Home » current-affairs » Serendipity: Dépaysement

Serendipity: Dépaysement

Lebanese Restaurant in Paris

The term dépaysement is a French concept which refers to that feeling of disorientation that specifically arises when you are not in your home country nor identify exclusively with it. It’s the way that I, a Hungarian-American who loves to travel in places like Latin America and Iceland, feel as the United States slides down the drain of Trumpism. Juan Goytisolo (1931-2017), a Catalan writer of Basque extraction who lived most of his life in Marrakech, felt that way about Spain, particularly after the Franco régime’s depredations. The following is from his essay “Why I Have Chosen to Live in Paris” from his essay collection Space in Motion:

Q: If I understand you rightly, French cosmopolitanism ….

A: There is no such thing as French cosmopolitanism; there is interculturalism, plurality, osmosis: a universe in miniature. If a person so desires, he can eat in a Cambodian restaurant, drink mint tea in a Moorish café, see a Hindu or Turkish movie in the afternoon—Yilmaz Güney’s The Sheepflock in my opinion is one of the best films of the year—and in the evening, with a bit of luck, attend a concert of the Noss el Ghiwán or Izanzaren. Society is linked to the idea of space, but culture—like the individual—is mobile, drifting like the wind. Culture today cannot be French or Spanish, or even European, but rather mestizo, bastard, fecundated by civilizations that have been victims of our self-castrating, aberrant ethnocentrism. For up until now we have exported the Occidental model with all its props—from its ideology to its drugs and gadgets—we are at present witnessing an inverse process that personally fascinates and delights me: the gradual dissolution of “white” culture by all the peoples who, having been forcibly subjected to it, have assimilated the tricks, the techniques necessary to contaminate it.

Q: So then, Paris for you …

A: Insofar as it abandons its pretensions of being a beacon and accepts its status as a motley, bastard, heterogeneous metropolis that belongs to no country, I will always feel better in it than in any other exclusively “national” city that is uniform, chaste, compact, rid of its angels.