Monday, April 6, 2009

Home, Sweet Home

I must have been a Roman in a past life, cause for me, ubi bene ibi patria. Which of course makes me less suited for living in the modern world. For once, I always get annoyed when people assume that 'my place' or 'my home' has to be my place of birth.

Yes, I confess to the huge sin of moving out of my birthplace city and not missing it a bit. And why should I? The world is so big, filled with so many wonders, I couldn't resist it... I know that many people who leave their birthplace cannot escape it: they long for it constantly, romanticizing their life there and missing the trees, the birds, the air, the water - pretty much everything. Or, better said, their memory of this 'everything': the memory of a place that no longer exists, but only in their imagination.

The other day, a friend said "come back home". But I am home. Maybe I'm like a snail: I carry my home with me. Why do homes have to be rooted in a place? For David Morley (2000), the boundary constructing what is 'home' and what is 'elsewhere' is a shifting terrain, particularly in the context of global mobility and information flow. 'Home' came to be associated with a stable place, a stability derived not only from your position in the family structure, but also from the sharing of similar norms. At home, one simply knows. One doesn't have to 'learn' - it is easy to take things for granted, not to challenge the given 'order of things', to paraphrase Foucault's famous book. In my own experience of moving, I found out that the hardest thing to do is to remain open to change: to be willing to learn, to be willing to challenge yourself. One learns street names and meeting points quite quickly; but one has a very hard time getting used to the smells, the tastes and the rules of interaction.

Of course, no discourse loves 'homes' more than nationalism, linking 'nation', 'state' and 'home' in one unitary and powerful symbol, eliciting loyalty and uncritical adoration. The nation is not only a home and a family - it is a magnificent one. It is exceptional, which of course makes your own little pathetic life look more important than it is. In fact, nationalism is an ideology of 'geographical monogamy': you can only have one home in one national place. The promiscuous one is the one living in many places (Agnes Heller quoted in Morley, 2000, p. 41); s/he who has a home everywhere is not credible. How can s/he be loyal if s/he belongs to more than one family?

Yet, there was always someone who has inhabited that promiscuity, who has moved from one home to another. At least in patriarchal societies, that someone was the woman: born into a family, married into another, and sometimes creating a new family altogether. Medieval aristocracy knew this too well: the value of a woman was not only in her dowery, but in the bridges she could create across families. Anthropologists noted this pretty early in the study of non-Western, patriarchal societies: the woman is inahbiting that liminal space, being an "Other" to the family as well as a "Mother" of it. She's perpetuating the family, yet she's also merely a tool for this; it is not her lineage that counts, but that of the man. Like Dalilah, the woman brought into the family remains an "Other", a (needed) intruder who cannot be trusted because her home lies elsewhere.

Photo credits: suika*2009(ins&outs)
References: Morley, D. (2000) Home Territories: Media, Mobility and Identity. London and New York: Routledge.

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