In his provocative essay on the place of the committed writer in contemporary western society (“Inside the Whale”), George Orwell makes a passing observation about the effects of exile, self-imposed or otherwise, on the scope of a writer’s subject and purpose: “[L]eaving your native land,” he suggests, “[. . .] means transferring your roots into shallower soil. Exile is probably more damaging to a novelist than to a painter or even a poet, because its effect is to take him out of contact with working life and narrow down his range to the street, the cafJ, the church, the brothel and the studio.” He has in mind Henry Miller inFrance, and thus one assumes the felt sense of marginalization has a great deal to do with having to deal in a language other than one’s own. Still, anyone who has traveled abroad, let alone lived there for some time, will acknowledge the central insight that ‘exile’ can shock the sensitivities of most artists and, until they become true cosmopolitans who are equally at home in two or more cultures, arguably shrink their expressive abilities. Orwell is describing a certain sort of expatriate -- the ‘artist’ -- but there is plenty of evidence that the experience he describes for Henry Miller rings true for migrants of whatever social, educational, or economic class: what is lost in the translation may be one’s self.
Global Fissures: Postcolonial Fusions
Hawley, J. C. (2006). Theorizing the Diaspora. In C. Joseph and J. Wilson (Eds.), Global Fissures: Postcolonial Fusions (pp. 3-16) Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi.