Milosz writes of one of the global nomad’s particular challenges: the problem of integrating multiple sense impressions and selves, and of having no sturdy culture against which to shape oneself:
My own case is enough to verify how much of an effort it takes to absorb contradictory traditions, norms, and an overabundance of impressions, and to put them into some kind of order. The things that surround us in childhood need no justification, they are self-evident. If, however, they whirl about like particles in a kaleidoscope, ceaselessly changing position, it takes no small amount of energy simply to plant one’s feet on solid ground without falling.
What then is ordinary? Films and books or some other reality entirely? War or peace? The past or the present? An old-time custom or a parade with red banners? This chauvinist point of view or that? Doubtless, in order to construct a form one needs a certain number of widely accepted certainties, some kind of background of conformity to rebel against, which nonetheless generates a framework that is stronger than consciousness. Where I grew up, there was no uniform gesture, no social code, no clear rules for behavior at table. Practically every person I met was different, not because of his own special self, but as a representative of some group, class, or nation. One lived in the twentieth century, another in the nineteenth, a third in the fourteenth. When I reached adolescence, I carried inside me a museum of mobile and grimacing images: blood-smeared Seryozha, a sailor with a dagger, commissars in leather jackets, Lena, a German sergeant directing an orchestra, Lithuanian riflemen from paramilitary units, and these were mingled with a throng of peasants—smugglers and hunters, Mary Pickford, Alaskan fur trappers, and my drawing instructor. Modern civilization, it is said, creates uniform boredom and destroys individuality. If so, then this is one sickness I had been spared.
Originally posted on Wednesday, February 20th, 2012