CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
|The Involuntary Sojourner:
A Case Study
S. P. Tenhoff
While much current research has centered on the challenges faced by international students, business people, and military personnel traveling abroad, relatively little has been written about the plight of involuntary sojourners, more commonly known as “in-between people,” after the name given by Takahashi in his (1996) landmark study of the subject. Both Takahashi and the author of this article, along with a number of other researchers, have since attempted to better understand the phenomenon through an interdisciplinary approach drawing on various fields including intercultural psychology, anthropology, and communication theory; nevertheless, Involuntary Sojourning Syndrome (ISS) remains elusive and is perhaps best examined through the lens of some new, as yet nonexistent, field of study. This article will attempt to address deficiencies in existing research through an investigation into the case of a single “in-between person.”
Takahashi has defined the involuntary sojourner as one who “finds him/herself abruptly and inexplicably abroad, without any prior intent to travel or knowledge regarding how s/he arrived in the host culture” (1996, 185). The first known occurrence of “in-betweenness” concerned a subject who came to be pseudonymously referred to as “Shin.” Shin’s case—that of a thirty-nine-year-old Japanese male discovered wandering “trance-like” in a repeating figure-eight pattern through the aisles of a Brittany souvenir shop specializing in reproductions of locally famous painted dishware—was widely reported by the media and caused a brief international stir as a result of the diplomatic row between Japan and France regarding his status (France asserting that Shin had violated the implied conditions of the tourist visa issued since he had not entered the country “by free and conscious choice”), but has since been eclipsed by the numerous other cases which have proliferated in the intervening years. Takahashi’s study ignored the sensational aspects of the case, focusing instead on the problems of culture shock and adaptation experienced by Shin in his new situation. Linguistic issues, often a concern for sojourners, were found not to be relevant in Shin’s case, since he reportedly possessed, at least for the duration of his stay in Brittany, native-like fluency in French despite having never studied the language (an assertion later corroborated by Delavergne & Arbogast, 1997). This study, in spite of its unavoidable limitations and remaining questions, constituted an important first step in the understanding of “in-between people.”
(It is worth noting that Takahashi himself, in private correspondence with the author, has confided his dissatisfaction with the term “in between,” considering it as a poor translation of the Japanese word chuto hanpa, which connotes an insufficiency, a sense of being stranded between poles which is ultimately untranslatable, but perhaps better captured, according to Takahashi, by the colloquial English term “half-assed.” For understandable reasons, however, the term “half-assed people” has not been adopted by those pursuing this research. [The author will not address here the other issue regarding nomenclature, which involves the use of the term “involuntary” with respect to these sojourners (see Pflogg, 2007, for an amusingly misguided discussion of this question). Suffice to say that although, as Pflogg states sardonically, it is true that the involuntary sojourner “does not simply materialize in the host country: He purchases the tickets; he boards the plane; finding his seat, he makes himself comfortable and fastens his seat belt when instructed to do so; he from all reports avails himself of the snacks and meal included and in one case even requests an alcoholic beverage; he presumably selects from the in-flight entertainment provided; he presents his passport to an immigration official upon arrival; and, leaving the airport, he even hails a taxi” (Pflogg, 2007, 41), this does not in any way constitute proof that those afflicted with “in-betweenness” are necessarily aware of what they are doing, or why. Thus “involuntary.” Unless one wishes to go so far as to dispute the amnesia or blocked memory itself as hoax, a position even Pflogg hesitates to take openly, though his article is rife with cunningly worded innuendo to this effect. (As an aside, Pflogg’s above litany of behavior “proving” volition conveniently omits one significant detail: In no case has a sojourner brought a single carry-on bag to stow in the overhead bin; neither has there ever been a single case of checked luggage or any other sign of the preparation one would reasonably expect if travel were in fact deliberately planned. The corpus amply demonstrates that the involuntary sojourner acts without choosing to act, behaves with intent but without conscious volition, in a manner superficially similar to but in fact distinct from psychotic compulsion [Takahashi & Kalvan, 2004; Kalvan, Beebe, Hardwick, & Wendt-McCruthers, 2007; Kalvan & Nightingale, 2010].)])
