“Exiles always travel light”


Having just spent a few months in Britain, I was really moved to read an article about exile by Costica Bradatan in the New York Times:

“Uprooting is a devastating blow because you have to separate yourself overnight from something that, for as long as you can remember, has been an important part of your identity. In a sense, you are your culture, customs, language, country, your family, your lovers. Yet exile, should you survive it, can be the greatest of philosophical gifts, a blessing in disguise. In fact, philosophers, too, should be uprooted. At least once in their lives. They should be exiled, displaced, deported — that should be part of their training. For when your old world goes down it also takes with it all your assumptions, commonplaces, prejudices and preconceived ideas. To live is to envelop yourself in an increasingly thicker veil of familiarity that blinds you to what’s under your nose. The more comfortable you feel in the world, the blunter the instruments with which you approach it. Because everything has become so evident, you’ve stopped seeing anything. Exile gives you a chance to break free. All that heavy luggage of old “truths,” which seemed so only because they were so familiar, is to be left behind. Exiles always travel light.

“The redeeming thing about exile is that when your “old world” has vanished you are suddenly given the chance to experience another. At the very moment when you lose everything, you gain something else: new eyes. Indeed, what you eventually get is not just a “new world,” but something philosophically more consequential: the insight that the world does not simply exist, but it is something you can dismantle and piece together again, something you can play with, construct, reconstruct and deconstruct. As an exile you learn that the world is a story that can be told in many different ways. Certainly you can find that in books, but there is no deeper knowledge than the one that comes mixed with blood and tears, the knowledge that comes from uprooting.

“Exiles travel light because they barely exist. And that’s another important lesson philosophers can learn from exile: Uprooting gives you the chance to create not only the world anew, but also your own self. Deprived of your old world, your old self is left existentially naked. It is not only worlds that can collapse and be rebuilt, but also selves. Selves can be re-made from scratch, reassembled and refurbished. For they, too, are stories to be told in different ways. Often with uprooting there also comes a change of languages, which makes the refashioning all the more fascinating. You can fashion yourself in very much the same way a writer fashions her characters.”

You can read the whole article here: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/08/16/the-wisdom-of-the-exile/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0. I liked the piece very much and not just because I have been thinking about remaining at home and/or being away. I have always been convinced that being in exile has been particularly important for the kind of writing that I am interested in. I was talking about this idea recently for an interview as part of the Devolved Voices project at Aberystwyth University, led by Peter Barry, Matthew Francis, Kathryn Gray and Bronwen Williams. What I try to talk about in that interview is the idea that after the movement towards devolution in the nineties, there was an act of looking outwards to other contexts and cultures, and the role models that I found tended to be (often but not always) women writers looking beyond Welsh culture while keeping Welshness firmly in mind as a point of comparison. The interview should be posted soon, and there is a great collection building up on the website for the project of interviews with various Welsh writers: Meirion Jordan, Damian Walford Davies, Richard Marggraf Turley, Matthew Francis, Rhian Edwards, Tiffany Atkinson, Katherine Stansfield, Ian Gregson, Jasmine Donahaye, Dai George, Kate North, Nia Davies, Joe Dunthorne, Philip Gross, and Pascale Petit.