waiting to be claimed
September 28, 2009, 10:56 pm
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I have always found Pico Iyer to be dispassionate about his self described state of transience, moving about the world; my experience of growing up global is like an agony of yearning.  In the following excerpt from his essay Living in the Transit Lounge, there is the start of a nice ambivalence that begins to resonate a little more for me.  He describes how the refugee and exile have strong feelings for both the place they are leaving and the place they are going to, but the transit lounger, the global soul, is caught is a sort of limbo:  he has more questions than answers, nothing is definite, with indistinct emotions, and resolves to merely watch his own life and wait – like a samsonite on a carousel – to be claimed!

If I have any deeper home, it is, I suppose, in English.  My language is the house I carry round with me as a snail his shell; and in my lesser moments I try to forget that mine is not the language spoken in America, or even, really, by any member of my family.

Yet even here, I find, I cannot place my accent, or reproduce it as I can the tones of others.  And I am so used to modifying my English inflections according to whom I am talking to – an American, an Englishman, a villager in Nepal, a receptionist in Paris – that I scarcely know what kind of voice I have.

I wonder sometimes if this new kind of non-affiliation may not be alien to something fundamental in the human state.  The refugee at least harbors passionate feelings about the world he has left – and generally seeks to return there; the exile at least is propelled by some kind of strong emotion away from the old country and towards the new – indifference is not an exile emotion.  But what does the Transit Lounger feel?  What are the issues that we would die for?  What are the passions that we would live for?

Airports are among the only sites in public life where emotions are hugely sanctioned, in block capitals.  We see people weep, shout, kiss in airports; we see them at the furthest edges of excitement and exhaustion.  Airports are privileged spaces where we can see the primal states writ large – fear, recognition, hope.  But there are some of us, perhaps, sitting at the Departure Gate, boarding passes in hand, watching the destination ticking over, who feel neither the pain of separation nor the exultation of wonder; who alight with the same emotions with which we embarked; who go down to the baggage carousel and watch our lives circling, circling, circling, waiting to be claimed.

Pico Iyer, Living in the Transit Lounge, Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing up Global, Eidse and Sichel, editors.

congenital displacement: Naipaul
February 14, 2008, 3:41 pm
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Naipaul is a foreigner at birth, every arrival is enigmatic, and crushingly, an outsider in both his place of ancestry and chosen soil.

“To understand the modern state, we are often told, we must read Naipaul, and see how people estranged from their cultures mimic people estranged from their roots.  Naipaul is the definitive modern traveler in part because he is the definitive symbol of modern rootlessness; his singular qualification for his wanderings is not his stamina, nor his bravado, nor his love of exploration – it is, quite simply, his congenital displacement.  Here is a man who was a foreigner at birth, a citizen of an exiled community set down on a colonized island.  Here is a man for whom every arrival is enigmatic, a man without a home – except for an India to which he stubbornly returns, only to be reminded of his distance from it.  The strength of Naipaul is the poignancy of Naipaul:  the poignancy of a wanderer who tries to go home, but is not taken in, and is accepted by another home only so long as he admits that he’s a lodger there.”

Pico Iyer