Global Nomads and TCKS- 21: The compulsion to depart

Edward Said on the many contradictory feelings and penchants of the global nomad: the fear of abandonment and the compulsion to abandon, the pain of departure and the compulsion to leave, the habit of packing as if one will never return to a place

The underlying motifs for me have been the emergence of a second self buried for a very long time beneath a surface of often expertly acquired and wielded social characteristics belonging to the self my paren­ts tried to construct, the “Edward” I speak of intermittently, and how an extraordinarily increasing number of departures have unsettled my life from its earliest beginnings. To me, nothing more painful and para­doxically sought after characterizes my life than the many displacements from countries, cities, abodes, languages, environments that have kept me in motion all these years. Thirteen years ago I wrote in After the Last Sky that when I travel I always take too much with me, and that even a trip downtown requires the packing of a briefcase stocked with items disproportionately larger in size and number than the actual period of the trip. Analyzing this, I concluded that I had a secret but ineradicable fear of not returning. What I’ve since discovered is that despite this fear I fabricate occasions for departure, thus giving rise to the fear voluntar­ily. The two seem absolutely necessary to my rhythm of life and have intensified dramatically during the period I’ve been ill. I say to myself: if you don’t take this trip, don’t prove your mobility and indulge your fear of being lost, don’t override the normal rhythms of domestic now, you certainly will not be able to do it in the near future. I also experience the anxious moodiness of travel (la mélancolie des paquebots, as Flaubert calls it, Bahnhofsstimmung  in German) along with envy for those who stay behind, whom I see on my return, their faces unshad­owed by dislocation or what seems to be enforced mobility, happy with their families, draped in a comfortable suit and raincoat, there  for all to see. Something about the invisibility of the departed, his being missing and perhaps missed, in addition to the intense, repetitious, and predict­able sense of banishment that takes you away from all that you know and can take comfort in, makes you feel the need to leave because of some prior but self-created logic, and a sense of rapture. In all cases, though, the great fear is that departure is the state of being abandoned even though it is you who leave.

 Out of Place: A Memoir

Originally posted on Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

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