesiger. Delhi is now about Sam Miller and William Dalrymple a literary construct. And countries are an idea which is changing. And the word foreign is changing too. Will Romania be a country in fifty years time or a part of a big non-country called Europe? Countries are about traditions and therefore anachronistic. And about excluding foreigners which seems xenophobic and discriminatory. And about violence in the past the future sometimes in the present. And about languages but languages are being subverted by English. Countries are a difficult concept in the post-modern post-Marxist world.

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