Place and Displace Part II

What is it to write from displacement?  Literature is rich with the diaspora of peoples who have spread out of ancestral lands, but what if  you had no ancestral land to be displaced from? What if you are diaspora of one? To quote Bob Dylan, “like a rolling stone,” and to have “no direction home” meaning you can’t have a direction home because it doesn’t exist.  I do belong to groups I can identify with wildland firefighters, commercial fishermen, and Polar workers, but they too disperse and even as we shift and move and move on we can never form that nucleus again.  Can Kerouac be that literary drifter of the highway without a place and no home to call his own writing out of displace?  Melville and the sea as home and the sailors and the strong armed harpooners who disappear after the ship ties off to the dock into the city until they need money or feel “growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul,” and so find a new crew as Ishmael did much to his bad luck.  Is the setting in these writings then the settings of places that bring people together for a particular season or in transition and not journeying to a place to make a home, even if that’s what they want?  Of Mice and Men, The Sheltering Sky, Blood Meridian, A Farewell to Arms, Moby Dick, On the Road, and on and on.  The setting’s details are then rendered not as a citizen of a place, but as one passing through and so does the description of the landscape take on a dangerous edge, an unfamiliar and hostile place or in the case of wildfire and the sea both a familiar and hostile place.  The writer’s job is to render the setting familiar and alien at the same time.  To see a place with the eyes of a stranger passing on.   And in these writings we sense not just movement, but the rootless existence of the characters as they ghost their way through the landscape.  Is one defining element in these settings, even as the action is unfolding, that we a sense the characters letting go, of loss, of remembrance running underneath it all?  We know Lenny isn’t going to make it long before he does.  They are hanging on to nothing in the land, and even if they want to they can’t and must in the end, in the words of Kerouac, “Accept loss forever.”

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