I honestly didn’t mean to disappear for quite this long. I needed a little time, of course, to grieve, to process everything that was going on around me, to take care of things. But the longer I took, the harder it became to figure out what to say next, how to move on. So here’s this, partially just breaking things loose, partially creating some space. Creating the possibility of an actual return.
It was like someone flipped a lightswitch.
I’ve been listening to a number of podcasts from France Culture for the last couple of weeks, trying to tune my ear to a more rapid-fire, more quotidien mode of spoken French than I’ve been able to pick up from any of the French instruction audio I’ve listened to. Some of it’s been interesting, some of it’s been perplexing, some of it’s been an outright mystery, but all of it’s been work.
And then yesterday, I was listening to “le journal de 7h” (a five-to-thirteen minute podcast of the morning’s news headlines), and about three minutes in, I suddenly realized I’d heard it all. Heard, as in understood without actively listening, without paying attention, without trying to — or needing to — parse the sentences. Just heard.
As soon as I realized what had happened, I got a bit self-conscious about it, and the transparency of the language disappeared — but relaxing again, I was able to get it back, or at least glimpses of it. I spent much of the rest of the afternoon downloading and listening to other broadcasts, to see if the feeling was replicable, or if it was just a fluke, produced by the fact that I understood the basic facts of all of the stories presented. (No small feat: the conventions of French journalism are a good bit different from those in the U.S., not least around the amount of background info provided; in a story about the Bastille Day ceremonies, for instance, that mentions the d?©tente between Sarkozy and the army stemming from the Carcassonne affair, you can’t necessarily expect to be told what exactly happened in Carcassonne. It’s assumed you’ve been keeping up, so jumping in mid-stream can be hard.)
It turns out that the feeling was replicable. And even live: I turned on the radio and caught an absolutely amazing Barthesian analysis of the bagless vacuum cleaner, followed by a remarkable interview with Alain Robbe-Grillet.
It was the damnedest thing: one day, I could comprehend fine, but only with effort; the next day, the effort was gone. Like flipping a switch, and now the lights are on.
That sensation will probably come and go — my struggles with this language are far from over — but I wanted to record this moment for myself, so that I can remember that the possibility of fluency is really out there.
Yesterday afternoon, I spent a couple of hours in a small caf?© a few blocks from here, first doing some reading and then having coffee with a former student. The caf?©’s quite cool — imagine a merger of French bar and college-town co-op coffee house — and felt somehow very much like home to me as soon as I walked in. It took a second to register how much so: the voices coming out of the caf?©’s speakers were American. Not just American: familiar.
The caf?©, it turns out, was streaming KCRW over the internet.
I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, it’s quite cool that they can do so, and the music that played during the time I was there was great. On the other hand, there’s something in it that feels a little too much like the sudden explosion of Starbucks here.
Once upon a time, one went somewhere far away to see and hear and taste things one couldn’t see and hear and taste anywhere else. Now one can see and hear and taste many of the same things wherever one goes. Has the point of travel come down to simply being far away?
I eagerly anticipate at some as yet undetermined point in the future having a complex thought of which I do not later discover Jay David Bolter has already said a portion, both more intelligently and a decade earlier.
(I feel compelled, however, to note two attendant ironies:
1. The chapter on which I’m currently working makes as part of its argument the claim that one of the ideas about authorship that we’re going to need to loosen our grip on a teeny bit as we move into the digital future is that of originality.
2. One would think I’d already spent enough pages disagreeing with the notion of the anxiety of influence to suddenly find myself feeling it.)
I’ve got a million favorite lines, and so I just grabbed for the first one that came to mind. That there won’t be any more has already made the world seem a sadder place.
RIP, George Carlin.
But no actual cats. I saw this animation the other day, and something in it resonated so deeply that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. It’s viral, I think, in an infectious way. The only thing that’s left is for me to pass it on.
From the Broadsheet, without comment:
Bill Kristol: Look, the only people for Hillary Clinton are the Democratic establishment and white women. The Democratic establishment — it would be crazy for the Democratic Party to follow an establishment that’s led it to defeat year after year. White women are a problem, that’s, you know — we all live with that.
Juan Williams: Not me!
Brit Hume: Bill, for the record, I like white women.
Kristol: I know, I shouldn’t have said that.
Why is it that, even when I’ve realized that the book I’ve started reading isn’t the text I actually need to be reading — either it doesn’t do the thing I thought it did, or it occurs to me that my attention would be more fruitfully placed elsewhere — I nonetheless feel the need to finish the thing before moving on to another book?
I swore I wasn’t going to miss it this year, as I did last year and the year before (and the year before that, and the year before that). I even went so far as to put it on my iCal, so that I’d remember to mark the occasion, but then I failed to look at the calendar yesterday. It’s a bit disappointing. I mean, this was moderately significant: the five year anniversary of starting things up here at Planned Obsolescence. I’d meant to mark the moment, but as wonky as my moment-to-moment understanding of what moment it is has gone, it’s not surprising that I missed it.
In any event, to mark the just-having-passedness of the moment: I’ve instituted a little “Five Years Ago” link, to be found at right. I’m curious what will happen on a day when, five years before, there was no post, but I guess we’ll see.
With apologies to the student who wrote it: I know something is wrong with what follows, but I can’t quite make my brain kick up information about what and why.
9% of the Senate consists of women…
When you say that something “consists” of something else, you’re usually saying that several something elses go into making up that something, right? So I think I’d be good with “The Senate consists of nine women and 91 men.” But to say that nine percent of the Senate consists of women sounds to me as though women are only one ingredient in that nine percent.
Am I right here? Or am I just getting dizzy from looking at the pile of grading in front of me?