cover image Traveling in Place: A History of Armchair Travel

Traveling in Place: A History of Armchair Travel

Bernd Stiegler, trans. from the German by Peter Filkins. Univ. of Chicago, $25 (272p) ISBN 978-0-226-77467-1

In 1794, Xavier de Maistre, under house arrest for 42 days, embarked on a new kind of travel, amiably wandering around his room and reporting on the journey (one leg for each day under house arrest) in A Journey around My Room. Fascinated by the countless literary examples of armchair journeys (Roussel, Beckett, Perec, Robbe-Grillet, Kierkegaard, Borges, and others), University of Konstanz literature and media professor Stiegler leads us on a tour of these texts, organized into 21 short chapters. Stiegler observes unremarkably that the discoveries that we make on our individual trips around our spaces are bound in time and reflect our experience of that space. He then plods on through pilgrimages, where “each single object within the room…that should become the soul’s journey is an object for unremitting meditation on life as a journey,” discussing gardens, photographs, objects, and windows. Drawing upon the work of Walter Benjamin and Franz Hessel, Stiegler observes that just as de Maistre’s journey transformed a familiar space, walkers who stroll the paths of their city as if passing through their rooms find those familiar streets transformed. Unfortunately, Filkins’s measured translation cannot save Stiegler’s pedestrian prose. 83 halftones. (Nov.)