Author: Melina Zacharia
An attempt to link together two quotes of two very different writers:
Jack Kerouac in a Letter to John Clellon Holmes saying,
“All of life is a foreign country”
Lewis Carroll in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland saying,
“We are all mad here”
There are approximately 7,5 billion people in this place we call Earth and not even one of us can really claim that she or he belongs in one place or another. I mean really claim it, putting aside the proud shouts of patriotic clichés of how much of an American, French, English, Greek or German we are. We have a nationality, but what that entails no one can firmly say. A nation can be defined by many factors and “land” is the last of them. Some claim to be “citizens of the world”, well, that doesn’t explain it either. When it comes to claiming territory or declaring a nationality I side with J. Kerouac one that one, when in Letter to John Clellon Holmes he noted “All life is a foreign country”.
Trying to break down the meaning of this quote will only result in chasing our tails. The dead don’t answer and I have no intention to bruise my fists banging against the hard soil. The way I can personally interpret it is that one, we all come from everywhere and nowhere. There wasn’t a moment in human history that wasn’t marked by some kind of population mixing, so who is to say which are our true origins. All of life is a foreign country, as every country is a foreign land as much as our birth land.
In 2016 Momondo, an online travel search engine, launched an interesting experiment that was later widely disseminated through social media. They tried to find out how diverse we, as humans are by testing our DNA, they called it “the DNA journey”. Even though the concept was commercial with purely for-profit purposes, a point was made. No one is just one thing, and in that context all life is a foreign country, for no country is our own.
Surely, we have things that reflect the “where” of where we come from, small indicators like our language or even our taste in music. Those however are cultural characteristics that were built with the passing of time in each territory. All those features were influenced by things like, the weather, the order between war and peace, population movements but not from a geographic position on the map. The link we feel with a specific territory is purely emotional, and that is what makes us feel as we’re home. The traditions, the way of speaking or even the way of living does differ from place to place, but this fact never stopped us from keep on mixing cultures and traditions.
Let us make an leap towards another direction as bizarre or even irrelevant as it may seem at first. From “no man’s land” let us to travel to Alice’s Wonderland, “We are all mad here, I am mad you’re mad” says the Cheshire cat. If there is one thing that unites us more than our common roots that might be our common inclination towards madness. Madness doesn’t discriminate in terms of colour or nationality and that is what makes it a constant as firm as gravity.
In the books, later transformed in many movies, Alice is afraid to walk in Wonderland as she’ll have to walk amongst mad men. The cat then gives her the naked truth by saying “We’re all mad here”. Right there, the cat sums up the truth about the one thing that no country can claim for its own, our common denominator, madness. Madness as a state of being, as a state of mind, not as a disease. One cannot but admire the timeliness of a phrase that even though taken from a children’s book, written in the 19th century, is more in tune with the reality today as ever.
Nowadays, all the big conversations seem to boil down to two things: What is our place of birth and second, are we mad enough to keep tearing each other apart. As if the first would be implicitly connected with the second. But are we truly content with that way of order? Alternatively, try imagine wiping the slate clean and continuing in life with that one truth: “we’re all foreigners and we’re all mad”. Now, this would be an interesting twist in the world narrative, wouldn’t it?
Melina is a writer and has a podcast on discussing ideas and challenging people to be better. You can follow her excellent blog here: