Monday, January 30, 2012

The art of culture: Communication

In class we were discussing how what you do (and don't do) by means of gathering information in your field research will blatantly affect what information you come out of your field study with.  This is particularly pertinent to my project since what I think it means to be American will directly impact how I interpret the experiences of other Americans abroad.  Whether this has something to do with who I converse with, what books I read, what I interpret to be significant (or not significant), or whether it has to do with looking at African-American expatriates through a Anglo-American lens.

But just because you aren't like the people you study, and just because your field information will be skewed because of who you are doesn't mean you shouldn't do the research.  Though, I do think that it might be helpful to get a better handle on what I think it means to be an American so I can put it aside and reassess American-ness through someone else's perspective.

There are ten elements of culture we discussed today, and the first I want to discuss is Communication.  As I work in the Field Study office, I was going through some of Malcolm's files and found a worksheet, "Contrast Your Communication Styles with Host Nationals."  I don't know about my Host Culture's communication styles yet, so I won't guess.  What I will do is compare mine to my Home Country, which the worksheet also facilitates.

Direct/Indirect Communication

Me: First, I think I'm a low-context communicator about 95% of the time.  I use direct communication: what I say is what I mean, I do not beat around the bush.  I'm not manipulative or passive aggressive when communicating with others.  It doesn't help me, so I don't do it.  And though I can often read what other people want when they communicate with me, unless they use direct communication, I rarely--if ever--humor/indulge them with an answer.  I dislike acting on others' indirect communication because it is so often used against you if you should misinterpret.  Because I am not easily offended, this doesn't usually end up hurting me if they should decide to tell me what they want in a more direct manner later on.

Home: In class today it was said that Americans tend to be more or less "direct" communicators (i.e. low-context communicators).  You can take most of what Americans say at face value and just believe them.  I agree about this in comparison to many other cultures, however, I think that if you want to cut it a different way, women tend to be thought of as 'indirect communicators' while men tend to be thought of as 'direct communicators.'  Also, perhaps privileged Anglo-Americans feel more comfortable being direct communicators while less privileged-class Americans tend to be indirect communicators.  I believe this because I believe that indirect communication is a consequence of not being allowed/permitted/accepted as direct communicators.

Linear/Circular Communication

Me: I'd say it depends on the point I'm trying to get across, that I am both linear and circular.  I say what I need to say often, but I am willing to have a circular conversation, and most conversations for the sake of conversation end up being circular in my book.  Also, as I tell stories, circular motion is often the only way to go, but I reserve this for written stories, as most people's attention spans are two short-lived for circular story telling.

Home: It varies from person to person.  I don't know that you can say an American communicates linearly or circularly.  I'd say that like me, most people in my home country fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, using each when it is most applicable or appropriate.

Detached/Attached Communication

Me: This is a real issue for me as I am both, and I think this is why my form of communication really 1.) confuses people, 2.) is often misread/misunderstood, 3.) is responded to negatively.  Detached communication, "issues are discussed with calmness and objectivity.  Emotion is kept at a minimum, and objectivity is preferred over subjectivity.  People who use detached communication may feel that they are just being rational and fair."  Attached: "issues are discussed with a high level of emotion and feeling.  People communicating this way think they are showing sincerity or personal concern for the topic and the person with whom they are interacting."  Now, what I do: I am usually detached from my topic.  I am very objective, so I will present a side of a conversation without knowing if I fully believe it.  I almost always feel very calm and objective when conversing with others.  HOWEVER, I discuss everything with lots of passion.  I therefore come across as being factual and opinionated.  Because I express my 'argument' with passion, people expect it is my personal opinion, and so have a difficult time arguing against it for fear of offending me.  Because I remain unaffiliated with most conversation topics (in my mind), almost always feel I am being rational and fair by presenting a side of the issue--whether I believe it or not--while others interpret my passion as perhaps decided and unchangeable.  Because these two modes of communication are usually considered contrary, I am very often misunderstood as disagreeing with someone when in actuality I was agreeing with them.  I get many negative reactions to things I am saying because people interpret my indirect communication incorrectly rather than listen to the words I am actually saying.  Confusing enough?  Yes, that's what I've been told.

