Dec 23 2017

The importance of going outside to look back in

Recounting his time in Istanbul in a recent piece, John Freeman talks about the close friendship between Turkish literary giant Yaşar Kemal and American author and social critic James Baldwin, saying that sometimes travelling outside one’s own country is necessary to truly understand it.

“Whatever 2018 brings, be it constitutional crisis, or more of the same, those who will have the best playbooks for how to live and how to see America clearly will be the writers who have lived under regimes that have attacked and imprisoned the press, some supported by US policy,” Freeman said.

“Writers here — so used to the world coming to us — may have to learn to travel in the opposite direction for fellowship and a glimpse of other lives. To learn how to operate, how to refuse to back down, how to figure when to stay and when to go.”

Baldwin had a much sharper view of America as a result of his time outside it and his friendships with writers around the world, Freeman said.

“The whole somber question of America’s role in the world stared at me in a new inescapable way,” Baldwin wrote when he came to Istanbul, saying that American writers suffered from “a way of looking at the world, as a place to be corrected, and in which innocence is inexplicably lost.”

 

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