This study will examine a single subject using both objective evaluative measures and self-reported material in the form of a journal kept by the subject (hereafter “L”) concerning her experiences. L, a twenty-seven-year-old US national, was discovered in the home-appliance section of a department store in the commercial district of Vivasha, Gandarva’s largest city, her motion describing what has come to be known as a “Takahashi Loop,” i.e., the now familiar figure-eight pattern representing a closed loop interrupted only when the subject is addressed or physically restrained, usually by shop clerk or official, at which point the somnambulant sojourner, if we can use such a term (see Balbain, 2010, for an intriguing if speculative consideration of possible sleep-associated delta-wave activity in ISS trance states), “wakes up,” becoming cognizant of his or her surroundings.
The author was subsequently contacted by the US Department of State and asked to provide consultation in the case. This presented an exciting and unprecedented opportunity: Although the author had interviewed and evaluated a large number of involuntary sojourners while conducting previous research, this always occurred following the return to home countries, at which point the subjects, it was found, retained only “dreamlike” fragments of the episodes. The Gandarvan government allowed the author access to L, at the time being detained pending resolution of her case, on the condition that he accept responsibility for her care until her return to the United States. (One must note briefly here the evident relief with which this responsibility was transferred; the local doctors, including several “experts” in atypical psychosis, appeared to be completely unfamiliar with ISS. The various diagnostic reports transferred to the author were useful only insofar as they offered particularly dramatic examples of the need for greater education regarding the syndrome.)
So Victor’s asked me to keep this journal. He said it’ll be useful in his research into in-between people. I want to help—Victor’s very persuasive in his sort of weirdly intense way, sorry Victor I know you’ll be reading this but you asked me to tell the truth—I want to help but I don’t think there’s anything “in between” about my situation. I’m here. Here being Gandarva, they tell me. It’s not like I’m in between countries. Here I am. In this room provided by the Gandarvan government, who keep telling me I’m not under arrest even though I can’t leave. They keep using the word “policy” and smiling. A guy from the US consulate or embassy or someplace came today. He was smiling too. Everybody’s smiling. Not as in trying-not-to-laugh smiling, but as in … As in what? Even Victor smiles at me all the time. Everybody’s so happy for me, like I’ve just been given an award. So this US consulate or embassy guy comes in. He wants me to call him Tom. He looks a little young to be a diplomat. He’s wearing a traditional pulcha, rows of bright triangles alternating with upside-down triangles, he’s even got the knot at his hip tied the right way. He tells me this is the first case in this country so it’s still a little thorny, that’s his word, thorny, which makes me think, what about this other word “policy” that keeps getting thrown around, if there’s a policy in place why the thorns? But he says he’s confident, what with international precedent, that this case, my case, can be cleared up and I can return home soon.
The reader’s attention is directed to L’s knowledge in the above entry regarding specific details of traditional Gandarvan clothing; this appears to be symptomatic of the Kalvan Effect (so named by other researchers, one is quick to point out; in the author’s view the effect should rightfully have been given Takahashi’s name to honor his brilliant and pioneering work in the subject). The phenomenon, peculiar to the involuntary sojourner, can be described as “unexplained familiarity … with previously unknown elements of the host culture” (Kalvan, 2008, 73). In short, involuntary sojourners know things they have no apparent way of knowing, without the slightest idea as to how they came to possess this knowledge.
(As the informed reader will no doubt already be aware, the Kalvan Effect is not to be confused with the so-called “Kalvan Affect.” The author recalls vividly his first encounter with the term, in a 2009 Pflogg monograph. This was no innocuous typographical error, one discovered with incredulity upon further reading; it was, rather, an attack: Concocted by Pflogg, the term reflected his assertion, without the tiniest scrap of supporting evidence, that any claimed “magical” knowledge constitutes an act, an affectation [therefore “Affect”], essentially premeditated falsification, the sojourner having in fact obtained the pertinent information regarding the target culture in advance. This argument, modified later to include “inadvertent falsification” [Pflogg, 2010, 45], i.e., the drawing on information in fact learned but later forgotten, having been buried in the subconscious, has been more than adequately refuted elsewhere [see Kalvan, 2011] and will therefore not be addressed in this article except to reiterate that the nature and extent of the involuntary sojourner’s knowledge, whether sociolinguistic, geographic, or other, far exceeds what would be possible if the subject had simply conducted surreptitious research prior to travel. Is it even worth mentioning that the term “Kalvan Affect” additionally constitutes a baseless and puerile attack upon the author himself, suggesting either deliberate exaggeration of the phenomenon for professional advancement or, at the very least, credulousness, a case of “taking a subject’s claims at face value without adequate corroboration or independent verification” [Pflogg, 2009, 53]?)
