“The worst things humans suffer is homelessness; we must endure this life because of desperate hunger; we endure, as migrants with no home.” Odysseus says this as he travels homeward-bound to Ithaca in Homer’s The Odyssey.
In contemplating this passage, I began to wonder at the burden that a home can seem to be, as much as it can also seem like a haven. Being a stranger in some foreign place can feel a good deal like being displaced, and returning to a childhood home can feel equally unsettling. Places that were once home can become as foreign through the passage of time as distant countries, and it seems as if this consequence is irreversible. And so, if we are, as Odysseus says, “migrants with no home” — what use is it to contemplate our lack of one?
A great deal of art and literature besides The Odyssey asks us to consider questions like this. What does it take to know a place? Why know a place at all? If one leaves — and most of us do, at one time or another — can one really return, or will one no longer recognize one’s place of origin? When held up to the refining light of art — from the Book of Exodus, to C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, to Greta Gerwig’s recent film Lady Bird — the meaning of a place is reaffirmed as an important human question, capable of evoking loyalty and distress in equal measure.
It is possible to respond to this quite cynically — is not, one might say, Narnia a kind of futile escapism? Alternatively, one can respond with hope. I would venture to suggest that the burdens of knowing a place, which include the eventuality of leaving, yoke us to our origins: we know where we come from, who we are, and what is at stake if we willingly forsake what we know. From on top of this solid ground, we may look out at the world more clearly, not toppling over, free to find other solid ground if we choose, or free to stay. Thus when art asks us to travel to a distant land or more deeply appreciate our place of origin, we may see the value in both tasks — place and displacement serve as the two sides of a balanced scale, neither held aloft without the other.
With this consideration in mind, Fragments will spend the next two months of March and April further exploring the implications of place and displacement. Our articles and creative pieces, in following with The Odyssey and countless pieces of contemporary art and literature, will seek to ask questions and pose insights about the ways in which our experience is deeply impacted by the places we know.
Editor in Chief