Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 July 2019
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘arrival’ can refer to (1) the act of disembarkation, (2) a landing-place, (3) the act of coming to the end of a journey, (4) a cargo, (5) the coming to a state of mind or (6) one who arrives. Yet does it also signify a new beginning? It may seem to indicate a point of origin, but arguably in travel writing, the reverse is the case. Arrival presupposes previous departure and future assimilation. The latter occurs both in the location of the visit, and in the ultimate reception of the travelogue. Somebody, or something, must have already returned to make the story publicly available; if the unexamined life is not worth living, the un-narrated journey is equally undeserving of attention. It could be argued that confirmation that a travel writer has truly arrived requires the signing of a contract, the delivery of a manuscript or topping a bestseller list.
When does travel begin? In the physical motion of a body through space? In the preliminary preparations for the trip? In the restlessness that prompts the initial decision to leave, or arduous preliminary acquisition of necessary competence? The past self might be discarded out of voluntary relinquishment or enforced expulsion. Arrival brings the possibility of entering a ‘brave new world’, with attendant experiences of astonishment and wonder. Yet delight in novelty, curiosity as gratified desire, is always mediated by prior expectation: Columbus readingMarco Polo on La Santa Maria, or Jonathan Raban ruminating on Huck Finn while sailing down the Mississippi.
Arrival at various kinds of border crossings – beach, harbour, coaching-inn, railway station, airport – always involves an act of intrusion in the ‘contact zone’ (Pratt 2007 , 292, 895), potential seizure and appropriation, inviting a reciprocal display of antagonism. The ethics of originary encounter therefore frequently oscillate between hospitality and confrontation. There is always the possibility of territorial claim, the threat of displacement or competition for resources (water in the Sahara, food supplies in the Pacific, queuing for late-night taxis in Paris). The stranger may bring symbolic or even literal contamination.