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 >

Jun 272013

[T]hese days we are wont to say not so much that all fiction is homesickness as that all homesickness is fiction—that home never was what it was cracked up to be, the haven of safety and affection we dream of and imagine. Instead, home is conceived of mostly as a conservative site of enclosure and closure, of narrow-mindedness, patriarchal attitudes, and dissemination of nationalism. And, indeed, the notion of “home” may have been, in recent times, peculiarly overcharged, as the concepts of “country” and “nation” have been superimposed on […] Continue reading >

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 >

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

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 >

Nov 192012
Two Centers

Imagination, always spatial, points north, south, east, and west of some central, privileged place, which is probably a village from one’s childhood or native region. As long as a writer lives in his country, the privileged place, by centrifugally enlarging itself, becomes more or less identified with his country as a whole. Exile displaces that center or rather creates two centers. Imagination relates everything in one’s surroundings to “over there”—in my case, somewhere on the European continent. It even continues to designate the four cardinal points, as if I […] Continue reading >

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 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 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 272012
Facing Forward, Looking Backward

Yet, in reality, most immigrants did not completely shed their pasts or free themselves from homesickness. They faced forward but also looked backward, gradually integrating themselves and their families into American culture while still holding on to Old World traditions, customs, and connections. Many felt homesick their whole lives, and for most [the emotion] served a useful psychological purpose. Feeling homesick allowed immigrants to express fidelity to old lifeways and family relationships even as they sought new social statuses and opportunities. It was a bridge that connected their old […] Continue reading >