Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Marvel of Representation

We went to Paris without knowing enough French to read novels or engage in long conversations. So we decided to avoid live drama and focus in original English-speaking movies, concerts, museums and bistros. The city’s unyielding aristocracy and aesthetic arrogance is enough to entertain anyone for a good number of days. At some point, though, you give up. We had to try something else, something more, some language like conversation of sorts.

So we went to a drama session. The performance included songs, piano, drama, and video. The singer was experienced, yet out of control. The video was horrible; badly done in every possible sense. Terrible narrative, horrible actress, bad colors, and everything else one can think of. The piano was nice and the drama, I guess, was the only interesting thing. All else excluded, it was a good theatrical performance. I understood, in the relevant sense, pretty much everything. Everything dramatic, I mean. Nothing linguistic, of course. Everything was in French.

And that was the beauty of it. I never tried it before. Most of the time when facing a language that I fully ignore, I also failed to understand pretty much anything. Most of the time there is little else to grasp. Even the most pragmatic aspects are beyond reach. You still need to get the meanings before letting them go. With drama, however, things are radically different. The force, the tone, the tears, emotions, anger, rage, sadness, everything else is still there, before the meaning. Yet it was pretty obvious that no such things were really there. It was just a performance. No real emotions, no anger, no rage, no tears. Those tears where not there.

That was the marvel of it. To see representation first and foremost because I couldn’t see anything else. To understand all the relevant aspects of the drama, the drama itself, and nothing else. That was the beauty of it, and it was only possible because it was in French or, rather, in an incomprehensible speech form. Otherwise, I’m sure, I would have thought, felt, and moved differently. I would have been convinced of and for it. I would have been part of it rather than its more concrete (yet distant) audience.

To see the representation without its represented is to see the marvel of it.