A Citizen of Nowhere embraces the Nowhere World

Ruth HartleyCitizenship, DisplacementLeave a Comment

The Terra Incognito detail from the Spider Woman tapestry, with the words

Terra Incognito detail from Spider Woman by Ruth Hartley, from her Corpus exhibition

Hello Reader, are you a Citizen of Nowhere, like me? I celebrate being a citizen of the world. And, no matter your citizenship, you’re welcome in my Nowhere World of books and stories.

The Nowhere World is an imaginary dimension spun out of the dreams of writers like me for your pleasure and delight as well as for my own. Without readers, writers could not survive and without writers, there would be no readers. Without readers and writers, there would be no Nowhere World. You may ask, “Where is this magical Nowhere World and who can enter its charmed borders?”

“Anyone who wishes to,” I will say, “you, of course, and me.” It is a world where anything is possible. It’s a world where reality is always changing.

A Citizen of Nowhere feels at home with humanness

The problem is that we seem to have arrived at a time in our history where once again people are being herded by politicians and populists into places where we are defined by our physical and cultural identity. They say that to be a citizen of the world is to be a citizen of nowhere and they say that’s bad. We are warned that to be safe we must stay with the people we know and inside the places where most people are similar to us. We mustn’t see ourselves as I do, as a citizen of the world. While I know from personal experience that it’s important to belong somewhere, to have a home and to feel proud of who we are, I also know that it is through the use of our creative imagination that we become most human.

I worry that politicians might want to lock us up away from journeys to other places and encounters with other people. Sticking with those whose identity and culture is the same us ours is an acceptance of narrowed boundaries. The idea that “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere”1, seems to me to endanger our freedom to think, to imagine, to question and to speak.

The power of the Nowhere World

Suppose we belong in one place that must be shared only with people who mirror us? Suppose we stay in the Echo Chamber of conformity and uniformity. Isn’t that a kind of prison?

Photograph of the head of a sculpture called The Dreamer by Ruth Hartley, from her Corpus Exhibition. The head is white, wrapped in bandages, with only the closed eyes, nose and mouth visible, and seems to be illuminated from the inside. In the context of this post, it suggests that the citizen of nowhere is one whose dreams are enlightening because they are fed by stories.

The Dreamer by Ruth Hartley, from her Corpus Exhibition

In the Nowhere World, mirrors are doors that open onto new landscapes and don’t reflect the self as the Fairest One of All. In the Nowhere World, there are both Strange Friends and Ordinary Monsters. The Nowhere World may not be real but it is perhaps true. It is more dangerous to retreat. If we do, does it mean we also have to give up armchair travelling into imagined countries? Non-fiction books, as well as fiction, take us into different places and past eras and feed us information and knowledge. There is so much to see. So much to understand.

It’s not possible for writers, artists, readers and devourers of pictures to give up visiting the Nowhere World. Every time we open a book, step in front of a painting, or listen to a song, we willingly go on another journey to a world that doesn’t exist in any material sense. Books can carry us into different realms and into different realities. If they expand our minds and make our souls rejoice, then they are good for us.

Can exploring stories make us better citizens?

If we are travellers, explorers, and discoverers of the unknown Nowhere World, will it make us better citizens of the actual world of work and worry? Can it make us more empathetic, wiser and kinder? Will we ask ourselves what kind of world we want to create, to inhabit and to share?

If we abandon the Nowhere World, there will be no lost continents of extinct beasts and dragons from the distant past for us to inherit. The Dark Ages will never be illuminated. No floating visions of fantastic and fanciful futures will entrance us with tales to tell our children about as we sit together on Avalon’s shores and look westward to Darien Land.

Humans are one people who all belong to a tribe that is worldwide. What binds us together is our readiness to explore new ideas, to be creative, and to share the riches of the Nowhere World of storytelling, literature, art, music and dance. In this sense, each one of us is a Citizen of Nowhere.

Welcome, Reader, to the Nowhere World of the Imagination.

Some other windows darken in the evening
And never before morning show a light
But for me there is no night
For I am the Master of the Revels
The caller-up and caster-in of devils
And I am here for your instruction and delight

Final stanza of The Master of the Revels
from Beware of the Beautiful Stranger
by Pete Atkins and Clive James
Notes and References
1 Theresa May, UK Prime Minister, Keynote speech at Tory Party Conference, 5 October 2016
2 Kwame Anthony Appiah, Philosopher and 2016 Reith Lecturer, Mrs May, we are all citizens of the world

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