Journalism and romanticism. A duo of unhappy bedfellows.
In the depiction of Chris McCandless and Robyn Davidson’s respective quests, Davidson and Krakauer provokes the reader to consider whether journalistic (and adamantly unromantic) writing is truly capable of portraying and delivering romantic version of a subject’s travel experience. Upon closer examination of the anatomical structures of the two works, Tracks by Robyn Davidson and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, it becomes evident that neither retain strong traces of literary or artistic hue, let alone a significant motif. Yet, both are perfectly able in encapsulating the very essence of a romantic quest.
Krakauer’s Into the Wild employs a conventional and prevalent stylistic – journalistic writing – that serves as a beacon that illuminates and subsequently exposes the romanticism of McCandless’ personal odyssey into the Alaskan backcountry. As a matter of fact, his unromantic writing contrasts deeply with the romantic wanderer, Christ McCandless, exhuming his romantic pursuit. In determining the success of McCandless’ quest, Krakauer mentions a series of letters sent to him censuring McCandless’ amateur and reckless decision to venture out into the wilderness, guilelessly unprepared. However, Krakauer mollifies the criticism of the letters by providing his own personal anecdote about his ascent to the Devil’s Thumb, arguing that had Chris survived, his quest would have been seen as the epitome of a successful quest romance. The point here is that both the letters and the anecdote tend to normalize and interpellate Chris as being one of the ill-prepared, socially-backwards maverick or merely another tortured ingénu making a desperate escape from an obstructive father figure. Whether Chris belongs to either group and whether his quest is seen as successful or not, his journey is unreservedly received as a tragedy and consequentially romanticized, proving that a style of writing that lacks romanticism is still capable in reiterating a romantic quest.
Similarly, Tracks mirrors Davidson’s factual and pragmatic language, devoid of pictorial tropes that corresponds to her disinterest in metaphorizing her trek across the Australian outback (as she wishes to transcend the symbolic nature of male writing). However, unlike Into the Wild, Tracks possess a higher sense of romantic novelty, promising a symbolic feminist perspective of the world, despite Davidson’s intentions. Davidson is uncomfortable with the clichés that orbit around her, defining her journey as being symbolically significant and in her unromantic depiction of her quest, she employs down-to-earth style in order to “shed the burden” of becoming the iconicized romantic heroine – the camel lady.
Although Krakauer accepts romanticism to delineate Chris as the fallen hero of a dismal but otherwise successful quest, Davidson’s stance on determining her success in the trek is more ambiguous. Indeed, she recognizes her success of embracing indigeneity by distancing herself from systems of power, but she is more focused and troubled by her inability to regain her initial sense of purpose of the trip, undermining her success of the trip altogether.
Nonetheless, both works agree on one concrete achievement – discovering marginality. In Tracks, Davidson places considerable emphasis on the indigenous embodying marginality and likewise in Into the Wild, the nature is portrayed as the emblem of marginality. In the realm of marginality, both subjects, Chris McCandless and Robyn Davidson become more cogent in their understanding of selfhood in relation to their surroundings. Its hidden implication is that in actuality, their quests are escape from social conditioning – hazardous hindrance to their comprehension of the world.
All things considered, the two texts, Tracks and Into the Wild, despite implementing a highly unromantic stylistic, still manages to render romantic pieces of their respective subjects’ quests, glorifying the idealistic endeavours made by them in search of an establishment, beyond the confinements of existing paradigms, that would proffer a heightened conception of themselves in relation to the world.