On Exile: A Former Prisoner of New York Reflects

There’s nothing left of me but you,
and nothing left of you but me.
What will we do without exile?
M. Darwish

New York will you forgive me? I want you, I dream of you, I plot against you, your name is a perfume, your colors burst like bouquets of flowers amid the cells of my brain. Nothing exists except my desire to be with you.

You have expelled me as I always knew you would. In the end, although I claimed in haughty tones to no longer adore you, it was I who was unworthy.

I miss my memories, which are geospatial, architectural, geologic and thus tied to places, faces and structures. They remain in NYC, left behind in the subways, on the sidewalks, on the facades of tenements. My memories are in cold storage and I miss them.

I miss the City whose decline mirrored my own…

Come back and visit the voices say.  Come back and visit the city that was once the insane asylum of America.


The string has been cut!

The space-time coordinates of New York are no longer accessible to me.


Exile must be accepted, in the same way a terminal illness must be accepted.

And wasn’t it Joubert who said: For the artist one can only wish that success never comes, only rupture with the future, poverty, deterioration of the world and finally…exile.

And then of course there was Ovid, condemned by Augustus for loose, slanderous talk to permanent exile on Tomis, in the Black Sea, where he wrote the Tristia collection of exile elegies. Even Dante, after the defeat of the Guelphs was forced out of Florence. He wrote The Divine Comedy in exile…

Exile is the emblem of the permanently unstable and insecure condition of being.

Exile creates the conditions for biographical reflection, for the creation of one’s life story.

The exiled, in other words, ought to be grateful. Grateful for being thrown into extremis – after all any wisdom we might ever hope to possess can only be gained through suffering.

Yet, the exile convinces himself he is incapable of being content in his new situation, and, at best, leads a degraded, double life with no way out but insanity or perhaps suicide.

I now have a driver’s license and operate a (borrowed) car. I commute to a job in a nameless Midwestern exurb, traversing blasted, blighted vistas – abandoned strip malls, shuttered factories, polluted wetlands. I eat my lunch in the parking lot, as is the custom.

Any compensatory pleasures I might yet experience in this unnamed Midwestern city will never be fully enjoyed.


I was, of course, already an exile by the time I reached New York twenty odd years ago. I left Hartford where I did not belong. People jeered at me in the streets etc. etc. The rock and roll I made was hated by nearly everyone. Prior to that, I’d fled, for similar reasons, the small mill-town on the banks of the Connecticut River where I’d been born and raised. Each move involved an escape, a line of flight.

To reflect upon the human condition necessarily involves a recursive procedure, like the opening of a set of nesting dolls, where one exile contains another exile contains another exile, until you reach the immortal soul that, of course, is an exile from Eden, from The One….

This seems to express a basic truth about exile: it is the condition par excellence of humanity.


There is a man, who, if he exists at all, lives in a studio apartment in Morningside Heights. A defrocked catholic priest originally from Alexandria, he has rediscovered and perfected an ancient style of prayer. This practice allows him to effect retrocausality i.e. time-travel. To pray oneself backward in time is his gift, his secret. From what little I know about him, it is claimed that he accepts the occasional student. He alone, can cure the condition of exile. It’s too late for me to visit him and learn how to travel back to my homeland. But, perhaps, before you too become one more member in the ever-expanding family of exiles, you can visit this man and learn his secret. His name is Constantine. Ask around…


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William Carlos Whitten

William Carlos Whitten was the founding member, principal songwriter and singer/guitarist for the bands St. Johnny and Grand Mal. Whitten has recorded for Rough Trade, Caroline Records, DGC, No.6 Records, Slash/London Records, Arena Rock Recordings, Iheartnoise among others. He does not deny responsibility for seven albums: Speed is Dreaming, Bad Timing, Pleasure is No Fun, Clandestine Songs, Maledictions, High as a Kite and Burn My Letters.
More of his music and writing can be found here: www.speedisdreaming.blogspot

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