An Interview with Pico Iyer

One of today's foremost travel writers, Pico Iyer discusses how to find roots without having a place to set them, and how to travel without leaving home.

| April/May 2001

MONICA J. SMITH FOR MOTHER: First of all, could you define what a global soul is?

PICO IYER: I think a global soul is somebody who lives in the cracks between cultures, or lives in a world so international that he or she has to devise some scratch answers to the most fundamental questions: what is your home, what is your community, what tradition do you belong to, and even who are you. When my grandparents were born, they had a very — perhaps oppressively — strong sense of where they belonged, and which tradition they were a part of. Their boundaries were very strongly defined. In only the last 30 or 40 years all those old categories have been dissolved, and some of us are living in between cultures. Even people who are very rooted only have to turn on a screen and suddenly they're surrounded by more that's unknowable than ever before.

MOTHER: You've written a lot about not really belonging to one place. Without a sense of affiliation, how do you develop a sense of accountability for a place? How do you care about a place without belonging to it, or being invested in it?

PI: When I write about the global soul I'm partly writing about the wonderful possibilities of this new borderless world, and I'm partly writing about the challenges that we have to face. The biggest [challenge] is the lack of responsibility. I think of a certain kind of global soul as living in midair — in an airplane six miles above. The danger of that is that it's a realm of all rights and no responsibilities. In some ways I think being a global soul means having to find out what your affiliations are, that what used to be a given is [now] a chosen. My affiliations would be perhaps to people, to values and to the grounding, centering tendencies I carry wherever I go.

I don't think [Walden Pond] has to be interpreted literally as, "you have to construct a cabin in the woods." I think it has to do with constructing a cabin inside yourself that's sufficiently strong so that [wherever you are], you're still living by the values that are inside that cabin — inside you.

MOTHER: About responsibility, you wrote that a new sense of community must be formed on the basis of something deeper than soil and higher than interest rates. We've discussed personal affiliation, but what would a sense of community be based on?

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