Aug 212014

Recall Lukács’s phrase ‘transcendental homelessness’. What I have been describing, both in my own life and in the lives of others, is more like secular homelessness. It cannot claim the theological prestige of the transcendent. Perhaps it is not even homelessness; homelooseness (with an admixture of loss) might be the necessary (hideous) neologism: in which the ties that might bind one to Home have been loosened, perhaps happily, perhaps unhappily, perhaps permanently, perhaps only temporarily. Clearly, this secular homelessness overlaps, at times, with the more established categories of emigration, exile and postcolonial movement. Just as clearly, it diverges from them at times.

Where exile is often marked by the absolutism of the separation, secular homelessness is marked by a certain provisionality, a structure of departure and return that may not end.

Exile is acute, massive, transformative, but secular homelessness, because it moves along its axis of departure and return, can be banal, welcome, necessary, continuous. There is the movement of the provincial to the metropolis, or the journey out of one social class into another.

Most of us have to leave home, at least once; there is the need to leave, the difficulty of returning, and then, in later life as one’s parents begin to falter, the need to return again. Secular homelessness, not the singular extremity of the exile or the chosenness of biblical diaspora, might be the inevitable ordinary state. Secular homelessness is not just what will always occur in Eden, but what should occur, again and again.

[P]erhaps to be in between two places, to be at home in neither, is the inevitable fallen state, almost as natural as being at home in one place.

To think about home and the departure from home, about not going home and no longer feeling able to go home, is to be filled with a remarkable sense of ‘afterwardness’: it is too late to do anything about it now, and too late to know what should have been done. And that may be all right.

—James Wood, “On Not Going Home,” London Review of Books, Vol. 36 No. 4 · 20 February 2014, pp. 3-8

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