And we come back to that question of authenticity....
There is a proverb in Ghana that says, “one should not believe all stories narrated by a solitary traveler.” Considering biased, inaccurate travel memoirs such as Henry Morton Stanley’s Through The Dark Continent and many others who have contributed to poor representations of the “cultural other,” I could not agree more. However, I do think that the one traveler in our proverb has the capacity to narrate several different stories, and I think my experience is an example of how that could be possible.
Clifford Geertz is well known for his idea of “thick description,” the concept that having several layered meanings and interpretation is what gives ethnography a dimensional richness. There is a concept in film that Professor Benjamin Unguren spoke on at the 2010 BYU Inquiry Conference called the “iterative film.” By showing a film, and then filming the reactions of the subjects watching a film about themselves, you are essentially able to give your representation more dimension. Can we not do this in writing by integrating other mediums and viewpoints? Maybe I am harsh on Stanley, given that his one medium and viewpoint was much more limited than what we currently have access to, but is it not time that we take advantage of these new opportunities to enhance our own experiences and refine our limited portrayals of it?
While we must understand how fragile the nature of experience is (which is evident based on how different my experience could be depending on the avatar and medium I chose), recognizing that we can get a more accurate representation when we combine a few different viewpoints and mediums could be beneficial as we continue to undergo the process of writing creative nonfiction, and travel writing in particular. Of course we can never have a completely authentic telling of an experience, but by adding more dimension to our representations this approach might get us one step closer.