An Attempt to Define Exile by Najem Wali

Often, writers in exile are faced with the question why they left their country and whether ultimately this wouldn’t lead to a loss of their memories, to their forgetting those private and cherished places where they’ve lived for years. Do their works not then lose the warmth and familiarity of those who were still living in the country, and do their opinions not lose the same measure of authenticity? It’s certainly not an exaggeration to state that since the last century no writer has got around these sorts of questions, entirely regardless of which nationality he may be and whatever the reasons for his exile. How many creative artists had to tolerate the criticism that they had betrayed their native country because they left it – from Dante to Joseph Conrad up to Joyce, Márquez, Kundera and Vargas Llosa. And regardless of what are allegedly the intended answers of the respective inquirers in each case – incidentally, they’re usually more interested in politics than literature – at the end of the day they assess the writer not on the basis of his work, but his residence or creative home. This very restricted view then entices the many who look on writers in exile with suspicion anyway to reach a naive conclusion: that the latter must inevitably find it difficult to write about their home countries, since it’s virtually impossible to work through historical events adequately in a novel because this requires, among other things, an intellectual and psychological maturing process on location. And they obviously lack this. For these and other equally naive reasons, it’s perhaps better if the writer in question presently makes do with writing about exile.

In this case the critics evade the really crucial question whether purely on the grounds of having left his country a writer automatically loses the ability to remember the ‘there’ and to write about this based on his imagination? Is it therefore unavoidable for him really still to write about exile? I want to answer this question quite simply and directly. No. Not at all. Beautiful writing per se represents a kind of exile, even if the writer is living in the ‘home’, which is in any case a term used more in politics than the world of culture. Ultimately, a writer’s home is precisely his language, his being at home is the world that he creates of it, like the home of nomads is always where they settle. There is no strong relationship between the place, where I sit while I am writing, and my creative world of imagination that has no specific place and no limits.

©Najem Wali

Translated by Suzanne Kirkbright

This blog was originally published on ELit Literature House Europe on 25 June 2015.


Category: ELit Literature House Europe Observatory


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