Untitled

samedi

“[23:33] … it does not belong to the work of the photographer, nor does it belong to the interpretations of its audience. It belongs only to the person whose story might be somehow identified through the image they see, the sound they hear and the fabric they touch … ” à Lille.

* Étude by Joep Beving

Initially, I chose a different title for this writing as it was called “France and the love for complexity”. Indeed, I was planning to complain about the complexity of debating in the French language, of how they are stereotyped for saying nothing or absurd things in elegant and pretentious ways, and then I would continue with my thoughts on the unnecessary intricacies of the French administration and the incomprehensible disorganization of the French higher education system in a couple of paragraphs, but somehow I ended up with a completely different storyline. After all, I have decided to remove the original title by replacing it with Untitled. It is not only the complexity of the French language that makes it challenging and more often frustrating for language learners, but the rest of your experience in France could also be complicated as well, especially when it comes to administrative processes. If you have ever heard of a very popular slang practice in France called, “le verlan”, you would probably understand how I feel. I have attached a little link, so if you are curious, then go ahead and click on it cause no way am I going to explain it haha. They really make an effort to complexify on the already complicated components of the language itself.

At least, it has been so far my personal experience like it took me over a month to get my debit card activated because they sent me the wrong activation code, and my account was charged multiple times for a contract that appeared out of nowhere with my signature on it. Yea, you read that right. They have signed it for me! I even got charged monthly fees that were supposed to be exempted for students, and the most frustrating part was that I have already provided the required documents twice, in person and by email. And of course, I had to make multiple phone calls and send multiple emails to resolve the issue. So, it really gave me the impression at the time that there was no such thing as moving to the next step after the previous one was completed because here in France, one went back to redo the previous step regardless of whether one succeeded or not. And just like “le verlan”, a step-by-step instruction in France works also en sens inverse.

Your experience could have been very different from mine, so please take everything you are about to read in this post as a grain of salt. And if you are thinking of going to France either for personal or professional reasons, then I would tell you now before you continue to discover more on this short piece of writing. I love France, very much indeed, to the point where I feel like having only a year here is still too short despite COVID, but I would love to come back one day. The French administration can be a real pain in the a** sometimes if not always, but the rest of your cultural immersion experience is a thousand times worth it. Despite the last 4-week total lockdown, my experience in France has been one of the most rewarding, the most cultural-enriching and the most eye-opening. I have run into a lot of wonderfully kind and generous people with complex, painful for the most part, but also amazing life stories, and they have indeed helped me to understand the country from multiple perspectives. Having witnessed many beautiful moments with these folks the last few weeks has inspired me so much. Some of them are grateful for being given an opportunity to be here in this country, and their experience so far has been a very positive one, and on the other side of the same coin, there are other stories of immigrants, of refugees, of people whose country of origin is not France.

pierre mauroy

“Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.”
― Bertrand Russell

More often than not, those stories are filled with experiences of racism, microaggression, discrimination, loneliness, alienation and of the constant quest to find a sense of agency when the notion of belonging is not seen in a foreseeable future. Equality and fraternity do not exist for all, and for some if not many, it is materialized into a daily joke with a hidden brutal reality. And sometimes, it is a dilemma for those who have loved their country so much, but the thought of coming back is already so far away from reality. I remember one time, one of my teachers from college told me, “There is no such thing as having no choice. We always have a choice. The only difference is that sometimes we have a limited one.” I disagreed. I still do. But that does not make me right or wrong as it is simply a matter of different points of views. I used to spend a lot of time coming up with a solid argument, but now, I am no longer interested in that. Everything that we encounter on a regular basis regardless of where we are on this planet, has its roots from the notion of being constructed by the society in which we live. What is right or wrong is seemly a distraction from the realities of our everyday lives. And of course, the idea of right and wrong is constantly changing, but the foundation always stays the same. It is socially constructed. From a personal point of view, I think that this has helped me a lot when it comes to understanding others’ stories as hearing a story from someone is not just about listening attentively and remembering some of its essence, but it is also about making myself fully aware of my blind spots and placing myself from a dark and dusty corner where the notion of right and wrong is non-existent as there is nothing to be seen, and everything to be seen.

Storytelling is a lot more than just telling your story as the concept of culture is already woven deeply into each expression of the person’s values and beliefs. I used to take the answer to the question “Where are you from” in its literal meanings, but I now understand the utmost necessity to listen extremely carefully when someone tells me “I am from …”. The blank does not always have to be the person’s country of origin as it could provoke many different layers being accumulated over time. I think we are living in a culture where everyone is encouraged to travel extensively and to live in a foreign country so that they can have the “experience” like everyone else. It all starts with the impression that the idea of meeting “an expat” from a different country is usually met with curiosity, excitement, desire and sometimes with a little admiration as they are living their lives with “the greatest  fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment : to live dangerously,” as Nietzsche once said. It is always about taking the biggest risks, overcoming one’s fear, getting out of one’s comfort zone, going to a new country, speaking a foreign language and meeting amazing people, and of course, being an expat! Speaking of amazing people with amazing stories, it is usually associated with coolness, inspiration, creativity and popularity. Who defines what is amazing anyways?

