Friday, May 19, 2017

Exile




"Every country is home to one man, and exile to another."
-T.S. Eliot

In composition studies, we have this concept called "exigency."

It's a fancy word that basically means "what makes someone write." What is that initial spark that occurs that compels a person to commit the thoughts in his or her head to written language? Exigency can range from the mundane (a grocery list) to the sublime (a literary novel). Right now, I'm considering exile as exigency in literature.

Because I feel as if I've been exiled. Why? Read here.

Back now? Good.

Turns out exile is quite the literary motivator. Without it, we might not have had The Divine Comedy. Dante was banished from Florence in the 13th Century for the duration of his life. At several turns, it must have seemed to Dante like he was "wandering through hell" and thus inspiration for The Inferno. Victor Hugo was expelled from France after tussling with Napoleon. Most of this explosive conflict was due to Hugo's passionate sense of social justice...something of which Napoleon had very little. It's all right. The banishment gave Victor Hugo time to write his triumph, Les Miserables.

Of course one can write a tremendous work about exile without actually having been exiled. It didn't happen to Milton (as far as I know), but Paradise Lost is loaded with it. From Satan's fall from Heaven ("It is far better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven!") to Adam and Eve driven from Eden, it's hard to miss the theme. Me? I have great affinity for Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo. In that book, sailor Edmond Dantes is wrongly sent to prison. Just read the passage where Dantes is on a barge in shackles and realizes he's being taken to a grim, island prison. Dumas' description of the shock and despair at this realization is visceral. Even better, the story really focuses on Dantes getting out of the joint and returning to rain revenge down on those who wronged him. Dope.

I could go on with other examples both major and even minor, such as Aeneas in Carthage during The Aeneid, but if you've read ESE for any length of time, then you know I'm not entirely a traditional academic in a tweedy jacket with elbow patches. What of exile stories in America's greatest cultural achievement? What about...the comic book? I put a call out to my boys asking this very question. Here's a few of their responses:

Well, the Silver Surfer is essentially a story of exile from start to finish. He is forever expelled from his happy home, Zenn-La, and was for a time confined entirely to Earth.

My friend Jason also suggested the episode "Superman in Exile" from the original Superman TV series with George Reeves. While it's not a comic book, I will accept it as it is based on a comic book character (arguably the comic book character) and somebody had to write the script. In the episode, Superman shuts down a runaway nuclear reactor. This has the unfortunate side effect of irradiating him. To save Metropolis, Superman sends himself into self-imposed exile to the mountains of Blue Peak. Unfortunately, criminals take advantage of Superman's absence and purloin all manner of valuables from Metropolis. How can Superman return? Let's just say it's a typically cockamamie-but-fun solution involving lightning.

But my favorite example of comic book exile as proposed by the responses?




Yes, Planet Hulk. I like it conceptually if nothing else and it's not without a certain set of...parallels.

A secret cabal of characters in the Marvel Universe, including Tony Stark, Doctor Strange, and Professor X, all meet and decide that the Hulk is just too dangerous to remain on Earth any longer. They of course do not consult the Hulk in any of these proceedings. In a stomach-churning display of deceit and duplicity, they trick the Hulk into getting into a spaceship. At least "the deciders" leave him a recording in the ship to somewhat explain their motivations. This ship then takes him out of the solar system, presumably to a peaceful planet. Of course the hubris-laden minds that put this whole scheme together didn't account for what could go wrong. The spaceship goes through a wormhole and the Hulk lands on a hostile world full of alien monsters.

He ends up as a gladiator in an arena, complete with all of our Romanesque cultural expectations, e.g. sandals, a colosseum, and maybe Chuck Heston as Ben-Hur. No, more like Douglas in Spartacus for Hulk gathers ragtag allies in the gladitorial slave pens. The villagers of Sakaar, the name people of this world call their planet, begin to believe Hulk is a foretold savior, arrived by divine intention to overthrow the world's tyrant ruler, the Red King. Hulk leads a "warbound" pact of warriors and does just that. He even gets a wife and child out of the deal. It would appear that even though it came out of exile, Hulk has finally found his place in the universe and a new life of happiness.

But nothing could be further from the truth. The people of Sakaar take the spaceship and try to turn it into a monument to their newfound savior. Unfortunately, the antimatter warp core in the ship's engine cracks as part of a self-destruct program. The ensuing explosion kills millions, including Hulk's wife. So Hulk does what any reasonable person would do in the situation. He calls together the warbound and heads for Earth to find those who expelled him to Sakaar in the first place. And hell's coming with him...

Thus begins the World War Hulk storyline. "The deciders" face the full wrath of an enraged Hulk, all while being utterly befuddled as to how anyone could think they did anything wrong. It does not end well for anyone.

Will my own exile inspire any literary creation? I have plans and I can only hope so. If you have any suggestions of what I should write or of other examples of great stories of exile, please feel free to leave a message in the comments. In the meantime, here's Iris with a little message:





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