To return to the above journal entry, L’s suspicion toward those attempting to help her has not been reported in other cases and may reflect preexisting individual cognitive style (i.e., her “personality”) rather than being symptomatic of ISS post-loop behavioral shift. While the author cannot presume to speak for the others involved in this case, the author himself was, as should be clear, simply employing a well-established prosocial display signal (viz., “smiling”) in an effort to reassure the subject and alleviate the altogether understandable stress engendered by her predicament (see, for instance, Moynihan et al., 1999, for a study of the efficacy of positive facial expression in crisis tension relief).
There’s a window in my room. No bars or anything, but on the other hand it can’t be opened either. I’m standing with my hands against the glass when Tom bounces in, all spry and dapper in a blue suit. Hi, he says.
Not thinking of jumping, are you? he says, smile increasing fractionally for contrast.
I point out that there’s no way to open it, and that the glass looks like it’s at least five centimeters thick. Inches, I mean. Two inches thick.
When did I ever use the metric system?
Outside the window is a view of a hill. I recognize it, even though I shouldn’t. Go over the top of the hill and there’s the place where they have the Saturday market under a tilting network of tarps and rusted poles, half-bald ribby dogs weaving in their perpetual loops through stalls full of hand-carved good luck charms, plastic toys made in China, fish hanging from strings, knockoff electronic goods, tolten in varying stages of decay. I shouldn’t know any of this either. I’ve never been there.
I want to ask Tom where his pulcha is. And then I want to tell him that nobody wears pulchas anymore and that he looked ridiculous, but the truth is he looks more ridiculous in his fancy blue suit. He looks like a boy on his first job interview.
Good news, he says: The authorities have decided to let you leave this room. You can stay at the consulate. I guess that means the thorns have all been picked out of the policy, I say. Nicely put, Tom says, but he’s not smiling anymore. He tells me I can move freely within the city until the matter is resolved and I’m allowed to return home. How long will that be? Oh, shouldn’t be long, Tom says. Professor Kalvan has agreed to assist in my case. Which I guess means escort. Guard. So much for “moving freely.” Oh well. At least I’ll be out of this room.
L was subsequently relocated to the US consulate while awaiting the final resolution of her case including the issuance of travel documents.
Victor gives me a test. He says it’s used to “measure readjustment in sojourners” after they arrive in a foreign country. He doesn’t leave while I take the test, which makes me nervous. And he wears this cologne … (Sorry Victor.) He won’t explain the test. Or he says he’ll explain the test questions if I can’t understand them but that I’m on my own as far as answering …
The results of the Fochner-Kline Intercultural Adaptation Survey referenced above indicated self-construal redefinition within the normal parameters observed in voluntary sojourners following transition from home to host culture. No indicators of psychiatric morbidity resulting from adaptation failure were present. Assimilation anxiety was a negligible 0.07. The subject’s integrative orientation score, however, ordinarily associated with field independence and robust acculturation potential in voluntary sojourners, was an unexpectedly high 44.3. The author does not wear cologne. The comment may represent (a) phantom olfactory input, which would constitute a new characteristic of the condition meriting future study; (b) masked aggression toward the researcher, possibly due to psychological stress related to test-taking; or (c) unusual sensitivity to the author’s inoffensive musk aftershave lotion.
Victor’s sitting across from me on a chair in the consulate. He asks me if I remember being in the department store. He looks tired and excited at the same time. Of course I remember. He asks me if remember making figure eights through the aisles. No. Do I remember anything before that? No. Booking the flight to this country? Getting on the plane? Arriving here? No, no, and no.
I tell him I need fresh air. Not that it’s exactly fresh out there. Some places stink worse than others, though. The stink is familiar, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Stink is stink, right?
I go through alleys. Down streets. Up hills. It’s not like I know where I’m going. I just … People stare from doorways, windows. They don’t recognize me. Well, why should they? I don’t know what I mean. Victor’s finding it hard to keep up. Are you leading me somewhere or trying to ditch me? he asks irritably, sweaty and out of breath.
Neither one, I say. I keep walking.
What’s it like? he says behind me.
What’s what like?
He jogs to catch up, backpack jiggling and jouncing.
This. His hand waves around, at the side of a building, at sun on sidewalk. Knowing … (He’s really out of breath.)
