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Being a Description of the World

By Eli Siegel


Home is a place, or arrangement-of-matter, or both, which a person sees as something he definitely and closely is of or in, or both.

    Home, like the idea of now or here, is variable, though always there is a constancy of meaning. From one aspect, life is a becoming at home. There must be something we are closely of, definitely in. Home is a specific extension of ourselves.

    The idea of home has in it place and an arrangement of matter. An Indian in America before Columbus, say in the 10th century, would see home as the fields he was accustomed to. His tent or teepee might change in place. But what he saw as home would be a combination of place and something he was in. If it were place alone, it might be the green grass, but there would be something he saw himself as in. For green grass and space together could have him in it.

    Our selves do take in what's around us, what we see most definitely, closely, constantly around us. And what we begin with has a great deal to do with what we see as home.

    Place can be seen as space given some limitation. Later, place came to mean the things of matter in that place, or on it. St. Louis, for example, is a certain territory and buildings, poles, traffic signs, and other objects in that territory. Of course when we think of St. Louis as a place, we think of its past, too; the people in it; all that goes with the place in the simple or beginning meaning.

    If a person sees St. Louis as something most particularly of him, and in which his self is—even though he may now be visiting Philadelphia—he sees St. Louis as his home. And then on a certain street, on a certain block, there is an arrangement of matter called a house, in a space much more limited than St. Louis as a whole; and this house or even a flat or room in this house, he sees as his home in the most particular sense.

    If this person, Stanley Jordan, were in Europe, he could see all the United States as his home (and if he touched Mexico on his way home, he would see Mexico, most likely, as more home than Europe; Mexico is the Western Hemisphere, and the Western Hemisphere may have been placed as against the Eastern).

    Further, Stanley Jordan, if he is philosophic and cosmologically meditative, might see the earth as his home. The earth does seem so much warmer and closer and more manageable than those haughty, unalive distant planets. (It is even hard to see the sun as home.)

    The fact that earth as such can be seen as home could take on effective meaning if one were 14,000 feet above land in an airplane and had been in air for some time, and then—perhaps after some difficulty—reached land. Any part of land would then be home, compared to all that space. And if one had been on the water, the wide water, for many days on a raft, or even otherwise—any land might seem home.

    Home is the familiar in place, so familiar that we see it as of us. That which we see as the closest to us, the most familiar, and desiredly familiar, is home in the strictest sense. Home is like love. There is wideness coming to a point in the idea of home and love. It is the general made particular and warm.

    Of late days, the fact that home need not be a fixed thing has been made clearer. The Indian of a thousand years ago in America had a home sentiment even though he was on the move a great deal. The fields he moved over had some warming limit to them; he saw them as home. And a person living in a trailer, moving about over the country, could see the trailer as home, although the trailer was in Kentucky of a Monday and Tennessee of a Tuesday. The trailer would have the home sentiment about it.

    Still, if a trailer went into Mexico or Canada, there would be less of a home feeling. The United States had provided more of the wide enveloping home feeling than now was provided by a country to the north or a country to the south.

    Our emotions have much to do with place. Our emotions have much to do with time, likewise. Place, time, and ourselves make for new homes in our minds.

    The great desire is to be at home in the world. If we have a true home in any place in the world, so much we are at home in the world itself. We belong everywhere, because we belong truly somewhere. —This again is like the feeling of love: truly to be loved by someone gives a person the feeling that all or everyone loves him.

    The feeling of home by a person in the United States is that of a point in relation to a surrounding in relation to a larger surrounding in relation to a surrounding including them all. A home feeling for Vinnie Smart of Joplin, Missouri, is a specific place, and a house, a larger place called a city, a larger place called a state, and a larger place called the United States. And there are mental states of "home" in between: street, section of city, section of state, section of country in which state is, and so on. Wideness and a point, in terms of emotion, are in a mobile, various relation.

    Home has come to take in specific mental territory. We are at home in a language; we are at home in philosophic thought; we are at home in chemistry. Here, too, we feel we are in something, of something, and that the something is warm. And we want to be at home in all thought. Home seeks extension and definiteness, in the territory of thought, too; just as when we truly like our home in the ordinary sense, we have the courage to go out, spread out, see.

    We sometimes may not feel at home in our own bodies. We can see our bodies as strange. This can happen after an accident; but it can also happen without an accident. If our feelings are not at one with what we see as our bodies, we are not at ease, not at home in our bodies.

    And because we are not at home in the world, we can try to find a home in ourselves. This we can do even while we're part of a family, in a house we call home. The home we find, which is really a dark and (so we wish it) magnificent hideout, we can't be truly at home in, either. Home has to welcome. Once its door is always closed and never open, the widening meaning of home is not had. This makes for mischief and pain.

    We want to be at home in our clothes. Sometimes we are not. Our clothes are sometimes seen as something we're in, but not wholly of.  There can be a rift between ourselves and our clothes; or there can be a subtle jam.

    At home has come to mean at ease. It has come to mean "willingly there."

    When someone is asked something and the person asked doesn't know what it's about, or can't answer, or is just plain stupid, the phrase "nobody home" has its accuracy.

    We want to be at home in our time. Time also is something we can be in. We can be at ease or not in events.

    And, as I have implied in the definition of Everydayness, we want to be at home in the universe; nothing less.


© 1945 by Eli Siegel


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