Home: I think people tend to be one or the other.  I have a hard time with people who show little-to-no passion about anything.  But I can see how my form of communication could get extremely confusing.  I think women, homes, or religious institutions tend to communicate in an 'attached' manner.  Though, to be fair, people who tend towards feeling or emotion are more 'attached' communicators.  However, there is a good potion of our culture that prides itself in and expects detached communication.  You find this in the work place, or in the education system.  There are certain places where either/or are expected or appropriate within our culture.


Me: I am 100% an idea-oriented communicator.  "In this form of communication, disagreement with ideas is stated directly, with the assumption that only the idea, not the person from whom the idea came, is being attacked."  However, I am very aware that others are relationship-oriented where "disagreeing with an idea is viewed the same as disagreeing with the person who originated it.  Intellectual disagreement in particular is handled more subtly and indirectly.  This communication style emphasizes interpersonal harmony and strives to maintain the relationship between people."  I consider idea-oriented communication the ability to "play" with ideas, to flesh them out, to beat them down, to roll them out and stretch them, and see what they can go through in order to decide if it's something I believe.  Others become very frustrated by this tendency I have because they think I am attacking them, which is never ever the case.  Others, when they argue with me about one of my ideas, interpret my response as offended, when really it's just the here-to-fore discussed 'passion.'  This is my biggest communication problem with my family as I play with ideas, while treating the relationship unaffiliated with the ideas.  My family rarely feels this way, and often thinks I am attacking their opinion.

Home: I think most people are relationship-oriented by socialization.  I don't know how I missed the boat.  I think it's less okay to be unable to be idea-oriented in a collaborative work environment though you always have the person in your work group who is unable to take idea-criticism and therefore is always offended by one thing or another.  Realizing that most are relationship-oriented makes me feel very boxed-in and caged, as I have to think and re-think the way I present a thought I have so not to offend anyone which usually skews the correct and clear communication of the idea itself.  However, when I try to by myself and state an idea the way I think it, I am not usually met with acceptance.  I think in desire to maintain relationships people have with others through this type of communication no one really ends up being themselves, but a person with layers and layers of filters.  I have yet to find a good thing about this, though I know there should be.  (I'll give it more thought.)

Signing off for now, to continue to think about communication styles.

In defense of Annotated Source for 1 February

I know that this isn't a scholarly article, a documentary or a book, but I am not an anthropologist.  In fact I am an American Studies major, and part of my project is going about studying the experience of African-American expatriates in Paris with the methodology of the American Studies field.  A very big part of that is 'Textual Interpretation' in which you read the books, listen to the music, view the art, etc. of the men and women who lived in Paris, conversed in Paris, created in Paris, etc.  Josephine Baker's Complete 1926-27 recordings is one of a list of books, music, or art, that I will be citing.  Art pieces will not be cited, though records of 'gallery' shows will be.  Part of the American Studies methodology is putting the art in the context of the history, the institutions and the social implications they would have come into contact with, making this album extremely relevant.

Baker, Josephine. Complete Record Works. 1926-27. A piece for textual interpretation, to be taken into account as the first of her recorded works while she was in Paris.  She stayed in Paris and/or France basically for the remainder of her life, returning to New York for a short while, only to realize that she didn't want to deal with the racism there and returning to Paris.  To fully understand these people and what they expereinced as Americans in Paris, one must read their writing, listen to their music, view their artwork, and roam their city.

Healing Time

Our most recent reading about Monochronic and Polychronic time of course made me begin to wonder which I adhered to most, or best.  Before reading Hall's article I stumbled across a post written by Averyl Dietering--who is going to the UK--and agreed with her about Monochronic time.

For those of you who don't know Hall's theory about the two different times, M-time is best described as compartmentalizing your time into a schedule.  It's what you imagine the President's day is like, with everything from meetings with ambassadors to time for tucking his children into bed mapped out for him.  Or, if you knew what my last semester was like, where I had every day to the half-hour mapped out just so I could get everything done, it's like that.  The idea of M-time is that the only way to complete things is to compartmentalize them, to schedule them, to do only one thing at a time and then be completed.  Hall says that those who adhere to M-time often refer to time as being wasted, killed, saved, lost, or made-up (266).  P-time is organic, fluid, and chaotic to someone who operates in M-time, but it is most like a mother's schedule, Hall says.  "How else can one raise several children at once, run a household, hold a job, be a wife, mother, nurse, tutor, chauffeur, and general fixer-upper?"  If that example doesn't work for you, think of how you learned the Native-Americans treated time.  It's about people, Hall says, and the people who deal in P-time are usually never alone, very little is private, and rarely are people excluded or is time compartmentalized.  P-time is about keeping people informed, getting people the things they need, and rarely keeping to a schedule, or a queue, etc.