I don’t know anything. I’m just walking, I say. And that’s what I do—I walk. After a minute I hear him behind me, swearing softly to himself, jingling and jouncing.
It is necessary to interject here; despite L’s comments to the contrary, her movements displayed clear purpose and evident knowledge of her at times labyrinthine surroundings. The author, frankly, ended up completely lost; L, however, after completing a tour of commonplace objects and buildings which she stopped to study intently, was able, without apparent effort, to find a way back to the consulate (the author following as best he could) via a circuitous path through back streets, over rubble, across footbridges, past the inverted gold cups of temple domes, without once consulting map or digital navigation device.
I live in A___, with my sister. My older sister K___. Who must be wondering what the hell is going on. Along with everyone else in my family. They’ve been contacted, Tom tells me. But not by me. Not yet. I’ve finally been allowed to make calls, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. I’m waiting for (illegible) … (Author’s note: The previous sentence was written and then erased, but remained visible on the page, and is therefore being recorded here.)
I’m twenty-seven years old. I graduated from A___ State with a major in Economics, don’t ask me why. I’ve been working for the last two years as a temp at an operations research firm, again don’t ask why. I’ve never been to Gandarva before. Never studied the language or anything. Until now it was a name, a place on a map. I didn’t even know about the earthquake here until Tom told me all about it in gory detail.
There. Satisfied, Victor? No amnesia. That’s who I am, that’s where I’m from. Except for the one thing I put in there that isn’t true. Just to fuck with you. Consider it a puzzle. Or a gift. Just don’t consider it a symptom of involuntary sojourning or whatever you call it.
One must at this point raise the possibility that the entries are designed not to enlighten the researcher but rather to frustrate any attempt to understand the phenomenon under consideration. As seen above, at least some of the comments appear to be indicative of withholding, if not intentional misleading, and seem calculated to irritate or perhaps even enrage the author, to force him to abandon his neutral stance and fall into the mire of intersubjectivity. L’s obstructive behavior may suggest negative transference, normally encountered in the psychiatrist/patient dyad, but not without precedent in researcher/subject relations (Kilgatten, 1978; Pool, 1985). In any event, it is clear that L is making every effort to further obscure a subject which can already seem unfathomable, which, at times apparently and delusively near, proceeds to move away ever more quickly the more one pursues it … What is the real internal state of the involuntary sojourner? One is confronted by the limits of self-reporting, of qualitative research in general, when attempting to capture, or rather grasp, or rather understand this subject, difficult enough to penetrate without wilful (and one might almost be inclined to say malicious) obfuscation on L’s part …
The author observes at times an expression on her face … She notices herself being observed. The author attempts a smile; since reading her comment regarding smiling, however, the author has found himself becoming so self-conscious that the smile may well have the qualities of muscles being pulled mechanically into place or even of a grimace. We face one another, L with her undefinable expression and the author with his smile which no longer feels consistent with anything Moynihan et al. have advocated as efficacious in crisis tension relief …
I lead Victor to a restaurant. I’m craving bujya. An old woman shows us to a table. Once we’re seated Victor asks me if I’m aware of the fact that I’ve just spoken to her in Gandarvan. I ask him what he’s talking about. He nods, holds his palm out in front of me, pulls notebook out of backpack and starts scribbling …
Then he seems to remember that he has a recorder with him and asks if he can record our conversation.
What conversation? I ask.
What I mean is, assuming we … Our dinner conversation, he says. If it’s all right.
It’s not all right, I say. We’re here to eat. Now look at your menu.
You don’t eat it that way, I tell him when the food comes. You tear the pakla leaf with your left hand before scooping up the rice. I’m expecting him to be embarrassed, which he should be, but he sits up straight and asks if I know how I know that. I learned it from a waiter in a Gandarvan restaurant, I say. Back in the US. Don’t get too excited, I say. He looks disappointed.
But I found it really embarrassing, I tell him. Which I don’t think I would have in America.
He looks doubtful.
You’re being kind, he says. But this is research. Don’t throw me any bones, please.
Sorry, I say. And we don’t talk about it anymore. Victor sits there brooding, or something. Not touching his food. He doesn’t look so good.
But hey Victor? I really did find it embarrassing. Maybe that’s something for you, something you can use.
