Writing as espionage

“We remained travelers, enclosed in the self, capable, possibly, of transforming ourselves in contact with alterity, but certainly not of experiencing it profoundly. We are spies, we make the rapid, furtive contact of spies. When Chateaubriand invented travel literature with his Itinerary from Paris to Jerusalem in 1811, long before Stendhal and his Memoirs of an Egotist, more or less at the same time as the publication of Geothe’s Italian Journey, Chateaubriand was spying for the sake of art; he was certainly no longer the explorer who spied for science or for the army: he spied mainly for literature. Art has its spies, just as history or the natural sciences have theirs. Archaeology is a form of espionage, botany, poetry as well; enthnomusicologists are spies of music. Spies are travelers, travelers are spies. ‘Don’t trust the stories of travelers,’ says Saadi in The Gulistan. They see nothing. They think they see, but they observe only reflections. We are prisoners of images, of representations.

Mathias Énard, Compass p215 [emphasis added]

I read this book in early 2015. Those nights of reading have stayed with me.