on exiles

We’ve been talking a lot about place in English Literature and Contemporary Fiction and writing. Fiction deals with space in multiple ways: one being the places where stories are set and, another, the story itself as a “space,” the latter being of prime concern to writers. The empty page is a landscape waiting to be painted over. The page or screen is a paradox: flat but mythological.

In class I often use my relationship with CT to illustrate peoples’ intimacy with space and place. I have yet to write a story set in the North East with the exception of something that I’m writing now. But this story deals with New York and Cambridge minimally. The primary setting is New Mexico and Arizona. I have to admit to often teasing CT for its bad weather and crowded feel, and, I think, unfairly. In the language of human geography, CT is distant, New Mexico is close, even though physically the opposite is true.

This is a problem that Hugh of St Victor is trying to teach me to work through. He writes in the Didascalicon:

He is still weak for whom his native land is sweet, but he is strong for whom every country is a fatherland, and he is perfect for whom the whole world is a place of exile. The first confirms his love for the world, the second disperses it, and the last extinguishes it. From boyhood I (Hugh) have lived in exile, and I know with what grief the spirit sometimes deserts the narrow limits of the poor mans hut, and with what sense of freedom it afterwards despises marble halls and paneled ceilings.

This is what I would call an example of dead-on writing. Hugh is a great teacher of teachers (who should also be students). That quote is a prime example of a wow factor.

8 thoughts on “on exiles

  1. Susan

    You say, “I have to admit to often teasing CT for its bad weather and crowded feel, and, I think, unfairly.” You also have remarked that we dress funny.

    But to the quote, I have to reread this one a couple times to myself before I comment, so I have cut and pasted into an e-mail to myself and will come back with something because, as you say, it does hit one right between the eyes.

  2. ersinghaus


    As in hypertext, IF, and whatever else, a good movie, Hugh must be read more than twice: the meaning is slow to appear, but when it does, it hits, as you say, between the eyes.

  3. Maureen

    I have to say that being a native of CT… CT is more than just bad weather and crowded feel…

    Yes, we endure snow storms and heat and cold springs…but there is more to it than that…

    When I think of New England…I think of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emily Dickenson, of colorful falls in Deerfield, Mass… There is nothing like a late afternoon when the sun sets over some craggy shagbarks to recall the colonial era… Some of those trees may well be over 300 to 400 years old…You may be touching history..the past…

    Okay, I ramble..but I do love the seasonal changes up here… I think that if we did not have fall or winter..you would not appreciate summer…

    Yes, there are things to hate about CT and New England as a whole..but it is not all bad…

    Perhaps I am taken in by the history of New England…Certainly, the early America of Nathaniel Hawthorne or even James Fenimore Cooper [The Deerslayer] has long since past…

    Maybe I cannot fully speak to the issue Steve brought up, for I have not lived in “exile”….

    The desert must call to you, Steve…:)

    Most Graciously,

    *A Mayde in her own little woode…

  4. Susan

    Freedom from things, places? Not dependent upon external ties? Living within one’s own soul as comprising the totality of one’s spirit? Am I getting warm?

  5. ersinghaus

    Both of you are warm, but, of course there is more to it than that. Hugh works in the Augustinian tradition, but many philosophies and religions embrace the essence of what he’s claiming. What is eternal vs. what is changing. Real vs. illusion, and so forth.

  6. Susan

    Lisa, your forte must be poetry; you speak a creative language.

    I wonder whether Hugh extends this feeling to mankind as well as physical surroundings, and feel he must, although I would need to read him to find out. I relate more to this understanding than I would to location perhaps, as having never been displaced.

  7. Susan

    In your post on Watchmen, you say: He is still weak for whom his native land is sweet could also mean the genres to which we are tied.

    Again, I both agree and disagree due to perception. I have always strived for exile, and regret in many ways that I have. It has left its mark and perhaps is largely responsible for muting my voice.

    However, remaining open to different things, unknown things, willing to change loyalties or add them does not constitute exile but rather immersion in a greater pool. This is the concept I am having trouble understanding. Few ties are ever fully severed without leaving a mark of the bindings.

  8. Maureen

    Lisa..Fall does not respresent only death….

    There is beauty there..a shedding…a time before the renewal of Spring…

    I feel sorry for those who do not know “seasons”….

    Most Graciously,

    *A Mayde in her own little woode..

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