the soil you were born on
December 26, 2009, 3:52 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , ,

Patriotism is a source of endless mystery for the global nomad.  And not just the global nomad – someone who grew up between worlds by virtue of his diplomat or international business or missionary parents – but really also anyone who is committed to the precepts of modernism, an interest in the other, difference, the world outside.

Following is an excerpt from Michael Erard’s article Notes on Being Born on Soil at Design Observer.  He describes in 10 points how, with your longing for Texas as strong as it is after you move away, you can make sure your baby’s delivery in Maine is – metaphorically he says – born on Texas soil by slipping a ziplock of dirt under the bed.

Places have a great draw in our emotional lives.  We all exist somewhere between the poles of drifting in the world untethered, and being closely connected to it.  Every time I return to my birth country I feel like – but rarely follow through on – stooping and kissing the ground outside the airport terminal.  I grew up as a foreigner in my birth country India and so my emotions toward it are more complex than were I an Indian national.  In a sense I am allowed to love it, even excessively, and you could never call me a nationalist.  Furthermore, I can call you a nationalist if you are native born and overly emotional about your birthplace and not, like me, a foreigner born on foreign soil, whose emotions derive from extra-nationalist sources.

So what about the baggie with the soil under the bed your wife is screaming in, giving birth to your baby?  At first I thought it is a fetishization of me, where I’m from, my forefathers.  And then I remembered my impulse to kiss the ground outside the airport.  So, I’m ambivalent but still tilt toward judgement of excessive patriotism.  Especially in the context of a culture / country that remains largely silent in the face of the dominant – and highly toxic – tendency toward nationalism and patriotism.

Here is the excerpt:

1. I was born on soil; so were you. Which is to say, we were born in a place and no other, to which our forebears feel attached, and if we do too we may proclaim, “I was born on the soil of this place,” in order to stake a claim of identity. From time to time you hear stories about patriots in exile who make the leap of enabling their children to enjoy the symbolic equivalence of having been born in the motherland through an implementation of the metaphor in its most literal way: putting dirt under a woman who is giving birth.

2. You may not think this practice actually exists. It’s true, you don’t hear about children born on, say, Delaware soil. In 1993, the Weekly World News reported on a woman from Texas, a “Lone Star lady,” who wanted her baby born on Texas soil in New York City. “The soil was sterilized, sealed in a sterile pouch, and placed beneath the woman,” read the article. “Baby born on Texas soil — in New York!” the headline exclaimed. When I moved to Texas in the early 1990s, I heard similar tales. Apocrypha, I thought. Then I left the state, and it was my turn.


9. Later I read in a thread that the office of the governor of Texas will send a package of hospital-approved dirt along with a certificate (which suggests that being born on soil is not, in fact, enough). But the woman who answered the governor’s information line told me she’d heard of no such thing.

-excerpted from Notes on Being Born on Soil, Michael Erard, Design Observer

call yourself colonel
October 14, 2008, 10:37 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , , ,

In the following excerpt from an interview with author Luc Sante is a wonderful view of the relationship between being free and being a criminal.  Very topical, don’t you think, with all the free criminals running around? — and also running things, come to think of it.

It describes a lonely American journey to – I’m not quite sure, fulfillment perhaps.  The journey begins with an act of radical emancipation from the world and identity.  The new blank slate allows the sojourner to establish a completely new and infinitely more desirable identity.  In theory and lore it ends there with the traveler having left behind his ignominious past and realizing his dream of fantastic wealth and honor and bad taste.

But the journey rarely ends as the theory describes it – the dream of riches and happiness.  Rather the journey that began in delusion ends in despair.

We all want a good life and some of us more than others.  In all of us is a need to hide the ugly qualities and remake ourselves so we present well to the people we want to love us.  For some of us the tendency to remake ourselves unnaturally is evident in small insignificant transparent correctable doses.  For others the tendency is a cancer that grows large and overtakes the soul.

Here is the excerpt from the Believer interview with Luc Sante, the Belgian American author of Low Life and Kill All Your Darlings.

BLVR: Are you saying that going on the lam is consistent with an American ideal that we can constantly move, escape, get a fresh start, begin a new life somewhere else? Is there a romanticization of criminals that the culture embraces? That criminals may be the last truly free men?

LS: Well, think about it: the founding myth of this country involves pushing farther and farther out into terra incognita, cutting ties to family and background, maybe adopting a new name and a completely concocted new identity, and somehow making lots of money, the existence of which in sufficient quantity is enough to stifle any questions about its provenance. The land that formerly belonged to the Sioux, the copper that formerly belonged to the Navaho, the skins that formerly belonged to the beavers, the stake that formerly belonged to the miner who caught diphtheria—they’re yours now, pal. Call yourself “Colonel” and declare that your fortune was left to you by Dutch burghers from the seventeenth century. Now you’re a solid citizen, the embodiment of hard work and rugged individualism. You’re no criminal. The criminal is the guy who comes up short, who gets caught, who fails to adopt a respectable cover. But after a while the solid citizen gets to missing those wild years, even as he is ensconced in his forty-room Carrera-marble Beaux-Arts palace on upper Fifth Avenue. He thinks wistfully of how he used to hop freights, sleep in culverts, drink white lightning in hobo jungles, take a sash-weight to his competitors, go through the pockets of the recently dead. He envies those who live that life now denied him forevermore. It seems to him that he’s a prisoner of his own success and that those yeggs out there are truly free.

~Believer interview with Luc Sante