Feb 072013
If You Plant a Man in America

If you exile a [Slovak] and plant him in America, he will be unhappy; he will suffer because people can be happy, can function freely, only among those who understand them. To be lonely is to be among men who do not know what you mean. Exile, solitude, is to find yourself among people whose words, gestures, handwriting are alien to your own, whose behaviour, reactions, feelings, instinctive responses, and thoughts and pleasures and pains, are too remote from yours, whose education and outlook, the tone and quality of […] Continue reading >

Dec 132012
A Heroic Image

Exile is morally suspect because it breaks one’s solidarity with a group, i.e. it sets apart an individual who ceases to share the experience of colleagues left behind. His moral torment reflects his attachment to a heroic image of himself and he must, step by step, come to the painful conclusion that to do a morally valid work and to preserve an untarnished image of himself is rarely possible. —Czeslaw Milosz in “To Begin Where I Am: Selected Essays”

Aug 112012
On the Peripheries of Imagination

Until now, Poland has covered an area in my head coeval with the dimensions of reality, and all other places on the globe have been measured by their distance from it. Now, simultaneously, I see it as a distant spot, somewhere on the peripheries of the imagination, crowded together with countless other hard to remember places of equal insignificance. The reference points inside my head are beginning to do a flickering dance. I suppose this is the most palpable meaning of displacement. I have been dislocated from my own […] Continue reading >

Jul 092012
Immigration and Identity: Identity Transformation Following Immigration, Part 2

This post completes the overview of Salman Akthtar’s “Immigration and Identity: Turmoil, Treatment, and Transformation.” Part 1 tackled factors affecting the immigration experience; Part 2 dealt with the first two dimensions of identity transformation following immigration.  From Yesterday or Tomorrow to Today The pain of separation from home results in an idealization of your pre-immigration past, centering more on memories of places than of people. Immigration disrupts the connectedness of time while “the past continues to exert time dominance.” Like an emotionally deprived child with but one toy, the immigrant clings […] Continue reading >

Jul 032012
Immigration and Identity: Identity Transformation Following Immigration, Part 1

According to Salman Akhtar, writing in “Immigration and Identity: Turmoil, Treatment, and Transformation,” anxiety resulting from the culture shock and mourning over the losses inherent in immigration “cause a serious shake-up of the individual’s identity. A state of psychic flux ensues and a growing sensation of discontinuity of identity emerges.” The resulting identity change has four dimensions: Drives and affects: from love or hate to ambivalence Interpersonal and psychic space: from near or far to optimal distance Temporality: from yesterday or tomorrow to today Social affiliations and mutuality: from yours or […] Continue reading >

Jun 252012
Immigration and Identity: Factors Affecting the Immigration Experience

Salman Akhtar’s “Immigration and Identity: Turmoil, Treatment, and Transformation” has shed a lot of light for me on the psychological experience of immigration. The book takes a psychoanalytical look at the effects of immigration on individual identity. The most useful parts deal with factors and process of identity transformation. Part 1 of this overview will tackle the “psychosocial variables associated with immigration.” Immigration from one country to another is a complex psychosocial process with significant and lasting effects on an individual’s identity. Leaving one’s country involves profound losses. However, alongside […] Continue reading >

May 192012

“My homeland,” says the guest, “no longer exists. My homeland was Poland, Vienna, this house, the barracks in the city, Galicia, and Chopin. What’s left? Whatever mysterious substance held it all together no longer works. Everything’s come apart. My homeland was a feeling, and that feeling was mortally wounded. When that happens, the only thing to do is go away.” —Konrad, a character in Sándor Márai’s novel “Embers” (1940)

Feb 112012
Accents in Both Languages

There are many nostalgic objects on immigrant bookshelves, and still the narrative as a whole is not that of nostalgia. Diasporic souvenirs do not reconstruct the narrative of one’s roots but rather tell the story of exile. They are not symbols but transitional objects that reflect multiple belonging. The former country of origin turns into an exotic place represented through its arts and crafts usually admired by foreign tourists. Newly collected memories of exile and acculturation shift the old cultural frameworks; [diasporic] souvenirs can no longer be interpreted within […] Continue reading >

Feb 032012
Going and Winning, Immigrant-Style

Alina Simone’s critically (and, on occasion, uncritically) acclaimed collection of personal essays "You Must Go and Win," documents her circuitous path through music industry’s wilderness and the discovery of her Russian roots. You must go and read it. At the risk of overgeneralizing: Simone deadpans as perhaps only an Eastern European can; her voice engages as perhaps only an American storyteller’s is able to. Simone has been called "a frenzied, Eastern European musician’s version of humorist David Sedaris." Both Simone and Sedaris find humor in the banality of life; both are […] Continue reading >

Jan 042012
The Freedom of the Birds: An Interview With Petr Sís

Following up on my review of Peter Sís’s new book “The Conference of the Birds” and our conversation at his reading here in Portland, Oregon, I asked Peter about his experience as an émigré. We spoke via Skype on New Year’s Eve, I in Slovak, he in Czech; the interview below is an English translation and edit of my Czech and Slovak notes. *** American Robotnik: In your latest book, “The Conference of the Birds”, birds are the main characters searching for the king that will solve the world’s problems. What […] Continue reading >