Exile

The political leverage over the subject of immigration, and the question of the authenticity and status of displaced people has risen sharply in the last year. The problem of who such people are, across varying degrees of definition, and whether they have rights, or deserve access to sanctuary, is no longer a recognizable debate, it is really an open sore.

The current status of this dispute bears on the character and story of the ‘soldier’ in The Hidden Bend. Links to the soldier are here and here.

I heard an echo of the bait and switch political rhetoric, which we now hear constantly, while writing the soldier’s tale. I deflected that language and used it to a countervailing purpose. It was also an indirect response to the opportunism, to the conflation of identities and the cant from those vociferous protagonists who sought adherence to their objectives.

Originally, the character had never been conceived in such an environment, but in the writing it took on those layers because of the growing and wider antipathy, which has more recently, released a valve of the worst and darkest motives.

The soldier’s experience is carved out of war and victory, and then, almost imperceptibly, political forces react again and break the unquiet peace which leads to more chaos and violence.  In that situation the soldier, who acquires new attributes after the war, is driven into an untenable situation. As others have said, the soldier’s personal qualities and his unstinting enterprise is extraordinary; he continues to strive and resume the struggle.

In literature and in politics, exile is almost a requirement to attain the greater goal. For the writer, or artist, it represents a rejection of the status quo and the need to live elsewhere and reform. For some: Nabokov and Joyce, it was a permanent state. Nabokov said his life was determined by displacement and consequently he had none of the links and networks that settled people take for granted.

Political exile is even more imbued with meaning being the period when a leader collects their ideas into a form that eventually delivers them power and triumph over their opponents: Lenin at the Finland station, Mao after the Long March, Churchill’s so-called return from exile in Chartwell after the 1930s. Rare cases, where for most people exile is endless deprivation and defeat in every conceivable way.

A book is a small thing and The Hidden Bend, just a single voice. Although the expression of a fictional character’s experience lacks real effect and power, its meaning, and the reason novels are written and read after all, is to understand and reflect on another’s experience.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Repetition

A long time ago I read some letters, and other documents, written in the 1920s by Sudeten Germans. Sudetenland is the German name for a region in the modern Czech Republic, comprising, Moravia, Bohemia and Silesia. After the First World War the Germans there were in a minority. Politically they were part of what was then Czechoslovakia. But they resented their status; it was not what they wanted because it reminded them of what they had lost: being part of Germany, with all the tangible and other emotive links that old bond represented.

I read one of those documents again last week but this time it was by a man in Oklahoma. It wasn’t identical, but it carried enough of the same tone, pleas and ideas, as to suggest a connection. In the essay the man outlines the views, the blunted aspirations and the resentments of people who have been ignored for a long time.  Behind his text was an imperative as to how things ought to be, none of it unreasonable, and all it impossible to realize which made it more desperate.

The connection between Sudetenland and Oklahoma is implied; there are, of course, many details and conditions that are not alike in anyway at all, but nevertheless, the shared sense of experience, of being discarded, rendered irrelevant, is clearly drawn between the two eras.

It is not very surprising that experiences should share commonalities and be articulated in the same way. There must be thousands and thousands of such links between different people over different time periods. That is the essence of The Hidden Bend.

It is the political dimension that makes such a comparison intriguing. Such thoughts are being uttered, besides Oklahoma, in Leeds, Marseille, Lecce, and elsewhere. Through his experiences the Oklahoma essayist makes it clear why political change was obligatory. To the best of my memory, the Sudeten Germans agitated for a border that suited their interests which led to political affiliations necessary to their aims.

It’s not a great leap of the imagination to draw parallels between these two cases into some form of portentous determinism. But no; Kierkegaard firmly shut the possibility of such an idea, and that type of facile inference has exclusive cogency on talk-back radio.

History doesn’t repeat but in nearly similar circumstances, people use familiar refrains to express grievance and self-pity, to claim righteous indignation and rebuke their enemies, to strain for what has gone, but which, in a phrase, can still be held, even in the mouth, and shared between people. It is self-fulfilling and justifies itself through its rancor. Reaction and retribution repeat.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2017. All Rights Reserved.