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Tag Archives: A Book of Migrations

“In their homelands, they were West Africans and West Europeans whose identities were determined by culture, heritage, region, but in this mixed new country, skin itself has currency as meaning, and they become black and whites. the whites who were at the bottom of the social ladder in Europe now have someone lower than them, and a lot of them seem to like it that way; they live for centuries in highly structured suspicion and interconnection.

“The ballads and rhythms of their musics mix with least inhibition, and in the twentieth century new indigenous musics evolve, out of the red dirt, the strong African and maybe Native American beats and rhythms, the Celtic melancholy, into the hillbilly music cleaned up as country and western, and into blues and rhythm and blues. They all dovetail as rock and roll, a medium that spreads less like imperialism than like the potato and becomes a local crop all over the world, particularly the English-speaking world, a local crop that expresses the insurrection of the young against tradition and authority, of the margin against the center, and that sometimes becomes an institution itself, like U2 in Ireland. The melancholy and the exuberance of slaves and outsiders have come, or come back, to Ireland.”

– Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

“Home, the site of all childhood’s revelations and sufferings, changes irrevocably, so that we are all in some sense refugees from a lost world. But you can’t ever leave home either; it takes root inside you and the very idea of self as an entity bounded by the borders of the skin is a fiction disguising the vast geographies contained under the skin that will never let you go. It is, if nothing else, the first ruler by which everything else will be measured, the place by which other places will be found hot or cold, bustling or serene, lush or stark. When I think back to my formation, it seems that landscape shaped me, made a home in the truer sense than the centerless house in the subdivision and an identity surer than the vague hints of familial and ethnic history than came my way.”

– Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

“Most stories are travel stories, and in traveling our lives begin to assume the shape of a story. It may be because a journey is so often a metaphor for life itself that journeying is satisfying.”

– Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

“The last display in this inanimate animal kingdom brought me back to Swift and his speculations on the human animal and its place on earth, or lack thereof. In the very back of the Natural History Museum in Dublin, the last case you’d come to, were four skeletons: a chimpanzee, an ‘Orang Utan,’ a gorilla, and a man… The apes were propped up by black rods attached to their spines and bolted to the floor, but the man was suspended from the ceiling by a golden chain attached to his skull with a wing nut. The installation seemed to propose that human and ape anatomies are analogous, but their essences are utterly different, that animals rise from the earth, but humans dangle from the heavens like God’s puppets, touching the ground but disconnected from it, strangers on earth.

On a little glass shelf above the chimp, the lacy bones of a tiny white-handed gibbons’ upright and humanlike skeleton presided, like a fanged angel with arms that reached its ankles.

“The suspension of the human skeleton gave visible form to what perhaps changed when upright across the land in the tenuous balance of bipedalism, their eyes focus on the distances that hardly exist in forests… The skeleton dangled as though it belonged to the sky and needed to grow the wings most bipeds have, to lift further from the ground of its origins; or it dangled with its feet just scraping the floor of the case as though it needed to come back to earth, as though with its straight treelike body it needed to put down roots, to solidify. It seemed to me that human beings when they became upright aspired to two conditions: becoming birds or becoming trees, wanderers or settlers, oscillating between their roots and their wings, exiled whichever way they turned.”

– Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

“Sentimentality is the enjoyment of emotion for its own sake, a kind of connoisseurship of feelings without the obligation to act on them, the narcissism of the heart.”

– Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

“Tourists have as peculiar an effect on a culture as invaders do, if not in so straightforward a manner. They are there, officially to see the exotic, the different, the ancient, but sooner or later a new economy springs up in their wake. Thus the culture they left behind appears again, or the place the come to see becomes its own impersonation.

“There are situations in which tourism can encourage the preservation of a place, but far more frequently, tourists inadvertently stimulate an industry at the cost of the local culture. Cultures, after all, evolve and change, but tourists most often wan an unchanged vision of the past. It ‘s hard to say to what extent a real past has been resurrected in these places, but the present has certainly been vanquished. Such tourist accommodation raises the question of whether a tradition still exists when it’s no longer carried on for traditional purposes. Thus an Aran Isles sweater knitted for an international market is not the same as an Aran Isles sweater knitted for the fisherman in the family. It looks the same, but it’s part of a market economy, not a subsistence economy. The vast and ever-expanding industry of tourism threatens to turn the whole world into a series of theaters whose companies perform palatable versions of their culture and history.”

– Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

“I wasn’t sure what I would find, but travel provides not confirmations, but surprises.”

– Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

“Bill spoke of how the Shoshone traditionally destroyed the property of those who died, so that there were almost no heirlooms, no objects passed down the generations, no accumulation of property. It was a circumstance that suited well the nomadism of the Shoshone in their arid homeland. Whatever its religious purposes, the custom kept people from piling up wealth over the generations, forestalling inheritance and the inequities that result. Nomads travel light on many levels.”

– Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations