The exile, he who voluntarily or under duress leaves his homeland, is one of the protagonists of our time, especially if by “home” we mean the world of belonging in the broadest sense: culture, ideas and morals. He is a creature of transformation, one who is different from what he might have been if he had not had the experience of departure.
Therefore, the migrant is perhaps one of the central defining figures of the XXI century. Millions of men and women live through this ordeal that is, in addition to the distress of emigrating to a country other than their own, an inevitably violent moment of change in themselves. An emigrant suffers a multiple upheaval: he loses his place of origin and of belonging, enters another language, and is surrounded by people whose social behaviour and codes differ greatly from his own. This is what makes emigrants such important figures: because roots, language and social norms are three major parts of what defines a human being. The emigrant, once he has been denied all three, must find new ways to describe himself and exist as a person.
When the unfamiliar enters the world it is not easy: not only is one’s life at risk, but there is also the risk of a total loss of the self, and people often just give up in the process.
The exile is a person who experiences the dramatic condition of absence, who is detached from his country and loses the cultural background that defines him because emigration is, at first, a violent act of deprivation, and only those who can transform themselves and re-create a place on which to rely are able to save themselves.
Repeatedly, the city is linked to the issue of immigration, because it is itself both a place of passage and a destination. It is the place where “things happen”, and may have a disquieting evocative value, because of its deep association with the sense of confusion and loss; or, conversely, it may be seen as exciting, because it becomes the real and metaphorical meeting place, where compresence gains significance and the concepts of multiplicity, coexistence of incompatible realities, and diversity of faiths and cultures are concentrated.
Cities then become the place of everything, because, like lives, they are crowded with people, facts, and things that contribute to assembling a grand mosaic. And the world city is an element of this new creation. The city becomes a meeting place and is, therefore, also the place of the emigrant who comes into contact with new realities and sees himself in relation to his new surroundings.
The human spirit is always the same but, in its migration, it assumes ever-changing forms. The new and most enigmatic product of our time is the migrant, who offers a different view of the world: that of those who start out from the experience of being uprooted, of separation and of metamorphosis.
I think the task that literature has to set itself today is to renew the language and explore the writings that express an attempt to re-claim the things and the world that also belong to “the other”; to show that morals and reality are an integral part of a culture and are variable, rather than external and absolute.
In these times, we are witnessing a modern epic; we see before us an era of tormented youth, of searching and desperation, not so much because of what those who flee are leaving behind, but because of their inevitable urge to move.
Just as the Iliad and the Odyssey were the founding myths of a culture and a civilization, and their protagonists were the champions, whether bright or obscure, of that battle, so will our era be remembered as the one of great migrations. What is yet to be written is the story of the birth of a new civilization, the definition of a new literature and perhaps a new literary canon.
We can only bear witness and fight on the front of what we believe to be our war, and only choose what to be among human beings. We will not stop anyone; it is impossible. Time and history do not stop.
One day, we will be the ones remembered by others.
Translation by Anna Anzani (edited by Roma O’Flaherty)