I was talking to a friend the other week who said that those who grow up in rural areas either stay or get as far away as possible and never go back.
I’ve been thinking of it often since because I can’t yet tell which I am; to embrace one feels like so much of a rejection of the other. Lately it’s been feeling much more like the latter, yet I still feel so inextricably bound to ‘the earth’ because it is all that I knew for so long. I’m not quite sure how I’m ever meant to divorce myself from it, or even if that’s something I want to do; it’s hard to imagine there might be another way. What’s more, the whole thing feels horribly politicised as the rural is made to represent what is “conservative”, “backwards”, and the city a site of apparent “liberation”. Whatever my own feelings might be, or whether my affinity for one is stronger than the other, the choice feels made for me when I realise that I might never fully live the life I wish to in such a village as that in which I was raised.
Anyway. Soon after, when I was thinking all this over, I found another gem in Utopias, an extract from an article called ‘Literature in Exile’ by Khodasevich, first published in April 1933. I think he’s given me something of an answer. He talks of the question of emigré literature; how and if it exists, its weaknesses, its potential. The occasional alteration of forms and ideas is not only a sign of life, he says, shortly and sweetly, it is a prerequisite of life […]. The spirit of literature is a spirit of constant explosion and self-renewal.
It speaks for itself, and it made me realise that perhaps I shouldn’t fear such a break with the past; rather that it might enrich our writing (I feel as though I’m always using this word, enrich), in his context – for this is certainly something I think about too, how to treat “here” and “there” in my own writing – and in a broader one allow us ourselves to flourish.
Similarly, Khodasevich speaks also of conservatism in literature, which he defines (though I cannot quote verbatim, my copy being thousands of miles away!) as the preservation of traditional forms. To this I might add that to preserve one thing in literature also might mean not simply holding onto the old but honouring it in the new; namely;
- this allows one to go forward in their life and work without feeling that they must abandon what they do not feel they can turn their backs on, or do not want to turn their backs on,
- we might seek fulfillment and liberation in “the new” while holding on to our pasts – that there might be a way of reconciling the two –
- and so perhaps to embrace one does not require the absolute rejection of the other that I had imagined.