Satirical travelogy

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Poe's Law says that "it is difficult or impossible to tell the difference between an expression of sincere extremism and a parody of extremism". But this difficulty extends far beyond expressions of (political or religious) extremism, and I got an email advertisement today that kept me guessing for quite a while.

The ostensible topic was the new issue of a periodical "Coldnoon: Travel Poetics", and the first paragraph of the email read:

Coldnoon seeks to objectively redefine travel and locate it as part of everyday discourses. It is therefore interested in smaller, local or ground travels which pay attention to the common, forsaken, details of everyday journeys – roads, vehicles, literature, discourses, politics, hence texts, that are otherwise thought to belong in another realm, but are constantly defined and described from within the vocabulary of travel. We are interested in works that grapple with texts and situations commonly associated with methods of study and practice – such as Marxism, Postcolonialism, Cybernetics, Education, Health, Identity, Politics, Romance, Religion or Revolution – other than travel, with a language and methodology of travel, and travelogy.

OK, I thought, "roads, vehicles, literature, discourses, politics, hence texts" — plausible, since il n'y a pas de hors-texte, but probably a parody, since the whole hors-texte thing is so 1980s. And then "Marxism, Postcolonialism, Cybernetics, Education, Health, Identity, Politics, Romance, Religion or Revolution" — got to be a parody, no one could compile that list of "methods of study and practice" sincerely with a straight face.

So maybe this was a teaser for McSweeney's Internet Tendency? Or the Speculative Grammarian? No, neither of those is quite right, so maybe it's a new satirical website, or at least one not previously known to me? So I went on to the next paragraph in eager anticipation:

The object of Coldnoon is to study the forms and formations of literary texts, through travelogy. The travelogy of a travel act, or literature depicting a travel act, is its political difference from, inertness to, or defiance of, a tradition of travel that has preceded it. Like capital, travel also accumulates and creates a tradition, and a system of its own. Every traveller is in de facto opposition to the accumulation of travel, like any labour force is in de facto opposition to accumulation of capital. The market and the globe are self-regulators of utility and travelogy, respectively. In present times of globalisation the role of the state in determining travel accumulation keeps diminishing. Any book that travels across national borders, via online book stores – any letter, an email itself – carries potential threat to a previously established and hegemonic travelogy. In this sense any written word that talks of motion or itself moves via means of transport is travelogical and political.

Now doubt is starting to creep in. The words and phrases remain clearly parodic — "travelogy"; "a political difference from, inertness to, or defiance of"; "Like capital, travel also accumulates"; "an email itself — carries potential threat to a previously established and hegemonic travelogy"; …

But somehow it's too much, like chocolate syrup and chocolate chips on chocolate ice cream. Surely if this were really a parody, the author would by now have introduced some concrete point of reference to highlight the empty brandishing of literary-theory buzzwords, like maybe a journey to the kitchen to get another cup of coffee (an anti-hegemonic or at least non-sedentary journey which I then undertook).

Re-caffeinated, I found that the next paragraph was, alas, more of the same:

Coldnoon aims to construct a theoretical paradigm, and an archive, to study travel literature and literature itself. So far travel has been studied with the concepts of “aggression”, “usurpation”, “desire”, “reconnaissance” and from within the confines of postcolonial theory. In short, travel has been looked upon as something that is colonial from its inception. However, travel is only as outwardly a colonizing force as it can be inwardly, or spiritually decolonizing. It begins with a loss of personal identity in the other’s culture, instead of the latter being usurped. The possibility of usurpation comes only in situ, when the traveller has been able to trace back its parochial network and seek agency from its land of nativity or commission. This is a corruption of – or modification of the erstwhile – subjective travelogy which now begins to approximate colonial ideology. But, without the stoppage of travel, that is, within the paradigm of travel itself, the subjectivity of the traveller is self-effacing. It is, as Deleuze and Guattari have called, a “becoming-animal” or an ideal deterritorialisation from the shackles of time, space, identity, et cetera. In this regard, travel may be of two categories: extensive (global/grand) or intensive (local/small). We (fore)see travel as the latter, that is, a state of ‘voyage immobile’ or local, proximate journeys that are far more frequently part of our everyday.

So. Not a new satirical website. Bummer. Only real commitment to the cult of "theory" could maintain such a rigorous separation from reality.





  1. chips mackinolty said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 10:28 am

    I am clearly in a different (travel) time zone with regards to Coldnoon.

    All I want to know is where there is a reasonable toilet, not to find a "parochial network and seek agency from its land of nativity or commission".


  2. Eric P Smith said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 10:31 am

    Thank God I studied mathematics.

  3. Richard Hershberger said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 11:33 am

    Thank God I studied literature in a department uninfected by "theory."