The author watched L dine with gusto and, one assumes, impeccable table manners (as the above entry makes clear, the author is apparently unfit to judge the niceties of Gandarvan etiquette); then, having unfortunately lost his appetite, excused himself. As of this writing, the day after the above entry, the author has been experiencing for a week gastrointestinal discomfort together with a general malaise and intermittent low-grade fever, denoting either a microbial infection or, conceivably, a somatic condition caused by the unexpected challenges arising from the current research. The author has, however, avoided seeking medical care, due to 1) doubts regarding the level of care in this country; and 2) fears that any required hospitalization might interrupt his research. In any event, as the informed reader will know, the field of cross-cultural studies is littered with first-hand accounts of the difficulties faced by sojourners encountering the bewildering variety of seatless (and often alarmingly unsanitary) toilet facilities found in “non-Western” host cultures. It is only through direct experience, however, that one fully comprehends the often-described gratitude experienced upon opening a restroom door and being greeted by that familiar and previously unappreciated porcelain sign of home. Once seated, one wishes, almost, to remain there …
On the restroom’s opposite wall was a painting. Goddesses, or bodhisattvas, or possibly angels, or in any case spiritual beings of some sort, a dozen of them, floated above a lily-spotted pond. Some held the slender stalks of flowers in slender fingers; others, flowerless, displayed instead flames burning on upheld palms. They had no legs, or perhaps their legs were folded beneath flowing dresses that might also have been blue-green tails. They floated there in the middle of the painting, above lily pads and below mottled sky, gold-silhouetted, smirking at one another in a collusion of ecstasy.
The author reached down to his ankled trousers, fished in a pocket, found his keys, rose, shuffled across the tiled floor, and, scraping away at the paint, etched a cartoon thought bubble so that it floated there too, over one of the shining heads. Inside the bubble, the author scratched the words IN BETWEEN. Keys were returned to pocket, removed again; at the bottom of the painting, in the right corner, the author scrawled PFLOGG.
So my case has been “resolved.” I can go home. Victor asked me if I was homesick. We were at the Saturday market.
Are you asking that in your professional capacity? I said.
He seemed confused by the question. He stood there, turning a half-ripe mango in his hands.
I mean, is that part of your research?
I was curious, he said. Homesickness is an expected part of the sojourn experience.
With us too? I said.
Us? … You mean involuntary sojourners?
Yeah. Us in-between people, I said. (I’ve started to like the name, by the way. In-between people.)
Well, the results are inconclusive … He picked up a plastic action figure.
Baku-baku chan, I told him. An anime character. It was big when I was a kid. She can like turn herself into a bomb. A love bomb. Hearts everywhere. She explodes and everyone stops fighting.
He set it down. Obviously, there’s individual variation. And even if you … I can’t assume, I don’t want you to think you’re necessarily representative of all involuntary sojourners, he said.
I don’t know if I’m even representative of me, I said.
I’m writing this so you’ll remember it Victor. In case you weren’t recording everything secretly.
Oh. Don’t try to pet the dogs. I meant to tell you that at the market. I wish I could have helped. With whatever it is you needed from me. Good luck.
This was to be L’s final entry. But we may as well dispense here with pseudonyms. “L” is gone; she was in a sense never there. She is Lauren. Let her be Lauren then. Shortly after the exchange recorded above—by “recorded,” the author is referring to Lauren’s own journal entry; naturally the author had not, for both ethical and legal reasons, recorded conversations without permission—Lauren disappeared. The author learned of this through a phone call received in his hotel room. The consulate, hoping to forestall the troubles which, it was felt, would inevitably arise if the Gandarvan government became aware of her disappearance, were conducting their own discreet search. It was believed that she was still in the country—her financial resources were limited, and consular officials were in possession of her passport. As the author, seated on the bed’s edge, alternately winding and unwinding telephone cord around index finger, explained repeatedly to the voice on the other end of the line that he had no idea of her whereabouts, he found himself wondering: Were there, in the journal entries, foreshadowings of what was to occur, warnings ignored, clues—possibly even deliberately planted but in some manner encrypted—to where she might have gone? …
These thoughts, these doubts, had not abated when, an hour later, the author entered her room at the consulate, having been allowed in by an official who promptly disappeared. Her journal was found on the desk, open to the final entry. Had she left it that way, as a kind of letter to the author? Or were consular officials the ones who had left it open there after searching the journal for information? The author read her final entry a number of times—good luck; good luck—and then proceeded to reread the entire journal. Finally it was closed and placed in the author’s backpack. Her bed was small and (one discovered upon reclining) rather uncomfortable. I wish I could have helped, she’d written. With whatever it is you needed from me. The ceiling plaster described patterns—lakes, isthmuses, tributaries; islands and peninsulas. Would she have seen these, noticed the same patterns, the same topography, as she lay staring upward as the author was doing?
