To Pursue One’s Shadow, Emigre Writing

Zinovy Zinik in Eurozine:

Is the notion of the émigré author a dated phenomenon that has outlived itself in the age of global communications? I don’t think so. I think it is still a useful concept to define a specific type of literature. While the native author deals with moral ambiguities by proxy, using his characters, the personality of the émigré writer is part of his fiction’s plot – he himself has to decide on which side of the border his mind is. What an ordinary human being lives through, the writer tries to describe. What for an ordinary writer is mental exercise, for the émigré author is lived experience. The émigré writer physically lives this metaphor of life in transit. (Elias Canetti, my neighbour in Hampstead, preferred to write sitting in his car, parked in front of his house.) The dilemma of the émigré author is, therefore, linked with his sense of belonging; and since he is a writer, the question arises for whom he writes and where his audience is located. The citizenship of the émigré writer is not necessarily that of the country of his main readership, and his sense of belonging or his religion might differ from his loyalty as a citizen of the country of his residence. That is, the émigré writer is the one who feels he is displaced – geographically or in language, separated from his readers in one way or another.

Vampires, doomed to exist between two worlds forever, provide the ultimate example of the mental state of exile. But they are émigrés of a very specific kind: they don’t cast a shadow. In other words, they have no real identity in this world. The writer’s existence in the outside world is measured by the influence that his creation exerts – by the shadows his words cast. Vampires are like émigré writers, understood neither in the country of their dwelling, nor able to reach across the border to their readers in the motherland.