The Amazing Adventures of Bob Brown: A Real-Life Zelig Who Wrote His Way through the 20th Century

By Craig Saper | Go to book overview

4
Exile, Escape, Empire, and World Travels,
1917–28

—Where was Battery J during Your
Great War?—Why, Battery J was in
hell catching red-hot rivets … bare
red-handed without a bucket.

Bob Brown describing in “readies” style his group’s
experiences as exiles during World War I
, You Gotta Live1

Refugees expelled from one country to the
next represent the avant-garde of their people.

Hannah Arendt2

In literary histories of modernism, the word expatriate has, until recently, referred to a group of American writers and artists living in Paris and the Côte d’Azur in the 1920s.3 Ernest Hemingway immortalized this supposedly high-living crowd in his novel A Moveable Feast (1964), as did Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald, but counter to those decadent and politically detached expatriates, a number of these same expatriates, including Rose and Bob Brown, began by fleeing, penniless, through Mexico and into Latin America in 1917 (often to avoid jail for sedition or draft dodging). In their actions, they broadened the definition of expatriates and stressed the literary and artistic vanguardists’ connections to loss, exile, violence, and narrow escapes. These were not just themes in later avant-garde art; these were the lived experience of a generation, where a poverty-induced make-do resourcefulness reinforced collages of found, often discarded, objects; where exile led to a fascination with otherness and displacement; where disgust with the xenophobia sweeping the United States and Europe in the late teens and early 1920s led to flaunting diversity, difference, internationalism, and otherness; and where

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