Inuring the Postmodern Quest in Bruce Chatwin’s ‘In Patagonia’

In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin effectuates an unconventional form of writing, called ‘bricolage’ in efforts to reenact an impartial and unprejudiced version of the traditional quest, ultimately recreating a postmodern quest while challenging the structures of traditionalism altogether.

Before discussing the effects of bricolage, it is imperative first, to decipher the motive and intent of Chatwin’s use of such a radically unorthodox style of writing.

The primary motive of implementing bricolage in this instance, is to fully convey the postmodern quest. The postmodern quest is often seen as the polar opposite of the traditional quest romance, devoid of all the idiosyncratic aspects that characterizes the quest romance – grandiose settings emblazoned with foes and heroes, and of course, the damsel in distress. The postmodernist movement is interested in critiquing, challenging, and questioning the modernist movement (its predecessor) that devalued ideals like marginality in sacrifice for principles such as progression and expansion.

Quest Romance: A 1470 painting by Paolo Uccello
Quest Romance: A 1470 painting by Paolo Uccello

Bricolage, complements the postmodernist attitude not only because it is a dramatically anomalous tool in the already existing collection of literary techniques but more so because its aim and purpose lies on equal grounds with postmodernism. Bricolage is the French term for “tinkering” and has been utilized as a technique in art and literature that engenders a process of putting together a various assortment of objects and texts. Both the aims of bricolage and postmodernism lies not on the finished work or end goal but rather the process of getting to the destination. The postmodern quest that neglects most traits of traditional quest, is interested in the seemingly “insignificant” things left behind by the modernist movement and likewise bricolage is focused on the very act of coming together more than the meaning of the final work.

Bricolage Art: Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui
Bricolage Art: Gravity and Grace – Monumental Works by El Anatsui

The more peripheral motive of using bricolage is to appeal postmodernism in travel writing. In fact, bricolage serves as Chatwin’s strategic literary device to encourage the questioning of existing structures as well as norms established – all of which a postmodern quest is representative of. Much like the instance of travelling that bestows upon the traveller a good degree of liberation, bricolage strives to preserve this sense of freedom. Supposedly disorienting and unorganized, readers will take notice of the fragmentary quality that bricolage possesses. Here, it is crucial to note that the fragmented style leads to the lack or absence of linearity. Thus the non-existence of linearity allows flexibility and thus mirrors the fact that travel is never an “on-rail” experience.

The effects of bricolage divide into indirect and direct products. The indirect effect is the formation of an unbiased writing style, making Chatwin’s writing the antithesis of an opinionated writing. Counter-intuitively, the “coming together” of subjective texts erects an objective narrative style. To explain this more contextually, the adventure tales, myths, legends and character sketches, among many other forms of text downplays the potentially authoritative and dogmatic voice of the protagonist. Thereby, bricolage undeniably facilitates Chatwin’s intent of digressing from the judgemental imperial writing by introducing a wide array of texts that seem dislocated.

The more direct effect of bricolage is the portrayal of authenticity of modern day travelling. Chatwin draws a link between postmodern quest and travelling. Like the postmodern quest that grounds itself directly against the conventional quest romance, travelling itself lacks the precise elements that materializes a quest romance – an absence of a hero, insurmountable enemies and adversities and definitely no promise of rebirth or enlightenment in the end. Correspondingly, Chatwin’s anticlimactic encounter of “turds” in the cave proves the similarity between travel and postmodern quest to be strikingly unequivocal.

Chatwin successfully visualizes a comprehensive, mosaic-like depiction of travel writing, constituted by an amalgamation of all variants of texts, of which derives from the employment of bricolage. Isochronously, Chatwin flaunts the ingenuity of postmodern quest through crystallizing an impartial narrative, making In Patagonia an invaluable addition to the genre of travel writing.


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