  4. EricF said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 12:50 pm

    I have got to find a way to use "hegemonic travelogy" at Thanksgiving dinner today…

  5. D.O. said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 12:55 pm

    Coldnoon has a nice website with more of the same on the front page and with a reasonable explanation of what its name means. I didn't read anything besides their small collection of quotes, all of them pretty banal and without a hint of "Marxism, Postcolonialism, Cybernetics, Education, Health, Identity, Politics, Romance, Religion or Revolution" (well, maybe some education and identity).

  6. Y said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 1:06 pm

    Bah. Running dogs of pre- post-post-modernism.

  7. Karl Narveson said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 4:53 pm

    Shouldn't it be travelology?

    [(myl) Only for those afflicted with etymon-normativity.]

  8. Eric P Smith said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 6:27 pm

    @Karl Narveson

    Yes, travelology would be more regular. Like adaptation is more regular than adaption. But the 'o' is just a filler, so travellogy would be fine. And we have the hotel chain Travelodge not Travellodge, so bingo!

  9. John Lawler said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 8:13 pm

    Travelology, like tragico-comic and haplology, has a repeated internal syllable, which can be deleted. By haplology. But there's a problem with the stress of travelogy; one wants to stress the first syllable, but that leaves three unstressed syllables in a long tail. Haplogy is fine, but travelogy begs for syncpe.

  10. JC said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 9:05 pm

    It's a Turing test. The email was written by a machine.

  11. Mark S. said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 10:04 pm

    So, since I have published some new editions of old travel books, am I engaging in de facto deterritorialisation of the colonialist accumulation of hegemonic propagation of the parochial network? And, if so, will the process be self-regulating?

  12. Jon said,

    November 28, 2014 @ 12:40 am

    This is the best parody I've seen of an academic curmudgeon who doesn't "get" post-structuralist theory!

  13. fm said,

    November 28, 2014 @ 1:54 am

    I assume "travelogy" is backformed from "travelogue"…

  14. AB said,

    November 28, 2014 @ 4:54 am

    "the sole merit of this book will be to show our successors, who might perhaps come across a pile of unsold copies in many years’ time, how horrible intellectual life on earth once was."
    — Miguel Tamen, Review of "On Literary Worlds" by Eric Hayot, in Modern Philology (August 2014)

  15. AB said,

    November 28, 2014 @ 6:58 am

    This works for anything, doesn't it?

    The brushology of a teethbrushing act, or literature depicting a teethbrushing act, is its political difference from, inertness to, or defiance of, a tradition of teethbrushing that has preceded it.

    Now where's my research grant?

  16. Brian said,

    November 28, 2014 @ 8:53 am

    Looks like they'll take a circuitous rote and wind up lost. At least it appears so on paper.

  17. Nathan Myers said,

    November 28, 2014 @ 9:32 am

    The Long March
    Fellow traveler
    Whistle-stop campaign
    Shuttle diplomacy
    Campaign trail

  18. mollymooly said,

    November 28, 2014 @ 12:18 pm

    I assume "travelogy" is modelled on "symbology".

  19. Rodger C said,

    November 28, 2014 @ 12:45 pm

    @Nathan Myers: And "idolatry."

    My personal guess, or hope, is that this was originally written to show up a mechanical essay-grading program.

  20. Michael said,

    November 29, 2014 @ 3:21 am

    Eco in "The name of the rose" has a wonderful passage where one is asked to say when one is being ironic, so as not to be taken seriously…

  21. Arup K Chatterjee said,

    December 4, 2014 @ 6:39 pm

    Thank you everyone for such encouraging statements. The fact is I wrote all that on which you have been positively surmising. I edit the said journal, in print and online. You might like to see who all are part of the editorial board. There are respectable people, like yourselves, who see merit in that sort of work. It is enabling to garner so much criticism. However, the fact is the above was written with due consideration of many texts quite a few of which you may or may not be aware of. So, I really wonder if I could exchange your vote of censure and/or advice for some answers and information too, which I'd be happy to provide.

  22. Arup K Chatterjee said,

    December 4, 2014 @ 6:40 pm

    D.O., I would request you to read the current issue, or the forthcoming one, that arrives in January, 15. Or perhaps if I had your address I could mail you a print copy. Also, do have a look at the Diaries, a new section we have started.

  23. Jan Schreuder said,

    December 6, 2014 @ 6:30 pm

    Dear Arup, you wrote: "However, the fact is the above was written with due consideration of many texts quite a few of which you may or may not be aware of."
    There are many texts, indeed all texts ever written or spoken, that I may or may not be aware of, including those by imaginary writers and those still to be written.
    I still don't know whether you are serious and/or kidding.

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