Monday, May 26, 2008

Completely Unnecessary

Milan Kundera's short novel Ignorance concerns Josef and Irena, who return to Prague once Communism falls after twenty years in Sweden and Paris respectively. From the fifth page, the author lays out his themes in no uncertain terms:
The Greek word for "return" is nostos. Algos means "suffering." So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return...In each language these words have a different semantic nuance. Often they mean only the sadness caused by the impossibility of returning to one's country: a longing for country, for home.
Yeah, I get that. Not like having to flee from the Commies is anywhere near leaving Windsor by choice, but a lot of the experiences of Irena and Josef in the book echo the experience of the Rose City expatriate, I think, even though we never leave the province, let alone the country. But I think the minute you get further from home than you could travel in a day, the perspective changes.

Maybe put it this way: when we lived in Kingston, I think we felt closer to Windsor than we do now, because we didn't really know anybody, the whole time we were there, so we were still very much enmeshed in the lives of the people we left behind. Now, in Toronto [which already has such a stigma attached to it for Windsorites], we have friends of our own, our life feels like our own, separate from what we were in Windsor. And the people we left behind don't really care about our lives in Toronto, or to fill us in on what we missed. It's as though I get punished for not being there. Old friends play down the new people they hang out with now, because if I had stayed, I'd already know. And they don't care about the people I know now, since they're just abstract ideas, they'll never exist. The old things I used to care about no longer matter, because the old community left them behind while I stayed static worrying about them.

Windsor as a whole has always seemed downright gleeful in shutting out those who left it behind, a scorned lover dealing in facts, not interested in excuses. It leads to the sense that the prodigal in question is being tolerated, without extraneous welcome.

I imagine this doesn't make any sense. I don't even really know what it is I'm trying to get at. I think the sadness that I've grown accustomed to whenever I return home has less to do with the sorry state of the economy or downtown culture, and more to do with the fact that sometime in the last eighteen months I lost ownership of the place I considered mine more than anywhere else on earth, and the schism between who I was and who I've become widens everyday. I imagine some people call that living.

At any rate, read the book. It's fun times, and it's short; you can blow through it in a weekend.


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