Eva Hoffman Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Between Memory and History: A Writer's Voice: Conversation with Eva Hoffman, author, 10/5/00 by Harry Kreisler.
Photo by Jane Scherr

Page 3 of 5

Being a Displaced Person

In your book you talk a lot about finding the inner guide to locate yourself. You're in class and you're looking at the map with your fellow classmates, and you suddenly realize that you're pointing at Poland, which is outside of you or becoming outside of you in the way that the students are looking at it. And you say somewhere, "The reference points inside my head are beginning to do a flickering dance. I suppose this is the most palpable meaning of displacement. I have been dislocated from my own center of the world and the world has been shifted away from my center. There is no longer a straight axis anchoring my imagination. It begins to oscillate and I rotate around it unsteadily."

Yes, the sense of geographical topsy-turviness was the most concrete expression of displacement. Of course when I was growing up in Poland, I thought that Poland was the very center of the world, as we all do when we grow up in a place. And that the world existed in relation to it. All of a sudden, I was in Vancouver, and Canada, North America, was the center of the world and Poland was on the periphery and very far away. And that of course, corresponded, [was] a kind of objective correlative, the most concrete symbol of the many cultural displacements that went along with it, the many sorts of cultural values that changed as I went from Poland to Canada. Our cultural values, both on the largest and on the smallest scale in the sense of, say, political outlook or world view or the social set-up; too, notions of human intimacy or beauty or the distances at which we stand from each other, etc., etc. -- every cultural value sort of did a flip or sort of moved.

So you had to become a navigator. In one place you compare yourself indirectly to an anthropologist, especially the fact that the goal of every anthropologist is to get into the minds of the people that are being studied.

Yes. Yes, I think every immigrant becomes a kind of amateur anthropologist -- you do notice things about the culture or the world that you come into that people who grow up in it, who are very embedded in it, simply don't notice. I think we all know it from going to a foreign place. And at first you notice the surface things, the surface differences. And gradually you start noticing the deeper differences. And very gradually you start with understanding the inner life of the culture, the life of those both large and very intimate values. It was a surprisingly long process is what I can say.

Next page: Being Polish and Jewish

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