Baggage Claim: On the Grief We Can and Cannot Carry

Nirvana Shahriar
UC Santa Barbara

In the 1926 travelog “Passenger to Teheran,” British author Vita Sackville-West—better known as friend and lover of Virginia Woolf—chronicles her journey from London to Tehran and back. In my creative-critical project, I chronicle my journey with Vita’s journey, from the places my parents called home to the home I look for in those places. An interrogation of exile, belonging, and home—as both abstract concepts and material realities—my project bridges the genres of creative nonfiction, literary and cultural criticism, and personal essay. In it, I weave a critique of Vita’s orientalist travelogue with three main threads of exploration: my diasporic identity as the daughter of two Iranian refugees, my family’s history of exile and my own inherited exile, and questions of representation in the field of literary study within the US academy. My own desire for refuge unravels as I link these ideas, revealing the latent refusals lodged within the search for belonging. If to search for refuge after forced displacement is to run up against refusal, then home becomes an idea as much as an actual place. The end of exile is the sudden realization that home is an empty signifier.