Nov 192012

Imagination, always spatial, points north, south, east, and west of some central, privileged place, which is probably a village from one’s childhood or native region. As long as a writer lives in his country, the privileged place, by centrifugally enlarging itself, becomes more or less identified with his country as a whole. Exile displaces that center or rather creates two centers. Imagination relates everything in one’s surroundings to “over there”—in my case, somewhere on the European continent. It even continues to designate the four cardinal points, as if I still stood there. At the same time the north, south, east, and west are determined by the place in which I write these words.

Imagination tending toward the distant region of one’s childhood is typical of literature of nostalgia (a distance in space often serves as a disguise for a Proustian distance in time). Although quite common, literature of nostalgia is only one among many modes of coping with estrangement from one’s native land. The new point which orients space in respect to itself cannot be eliminated, i.e. one cannot abstract from one’s physical presence in a definite spot on the Earth. That is why a curious phenomenon appears: the two centers and the two spaces arranged around them interfere with each other or—and this is a happy solution—coalesce.

—Czeslaw Milosz in “To Begin Where I Am: Selected Essays”

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