Transcending Exile: Conrad, Nabokov, I.B. Singer

Transcending Exile: Conrad, Nabokov, I.B. Singer

Transcending Exile: Conrad, Nabokov, I.B. Singer

Transcending Exile: Conrad, Nabokov, I.B. Singer

Excerpt

Some time ago I came across Joseph Conrad's definition of a transplant as someone who is "uprooted" and whose "state of existence" is "unnatural." The fact that Conrad himself was an exile lends authority to his definition. Most of the questions he raises about exile hinge on the word unnatural. What precisely does it mean? How is an "unnatural" state of existence different from a natural one? Is there any possibility of transcending the "unnatural" state of existence? Can a transplant ever achieve a state of existence that will be natural? What are the consequences of unnatural living? Reading Conrad, I became aware that the answers to these questions were vital to one's understanding of his fiction; moreover, Conrad's own survival as an intellectual in exile depended upon his finding plausible answers in his life to the problems of transplantation that he constantly poses in his fiction.

Helped by my own experiences with exile, I felt intuitively that Conrad's preoccupation with the problems of exile might be shared by other transplanted writers. My efforts to see affinities between the Polish-English artist and other exiled authors led me to I. B. Singer, with whom I share a common native language -- Yiddish. At first sight, the only similarity that exists between these two writers is that both are functioning in a new and alien environment. But the similarities, as I came to recog-

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