Of Other Spaces: Conrad, Graham Greene, and Tourism

By Purssell, A. M. | The Conradian : the Journal of the Joseph Conrad Society (U.K.), Autumn 2009 | Go to article overview

Of Other Spaces: Conrad, Graham Greene, and Tourism


Purssell, A. M., The Conradian : the Journal of the Joseph Conrad Society (U.K.)


IN "TRAVEL" (1923), Conrad touches upon "the conditions of an explored earth in which the latitudes and longitudes," "having been recorded once for all," have become "things of no importance" (Last Essays 90)1 The essay gestures towards one of the then-recent accomplishments of modern geography: the production of "the muchsurveyed earth," within which "Nothing obviously strange remains for our eyes now." With the "basic facts of geography" thus "ascertained" (90), this is an era of "closed space," "a world in which all earthly space is charted, claimed, interconnected" (Coroneos 2000: 15)2 The visual terms of Conrad's description point up how his subject, tourism, operates within the same economy of surveillance as geography, whereby the earth is opened up to and made available for inspection by Europe and Europeans.3 In a sense, then, closed space consists, by a curious reversal, in its being "open." Greene's The End of the Affair (1951) makes a brief allusion to this type of spaciousness. The narrator Bendrix recalls "one of those early brown photographs in an Oxford frame," the man within brimming with what he identifies as "the Victorian look of confidence": "of being at home in the world and knowing the way around" (14). At one level, "being at home" and "knowing the way around" speak figuratively for that Victorian "confidence." At the same time, however, there is the suggestion of a literal connection: that the untroubled imperial confidence discernible here is the product of a very particular sense of place - one not restricted to Europe or an emergent idea of "the West" but co-extensive with the world at large.

In "Mr Cook's Century" (1941), written around the same historical moment in which The End of the Affair is set, Greene explores this in greater depth. Like Conrad's "Travel," Green's essay is concerned with the global character of mass tourism. And, like "Travel," it has a retrospective flavour, one of "now" versus "then." For Conrad, this is occasioned by the perception that geographical knowledge, having reached its apogee, has shrunk the globe. Writing against the backdrop of the London blitz in 1941, Greene is prompted by a sense that the world, made available through tourism, has with its suspension contracted. Thomas Cook and Son "in 1938 could have arranged you an independent tour to Central Africa as easily as to Ostend" (Collected Essays 235; hereafter CE). But "the Continental platform at Victoria" - the scene of departure up until then - is noted for its emptiness now: the "notice, 'Unexploded Bomb,' casually explaining what ... seem[s] the end of everything" (236-37).

Backed by the emblematic image of the "stopped" clock, the "end of everything" posits in an obvious, temporal sense the end of an era. Moreover, it suggests the very delimitation of spatial horizons that, for Greene, have brought that end about. Hence a nostalgia for the closing years of "Mr Cook's Century," when "there were few places in the world to which an excursion had not been arranged" (236); for, in short, the recent ascendancy of the sort of mass, organized travel that Conrad laments in "Travel" and throughout much of his writing.4 This is because the modern, global form of European travel necessarily depends upon, and thereby registers, closed space, and therefore the passing of what has brought this closure about - a more exalted era of imperial discovery and exploration, mapping, and survey, the "Geography Militant" designated in Conrad's "Geography and Some Explorers." Those "unknown" spaces of "the days of heroic travel" are now a set of "seldom-visited places" (Last Essays 89; emphasis added): characterized, in other words, by where they fit into the reticulation of the modern world by tourism, rather than geography, as "a systematized knowledge of the world" (Culler 1981: 139).

"Mr Cook's Century" dourly concludes that, for Cook in particular and tourism in general, 1941 has been "a rather sad, centenary year" (237). …

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