Before knowing this, and just reading Averyl's post, I was certain I was an M-time person.  It's what I've done my whole life.  School starts at this time, and work starts at that time.  Lunch with someone and this time, and a review meting at this time.  It's how I've learned to operate, and the way I show I care about people is by not wasting their time.  And I definitely think of time as possible to waste if and when I have much I have to do.  I, for example, do not appreciate when someone is late to a noon meeting we set up, when I have a lunch planned with a friend at 1.  Because I know that lunch friend is operating on M time, and being late is rude.  The person I had a meeting with who shows up at 12:45 is even worse because what they're telling me is that they have no respect for my time.  But that's ONLY because I have something planned at 1.  If I was going to be at work until 4 with no other meetings or plans, I care very little that the person showed up at 12:45.  It doesn't matter to me, because I got things done in those 45 minutes and an hour from 12 is just as productive as an hour from 12:45.

So, I realized that I adhere to M-time, and prefer M-time when I know others are keeping me to M-time.  But I also realized in reading this article that if it were up to me, I would much rather adhere to P-time.  Saturday's, for example, I have always treated as my days.  I hate when people schedule things on Saturdays because I like to be in charge of it as my only day.  It's my healing day.  Yes, I may be doing homework, or I may be sleeping in, or I may be cooking for a crowd, but it's my day and when you M-time schedule my day, I am not a happy person.  This is because P-time heals.  I couldn't give you a scientific reason why I believe that P-time heals, just that you need time where what time it is doesn't matter to feel like you're just human and not a piece of a machine.  And I imagine it's the way life is probably supposed to go, but "civilized" first-world countries can't operate on P-time, or else we don't believe they can and so we don't value it as much.  P-time looks lazy, and maybe from some frame of reference it is, but you don't have to be unproductive within P-time, it's just that when you complete things means means little; the clock means little.

I look forward to this Field Study which I feel will consist of the best of both times.  I expect M-time to get me up in the morning, and P-time to let me wander.  I expect M-time to help me meet people and keep appointments and P-time to let me converse with them with no worries of how long it will take, or how late it is.  I expect M-time to catch a train and expect P-time to let it take as long as it needs to.  M-time is for initiation into life-experiences, but P-time is for living them.  P-time is for healing.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

History is not Dead

I fell into the field of American Studies more by accident than on purpose.  And what a happy accident it turned out to be.  In high school History had always been my favorite classes, but my favorite subject was always American History and Literature, Government and Economics, and how they all fit together.  Hence American Studies sounded perfect.  Later in my college career, I discovered I hated the History Department and it's view of history, as though history was finished, complete, done with, over; dead.  For me, in my study of history, this is definitely not the case.

In 2010, while I was at home for an 8 month break from school, there was a day I can remember rather clearly when the Armenians in my neighborhood flew flags on their cars and outside of their houses, had parties, were celebrating something.  Most of the flags I saw were of an Armenian flag, which made me assume a holiday of some sort, but later in the day I saw the Armenian flag with the words 'ARMENIAN GENOCIDE' printed onto them.  I remember my younger sister asking my why the Armenians would be celebrating genocide--let alone genocide of their own people, and all I could respond with was, 'I doubt they're celebrating it, exactly...'

Then in winter 2011 when I took a Political Science class, I did research on my home congressman Brad Sherman, and looked at some of the Resolutions he had been involved in passing, and among them--in March of 2010--was the official recognition of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, despite the Turkish refusal to recognize it as such.  Sherman addressed the House saying, "We can not be cowered into denying the first genocide of the twentieth century, because genocide denial is not just the last step of the genocide is the first step in the next genocide.  That is why Hitler, when faced with wavering compatriots, could say 'We can get away with the Holocaust, for after all, who today speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians?'"  What the Armenians in my town were celebrating was the recognition that the massacre they suffered was in fact one of the first war-crimes of the Great War.

