Not so long ago I received an email from my landlady to the effect that my flat has been offered to a new tenant. Maybe there was a misunderstanding, maybe I was just naïve in thinking I might have been asked whether I wanted to stay – at any event, it was another reminder of just how rootless one can be after years of relocating between short-term contracts and trying to create identity in place after place. Perhaps there is a certain freedom to be found in accepting that fragility as a state of being, a going with the flow; yet flow is forward, and it is not easy to leave behind memories – the Rhineland in summer, Port Meadow flooded, carols in the north-east of England, late flowers in Denmark.
The hops back here at the weekend were filled with time, too much time probably, for such thoughts. One thing I realized was just how much a similar awareness seems to have shaped the kind of material I seek out in my research. There is Lohengrin with its journeys (where, actually, is the Grail Kingdom?). There was Dorothea von Montau, with her retreat into literary corners. And there is NORNS, in which I often find myself referring to ‘the cultural space around the Baltic’, thereby defining the focus of the project with reference to a watery space where matter is in flux. There is a pattern developing here. It involves a personal relevance of the kind that seems often to be sidelined in institutionalized disciplines and fields of study, as though there is something unsettling about it. Yet (or should that be indeed?) there is a sense in which intellectual freedom is a kind of wandering too, of finding new words, new things to know. Curious, then, that it should end up becoming bound pragmatically to a search for stability and – in a manner of speaking – permanence.