Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 July 2019
The term ‘polygraphy’, rooted in the Latin polygraphia or poligraphia, dates as far back as the early sixteenth century, but has evolved considerably since and now has a variety of uses in modern-day English. The entry in the Oxford English Dictionary for the term ‘polygraphy’, which is most relevant to studies of travel writing, however, defines it as ‘[c] opious writing or literary work; literary productiveness; (also) writing dealing with many subjects’ it defines those travel writers who write multiple accounts of a journey they have undertaken. The related term ‘polygraph’ has been adopted by the field of travel writing to describe a writer who continuously re-textualizes his/her journey, in different genres and in different forms. Beyond the field of travel writing, it can refer to an instrument that simultaneously produces two or more identical copies of a drawing or document. Such a definition seems removed from the sphere of travel writing; it may even appear antithetical given it refers to mechanized production of multiple ‘identical’ documents, while travel writing evokes the numerous and varying human responses to a journey undertaken. Introducing a further paradox, the term ‘polygraph’ also refers to an instrument for the recording of physiological characteristics (such as rates of pulse and respiration) that can be used as a lie detector. While these definitions may seem contradictory, they do, in fact, encapsulate many of the key issues explored by contemporary scholarship in the genre, such as the instability of travel writing and the uncertainty with regard to the truthfulness of the travel narratives.
First, it is important to question why it is that many travel writers are involved in the practice of polygraphy and what the ethical implications are of undertaking multiple rewritings of a journey. Given the intergenericity of travel writing (Borm 2004; Holland and Huggan 1998; Youngs 2013), it is not uncommon for travel writers to reproduce their journeys in a variety of forms. Journeys are often re-presented in the form of travel books, diaries, newspaper articles, memoirs, lectures and even in photographic or televised accounts. Forsdick (2009b, 299) notes that Swiss travel writer and photographer Ella Maillart exemplifies such polygraphy, remarking that her travelogue Oasis interdites/Forbidden Journeys is part of a ‘network of self-authored representations of the same journey’.