Over a decade ago, in 2001, France passed a law recognizing the Armenian genocide, despite the economic retribution promised them by the Turks.  Now, only 3 years from the 100-year mark of the Armenian Genocide, France is voting to pass a law making it illegal to publicly deny that the 1.5 million killed in Armenia was genocide.  Sarkozy is criticized for deciding to pass this law, as it is seen as an attempt to regain popularity among the Armenians for the coming elections, but regardless, the Armenian President, Serge Sarkissian wrote, "La France a réaffirmé sa grandeur et son pouvoir, son dévouement pour les valeurs humaines universelles."  ("France has reaffirmed her greatness and power, her devotion to universal human values.")

Recognizing the war crimes committed against the Armenians as genocide is an important subject to me, and is why I read up about it for my current-event newspaper article.  But what is more important to me is the idea of history in retrospect, that some great wrong committed in the past can still be acknowledged in the present, and that learning about it in the present changes the past in some small way.  History is not dead, for if it were, the world would not be moving toward the recognition of the Armenian genocide.  History is still being used to swing political favor, to validate economic goals, and to correct past "social wrongs."  And it's not just happening in a vacuum: Armenians affect Armenians and the French affect the French, and the Americans affect the Americans.  We're more connected than that, and history is more connected to our present than we give it credit for.

This is a small taste of what I would like my project to do: look at history in a new way with the intent of changing how we interpret the present.

Brad Sherman:
In English:
In French:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Here follows a series of pictures of the things I'm looking forward to about living in Paris and in France.  Towards the end of the semester, I plan to do another to see what has changed/if anything has changed as I learn more about the location, more about the history, more about my project, and more in general.  A lot of these things probably strike me as closer to a tourist's goals and aspirations for going to Paris, which there's nothing inherently wrong with.  But I would like to see what are some of the first things that come to mind later on in the semester.

L'art (in general)

Boating at Argenteuil - Monet @ Musee d'Orsay

Cinema (ou Jean Dujardin...)

The Views

Notre Dame

The bread


The Seine

La Fete Nationale

The Museums (Musee d'Orsay)

(Musee du Louvre)

Walking in Paris

Creativity, Conversation, Innovation, Inspiration

Proposal: Statement of Intent

A. Statement of Intent

            Little care is often taken with American culture by Americans—or anyone else for that matter—but as an American Studies major, I find American culture essential to understanding those who come to the United States, the United States’ place in the world, and the changes that take place routinely within the country itself.  However, there are facets of American culture which are or have been very influential and yet are either rarely studied, or rarely given credence to as a significant part of a whole.  African-American culture is one such part which has altered the United States in astounding ways and yet is rarely given credit within American culture as a whole.
In 2011 I took an American Novels course which gave me a taste for black-American literature, which resonated with me further than the other American literature.  In this class I realized I was beginning to love a culture that was not only in part being lost, but was not being recognized as playing a larger role within main-stream American culture.  The fact that we need an African-American Studies field to augment American Studies is understandable but disappointing to me—American Studies itself should indicate in its every study the presence of black Americans, Latino Americans, Chinese Americans . . . the list could go on.  Separating the races is not a true study of American culture, because America is what it is because of the collision and/or melding of the races.
In 2010 I began studying French, and soon decided I wanted to go to France before I began a Graduate degree.  I wasn’t interested in being with a group of other Americans, since I wanted to be able to practice my language-speaking, but I would have gone any way I could have when I discovered Field Studies and realized it allowed me the opportunity to study my French, but more importantly, meld that interest with my study of American culture.  I fell upon an idea and decided I wanted to study something no one had talked about in my history courses or American Study classes: the African-American expatriates in Paris and how their presence in Paris can or has influenced our understanding of American culture.
I want to live in France for three months so I might be immersed in French culture, much like these American expatriates were, and so I might better understand what elements of French culture made Paris appealing for these Americans.  I do not feel I can understand the black American-Parisian culture until I understand the elements of French culture that brought musicians, writers, painters, and intellectuals out to Paris after the Great War.
            The men and women who I am interested in studying have been written about before, which is why my anticipated results are not a series of autobiographical sketches, so much as a creative linking of these cultures through the people to better understand African-American-Parisian influence on American culture at the time and it’s holdover in contemporary American culture.  I am not interested in new information but rather a new outlook, one that is particularly of the American Studies field and of an American Studies telling.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Japanese childhood.