To me, saying something amazing is a process of understanding that begins with the act of capturing a moment in black and white, in its purest form. Then, I would read a book on the metro while thinking about how I want to see all the elements presented in that photo, take a long walk home, then I would look at it long enough but after choosing the right piece of music that goes along with the musicality embedded in the language of the photo, and eventually I would close my eyes and add a new layer to the word “amazing”. To me, everything is amazing. Everything is nothing and nothing is everything. Both positive and negative. Both beautiful and ugly. Both pleasant and painful. Both vulnerable and resilient. They both exist on the same page. No opposite, as vulnerability is never the opposite of resilience. They are synonymous. I see the authenticity of a person through a black and white photo with their soul being portrayed in its ugliest and most beautiful form. Each photo has its own language. And one thing I always remind myself the moment before and after taking a photo, is that it does not belong to the work of the photographer, nor does it belong to the interpretations of its audience. It belongs only to the person whose story might be somehow identified through the image they see, the sound they hear and the fabric they touch.

les délices de moulin

“Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait. Some of those conditions are within you, such as coherence among the parts and levels of your personality. Other conditions require relationships to things beyond you: Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger. It is worth striving to get the right relationships between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself. If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge.”
― Jonathan Haidt

One does not need to see an image through their eyes. We tend to say that more in a poetic sense, but not so much in a realistic one as we are certainly doubtful to see someone with a visual impairment, who chooses to take a course in The Semiotics of Images, probably the right translation from the French title “Sémiologie de L’image”. How ironic it may seem on the surface; unfortunately, we might have to rethink. The way they “see” and “analyse” images, definitely has the potential to revolutionize our ways of thinking. It is not impossible as it is wonderfully possible. Not mystically, but realistically. I have met someone like that. I choose to address this person as “they” to make it more neutral in this context. The first day when they arrived in the class, the teacher asked them why they did not choose the option Communication as there were two options for the couse, and the teacher thought it was not possible for a blind person to take this class, you know, to analyze images without being able to “see” them. The teacher was probably right from his own perspective, but maybe, he never gets to “see” images from another angle. And that is a whole different world, a world where the act of seeing has to be reconstructed from scratch. Or maybe if he tried a little bit harder to conquer his own blind spots, he might be amazed at how an image does not have be seen first in order to be felt as feeling can arrive even before the image is shown in front of us.

In a society where we are told constantly about the functions of our senses, and more often than not, each sense comes with its own practicalities. We need our eyes to see things. We need to hear things through our ears. But what if our eyes are not only there for us to see things, but they are also there for us to feel the intense emotion of someone in pain, to touch the raw materials of a new decorative piece, and even to taste the magics of our winter comfort food. We are all victims of our own blind spots. To some extent, we all hold prejudices not only against other people, but mostly against ourselves, unconsciously, against the version of ourselves that might have been that person. And we think if we were that person, the impossibilité thinking would become a reality. And we are scared. And our fear might have been unfortunately misdirected. Even the concept of reality can mean different things for different people. Louis Braille might be their hero or Erin Brun Sanglard in the modern times, but they are my hero. I am grateful, deeply grateful for having met them. They have challenged my worldviews, and I have no choice, but to change. A bizarre but wonderful coincidence that brought me and them together, or my curiosity might have been transformed into the energy that brought them to me.

Either way, I’m very glad that it happened.

Lille, Dec 2, 20

vieux lille

“People who devote their lives to studying something often come to believe that the object of their fascination is the key to understanding everything.”
― Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind

“Words of wisdom, the meaning of life, perhaps even the answer sought by Borges’s librarians—all of these may wash over us every day, but they can do little for us unless we savor them, engage with them, question them, improve them, and connect them to our lives,

The effectance motive helps explain the progress principle: We get more pleasure from making progress toward our goals than we do from achieving them because, as Shakespeare said, “Joy’s soul lies in the doing.”

One does not need to see an image through their eyes. We tend to say that more in a poetic sense, but not so much in a realistic one as we are certainly doubtful to see someone with a visual impairment, who chooses to take a course in The Semiotics of Images, probably the right translation from the French title “Sémiologie de L’image”. How ironic it may seem on the surface; unfortunately, we might have to rethink. The way they “see” and “analyse” images, definitely has the potential to revolutionize our ways of thinking. It is not impossible as it is wonderfully possible. Not mystically, but realistically. I have met someone like that. I choose to address this person as “they” to make it more neutral in this context. The first day when they arrived in the class, the teacher asked them why they did not choose the option Communication as there were two options for the couse, and the teacher thought it was not possible for a blind person to take this class, you know, to analyze images without being able to “see” them. The teacher was probably right from his own perspective, but maybe, he never gets to “see” images from another angle. And that is a whole different world, a world where the act of seeing has to be reconstructed from scratch. Or maybe if he tried a little bit harder to conquer his own blind spots, he might be amazed at how an image does not have be seen first in order to be felt as feeling can arrive even before the image is shown in front of us.

“[23:33] … it does not belong to the work of the photographer, nor does it belong to the interpretations of its audience. It belongs only to the person whose story might be somehow identified through the image they see, the sound they hear and the fabric they touch … ” à Lille.

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