Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Romance, languages, and literature

I need to give this blog "categories," so that one category can be "Trillion Books in French." This is my plan for the summer (and beyond), and while ideally some of the reading will take place on a beach in Tel Aviv, a cafe in Montreal, or somewhere further afield than gentrified Brooklyn, this is what's going on.

First up, "Huis Clos." It was my favorite of the books (well, plays) we read in Ms. Katz's French class in 10th grade, and I now realize why: it is super easy. I normally read French a bit more slowly than I read English, but this took about a second, and probably found it not too impossible in 10th grade either, and was thus able--odd for me at the time in French--to think about the book itself. The themes, teasing existentialism out of what each character says and out of the odd situation itself, all this is potentially more challenging, but I've taken courses on Sartre, so I know more or less what to look for and do not need to go through old notebooks in my childhood bedroom.

The famous line from the play is "l'enfer, c'est les Autres," or, "hell is Others." This is not, however, the line I remembered from having read it years ago. The one that stuck with me was when the lesbian Ines, infuriated at the possibility of her hetero hell-mates Estelle and Garcin hooking up, says of Garcin, "Et il n'est meme pas beau!," or, "And he isn't even good-looking!" While the meaning in the context is absurd--there is one man in the room, what exactly are Estelle's options?--it holds for love in general, even on the "outside," in the real world beyond a tiny, sealed room of this existentialist play. 10th grade is about the time when romantic love becomes interesting, and I remember even then seeing this line as a comment meant to extend beyond the immediate situation of the play or even whatever philosophical points Sartre was looking to make.

The line I most associate with Ines's from "Huis Clos" is this one from Un Amour de Swann. Swann here is the "Estelle," in a sense, the person who has undergone all the suffering and longing of love, but for a person with no particularly lovable qualities. But what are lovable qualities, if not by definition the qualities, however unpleasant, of the beloved? I find this question worth thinking about not just for personal reasons (I am 22, living in a society that permits multiple romantic relationships in one's lifetime, and am thus familiar with this sort of thing) but on a political level as well: Dreyfus-era French Jews--or, a few decades later and more famously, German Jews--loved their country even if it was "meme pas beau!" Herzl devoted unthinkable energy to saving the Jewish people-- going to lengths that make those of Romeo or any other celebrated lover seem rather unimpressive-- for whom he on the whole liked very little.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Maybe you need to stop talking about love in abstract terms and talk about real world experience, instead.

Phoebe said...

Because it's always such a great idea to blog about one's love life. Thanks for the suggestion!

Anonymous said...

sex sells honey. oh wait, that's why you don't blog about your love life. (was that low?)

Phoebe said...

Not low, just idiotic.

Petey said...

"Because it's always such a great idea to blog about one's love life. Thanks for the suggestion!"

Hey, it worked for Jessica Cutler...

Dean W. Armstrong said...

Can you in fact add categories for posts in Blogger? I was under the impression they didn't have them.