Friday, July 10, 2009

A Response to Reading Edward Said's 1984 Essay, "Reflections on Exile" (in which I begin to argue that we are in a global paradigm of exile that we need to work through in order to move forward--to embrace vulnerability is to begin to work through this paradigm)

ES: Exile is “the unhealable rift forced between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted."

TD: I feel self-conscious saying this because I have never suffered the terror of war or displacement from any actual shelter. By world standards, I have always lived in affluence. Yet, those words completely describe how I feel in the world.

I had a nervous breakdown in 1998. Around that time I was walking my dog and walked by a native man also out walking. He was good looking. He had long hair, a long black coat. He didn’t look like he was having a nervous breakdown or like he was poor or under the influence of some substance. We simply walked past each other. But at that moment I knew in a visceral sense that he and I were both exiles. That’s when I began to use this word to describe myself.

Later I began to realize that the damage our society wreaks on native people, we also wreak on ourselves. It’s just that white people don’t come into the world with an inherited worldview that is squashed (like native people). We don’t have their worldview so our squashing is readymade. Many people don’t notice.

ES: “We have become accustomed to thinking of the modern period itself as spiritually orphaned and alienated, the age of anxiety and estrangement.”

TD: He wrote this in 1984, before the ubiquitousness of serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

ES: “Nietzsche taught us to feel uncomfortable with tradition, and Freud to regard domestic intimacy as the polite face painted on patricidal and incestuous rage.”

TD: I love the volumes this sentence speaks.

ES: He argues that our modern Western culture has been the work of “exiles, émigrés, refugees," citing Steiner who wrote that in this time of “quasi-barbarism, which has made so many homeless,” it is fitting that the writers and poets themselves are refugees.

ES: There have always been exiles but the difference between then and now, “it bears stressing: scale.”

TD: The scale is even more devastating today. I believe that I am connected (all of us are connected) to global energy and my feelings of exile are directly related to what goes on for those poor souls who really live it: as humans we do not care for each other. I just allow myself to feel it more deeply than most people.

ES: He is writing against a kind of heroism, or romanticizing, of exile as a way to understand the human condition.

TD: And yet, I need to read this piece to understand and see mirrored my own feelings of exile.

ES: He argues that exile is caused by other human beings (brutal politics and wars); “it has torn millions of people from the nourishment of tradition, family, and geography.”

TD: I have never felt that nourishment on a deep level although I come from kind parents and lived in the same city in a tolerant, safe country for all of my childhood. In modernity or post-modernity, we have to rely on home in the heart. This is what I am continually working on for myself.

ES: Said advises: “You must first set aside Joyce and Nabokov and think instead of the uncountable masses for whom UN agencies have been created.”

TD: Yes. Again, I will not equate Joyce’s or Nabokov’s (or my) sufferings with those “for whom UN agencies have been created,” but I will argue that Joyce and Nabokov (and me) do represent the global beingness or thingness or theme or paradigm of exile.

ES: “the interplay between nationalism and exile is like Hegel’s dialectic of servant and master, opposites informing and constituting each other”

TD: No kidding. Nationalism is fairly meaningless to me (although I am grateful for this tolerant-by-world-standards country, Canada). It’s meaningful to those who want to hold the power. On one extreme, there are the Taliban and the crazy North Korean guy, but corporate capitalism uses nationalism to its advantage too. I’m interested in connection and openness. So anyone willing to expand the circle, those are my people. There’s an argument by Seth Godin on TED that human tribes are reconstituting on the internet (http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/seth_godin_on_the_tribes_we_lead.html). Makes sense to me. I’m fucking scared of lots of those other tribes. I do feel like I am a warrior in a battle. Ironically, I use my vulnerability (in my Human Body Project and other writing) as my “weapon.” I also keep getting braver about speaking up. But, oh my God, I wish I were cleverer about the balance between force and persuasion. I am so impatient and so “in it” I can’t quite believe others are not.

What do the post-nationalist, heartful, globally connected, tribe members need to do to achieve post-nationalism? I can’t do better than Gandhi’s “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

ES: Said’s interpretation of Israel and Palestine’s side by side exile stories: “It is as if the reconstructed Jewish collective experience, as represented by Israel and modern Zionism, could not tolerate another story of dispossession and loss to exist alongside it;" the Palestinians have “for 46 years … been painfully reassembling a national identity in exile.”

TD: Sad to read from 1984… 46 + 25 = 71 years now. Looks like an established paradigm, no?

ES:“The pathos of exile is in the loss of contact with the solidity and the satisfaction of earth: homecoming is out of the questions.

TD: I believe that when we truly understand our connection with all humans and the whole earth--this requires the vulnerability of openheartedness--our exile will end. The earth will be our home.

ES: “Exiles look at non-exiles with resentment.”

TD: I am mostly uncomprehending of why this paradigm of exile works for so many in our culture (serotonin reuptake inhibitors?). I don’t feel resentment; am lonely though.

ES: Exile originated with banishment, “refugee” = bewildered herds, “exile” = more spiritual and solitary.

