Pico Iyer on the meaning of home, in a post-Trump world
2016/12/12 Leave a comment
Interviews with Pico Iyer always are interesting:
Q: Perhaps that’s why you’ve been such an admirer of Canada for so long, since before your paean in The Global Soul?
A: One thing that has long hit me about Canada, ever since I started making annual visits there in 1994, is that people in the cities there are constantly—some would say obsessively—talking and thinking, every day, about diversity and refugees and the future and how to turn a culture made of many disparate parts into something greater than their sum.
The other countries I know—from Britain to the U.S.—have all backed into multiculturalism; it’s taken them by surprise and they’ve tried to adapt or stretch their current society into something that will accommodate new visitors. Only in Canada has there been a strong sense of vision about creating an entirely new kind of society to match the age of movement. And Canada has been addressing that issue for half a century—ever since Pierre Trudeau hung a sign that said “World Citizen” outside his door at Harvard and began travelling the world.
Of course, those who live in Canada are keenly aware of everything that’s going wrong and moments when optimism has been unfounded. But my impression is that the more people travel—whether it’s Salman Rushdie or the spokesperson for the UN High Commission on Refugees—the more they admire Canada, and see something coming to light there that we don’t find so often in Australia or South Africa, in Singapore or Hong Kong.
Whenever my friends there say that their country is no utopia, I agree—but ask them if they really want to move to Dubai or L.A.
Q: You love the inclusive, cosmopolitan vibrancy of Toronto, and you wrote that in Toronto, “the average resident today is what used to be called a foreigner, somebody born in a very different country.” In late 2016, it’s top of mind for many: what does finding home mean in a less immigrant-friendly world?
A: From the beginning, I’ve stressed that home is something internal, invisible, portable, especially for those of us with roots in many physical places; we have to root ourselves in our passions, our values and our deepest friends. My home, I’ve always felt, lies in the songs and novels that I love, in the wife and mother that I’m never far away from, in the monastery to which I’ve been returning for 25 years. Precisely because I don’t belong entirely to Britain or the U.S. or India or Japan, I build my foundations in some way deeper than mere passports, and more in the light of where I’m going than of “where I come from.”
Of course, the Brexit vote, the victory of Mr. Trump, what’s happening around the world represents a backlash against precisely people such as myself, blessed with many homes. But I don’t think that changes the fact—the inarguable reality—that for many in Toronto, say, “home” means a question they’ll always be refining and adding to (and may never answer), while home also means a place like Toronto, where they’re surrounded by people entertaining just the same questions.
We may be joined these days more by the questions we have in common than by the answers we share.
Some people will always ground themselves very strongly in a piece of soil, a grandmother’s property, a tiny plot of land, and that’s great. But in the Age of Movement, there’s no question that the number of people who don’t—or can’t—is growing exponentially.
And on Leonard Cohen:
Q: How did Cohen embody Canada’s best qualities, the homely qualities that make it one of your favourite countries?
A: Somehow Leonard could only have come from Canada, I feel, and it’s no surprise that he held it so firmly in his heart till his dying day.
One of his sovereign graces was always to mix a sense of irony with a sense of passionate quest, to sound as if he never took himself too seriously, yet took many other things (and other people) very seriously indeed. That mix of an Old World sense of drollness and respect for tradition with a New World hunger for something better and fascination with the horizon is, to me, the illuminating beauty of Canada: it never pursues the future as if it can deny every kind of past.
Leonard was really Montreal incarnate, in so many ways, as one who mixed the worldliness and elegance of France with the hopefulness and sincerity of North America.