on being a foreigner

BERCHEM_Nicolaes_Merchant_Receiving_A_moor_In_The_HarbourPico Iyer at Lapham's Quarterly:

From the moment westerners began living in Bali, soon after World War I, they sent back two messages, more or less contradictory: first, they were no longer foreign—they had gone native, and felt wonderfully at home in Eden; second, the rest of us would always remain outsiders, the gates to the garden having closed behind them. By 1930, Hickman Powell, a reporter from Duluth, was entitling his book on Bali The Last Paradise; soon thereafter, the Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias, author of Island of Bali, was wondering if Paradise was lost when its denizens began wearing shorts. Here was a truly unfallen place, every newcomer seemed to report, which would fall as soon as the next newcomer disembarked.

This is the point of the foreign. We don’t travel halfway across the world to find the same things we could have seen at home. Those who undertake long and dangerous journeys have every incentive in stressing their discovery of a world far better than the one they left behind.Paul Gauguin became a “true savage, a real Maori,” he wrote, after he traveled deep into the jungles of Polynesia (having found his first port of call, Papeete, a place polluted by “the absurdities of civilization”). His outsider’s appeal in the South Seas put to shame his Everyman status as an artist of uncertain prospects back in Paris.

more here.