Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Letter of Marque

Lettres de marque were given to french corsairs--also known as privateers or pirates--by the state to give them permission to act in the name of the crown.  Corsair is french for the italian coruso, or--in English--course.  I'll decide what metaphoric significance the pirate implication has later.  At the moment, it's the 'course' that really interests me.

It may mean little that I'm an American Studies major later in life, but right now it means quite a lot.  The fact that I want to study in France seems a little off the chart for someone who has spent four years studying America, especially when our readings so far have been somewhat clear that the typical "American" viewpoint of the outside world is destructive and ineffective.  But that's what I love about Field Studies--not only was it the only conceivable way to academically tie together a thousand interests that I just couldn't reconcile any other way, it's focus is on teaching us how to leave behind our natural tendencies when entering a new culture and instead enter a new culture ready to experience.

I like this because the truth is, I don't want to find a niche too quickly.  I want to know everything, but I don't want to know everything right now, I want to take my time learning it.  I like finding connections, and I like making them work as I put the world together.  I love paradigm shifts, having the way I think of the world and of people drastically altered.  It's an upheaval that I've always searched for.  As someone who likes to be comfortable, paradigm shifts is where I have always allowed myself to revel in discomfort.

The course I have in mind really will rely on the water and the wind but I have a general destination in mind.  I want to bridge the gap between my interests in American Studies, French, and writing.  Among the many considerations I've given to this project, what I've been most interested in for a couple of months now is a study of African-American expatriates in Paris.  Given the amount of attention given to "the Lost Generation" of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stein, Elliot, etc. I became interested in the story of those African Americans who served in the same Great War as many other young Americans and yet were not treated as heroes upon their return.  These African-Americans saw France during the war too, and they fell in love with it.  Many of them returned to enjoy some of the freedoms they were denied at home.  It's not that I know who all these people were, or what they did with their lives, or when and if they ever returned to the United States but that I intend to follow the course of their lives, how America shaped it, how France shaped it, where they found solace, how they understood their place as Americans, how they were changed by immersing themselves in french culture, and what Americans can learn in retrospect from their unique "american" experiences.

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