Back when women were considerably more restricted than they are now, when a member of the fairer sex had to be content with not implicitly being considered property and could forget voting, or choosing her husband, an escape could be found (for those with means) in the travel literature that was gothic and romantic novels. Take as an e.g. The Mysteries of Udolpho whose rich description provide a tour guide across Italy as much as an real horror. Naturally, as some rights were won and the world became increasingly connected, this sort of writing was laid to rest but it’s been resurrected by Elizabeth Gilbert who, in Eat Pray Love puts a 21st century spin on the upper class white woman traveling to somewhere exotic, in this case Italy is only the first stop, and Indonesia is the final destination. However, the narrative form isn’t as dated as the category of the memoir itself. In lieu of pages describing mountains one is subjected to a sort of hardy sleeves-rolled-up-eyes-wide wonder that reaches for a pithy intimacy with which to lead the reader upon a journey to validate her own exceptionalism that simply must exist because she wears out so many men and she has the courage to do what her mother always wanted herself.
Perhaps the most notable way she propagates this form is by the constant promotion of the inexplicable. She first experiences something so transcendent that it defies description on the bathroom floor where God speaks to her (which, as an aside, inspires a cringeworthy page and a half about what she means by God, inexplicably founded in the supposition that the type of people who would kept Eat Pray Love on the NY Times bestseller list for a few hundred weeks would be so offended by the mention of God that they would put it down). It continues throughout the rest of the book, arguably with yours affectionately favorite moment being the passage in which she states “I walk through the markets of the crumbly town and my heart tumbles with a love I can’t answer or explain as I watch an old guy in a black wool hat gut a fish for a customer” (Gilbert 113) followed shortly by a reference to Plato that begins a justification of the watered down Epicureanism Gilbert ascribed to before getting down to the really serious business of finding herself on a more “profound” level.There’s a lot to say about this book because there’s a lot wrong with it. Where Wendt’s sentiments were a douse of cold water by way of introducing an entirely new perspective into a postcolonial world, Gilbert’s ostentatiously egomaniacal musings bring one’s blood to a boil by sheer drop off of writing ability (see by way of example, “a great lake of tears and snot was spreading before me on the bathroom tiles, a veritable Lake Inferior’ (Gilbert 10) or “What happened was I started to pray. You know-like, to God.” (Gilbert 12)). There isn’t though, room enough, for that kind of discussion. The primary point of this essay is to suggest that through her propensity for the inexplicable Gilbert falls into the same trap that got her stuck as an unhappy housewife, stuck in a soulless suburban hell. I.e., there’s a decided lack of nuance. She pretends to be examining her life but takes so many things on sheer faith, waiting for the world to unfold for her (and it does. Thank the heavens she isn’t poor or a minority) that what really seems to be occurring isn’t so much a change in worldview as a change in aesthetic. An aesthetic that’s considerably more palatable to her because, although it’s the eastern version of her decidedly privileged (though justifiably morose) western life, it’s exotic, it’s fresh and most importantly it confirms something for her that the whole journey set out to do. That is to say, it confirms how special she is, how remarkable and what a great example she is for all wealthy, discontent, white Americans whose real privilege would seem to lie in the fact that they can take things on faith. They can take wait for the world to unfold for them, in fact, if they spend enough money they can make it unfold for them. And they can ignore the thought that maybe they're an asshole surrounded by other assholes.
(Pardon the profanity).