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 >

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 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 >

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 >

Jul 252012
All Places Are Distant

‘Tis a childish humour to hone after home, to be discontent at that which others seek; to prefer, as base Icelanders and Norwegians do, their own ragged island before Italy or Greece, the gardens of the world… All places are distant from heaven alike, the sun shines haply as warm in one city as in another, and to a wise man there is no difference in climes; friends are everywhere to him where he behaves himself well, and a prophet is not esteemed in his own country.” —Robert Burton […] Continue reading >

Jul 052012
We Live in a Homesick Culture

While nineteenth-century observers celebrated the railroad, steamboat, postal service, and telegraph as working wonders, contemporary Americans express the same optimism about computers, cell phones, airplanes, and cars. Some celebrate the abundance of products available everywhere, created by the machinery of corporate capitalism. As consumerism has become pervasive in American life, the ability to buy a sense of home has become easier. Chain stores and brand names have made the material world more homogeneous and in some ways more familiar. These innovations, from fast transport to global marketing to instantaneous […] Continue reading >

Jun 152012
Home in Two Places: An Interview with Olinka Broadfoot

I discovered the Prague-born artist and Portland, Oregon, resident Olinka Broadfoot about two years ago at a new gallery in SE Portland. Being an artistically-inclined nerd, I loved her circuit board series. Then two weeks ago, that now-defunct gallery’s owner Kelley Roy, who now runs ADX, told me Olinka’s new studio is in the Ford Building, where I was heading for the First Friday Open House. I missed Olinka at the studio but left behind my American Robotnik business card, and we arranged a conversation last week. We chatted in English. American […] Continue reading >

Jun 092012

When men are scattered in a strange country, the ‘consciousness of kind’ with fellow countrymen has a very special significance….To many an immigrant the idea of nationality first becomes real after he has left his native country; at home the contrast was between village and village, and between peasants as a class and landlords as a class. In America he finds a vast world of people, all speaking unintelligible tongues, and for the first time he has a vivid sense of oneness with those who speak his own language, […] Continue reading >

Jun 052012
Homesickness and the Dream of Return: The Problem With Going Home

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of this review of “Immigrants and the Dream of Return”, a chapter in Susan Matt’s “Homesickness: An American History” about the impact of homesickness on immigrants between 1870 and 1920. Though the nature of immigration in that period differed from later ones, several of its characteristics apply to this day. Shifting from Homesickness to Nostalgia Even after they decided to stay stateside, a significant portion of immigrants continued to want to return. The longer they stayed, the more difficult the return. Matt writes, Despite the fact that they […] Continue reading >

May 292012
Homesickness and the Dream of Return: Ethnic Colonies

Read Part 1 of the review of “Immigrants and the Dream of Return”, a chapter in Susan Matt’s “Homesickness: An American History” about the impact of homesickness on immigrants between 1870 and 1920. Though the nature of immigration in that period differed from later ones, several of its characteristics apply to this day. Selling Home to Immigrants Entrepreneurial immigrants recognized the commercial potential of homesickness. Food in particular created a huge opportunity. In the diaries and letters they left behind, immigrants made it clear that next to their families and their family homes, […] Continue reading >

May 232012
Homesickness and the Dream of Return: Leaving and Staying

In “Homesickness: An American History” Susan Matt tackles the development of the emotion in the United States. As a nation of immigrants, America has abundant experience with homesickness. Chapter 5 titled “Immigrants and the Dream of Return” focuses specifically on the period between 1871 and 1920, when some 20 million immigrants journeyed to America, and has the most to say about the immigrant experience with homesickness, both then and today. Clinging to Dreams of Return New, faster and cheaper transportation technology in the late 19th and early 20th century enabled […] 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 252012
Speaking of Home and Homeland

When we are home, we don’t need to talk about it. To feel at home is to know that things are in their places and so are you; it is a state of mind that doesn’t depend on an actual location. The object of [nostalgic] longing, then, is not really a place called home but this sense of intimacy with the world; it is not the past in general, but that imaginary moment when we had time and didn’t know the temptation of nostalgia. When we start speaking of […] Continue reading >