Nov 132014
Through Other Lenses: American Robotnik Readings for November 2014

From Around the Web “Conservatives Are Driving Americans Away from Religion” by Claude S. Fischer, Boston Review, October 15, 2014 — Self-explanatory. “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture” by A.O. Scott, The New York Times Magazine, September 11, 2014 — “[I]n doing away with patriarchal authority, we have also, perhaps unwittingly, killed off all the grown-ups.” “9 Reasons We Should Abolish Tipping, Once And For All” by Hunter Stuart, Huffington Post, October 17, 2014 — A follow-up to my two-part post on tipping. “Think There’s a Lot of […] Continue reading >

Oct 132014
Writing About Immigration Experience: "A Demolition"

Earlier this year I submitted a personal essay to Oregon Quarterly magazine’s 2014 / 15th Annual Northwest Perspectives Essay Contest. The look back at my immigration experience shortly after coming to the U.S. won first prize. You can read the original in the Summer 2014 print issue of Oregon Quarterly or online here. I reprint the essay here with permission of the magazine’s editor, Ann Wiens, and at the end I include two reader responses. A Demolition 7:41 a.m. I park Sam’s old Ford pickup on the near side […] Continue reading >

Oct 092014

Memory is potent…for almost any immigrant. As you scramble to piece together your future in an unknown environment, you only have the past and its customs to guide you. But the past and its customs are increasingly murky and useless. Faced with an unknown future, we retreat to the past for its safety. An inability to assimilate to their new homes—to abandon memories, language, traditions is the charge most often lobbed at immigrant communities. For immigrants, solitude and the trap of memory are central conditions. If our memories are […] Continue reading >

Oct 052014
Through Other Lenses: Readings for October 2014

From Around the Web The American Dream “The American Dream Is an Illusion: Immigration and Inequality” by Gregory Clark, Foreign Affairs, August 26, 2014 – “Immigration to the United States rarely changes one’s social status.” “‘American dream; is now a myth: How bad policies and worse ideology ruined us” by Heather Digby Parton, Salon, September 26, 2014 Children “The Shortening Leash” by Jessica Grose and Hanna Rosin, Slate, August 6, 2014 – “Kids today have a lot less freedom than their parents did.” Immigration Economics “The domestic economic impacts […] Continue reading >

Oct 032014

The newcomers make themselves at home; they adapt themselves easily and gladly to the material environment, and make a moral environment of their own on that solid basis, ignoring or positively condemning the religion and culture of the elder Americans. Perhaps the elder Americans are assimilated in spirit to the new ones more readily that the new Americans to the old. I do not mean that any positively German, Italian, Jewish, or Irish ingredients are incorporated into American traditions: on the contrary, the more recent immigrants are quick—much quicker […] Continue reading >

Sep 232014

Yet migration like birth is heroic: the soul is signing away her safety for a blank cheque. A social animal like man cannot change his habitat without changing his friends, nor his friends without changing his manners and his ideas. An immediate token of all this, when he goes into a foreign country, is the foreign language which he hears there, and which he probably will never be able to speak with ease or with true propriety. The exile, to be happy, bust be born again: he must change […] Continue reading >

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, […] Continue reading >

Aug 192014
Through Other Lenses: American Robotnik Readings for August 2014

From Around the Web Religion “The numbers are in: America still distrusts Atheists and Muslims” by Dan Arel, Salon, July 21, 2014 – “Intolerance towards those with different beliefs: A deeply American tradition.” Language “Learning to Speak American” by Tim Parks, New York Review of Books Blog, December 14, 2012 – Take it down a notch, American English. “Saturday Stat: The Invention of the ‘illegal immigrant’” by Lisa Wade, Sociological Images, August 17, 2014 – The phrase “illegal immigrant” wasn’t part of the English language before the 1930’s. Demographics […] Continue reading >

Jul 252014

I bump into plenty of people in America who tell me that they miss their native countries – Britain, Germany, Russia, Holland, South Africa – and who in the next breath say they cannot imagine returning. It is possible, I suppose, to miss home terribly, not know what home really is anymore, and refuse to go home, all at once. Such a tangle of feelings might then be a definition of luxurious freedom… Logically, a refusal to go home should validate, negatively, the very idea of home, rather in […] Continue reading >

Jul 212014

From Around the Web Immigration experience “On Not Going Home” by James Wood, London Review of Books, Vol. 36 No. 4, 20 February 2014, pp. 3-8 – Why, even as a voluntary migrant, you can never go back Home. “Losing my voice” by Chika Unigwe, Aeon Magazine, 14 March 2014 – “When I left Nigeria for Belgium, I made my husband’s home my own. But homesickness lodged like a stone inside.” How an African immigrant dealt with the “sorrow of migration.” “Reflections on Exile” by Edward Said, Reflections on […] Continue reading >

Jul 092013

Immigration, exile, being uprooted and made a pariah may be the most effective way yet devised to impress on an individual the arbitrary nature of his or her own existence. I knew something they didn’t, something hard to come by unless history gives you a good kick in the ass: how superfluous and insignificant in any grand scheme mere individuals are. And how pitiless are those who have no understanding that this could be their fate too. —Charles Simic, “Refugees”, in: Letters of Transit: Reflections on Exile, Identity, Language […] Continue reading >

Jul 032013

To be sure, in our human condition, it takes long, strenuous work to find the wished-for terrains of safety or significance or love. And it may often be easier to live in exile with a fantasy of paradise than to suffer the inevitable ambiguities and compromises of cultivating actual, earthly places. And yet, without some move of creating homing structures for ourselves, we risk a condition of exile that we do not even recognize as banishment. And paradoxically, if we do not acknowledge the possibility and the real pain […] Continue reading >

Jun 192013

[T]he potential rigidity of the exilic posture may inhere not so much in a fixation on the past as in habitual detachment from the present. [T]his posture, if maintained too long, allows people to conceive of themselves as perpetually Other, and therefore unimplicated in the mundane, compromised, conflict-ridden locality that they inhabit; it allows them to imagine the sources and causes of predicaments as located outside, in a hostile or oppressive environment, rather than within. —Eva Hoffman in “The New Nomads”, in: Letters of Transit: Reflections on Exile, Identity, […] Continue reading >

Jun 112013

[A]s a psychological choice, the exilic position may become not only too arduous but too easy. Perhaps the chief risk of privileging the exilic narrative is a psychic split—living in a story in which one’s past becomes radically different from the present and in which the lost homeland becomes sequestered in the imagination as a mythic, static realm. That realm can be idealized or demonized, but the past can all to easily become not only “another country” but a space of projections and fantasies. Some people decide to abandon […] Continue reading >