As the title of the memoir, “The Lives of a Flaneur” by Aleksandar Hemon suggests, the author has carried on with many lives where in his essays of recollections, Hemon is expressing the struggles of shifting knowledge and feeling of home with displacement that he had to experience as the unexpected event of a war that occurred in his country of living turned his world upside down. After reading “The Lives of a Flaneur,” I argue that Hemon uses memory to manage the subject of separation, relocation, and endeavors to begin another life in another climate.
The Analysis of the Core Arguments
It is essential to mention that Hemon is a contemporary Bosnian-American writer. In 1990 he arrived in the U.S. through a cultural exchange program in order to study in college. Unfortunately, he could not return to his homeland of Yugoslavia because of the beginning of the war. Therefore, he writes about life as an immigrant and how this temporary, emotional, and geographical displacement affected him.
In the last sentence of “The Lives of a Flaneur,” Aleksandar Hemon wrote, ‘‘Returning from home, I returned home.’’ That last sentence of the memoir perfectly explains the emotion of any individual who had to mandatorily leave their home to find and create a second home with better safety, opportunities, and certainty for their future. The example of Anita in “A Sense of Space” can demonstrate that feeling and place are connected. The author emphasizes the importance of place with memories when she writes, “Anita then returned to live in her own home and refused to move again until her sudden death at home from a catastrophic stroke” (O’Keane, 89). In this way, she was able to feel and remember previous experiences related to home.
Independently of the fact that the woman lived the life of a familiar household and was in the shadow of a man, the house was filled in a certain way with her life. According to Gaston Bachelard’s concept of “psychogeography,” the connection with home is considered influential in a person because it is more than just a geographical relationship (O’Keane). The residence itself contributes to recalling and experiencing emotions that can emotionally escape into the past. Thus, although there are potentially safe and suitable places for living, the emotional attachment to one’s home is stronger. I should also mention an example from the book when the author writes, “I randomly entered building hallways and basements, just to smell them: in addition to the family scent of leather suitcases, old magazines, and damp coal dust, there was the smell of hard life and sewage-during the siege, people had so much hair from wool in their basements” (Hemon, 80). Accordingly, even though the author conducted his time in a safe place and did not experience physical suffering, his emotional state was not stable.
Therefore, when he saw the terrible effects of the war, which destroyed his home place while he lived in the United States. His emotional memory was attempting to reconnect what he used to know and what he was seeing now. It is significant to remark that his home was the anchor that brought these mixed feelings together. This case is a similar situation to what I feel whenever I visit my mother’s family, which is Bulgaria. It’s a beautiful country and I am grateful to have had many summer holidays spent in Bulgaria with my family. Whenever I think of it: I think of waking up to the sound of the chickens waking you up at 7 in the morning and going to the bakery in the morning to buy the best-fresh bread. Walking back home and my fingers would burn just holding the bread, which was covered with paper. Hence, all three of the above examples demonstrate a close emotional connection to place. The connection to home allows the human brain to retrieve many vanished calligraphic moments. Even if life has prepared new and much better places for them, people still have not escaped their emotional memories.
In the Book of My Lives recollection essay part “The Lives of a Flaneur,” Hemons’s investigations of identity is consistent with psychological undertones where the author also examines the effects of social significance on a character. The influence of a person’s social attachment can be explained using an example from “A Sense of Space”. In the book, the phrase “In nearly thirty years, I hardly ever thought about Jansen” (O’Keane 93). Only after the author viewed the photograph did he mention the man who had previously been significant to him. Hence, he noted, Jansen had a considerable influence on his attitude. Independent of how the man’s future fate unfolded, he significantly influenced the author, which began to intensify after looking at the photograph. At the same time, it is possible to quote from Aleksandar Hemon “I did little but listen to teta-Jozefina’s harrowing and humbling stories of the siege, including a detailed rendition of her husband’s death (where he had sat, what he had said, how he slumped), and wander around the city” ”(Hemon 80). The aunt influenced the author’s psychological understanding of the horror of the situation.
It is significant to note that modeling the death of a loved one provided insight that the tragedy in Yugoslavia was much closer to the author than he could have imagined. Therefore, the author received a significant boost to activate his memory on a psychological level. Possibly, had it not been for the psychological influence of his aunt, the author would not have had such a powerful attachment to the tragedies in Yugoslavia. Thus, in addition to geographic memories, he received a substantial social influence on his perception of the tragedy and later life.
He uses his memory to describe how he spent Christmas with the same rituals: “ Every year, we followed the same ritual: the same elaborately caloric dishes crowding the big table, the same tongue-burning Herzegovinian wine, the same people telling the same jokes and stories, including the one featuring the toddler version of me running up and down the hallway butt-naked before my nightly bath” (Hemon 79). The author, in his writing, uses imagery describing the ‘big table’ with a variety of food and drinks. This helped me memorize my childhood celebrating news year’s night with my entire family. A big table on one side my grandfather sits at the opposite side facing my grandfather is my dad, both alpha males.
The extraordinary circumstances of Hemon’s life evidence how the geographical aspect is likewise significant for the construction of memory since recollections address a fundamental variable for the change of conceptual space into a specific spot. In “A Sense of Space”, it is mentioned that “certain cells in the hippocampus repeatedly responded to specific locations, demonstrating place selectivity” (O’Keane 91). Thus, the experiment proves that specific brain cells create a response to familiar locations, demonstrating place selectivity. Even after many years, a person can remember certain places that were meaningful to him. This is often related to the emotions a person experiences during a specific period. It is in a particular geographic location; in a way, this scientifically proves Hemon’s feelings about his native places.
In his book, there are the following phrases “When I wandered the city; I found myself speculating with troubling frequency as to which buildings would provide good sniper positions. Still, as I considered the thought producing under fire, I thought the views on simple paranoid symptoms of stress induced by the ubiquitous warmongering politics (Hemon 85).” Hence, the author’s geographic and topographic knowledge allowed him to transfer to a particular place. He could even imagine which houses were suitable for preserving human life and which were a find for the sniper. Accordingly, the geographical aspect, related to landscapes and other geographical concepts, enabled the author to try to relive the emotions of the people in Yugoslavia during the war. This capacity for human memory and emotional attachment most assisted Hemon in conventionally relocating from the United States to Yugoslavia.
The author was living through a tough mental state during the summer of 1991 because an attack on his lovely city was inevitable and he started planning in his head the worst situation and, in case of danger, where and how he would react. This reminds me of my father’s childhood stories of political violence in Turkey during the late 1970s creating the country to spread into lefts and rights.
He used to tell me how terrified he was walking in the street, knowing any time any moment, he could be involved in a horrible situation even though he had nothing to do with politics; he was just a student. To keep it short, the students and bright young minds were targeted in this “low-level war”, where one day, one of his best friends got attacked in front of him right after they had left school. This made him leave the country at an early age and start his journey to Europe and eventually to America. I am thankful that no one from our family got hurt at the time and my father was able to escape and make a living; he was so brave.
Thus, it is possible to assert with confidence that Hemon uses the emotional memory of his hometown and geographical connection to experience emotions at a distance. The author needs this to adapt to his new environment and live in a safe place. Hemon realizes that he will never return home again and cannot walk familiar neighborhoods and live in his home. Therefore, the emotional attachment to his home location enables him to survive the disaster psychologically and continue to build his life in a safe place.
Hemon, Aleksandar. The Book of My Lives. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013.
O’Keane, Veronica. A Sense of Self: Memory, the Brain, and who We are. WW Norton & Company, 2021.