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Personal profile

Description of research and teaching

University of Helsinki, Comparative Literature Department

Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès, France, Anglophone Literature (cotutelle)

 “Conceptions of authenticity in contemporary travel writing”

 The subject of my monograph is the construction and representation of ‘authenticity’ in contemporary travelogues (1970-2019). I aim to map out what eight contemporary travel writers explicitly or implicitly portray as authentic in their journeys, and how they reinforce, question, or rethink what has previously been considered authentic. It is crucial to postulate that authenticity is always constructed and that conflicting conceptions of what is authentic coexist throughout history.

First, I study five travel narratives which depict the authentic life as residing in unspoilt, frozen wilderness: The Snow Leopard (1978), Peter Matthiessen’s journey to the Himalaya; In Siberia (1990), Colin Thubron’s exploration of Russia after the fall of Communism; Terra Incognita (1996), Sara Wheeler’s travel to the Antarctic; Consolations of the Forest, the six-month seclusion of Sylvain Tesson at the Baikal (2013); and La panthère des neiges, his latest opus, which recounts his journey to the Himalaya (2019, untranslated).

Then, I analyse four travel narratives that reflect on the concept of ‘inauthenticity’ in highly globalised, hyperreal and/or highly semioticized settings, in relation to artistic practices and foreign cultures, mainly in the United States and Japan: Empire of Signs (1970), which stages Roland Barthes’s happy loss of bearings in Japan; America (1986), by Jean Baudrillard, who is fascinated by American artificiality; “Travels in Hyperreality” (1986), where Umberto Eco moves through American theme parks and kitsch wax museums; and The Global Soul (2001), in which Pico Iyer assesses cultural commodification in globalised metropolises.

The chapters of the thesis are related to major definitions of ‘authenticity’: as myth of rootedness, cult of the past, escape from society, self-possession, and aesthetic criterion. I combine scrutiny of the texts’ stylistic features (syntax, lexicon, prosody, figurative language), with semiotics and ecocriticism in order to infer the definitions of authenticity that these travel writers adhere to, subvert or create. An analysis of the way they interact with human and non-human others and write about them shall unveil what they consider to be an authentic relation to nature (Tesson, Matthiessen, Wheeler and Thubron), to local populations (Iyer, Matthiessen, Barthes, Baudrillard) and to the history of these populations (Thubron); what they deem authentic art in hyperreal settings (Eco, Baudrillard), and what an authentic way to write about foreign lands may be according to their texts.

Teaching: In the past 7 years, I have taught around 570h of contact teaching on- and offline, at the universities of Helsinki, Tampere, Massachusetts, Toulouse Jean Jaurès, in French and English languages, and Contemporary Literatures

External positions

Teacher, University of Tampere

27 Aug 201630 Jun 2020

Fields of Science

  • 6122 Literature studies
  • Travel literature
  • Postmodernism
  • Authenticity
  • Modernism
  • French literature
  • British literature
  • American Literature
  • Narratology
  • Stylistics
  • Fiction
  • Non-fiction
  • Philosophy
  • yleinen kirjallisuustiede