The Believer #127
Our latest page 23 features answers to the question: What is the earliest border you remember? 3(.5) people share their stories in response.
The page is from a particularly strong new issue of The Believer, its strength perhaps due to the sheer interpretability of its theme, ‘The Borders Issue’. It’s a timely subject considering the current political landscape in the US, where controversial immigration policies at the Mexican border more often than not stir up outrage from all sides.
The word itself even causes divisions: while the official definition of ‘border’ relates specifically to political and geographical boundaries, conceptual borders associated with a state of mind or a semi-perceived-but-physically-invisible division most certainly exist. This issue of The Believer is unafraid to reach into every corner of the word, exploring interpretations beyond the obvious and exposing that in actuality, physical and conceptual borders are constantly colliding, tangled up in one another.
In its dedication to unpacking this theme, The Believer makes great use of its customary illustrative design, featuring artworks of maps, of people, of stories told through comics. Of course, The Believer is not a text-light publication, and this particular page 23 is part of an eight-page feature, collating answers to a question posed to attendees of the 2019 Believer Festival in Las Vegas. Despite the editor’s intention to grill people about ‘the first geographical border that they could remember encountering’, answers invariably skirt around this restriction, wandering off into more conceptual territory. An apt irony!
Page 23 features answers from a few of the 17 people interviewed: Reggie Watts, Tommy Orange and Janaya Khan.The page itself is bordered with green ink, but that doesn’t stop the end of Masha Gessen’s answer from page 22 drifting onto page 23, ruminating on the distinction between emigration and exile. The array of responses are fantastically divergent, with Watts explaining that the most tangible borders in his experience happen at ‘the point of convergence’, when formly mobile objects become static – perhaps a coat swinging on a hook – and suddenly it is impossible to tell how long the object has been in that state for.
As Watts himself puts it, ‘that point when something crosses over into something else’. Khan’s answer is totally different, rooted in the physical experience of expanding one’s spacial awareness, just by taking a bus to a new neighbourhood. Orange’s answer is concerned with his own identity, with a ‘white mom and Native dad’, his experience has been akin to straddling a border, wrestling with the right to claim something ‘so much to do with language and land’.
It feels as if everything has been covered in this issue, I am amazed at just how thoroughly the editors have tackled such an important topic. I’ll leave you with the last few lines from the introduction page, which sum up the (entirely accomplished) aims of the issue: ‘Again and again we invent these kinds of partitions and find ourselves unable to unthink them. What drives this impulse? What can we learn from it? And how does it affect our shared life? These are the questions that animate this issue, questions that we hope will bring us closer to understanding ourselves and the lines we have drawn.’