Thames, Coromandel, New Zealand, March 2015

Inner migration/eternal emigration

The combined forces of ‘inner migration’ and ‘eternal emigration’ are a key motive of both my life and the initial blog that this website grew out of.

Internal (or inner) migration is a (relatively disputed) term that has been variously attached to intelligentsia in Nazi Germany, Stalin-era Soviet Union, or other Eastern European countries of the Soviet bloc, in order to describe withdrawal into the ‘inner self’, or away from public life. It is considered a form of passive resistance provoked by the combination of inability to find expression in (largely oppressive and tightly politically controlled) public life and lack of opportunities to emigrate.

Eternal emigration, on the other hand, is a somewhat self-coined term – not that I credit myself with inventing it, but for me it invokes the well-worn trope of ‘travelling scholar’ (or Wandering Jew destined to walk the Earth forever), exile, etc. This is not necessarily to romanticise this form of existence: while, to me, both migration (as in changing the countries where I live) and travel (as in frequent journeys) were largely motivated by the desire to explore, learn, and inhabit different spaces, this isn’t always easy (and, for a lot of people, including many from the region I come from, it was not a choice at all). In this sense, emigration stands for the practice of displacement or detachment – or estrangement – that is the inevitable, but also sought-after, outcome of any change of perspective or vantage-point, and the affordances and challenges it brings.

In philosophical terms, the duality of ‘inner migration’ and ‘eternal emigration’ – reflection and detachent – is related to Arendt’s dichotomy of vita activa and vita contemplativa as the two sides of intellectual and public life. It is also central to what Constantinou highlighted as the other meaning of [Greek] theoria, in addition to the practice of detached observation or contemplation that Arendt recognizes: travel, or quest, in order to ‘consult an oracle’ – that is, inquire into the nature of reality.  In conceptual terms, this constant interplay between engagement and withdrawal, or proximity and distance, remains at the foundations of what knowledge, at least in the way I conceive of it, as well as many other things, are about.

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