|Trans||Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften||15. Nr.||November 2003|
Helmut F. Pfanner
(Vanderbilt University in Nashville)
The theme of exile has been of great significance to this conference, as evidenced by the contributions of several speakers both in the Opening Plenary Session and in more than one of the individual section programs. However, not only was the section on "Exile and Literature" narrowed down to one specific form of human expression, that is writing, but all its papers focussed upon authors and their works in specific historical situations, all lying within the limits of the first half of the 20th century. Common elements of the poets, novelists, and essayists discussed in this section are that they all questioned fixed notions of cultural manifestations and values, and that this questioning caused them to doubt their ethnic background and national identity. While such probing into the personal and collective past for many exiles brought about an existential crisis, it also strengthened their inner resistance against totalitarian ideologies.
The exile writers generally served as mediators between cultures with effects in either one of both of two directions: either from the exiled subject to his/her host country, of from the same origin back to his/her native land. The latter usually followed a change of the political circumstances that had caused the person's flight from home in the first place.
Since works of literature continue to exert their influence upon readers beyond the lives of their authors, they can arouse the readers' empathy with the situations and the characters of the books written in exile. By doing so, they help break down barriers between cultures and established thinking patterns. Given the predilection of much exile writing for autobiographical and historical subjects, what has been said above applies less so to the so-called "great" literature than to works that are not a part of the established reading canon. However, since exile writers, too, have authored books of great aesthetic value, readers might do well to refrain from judging all exile literature from an ideological perspective.
© Helmut F. Pfanner (Vanderbilt University in Nashville)
5.2. Exile and Literature
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