Wake-up call

«The frontier is a wake-up call. At the frontier we can’t avoid the
truth; the comforting layers of the quotidian, which insulate us against
the world’s harsher realities, are stripped away, and, wide-eyed in the
harsh fluorescent light of the frontier’s windowless halls, we see things
as they are. The frontier is the physical proof of the human race’s divided
self, the proof that Merlin’s utopian sky-vision is a lie. Here is the truth:
this line, at which we must stand until we are allowed to walk across and
give our papers to be examined by an officer who is entitled to ask us
more or less anything. At the frontier our liberty is stripped away—we
hope temporarily—and we enter the universe of control. Even the freest
of free societies are unfree at the edge, where things and people go out
and other people and things come in; where only the right things and
people must go in and out. Here, at the edge, we submit to scrutiny, to
inspection, to judgment. These people, guarding these lines, must tell
us who we are. We must be passive, docile. To be otherwise is to be sus-
pect, and at the frontier to come under suspicion is the worst of all pos-
sible crimes. We stand at what Graham Greene thought of as the
dangerous edge of things. This is where we must present ourselves as
simple, as obvious: I am coming home. I am on a business trip. I am vis-
iting my girlfriend. In each case, what we mean when we reduce our-
selves to these simple statements is, I’m not anything you need to
bother about, really I’m not: not the fellow who voted against the gov-
ernment, not the woman who is looking forward to smoking a little
dope with her friends tonight, not the person you fear, whose shoe may
be about to explode. I am one-dimensional. Truly. I am simple. Let me

Across the frontier the world’s secret truths move unhindered every
day. Inspectors doze or pocket dirty money, and the world’s narcotics
and armaments, its dangerous ideas, all the contrabandits of the age, the
wanted ones, who do have something to declare but do not declare it,
slip by; while we, who have nothing much to declare, dress ourselves in
nervous declarations of simplicity, openness, loyalty. The declarations of
the innocent fill the air, while the others, who are not innocent, pass
through the crowded, imperfect borders, or make their crossings where
frontiers are hard to police, along deep ravines, down smugglers’ trails,
across undefended wastelands, waging their undeclared war. The wake-
up call of the frontier is also a call to arms. (…)

The frontier has stripped him of the law, of civilisation. This is
normal. The frontier strips you down and then you are what you are and
you do what you do. This is how it is. What does it matter what you say
about people? (…)

As long as Orpheus could raise his voice in song, the Maenads could not
kill him. Then they screamed, and their shrill cacophony drowned his
music, and then their weapons found their mark, and he fell, and they tore
him limb from limb. Screaming against Orpheus, we too become capable of
murder. (…)

It’s important (…) to cross metaphorical lines as well as actual ones: not
to be contained or defined by anybody else’s idea of where a line should
be drawn.

The crossing of borders, of language, geography, and culture; the ex-
amination of the permeable frontier between the world of things and
deeds and the world of the imagination; the lowering of the intolerable
frontiers created by the world’s many different kinds of thought police:
these matters have been at the heart of the literary project that was given
to me by the circumstances of my life, rather than chosen by me for in-
tellectual or “artistic” reasons.»

– Salman Rushdie, “Step across the line


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