Monday, 23 January 2012 is Chinese New Year.  In celebration, Kate and I went to Four Seasons in Provo and ordered some dumplings and steamed buns.  When we returned home to eat our delicious stash of perfect food, we promptly finished it and realized we had not ordered nearly enough.  In the car again, straight out into the snow, we returned to downtown Provo to Chao's.

While there, I remembered a partially forgotten childhood in which Keiko Tapp, a Japanese woman, raised me in part on all sorts of food one could never find in the Playstead house.  I don't even know the names of these snacks and foods, but as I wandered the Chinese grocery store (for the express purpose of getting more steamed buns) I saw and remembered eating rice cakes, and cookies, and seaweed, Pocky sticks and Hello Panda's.  I could taste them on my tongue again--an odd idea.  And she probably didn't even think twice about sharing them with me, but I remember them.  And it became part of my culture.

It makes this job of a Field Study far too big for me, for not everything can be taken into account, which is always the case in life.  I think about how every time someone dies millions of pieces of information die with them: elements of who they were that no one knew, cared to ask about, or could even know to wonder.  We can't even figure out ourselves, let alone others.

People are not to be studied, or figured out.  They're to be enjoyed, cared about, talked to, shared with.  I'm really not interested in studying anything.  I'm interested in a good conversation.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

What will I be doing, really?  What do I really want to know?  What is the point of this?  And why a Field Study?  Why not just go to France on my own?  What's the point of going through BYU on my own?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

In defense of American culture.

He who knows others is learned;
He who knows himself is wise.
-          Loa-tzu, Tao te Ching

If I write this, I’ll be able to write anything after it.  In defense of American culture.

Last Thanksgiving, I spoke to my cousin who is half Filipino about his mission, which he had just returned from.  I told him about Field Studies, and I told him that he should consider doing one—maybe Tonga?  Maybe Fiji?  “What about South America?” he asked.  I said, “There, too.”  We talked a little longer, and I told him why I liked the idea of Field Studies—it was the chance to be immersed in a culture different from your own and I mentioned that doing that sometimes helped us realize there were things about other cultures we might like better than our own—that might be better than our own.  To which he smiled and replied, “Yeah, everything.”

I’m not in the habit of letting people get away with telling me my culture is no good, so I said, “Well, I’m an American Studies major, so I don’t quite believe that.”  And what I meant was that my whole life I’ve been studying American culture.  And I’ve loved every minute of it.  Studying a culture doesn’t inherently mean that you think it’s better.  And true to that statement, I don’t believe American culture is better than other cultures, but I do think it’s fascinating, and I also think we don’t give it enough credit for being just as interesting and complex as any other.  I am past grateful that there was something I’ve enjoyed doing all these years that they had a major for.  How lucky is that?  And all my life people have been telling me that my love for American history and American literature and American government and American leadership and American “proverbs,” American values, American music, American geography, American economics, American—you get the idea—is boring.  But it’s not boring at all!  And I’ve learned that best through my study of other cultures.

I don’t know if I believe in the melting pot theory, but I know that without the search for a passage to the Indies, America wouldn’t be the same.  Without the turmoil of the Tudor household, America might not be the same.  Without the French Enlightenment philosophers, America would not be the same.  Without wars and slavery in Africa and the people who brought slavery to the Americas, America would not be the same.  Without trouble in the Balkans, America would not be the same.  Without a shattered Germany, America would not be the same.  Without Coca-Cola, America would not be the same.  Without communism in the Far East, America would not be the same.  Etc. etc.  This might be sounding a bit vague, or perhaps you’ve begun to cringe, so I’ll stop there.  The point is, I’m not saying that these things made America better, or that America was right about its stance concerning some of these issues, but that America does not stand alone or apart from other world cultures.  We are the Irish, and the Mexicans, and the Italians and the Chinese, and the Armenians, and the English, and the Nigerians, and the El Salvadorians, and the Tongans and the Turks, and the Ghanaians, and the Chileans, and the Vietnamese, and the Russians.  All of that is here in our history, and in our culture and who we are is very dependent on who we’ve been.

