Academic journal article Spatial Practices

10. Magic of the City: Travel Narratives of the Project "Año 0"

Academic journal article Spatial Practices

10. Magic of the City: Travel Narratives of the Project "Año 0"

Article excerpt

Y nosotros mismos. ¿Volveremos tal cual nos vamos? [. . .] Un filósofo pesimista nos dice: "No; no volveréis así. No. El que se va, no vuelve nunca. Quien vuelve es otro, otro que es casi el mismo, pero que no es el mismo."

[And we ourselves, will we return just as we left? [. . .] A pessimistic philosopher tells us: "No; you will not return so. No. He who leaves, never comes back. He who comes back is another, another who is almost, but not quite the same"]

Enrique Gómez Carrillo

Magic may be a major alternative to rejection of the city as a bad, unmanageable place.

Jonathan Raban

The idea for the project "Año 0" (Year 0) was conceived by the Spanish writer Gabi Martinez who asked a number of authors to travel to various metropolitan cities and based on their experience write a book that could incorporate any narrative genre, including novelistic, documentary, epistolary, or journalistic. Being fully conscious of the tradition from which the project was emerging, the authors set themselves up for a harsh critique. On the one hand, they blatantly performed all the clichés of travel narrative genre, bound to provoke general outrage for their political incorrectness. On the other hand, in the body of their texts they took an oppositional and analytical stance defying the very clichés put forward by their performance. Working within the stereotypical boundaries of reference, their works as meta-texts of travel narrative genre frequently expose and censure its premises.

Traditionally, travel writers have been seen as "enthusiastic amateurs" and "wondering subjects". (Holland, Huggan 1999: 6) Frequently typecast as cosmopolitans and reprehended for it, they were almost inevitably identified as privileged intellectuals traveling to the city of their choice for the satisfaction of their curious minds. Holland and Huggan point out that the hybrid genre of travel narrative has predominantly been a "white, male, Euro -American, middle-class" medium, (Holland, Huggan 1999: XIII) frequent agent of imperial and later, post or neocolonialist discourses, and a mechanism of "western cultural domination" (Holland, Huggan 1999: X). The authors of the project highlight their performative stance as privileged subjects insisting on a part-time recreational nature of their literary activity. Being journalists by profession, some of them consider literature to be their hobby. Rodrigo Fresan' s humoristic comments are emblematic in this case:

Intento ser periodista hasta el mediodía y, después, escritor. Es decir: me despierto non-fiction y me acuesto fiction. Pero, por supuesto, no me prohibo momentos mix y momentos loop y momentos sampler. Ya sea Lado A o Lado B, en cualquier caso, lo que hago es escribir. [I try to be a journalist until noon and then, a writer. That is to say: I wake up 'non-fiction' and go to bed 'fiction'. But, of course, I don't forbid myself to have mix moments, loop moments and sampler moments. Whether it's side A or side B, in either case, what I do is write.] (Fresan 2002)

Short description of the project provided by Mondadori, the Spanish editorial that financed it, only reiterates the stereotypical, and neocolonialist, connotations of travel narrative. The text reads as follows:

En el Ano 0 del Nuevo milenio una serie de escritores de habla hispana han viajado a conocer cómo son algunas de las ciudades más importantes del mundo: el Moscú actual, fuertemente corrupto, el México DF, magnético y disparatado, un Pekín de belleza oriental y miseria oriental, Nueva York, la ciudad de las ciudades, El Cairo, Madras, Roma [...] Realidad y ficción se conjugan en novelas cortas y largas, crónicas caleidoscópicas o diarios de viaje. Los autores de Año 0 han abandonado el territorio de sus mentes para trasladarse a escenarios palpables. Y están de vuelta para contarlo. [In the year 0 of the new millennium a number of Spanish speaking writers travel to get to know some of the most important cities of the world: contemporary Moscow, highly corrupt, Mexico City, magnificent and crazy, Beijing of the oriental beauty and oriental misery, New York, the city of all cities, Cairo, Madras, Rome [. …

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