Migration and “From Margin to Centre”
Writing and Belonging, writing about belonging: these are hot topics to write literature about for people ‘from somewhere else’, either real or imagined. That is, some of us are not ‘from somewhere else in our lifetime but are expected to be. Others, like me, have been ‘from somewhere else’ some time in our lifetime but are expected to stay that way: if you’ve once been ‘from somewhere else’ you will always be ‘from somewhere else’ – as if migration is impossible!
Migration literature, that’s the theme, and its topics include Identity, Otherness, Diaspora, Blackness – though not all of us are (visibly) black – hybridity. I stand out in this because I am expected not to be in this – though I am being reminded of being a foreigner every day, and as such asked when I am going back.
Though this is daily experience, I am not supposed to or expected to write about this. So it’s a strange thing. I am perhaps not ‘Other enough’! But that precisely creates a gap of invisibility for me again. So ironically, then, my presumed not-Other-enoughness takes me further away from the centre. I do understand this because I know that many in my position (foreigners of white appearance) do not yearn to write in the migration-and postcolonial genre. They might perceive their situation differently than me, or respond to it differently. It’s the thought(process) that counts! So, for me then for me perception and interpretation are my starting points for writing, not just unconsciously (hermeneutics could catch us all, with or without intention) – but consciously highlighted.
A typical postcolonial desire perhaps. The ‘surprise’ – that I engage in this – arises because my history is not obviously that of a colonised person – and the inability to think outside the box and across the colour line is taken for granted because the expected default mode is to get trapped in it! Plus in my own life I cannot ignore my ‘embodied knowledge’ (living as a foreigner) as well as my ‘inscribed knowledge’ (distant, if hidden, echoes of racial mixing within my family).
On some conceptual level, Amy Liptrot’s ‘The Outrun’ (a book I was fascinated by) comes
in handy here, as she is a second-generation English woman in Orkney, who was born there and who has a belonging there, but importantly not to the exclusion of London. We are Londoners, both, even if there is more to us than that.
Liptrot writes revealingly about always being in, and coming from, two distinctively different places. But the migration-genre of her writing seems to be overlooked in the book reviews I read, perhaps because this takes place within the same country Britain, and even more so because she writes eloquently about her alcoholism too: as if the two have nothing to do with each other! On the one hand this is of course true, as being a migrant doesn’t make you an alcoholic – but it could still be used as an (unconscious) coping strategy.
She is asking herself in her book why she became an alcoholic, and I see that she has an urge to ‘understand it all’ – the city and the islands. She wants to fit in, and thereby throws herself not only into party- and nightclub life but also into the corporate world. And the corporate world is stressful and it’s the place where the capitalist system is being remade everyday – which then in turn is responsible for the creation is marginal locations, such as small islands, impoverished countries, poverty per se. These are the places where people like me would call for a ‘redistribution of wealth’. But if you participate in this same system, it might drive you mad or to drink.
Liptrot mentions her fascination and engagement with ‘edges’, but doesn’t call for a redistribution – though this might be a hidden desire concealed in her drink, and now in the void she talks about that she is trying to fill.
I am fascinated by the different ways of thinking about edges. For Liptrot, edges are opposed to ‘balance’. It’s amazing that that never struck me in my own exploration of edges. My engagement with edges seem to have a more postcolonial conceptualisation: the desire to explore and question this arrangement: once again the redistribution-call, in favour of equality and (there it is) ‘balance’ (somehow echoing bell hooks ‘From Margin to Centre’ (1984)).
There are other edges of course, the elements and where they intersect: the coastlines, outlines, and horizons. As a nature-soul-writer too, I share this passion with Liptrot. But I see these edges as intersections, and therefore centrepieces, even if generally unrecognized. Once again here it is: perception and interpretation are my starting points. Hers too, of course, just differently, so it’s amazing to read about differences, and about similarities. I highly recommend the book.
Here’s a poem I wrote in 2009 about connecting places:
I can now recognise
That the rivers, mountains and forests, streets and junctions
Are my home
That they are, at least a part of, my own
Though others may never think so
Because the way I pronounce my words
Apparently disqualifies me
From those rivers, mountains and forests, streets and junctions
As I am not a part of this nation
Though it probably appears to be the case
When I don’t speak
Depends on my silence
This could be my home for all to see
When I am mute
When there is no obvious hint
Emanating from me
Yet in the many communities of foreigners and natives
They might trust or distrust me
For my colour
From which all apparent traces of Africa
Have been removed
My Otherness has been removed
From ambivalent visibility to audibility
Yet I am seen to compete with Other Others
Though this is not my intention
As I do not assimilate, no
No, I seek harmony. I seek peace, belonging, understanding
I seek connection
To These people and to all the Other people
I seek connection
Until the Others and the Ones will merge
I seek connection
Until home and abroad will merge
Until home will emerge without borders and limitations
Out of fragile, controversial and partial unconsciousness
Into our Collective Conscious. © Ursula Troche, 5.09