Blurring boundaries

Author Jospeh O’ Neill explains why he does not want to confine himself to one nationality

February 20, 2020 05:08 pm | Updated 05:08 pm IST

Even though national boundaries and entry permits like visas are getting more and more defined in the political sense, in the geographical and mental spaces, the boundaries seem to blur. Author Jospeh O’ Neill thinks of himself as a collection of many nationalities, “I had no grand intention to become an American citizen, but then I stayed and stayed. And then there just came a point where I had no real desire to go back to some other place. And I realized that I'd become an American. Maybe not exclusively an American, but in addition to what I was already.“

What was he already? Irish because he was born there, Turkish like his mother and Dutch, since he grew up in the Netherlands. O’Neill says, “When you ask somebody,”Are you an American?” or from wherever, the meaning of that question has changed so much in the last 15-20 years, simply because the meaning of nationality and nationhood has changed so much. The age of globalization has completely emptied the kind of geographic distances that were so significant in the past… for an Irishman to come to the United States involved a perilous journey by ship over the sea. And it involved singing lots of songs before you left, saying goodbye. And once you were in the United States, it involved singing lots of songs about how you were never going to set foot in Ireland again. But nowadays the transfer of people from country to country is not irrevocable in the way that it used to be. You can go backwards and forwards as often you like, subject to legal and financial restrictions. And furthermore, you can stay in touch with everyone back home. So that there's this enormous collapse in the very idea of migration, so that migration becomes less traumatic and less decisive than it used to be. And you have these rather fused and rather blurred identities that emerge as a consequence.”

O’Neill says candidly that the Americans, “… didn't get anything about me or my experience…one of the great pluses of being an immigrant is that you get to start again. In terms of your identity, you get to shed the sort of narratives which cling to you, where you come from. And at the same time, I felt in New York City that people were just interested to take me at face value… They don't ask you where did you go to school and who do you know?

They cannot immediately categorise people in terms of class and background and so forth - people aren't that interested. And it's liberating on the one hand and sort of ignorant on the other hand.”

About American society O”Neill says,“The very specific kind of narrative in American life authorizes people to do whatever it takes to climb up by their boot straps and to make something of themselves -because there's a sort of tolerance within the culture for this sort of irregular kind of self-enrichment…”

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