Tom the diplomat, shirtless, traditionally skirted, sandaled, swept into the room. He glanced over at the author, supine on the bed. A blue smear of paint transected his otherwise unlined forehead.
“Right,” he said, crossing palms over chest in perfunctory Gandarvan greeting. “Her disappearance.” He leaned against the desk. “Worries aside—I’m worried, you’re worried, I think it’s safe to say we’re all worried—it’s a little thorny is the word I want. Professor Kalvan? Are you listening?”
The author asked whether it was possible that Tom was in the habit of overusing the word “thorny.” Alternatives were suggested.
“Professor, you are a regular walking thesaurus,” he said. “Very professorial. Which don’t think for a minute I don’t appreciate it, but is now the time would be my question. When the situation is less than ideal. Your situation, I mean. When I say ‘situation’ I mean the responsibility you’ve taken with respect to our compatriot. Or how the government here might interpret said responsibility. I mean, look, she’s not a child. You’re not her chaperone. Et cetera. It would be nice, Professor, to feel I have your undivided attention. The situation being what it is. A ball having been dropped. Which I say with all due respect and without finger pointing. And she may still turn up. Or she will turn up, one way or the other. She may have gone on a little excursion. Unplanned. Seeing the sights. We can hope. Or maybe we’ll find her, safe and sound, or safe at least, wandering the aisles of that department store again. Perfect for us, in a way. Professor?”
Why has there, until now, never been an incident such as this, a case of a subject “going native,” to borrow the term used by Tom the diplomat during the monologue which followed, the words emerging briefly from the clutter of distant noise that his monologue had otherwise become? One need look no further, perhaps, than the constant official scrutiny focused on the involuntary sojourner once discovered, scrutiny which would make slipping away into the host culture a near impossibility. Perhaps, given the opportunity, every involuntary sojourner would have behaved as Lauren did; perhaps the uniqueness of her case was due to nothing other than the “dropped ball” with respect to adequate supervision on the part of those (e.g., the author) responsible for her care. Unimpeded, does the process of involuntary sojourning end in complete integration, in a final merging with the culture to which a subject has been irresistibly drawn? Although one can’t avoid suspecting that Lauren’s disappearance was more, that it amounted to an attempt on her part to leave the author stranded midresearch, to deny him an opportunity to finally understand “in-betweenness.” Once again, the subject of a decade of the author’s professional life moves away; this time, however, out of sight altogether. (Offering those researchers, or one might as well say researcher, in the singular, by which the author is referring of course to Pflogg, offering him a marvelous gift in his efforts to discredit the author and his work.) Of course, her disappearance may have had nothing to do with the author. It is difficult, though, to imagine such a thing happening, for instance, to Takahashi; difficult to imagine him being called “weirdly intense” by a subject under his care; difficult to envision his aftershave lotion or smile receiving criticism. Takahashi’s smile the author found quite disarming when they finally met at a conference in Vancouver. Affable, tall, loose-limbed, full-bearded, Takahashi in the flesh was quite unlike the image one had formed of the man based on his written work. (Although isn’t that always the case?) The author approached him tentatively following his presentation, due in part to his formidable reputation, but also in part to concerns regarding a possible language barrier: Takahashi had presented entirely in Japanese, aided by a translator; all of his research over the years had been originally written in that language as well. His near-fluency in mellifluously British-accented English (not to mention the vigorous handshake in place of the expected bow) therefore took the author by surprise. This conversation, the one and only time the author and Takahashi actually met in person, led eventually to the collaborative effort Methodological Issues in the Investigation and Analysis of Involuntary Sojourning Syndrome: An Interdisciplinary Perspective (2004), carried out long-distance via online correspondence.
