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Monday, January 30, 2012

January 31, 2012 by · No comments

AnnMarie Rudin


Lille, 30-janvier. 12

It was welcoming to return to a familiar setting. There is an element of calm and of order that I am able to appreciate here, which is much different from the dystopia where I spent the weekend. I realized that I am not who I thought I was.

There are certain things that I found myself doing this past weekend, and I could barely find sleep, for I was morally concerned with what I had done. A wild night can be pardoned, but what was more troubling was the realization that I would (and did!) engage in such unspeakably sinful interests. Returning to my home, I wanted to adopt a countenance as though this past weekend did not happen.

Meanwhile, I went to my stylistics and rhetoric class. I was eager to learn, and the docent is enthusiastic and amicable. We began to discuss very conceptual terms in relation to rhetoric, and I remembered why I fell in love with rhetoric in the first place.

If only this class were taught in English! I would reign in this class. However, I sat quietly, somewhat too shy, somewhat too unsure of my own abilities to participate. But I followed the volley of questions from my colleagues and responses from my docent.

I was immediately reminded of a Language and Composition course I took when I was 16 years old and in high school. This course applied my love for language to an extent that I had never before been able to reach. I learned vocabulary to name the grammar of my mother tongue.

Tropes, metonyms, litotes, tautologies, pathos, zeugmas – literally hundreds of these terms, most neglected since introduction, all flooded into my mind, and I was overcome with this prompt to find all my notes (yes, I still have them filed away) from this course in order to apply them here. Discouraged, for these notes were across an ocean, I strained to remember all that I could.

The docent passed out a photocopied sheet: an excerpt from a work by Zola. I was not familiar with it. He read out loud the two pages at a pace that forced me to forget everything else happening around me.

« Gervaise avait repris son panier. Elle ne se levait pourtant pas, le tenait sur ses genoux, les regards perdues, rêvant, comme si les paroles du jeune ouvrier éveillaient en elle des pensées lointaines d’existence. Et elle dit encore, lentement, sans transition apparente : …»

That’s what I heard when I listened to this man speak. Sans transition apparent. Apart from enjoying listening to my docent read, there was an assignment: The class had been asked to identify different types of discours. I don’t know what it’s called in English. Rhetorically speaking (that is to say, within the faculty of rhetoric), I believe we call it discourse, as well.

The hour continued, and I was constantly matching up our conversations to thoughts and lectures I’ve experienced in the past. We began to speak of time and also of the four dimensions in which we find ourselves. When I was just thirteen years old, I remember a science class I had.

My teacher had explained to us that the only thing that we can be sure of is the present time. Anything in the past is a memory. Anything in the future is a dream. Only in the present can we be sure what is happening, but once that realization occurs to us, that instant is gone, and is therefore yet another memory.

I recall another year when I was walking with a friend of mine, who is older than I, and at the time he was studying different sorts of physics at the post-secondary level. He explained to me that there are four dimensions, but we can experience only three and a half of them.

That is, latitude, longitude and depth. Where is one standing? But then, there is a fourth dimension of time: when is one standing? We can only experience time in a forward path. Very theoretical this all is!

A young woman in this rhetoric class was troubled by this, and she tried to defend that one can watch and measure time. The docent explained that in fact, one can only see the effects of time: seasons and aging, for example. The weather will change, and you will celebrate another birthday, but you cannot see time.

One more point, before I belabor this experience: We spoke of signifier and signified. Again – I only wish that I had my journal of invaluable notes! I remember learning this, but applied to the English language. But there I was, talking about signifiant et signifié. What was more—the docent used the exact example that my teacher used once upon a time.

The signifier is the order of letters from an alphabet. A word, if you will. The word is a symbol. One reads the word. One understands (for the most part). The signified is the emotion one experiences or a mental picture of an object that one receives.

It’s all very interesting to me. The example was a desk. One sees (respectively, reads or hears) the word, and one pictures a physical item that this symbol (a combination of letters forming the word “desk”) represents. The problem, of course, is that definitions are not concrete.

A desk can mean many different things, and many different images could be (and will be!) pictured. I have exhausted myself already trying to explain, and I may have also bored my readers.

Later in the day, I was able to meet up with a friend and colleague of mine named JoAnn. She is here with a group of students from the high school where she teaches French. It’s an exchange program.

We met up, and we went to a café in the center of the city for a coffee and a croissant. I started entertaining the thought of how I found myself with this woman here in a café in the fourth largest city in France. I realize that my choices in life brought me here. If I hadn’t been able to learn French, I would have never fallen in love with the language.

If I hadn’t chosen the college I did, I would never have been offered a job in that city. At this college I met Brooke. Together, we realized that her high school French teacher was JoAnn, whom I knew through my work. And there I was, in the café in France.

Two women of different generations from the same hometown. And we found ourselves conversing, laughing, sharing stories and experiences, sipping espressos, and genuinely enjoying our lives and all the decisions that we had made separately which brought us to this moment together.

Chez moi later this evening, I ate dinner and danced around my room. Rihanna’s “Only Girl (In the World)” has been stuck in my head for the past week. I ultimately cuddled up under my blanket with Ibsen’s Ghosts. I’m reading a French translation, however.

I stayed up very, very late. Reading, annotating, translating what I could not understand, marking especially meaningful citations, sharing with whomever was online what was outstanding to me. I felt like the character in the play, Madame Alving, who reads and reads. The priest is not so pleased with what she reads. I liked how she responds:

« Il me semble que j’y trouve une explication et une confirmation à bien des pensées que je n’ai cessé de retourner dans ma tête. C’est cela qui est étrange, pasteur Manders, — au fond, il n’y a rien de nouveau dans ces livres ; on n’y trouve que ce que la plupart des gens pensent et croient. Seulement, la plupart des gens n’en ont pas pris conscience, ou ne veulent pas l’admettre. «

I forgot time. Suddenly, it was well past three in the morning. Il faut que je dorme.

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