I think the reason for this is that displacement is the touchstone of the current historical moment. Modern trends - urbanization, gender equality, psychologizing (to name three almost at random) - usually displace people. The tendency in contemporary life is to create greater distance from tradition - by moving people from rural to urban settings, by introducing women into non-traditional roles, by inducing people to question their motives and understand themselves critically. (Even fundamentalism, which in its many varieties is typically a reaction to modernity, displaces people with its severity and extremity, despite its claims to reestablish "traditions.") Modern trends also increase the pace of change, requiring people to endure frequent displacement, followed by even-more frequent displacement.
My own life is a case study of the potential for displacement wrought by modern living. Professionally, I've had four professions in sixteen years. Geographically, during the same period, I've lived in five states in the U.S. and four countries. I've gone from being a misfit at home to a "foreigner" abroad. My identity is coalescing into that of a wanderer, a person whose country is her body and who can be said to belong fully only to the planet.
Although opportunities for humanitarian and aid work with displaced people are sadly common, my experience trying to sell my fiction to mainstream publishing houses suggests little interest in displaced people (who, in my fiction, are often expatriates). Given my view that displacement is a central concern in modernity's most sweeping, global trends, the lack of interest among commercial publishers disappoints as much as it seems to highlight a disconnect between the world of publishing and, well, the world.
So I was delighted to find a contradictory suggestion in Pankaj Mishra's recent The New Yorker review of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's second memoir, Nomad. Mishra wrote:
The fate of the truly modern nomad is . . . a ceaseless inner conflict between ways of life and value systems; this very quality has made the nomad an emblematic figure of the contemporary age.I couldn't agree more. If only Mishra were in charge of publishing decisions instead of whoever it is who's promoting vampires (and now angels) as the emblematic figures of contemporary literature!
(Image of refugee holding UNHCR papers from New Proposals website)