Was all of this somewhere in the author’s mind when he named Tokyo, spontaneously and seemingly at random, as his destination later that afternoon at the airport ticket counter? There were no more direct flights to the US that day (which is to say today), and the author was impatient to leave the country as soon as possible after the meeting with Tom the diplomat and his menacing talk of responsibility. (Could the presence of soldiers lounging with their semiautomatic weapons near the magazine kiosk have also played a subliminal role?) Still, other destinations must have been available, destinations bringing him closer to his familiar world rather than in the opposite direction. When one finds oneself suddenly presenting behavior consistent with the DSM IV criteria for panic disorder, or possibly instead symptoms of delirium caused by the bacterial or viral infection which the author suspects has been plaguing him almost since his arrival, it becomes difficult to assess accurately one’s own intentions, however much one tries as one sits here in the departures terminal, hurriedly typing these words and hoping they are coherent while awaiting the boarding call for the flight to Tokyo. Certainly, there is a curious sense that the impulse to leave comes from outside oneself rather than from within, as if this country itself is, whether through induced panic or microbial invasion, expelling the author, casting him out, a foreign body being purged by the Gandarvan immune system …
Is this what the in-between people experience: a simultaneous sense of being cast out and drawn in as they make the journey from home to host culture that they can later never recall?
One is tempted here to write Entry 1. The subject, which is to say me, or rather I, I could be Subject 2, or if Lauren were changed in the article above to Participant A, I could become Participant B. Or VK. Or simply V. (I’m too tired at the moment to devise a pseudonym.)
Any minute now the boarding call. I will board the plane. I’ll behave normally. I’ll find my seat, make myself comfortable, fasten my seat belt when instructed, avail myself of peanuts and let’s say penne pasta bolognaise and even request a glass of wine; I’ll choose two or three films from the in-flight entertainment provided; I’ll present my passport to an immigration official upon arrival; leaving Narita airport, I’ll hail a taxi. (Let Pflogg sue me for plagiarism.) On the ride into Tokyo I’ll think of Lauren: What was she thinking on her own taxi ride into Vivasha? Was she thinking? How does one render oneself into a trance state? Or can one be in a trance state already without realizing it? Can actions, seemingly conscious and deliberate, in fact be the product of an impulse one can’t understand? Or would one only be pretending? “To pretend, I actually do the thing: I have therefore only pretended to pretend.” Whose words? Foucault’s? Derrida’s? Pflogg’s? I can provide no citation at the moment. No name, no year, no page number …
Then out of the taxi, lugging luggage. Or wait: No: No luggage—I’ve left it behind in the Vivasha hotel room, too late now. Any minute the boarding call. I’ve embarked (voluntarily?) on this sojourn without luggage, with only my “jingling and jouncing” backpack.
Out of the taxi then, having been dropped off on a random street. Is that what they do, the in-between people: Choose a random location? Or is their destination predetermined, according to rules, forces, principles they needn’t understand? Around me office buildings perhaps. Tokyo after all. Through windows I’ll see workers at desks, segmented into vertical strips by ivory blinds. I’ll walk.
To walk without purpose. To find your purpose in the walking …
The sky will gray, clear, gray again. People will pass through glass doors. Then I’ll be inside as well.
To actually do the thing, I pretend: I have therefore only pretended to actually do the thing.
A woman (in a lemon-colored uniform?) will bow and say something—a greeting—as I enter. Will I know what she’s saying? Will the Kalvan Effect come to the rescue? I will bow in return; or maybe not; whichever I do, it will be right; or she’ll smile, or rather smirk, a momentary flaw, an instant of failure in the composure of her face, informing me of my faux pas.
Then aisles. Jewelry. Accessories. Escalator. More aisles. Handbags. To pretend to pretend. Children’s clothing. Where do I stop? Will I know?
The sporting goods section, let’s say. As good a place as any. Fishing rods, lures, I-don’t-know-what. I’ve never been a fisherman. The fish would pound and paddle at my feet, flapping silver things beating themselves against the duller silver of my grandfather’s boat, their flapping at the same time desperate and mechanical … I wasn’t allowed to throw them back …
The boarding call. No more time.
The Takahashi Loop is a figure-eight pattern representing a closed loop, interrupted only when the involuntary sojourner, passing hooks, nets, fishing vests, is addressed or physically restrained—by Takahashi himself perhaps, come to pursue his research, to take his new subject away, at which point—final boarding call—at which point, pattern disturbed, the subject wakes up, becoming
S. P. Tenhoff is a recipient of the Bennett Cerf Memorial Prize for Fiction. His collection The Involuntary Sojourner, the title story of which appears here, was selected as a finalist for the 2016 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction. His stories have appeared in The Southern Review, American Short Fiction, Ninth Letter, The Antioch Review, Fiction International, and Swink, among other publications.