TD: I see our society as a bewildered herd—they are refugees from generations of struggle and war who are still stuck in concerns of materialism and external appearance—and myself as an outsider in that.

ES: Georg Lukacs, Theory of a Novel, argued that the novel is THE form of ‘transcendental homelessness’; epics came from stable life, novel from the “opposite experience."

ES: Exiles as willful, exaggerators, overstaters, stubborn

TD: Oh my God, if this was a Facebook quiz I would be 100% exile!

ES:  “How is it that the literature of exile has taken its place as a topos…?”

TD: I am arguing that it is a paradigm of contemporary life because humans have not yet learned the teachings of Christ and Gandhi (and others); the scale of it, the paradigm of it—will we finally learn the lesson?

ES: Simone Weil: ‘To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.’

TD: I argue that love is a form of rootedness and love for self, created in the child by filling her early life with loving interactions and nurturing of mind-body-spirit, will create love for self. But who has had this upbringing?

ES: Said discusses the exile’s tendency to join various parties, national movements, etc

TD: Not a worry for me. My state of exile is not one relating to my nationality. But I am the daughter of a more or less exiled Greek who came to this country rather than struggle pretty desperately at home and a farm girl who came to the city. I grew up with connection to materialism and looking good to the neighbours. These were my roots. TV and other media, this is my culture.

ES: Theodor Adorno uses the term I wrote above! He “saw all life as pressed into ready-made forms”—everything is a commodity even what we say and think, “To refuse this state of affairs is the exile’s mission.” ‘It is part of morality not to be at home in one’s home.’

TD: How great to have my own words, my moral outrage, and sense of purpose reflected back to me here.

ES: Adorno also notes that our only available home is in writing.

TD: I would expand on that: living authentically (i.e. openheartedly, i.e. vulnerably).

ES: “We take home and language for granted; they become nature, and their underlying assumptions recede into dogma and orthodoxy.”

TD: And family, and tradition (as in Nietzsche and Freud above)—i.e. taking these gifts for granted has devalued them from their sacredness… I think of the comedian Louis CK and his widely watched youtube video “Everything is amazing, nobody is happy” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jETv3NURwLc) in which, for instance, he speaks about plane travel (amazing!!!) and the passenger who upon getting cut off from highspeed internet while flying (a technological advance that has only just come into being—I remember being totally thrilled in the early ‘90s using a friend’s mobile phone from a car and phoning another friend: “Hey, I’m calling you from a car!” I felt like James Bond.) yells, “This is bullshit!” The tyranny of convenience.

ES: “Exiles cross borders, break barriers of thought and experience.”

TD: Definitely a byproduct of my own exile.

ES: I must think on this, Hugo of St. Victor, a 12th C monk: “The tender soul has fixed his love on one spot in the world; the strong man has extended his love to all places; the perfect man has extinguished his.’

TD: This is similar to Buddhist philosophy of non-attachment, to be with it all, type of thing. I am in the “strong man” phase; I believe we need to love “all places” or we won’t have any place, i.e. we are physical, feeling beings and our loss of reverence for this miracle is our downfall.

ES: Hugo says strong or perfect only comes about by “working through attachments” not by rejecting them.

TD: I love it when the Christians and the Buddhists intersect; I detest the commonly disseminated oversimplified views of Christianity.

ES: Said says that “loss is inherent” in the idea of home, “Regard experiences as if they were about to disappear.”

TD: To go beyond the idea of home and place; to acknowledge life and heart and physicality as a gift rather than a difficulty to be rejected and eased by “home” where loss is inherent; to live owning that loss = openheartedness and vulnerability; I feel that I am in the forefront of an energetic movement of people learning how to do this; my exile is my gift to “work through” my attachments.

ES: “Only someone who has achieved independence and detachment, someone whose homeland is ‘sweet’ but whose circumstances make it impossible to recapture that sweetness, can answer these questions. (Such a person would also find it impossible to derive satisfaction from substitutes furnished by illusion or dogma).” “’Seeing the entire world as a foreign land’ makes possible originality of vision.”

TD: In a way, I am that person. Except that I still have such a yearning and hope for that sweetness. I find it interesting that he uses that word. I believe our refugee culture is addicted to sugar for this exact reason--desperate need for that sweetness of home. Home is myself. It’s not sweet yet; I’m not there yet. But I get it.

ES: Last two sentences: “Exile is life left outside habitual order. It is nomadic, decentered, contrapuntal; but no sooner does one get accustomed to it than its unsettling force erupts anew.”

TD: Sounds like my life. But who are these people who live orderly lives? How do they manage it? In my understanding, they do it by keeping things tight, controlled, understandable. It’s for survival, I get that. I would do it if I could but some karmic decision on my part led to an ability to be open to the energy of the world. After reading this piece and thinking on it, I get that this paradigm of exile is part of the energy that is shifting from static (the word state is in there) and nationalist to global and dynamic/flowing/generative. But what an uncomfortable and difficult and dramatic shift. I am and have been living it in my body and being. I wish I were more: “It’s all good.” But I struggle.

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