I love American culture, not because I think it’s better, not because I think it’s exceptional in comparison to another culture, but just the opposite—because I think American people and American history and WORLD history says a heck of a lot about who Americans are and what we value.  We are not the tabula rasa.  We are not the blank slate on which others take away or add values, insert traditions, alter and shift customs or speak alternate languages and thereby make a culture different from ours.  Aha!  Samoans! Thinking that way is like thinking that Western Americans are the ones without an accent when in fact we did not come first, and so ours is not the absence of accent, but just a different accent.  Furthermore, a Chinese housekeeper might tell us we have the most interesting accent on the planet.  We are a culture all our own.  We are a culture which has taken some languages, added some customs, adopted some traditions, retained some values and in doing so have created this bizarre culture that most don’t even try to figure out.  But for a long time, trying to piece together what makes us who we are is all that has interested me and I’m not about to throw that away because someone else has decided quite erroneously that we are a blank, and therefore boring, slate.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Worries & Preparations

The worries keep stacking up.  The initial worry was whether or not I'd be able to speak this language.  People are people.  That's a good thing.  But I think through every word I use when I'm speaking in English, let alone having to think through/figure out what I want to say in a French.

Ce pourquoi, j'ai decidé que je vais écouter un podcast par semaine en français sur l'histoire ou la culture.  Aussi, je vais faire une heure de travaille par jour en français--faire les devoirs, écouter les podcasts, lire les lectures, pratiquer d'écriture ou parler à les autres.

More about that another time, because I can force myself to believe that I'll be better at this language in four months.  My new worry I don't want to overlook this culture simply because it's "Western."  As preliminary reading, I've purchased Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong.  It had the best reviews on French culture for English reading that I could find, and I really don't have the stamina to read a book about French culture in french.  A project for another day.  I hope that this reading will give me an idea of where to go next about French culture.

Parce que je sais que la culture de  nourriture en français est importante, je vais essayer cuisiner une repas française chaque mois, et lire au sujet de la nourriture en « Around My French Table ».

Hopefully these few decisions will help me not only with the language, but with my steps into understanding the culture I'll be entering.  Although my field study 'question' will be important, and I'll want to be aware of a plethora of cultures evident in Paris, I don't want to overlook the main one simply because I'll be in a large city where culture can sometimes seem lost.

Project Questions

How do the melding of French and American cultures and the freedoms found in France versus those found in America alter our perceptions of American values which go by the same name but which are communicated in different, and sometimes contradictory ways?

What have been the experiences of African-american expatriates in Paris?  How does their particular history in the United States in conjunction with their integration into French culture inform the lifestyle expectations, experiences and choices of African-American expatriates who lived or worked in Paris after the Great War?

How can the experiences of African-American expatriates in Paris inform our understanding of the American experience? (Especially to those who study in the field of American Studies.)

edit 20 February 2012:
What was the influence of French culture on African-American expatriate musicians (who went to Paris after the Great War)?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

vingt-cinq questons.

1.)       How do I effectively meld a French FS with an American Studies major? No clue.
2.)       How France influenced America? Post WW1
3.)       How America influenced France? Coca-Cola and Foreign Relations.
4.)       What are current affairs of French-American relations?
5.)       What do the French—Parisians think of us? Boring.
6.)       What about Post WWI is interesting?  Expatriates.
7.)       American Expatriates—Writers. Artists.
8.)       What about French?
9.)       How the French influenced these writers and artists?
10.)   How the writers and artists subsequently influenced Americans?
11.)   Americans in Paris, though? Overdone.
12.)   What about Post WW1 African-American servicemen?
13.)   Influence in the States?  Jazz.  What about writers?
14.)   So What about African-Americans in Paris?
15.)   What about them?
16.)   Why did they leave the States?  Obvious.
17.)   More pointedly, why did they come to Paris/France in general?
18.)   What kind of freedoms did they find?
19.)   In what ways did French culture influence them?
20.)   What were some of their writings?
21.)   How do their writings/music/art influence the American scene?
22.)   If they don’t, how could their existence influence American Studies in retrospect?
23.)   What about these African-Americans is American?
24.)   What about them is now ‘French?’
25.)   What do the melding of these two cultures, and the freedoms found in France versus those found in America alter our perceptions of American values which go by the same name, but which are communicated in different, sometimes contradictory ways?

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.