May 172013
 

Their home now was a country in which they had not been born. Their place in society they had established themselves through the hardships of crossing and settlement. The process had changed them, had altered the most intimate aspect of their lives. Every effort to cling to inherited ways of acting and thinking had led into a subtle adjustment by which those ways were given a new American form. No longer Europeans, could the immigrants then say that they belonged in America? —Oscar Handlin in The Uprooted: The Epic […] Continue reading >

May 152013
 

We are come to rest and push our roots more deeply by the year. But we cannot push away the heritage of having been once all strangers in the land; we cannot forget the experience of having been all rootless, adrift. Building our own nests now in our tiredness of the transient, we will not deny our past as a people in motion and will find still a place in our lives for the values of flight. In our flight, unattached, we discovered what it was to be an […] Continue reading >

May 072013
 

The life of the immigrant was that of a man diverted by unexpected pressures away from the established channels of his existence. Separated, he was never capable of acting with the assurance of habit; always in motion, he could never rely upon roots to hold him up. Instead he had ever to toil painfully from crisis to crisis, as an individual alone, make his way past the discontinuous obstacles of a strange world. But America was the land of separated men. Its development in the eighteenth century and the […] Continue reading >

May 032013
 

The old folk knew then they would not come to belong, not through their own experience nor through their offspring. The only adjustment they had been able to make to life in the United States had been one that involved the separateness of their group, one that increased their awareness of the differences between themselves and the rest of the society. In that adjustment they had always suffered from the consciousness they were strangers. The demand that they assimilate, that they surrender their separateness, condemned them always to be […] Continue reading >

Apr 252013
 

Since [Eden], is there anyone who does not—in some way, on some level—feel that they are in exile? We feel ejected from our first homes and landscapes, from childhood, from our first family romance, from our authentic self. We feel there is an ideal sense of belonging, of community, of attunement with others and at-homeness with ourselves, that keeps eluding us. The tree of life is barred to us by a flaming sword, turning this way and that to confound us and make the task of approaching it harder. […] Continue reading >

Apr 232013
 

I had come here doing what all exiles do on impulse, which is to look for their homeland abroad, to bridge the things here to things there, to rewrite the present so as not to write off the past. I wanted to rescue things everywhere, as though by restoring them here I might restore them elsewhere as well. I wanted everything to remain the same. Because this too is typical of people ho have lost everything, including their roots or their ability to grow new ones. It is precisely […] Continue reading >

Apr 152013
 

[W]anderers to the wide world often yearn toward the far direction whence they have come. Why even the birds who fly away from their native places still hasten to go back. Can a man feel really happy condemned to live away from where he was born? Though by leaving he has cut himself off and knows he never will return, yet he hopes, by reaching backward, still to belong in the homeland. —Oscar Handlin in The Uprooted: The Epic Story of the Great Migrations That Made the American People

Apr 052013
 

Foreigners frequently master the grammar of a language better than its native speakers, the better, perhaps to hide their difference, their diffidence, which also explains why they are so tactful, almost ceremonial, when it comes to the language they adopt, bowing before its splendor, its arcane syntax, to say nothing of its slang, which they use sparingly, and somewhat stiffly, with the studied nonchalance of people who aren’t confident enough to dress down when the need arises. —Andre Aciman in “Shadow Cities”, in: Letters of Transit: Reflections on Exile, […] Continue reading >

Mar 272013
 

[T]he change was not confined to economic matters. The whole American universe was different. Strangers, the immigrants could not locate themselves; they had lost the polestar that gave them their bearings. They would not regain an awareness of direction until they could visualize themselves in their new context, see a picture of the world as it appeared from this perspective. At home their eyes had taken in the whole of life, had brought to their perceptions a clearly defined view of the universe. Here the frame narrowed down, seemed […] Continue reading >

Mar 212013
 

Exiles see two or more places at the same time not just because they’re addicted to a lost past. There is a very real, active component to seeing in this particularly heightened retrospective manner: an exile is continuously prospecting for a future home—forever looking at an alien land as land that could conceivably become his. Except that he does not stop shopping for a home once he’s acquired one or once he’s finally divested himself of exile. He goes on prospecting, partly because he cannot have the home he […] Continue reading >

Mar 132013
 

Eventually, of course, one does stop being an exile. But even a “reformed” exile will continue to practice the one thing exiles do almost as a matter of instinct: compulsive retrospection. With their memories perpetually on overload, exiles see double, feel double, are double. When exiles see one place they’re also seeing—or looking for—another behind it. Everything bears two faces, everything is shifty because everything is mobile, the point being that exile, like love, is not just a condition of pain, it’s a condition of deceit. Or put it […] Continue reading >

Mar 032013
 

An accent is a tell-tale scar left by the unfinished struggle to acquire a new language. But it is much more. It is an author’s way of compromising with a world that is not his world and for which he was not and, in a strange sense, will never be prepared, torn as he’ll always remain between a new, thoroughly functional here-and-now and an old, competing altogether-out-there that continues to exert a vestigial but enduring pull. An accent marks the lag between two cultures, two languages, the space where […] Continue reading >

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”

Oct 172012
 
Great Difficulty in Translating Observations

What he refers to as the “stupidity” of the American masses, who are satisfied by the purely material advantages of this new civilization, is exceptionally irritating to the Eastern intellectual. Raised in a country where there was a definite distinction between the “intelligentsia” and the “people,” he looks, above all, for ideas created by the “intelligentsia,” the traditional fermenting element in revolutionary changes. When he meets with a society in which the “intelligentsia,” as it was known in Central or Eastern Europe, does not exist, he has great difficulty […] Continue reading >