It is right, of course, that many writers and artists are ‘geographically’ in exile. Yet in my view, back ‘home’ they had already gone into inner exile since they became aware of the pain in the country where they were born and lived, or better still let’s say: since they felt a constant ache in their mind and soul because of the experience of the state’s injustice to the people; since they also strictly rejected the social tyranny accompanying the terror of the state’s force and the latter being used as a justification for destroying everything that is beautiful. When sheer survival becomes the main content of life in a state, then all that is beautiful in this land becomes painful and the land itself becomes exile. To state this quite unequivocally: exile knows no limits, passionate yearning cannot be measured in terms of distance – it lives within you and is fatal. The sense of being a stranger – inner exile – begins when one feels lonely and abandoned, seeking a firm foothold on solid ground and this ground is pulled from beneath one’s feet. The feeling of being a stranger begins when the heart begins to wail a lament. Exile is much greater than external borders. It destroys the friendly association with the world, and with others. In this way, exile first begins ‘there’ at the moment when one becomes aware of one’s creative energy or pain. ‘Geographical’, outer exile is then only its logical, though tragic consequence. By adopting this explanatory model it is then only apt to assert that every form of creative writing is ultimately a creative achievement from within the confines of ‘exile’, the eternal exile of mankind and man’s strangeness ‘here’ and ‘there’.
When I studied German literature in the 1980s at Hamburg University, at first I focused on special interest topics in German ‘exile literature’, that is, those writers who left the country in their dozens after the takeover by the Nazis and Hitler in 1933. I learned in the process that you can count the novels, which deal with ‘geographical’ exile, on the fingers of one hand. The same applies for novels written in other languages, or at least for those novels, which I’m now reading in their original language, primarily in German and Spanish. Most truly great literary works were created in exile and are by no means about this ‘geographical’ exile, but rather about the idea of man’s eternal inner exile, about his social alienation because those who engage in creative activities are in league with what is absent. Their heroes embody a general human language that overcomes limits and they present the narrow ideas of headstrong nationalists in all their ridiculous dimensions – maybe because they have matured and grown up by breaking away from the seemingly so rigid definitions of national cultural identity.
By Najem Wali
Translated by Suzanne Kirkbright
This blog was originally published on ELit Literature House Europe on 5 October 2015.