Monday, March 1, 2010

Le jour parfait !

Today was a perfect day! When I got up and ready, I took the RER to St. Michel and, since it was sunny and warm, I decided to walk from Notre-Dame to l'ENS. So, I passed Notre-Dame, Cluny, walked between Louis-le-Grand and La Sorbonne, toward the Pantheon with the Eiffel Tower right behind me, then to l'ENS for my class.

The class was really great today, even though half the class (including one of the two professors) was missing. We discussed "La Bibliothèque de la Pléiade," a collection of French classic literature, and also some other classics in general. Being inducted into La Bibliothèque de la Pléiade is a huge honor here in France, and so we were discussing how this collection sort of chooses which literature will be conserved and which literature will be forgotten. We discussed other similar collections as well, including Raymond Queneau's book: Pour une Bibliothèque Idéale. In that book, Queneau (one of the founders of l'OuLiPo, by the way) lists the hundred books that everyone in the entire world should read. Back to the Pléiade, though - I want to buy all of them! I still love my kindle, but these books are great! They're printed so they're small and portable, on bible paper, leather bound, and they're beautiful. Plus, I'm sure they have every book that I should have already read. But, we were also talking about how the Pléiade and Raymond Queneau's list are really just references for "rereading" because when you "read" a classic work, you're in fact "rereading" it. See: Pourquoi lire les classiques by Italo Calvino (another oulipien). The last item on the discussion was edition, and how these collections are constantly changing the definition of classic to encompass more and more works and also how each Pléiade book is a critical edition, with prefaces from contemporary authors, creating a link between the present and the past. To reiterate, it was such an informative lecture!

After my ENS class, I wasn't sure what to do. I had to stop by CUPA, so I picked up a crepe on the street, ate it in le jardin de Luxembourg, read a little of Cyrano de Bergerac, then went to CUPA. After that, I walked back through the garden, then around it when I decided that, since it was such a nice day, I'd get some more of that awesome gelato. Today, I had espresso and salted caramel together - it was to die for! I hate to say it, but the salted caramel gelato was better than the salted caramel Berthillon. I met up with Alexandra afterward - she ate, but I was stuffed. I had some great pineapple juice, though. Then, it was back to l'ENS for me so I could see George Steiner!!!!

That's what he looks like. He is so incredible! Even though I just decided he was my hero last night, I feel as though I made a perfect choice. Honestly, he's a better hero than Idina Menzel, no matter how well she can belt. George Steiner started the talk by informing me (okay, not me in particular, but everyone), that there were three subjects that were "penser pour penser" or "thinking for thinking's sake" and were, thus, completely useless though still interesting: Poetry/writing in general, including Philosophy, because philosophical writing is poetic as well; pure mathematics (but he had a great quote (loosely translated): "When God talks to himself, he speaks in algebra!"); and music (he asked us if music can lie...I'm not sure...). So, I'm pleased to announce that everything I do is completely useless according to George Steiner. I don't think he's saying I should do something else, though, since it's just like what he does. He majored in literature, math, and physics. Allison wants to marry him. I completely agree. In his discussion, "la disputation" (I wrote about it in a previous blog entry, in case you don't remember) was alive and well. Even though he was citing more than just ancient Greek and Roman texts and analyzing all of his references to prove his point, he was citing everything! He cited everything from Aristotle to Wittgenstein; from Pythagoras to Foucault. And he spoke very clearly, and surprisingly slowly in French, for the most part. Sometimes, he would quote an author in German, English, or Italian, but immediately afterward, he would translate the quote into French. I am definitely going to ask my history professor if I can leave halfway into the class on Wednesday so I can go to the next lecture: Dialogue et Dialectique. 

Aside from what Steiner actually said, I feel as though I should also mention that the room, La Salle des Actes, was PACKED! I got there ten minutes early and there was no where to sit. People were crowded around all the walls. I had to stand in the back next to a bust of some big nosed French guy. It was definitely worth it, but it reminded me of that time Bill Nye the Science Guy came to Hopkins to speak. And while I adored Bill Nye, George Steiner is just on a whole different level. Universe, even. It's just incredible that a school like l'ENS exists, with so many students who are so diligent and intelligent. The combination of them and George Steiner makes me feel inadequate, a little, but I'm learning a lot there. When I listen to a lecture there, I tend to forget that the lecture is in French, stop thinking in English entirely, and just focus on the subject. It's really exactly what I was hoping would happen when I decided to come to Paris and take French university courses. The only problem is that it's not like that in the universities. My Paris 8 classes (except for the history one, which is just hard for me because it's the one subject I don't really like) seem so simple. And I'm sure it's not the methodology difference that it's a lot less work and only a few graded assignments, because that's what the ENS course is too. They didn't give us bibliographies in the Paris 8 courses (except, once again, for the history professor's two textbooks), we're just reading excerpts, and I feel as though I'm just as well read and even more well read than the majority of the classes. And then, to top it off, at Paris 8, a ton of students are foreign (most are native French speakers, but still). The Sorbonne philosophy class is more difficult, but none of these classes compare to l'ENS. I wish CUPA had a special relationship with them. Johns Hopkins does, but I don't know why no one knows about it!

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