by tjmHolden

26 July 2007


I used to live in Paris. Years ago. Most of it – the language, the rhythms, the ways of doing and thinking, the tastes, and sounds, and smells—now are a part of eroded memory. In clutching for them, to my horror, they have become like so much sand crumbling between my desperate fingertips. Glorious castles dissolving on an idyllic spume-blown shoreline.

I turn the corner and expect to find this;

. . . not that .

Or, more often, not expecting these images:.

But rather those:

The endless discoveries have been exciting, stimulating, tiring; occasionally disheartening. We’ll, the thing about life is that it is both revelatory and disappointing, often in equal measure, if not at one and the same moment!


Returning to Paris has been personally beneficial. But this is not a blog only for and about me. So, what in my experience can be of value to you? Well, the idea of return, for one. If you are up on your philosophy – or at least Kundera – then you know that eternal return is a theme that punctuates human existence (or at least the human effort to understand that existence). The question of why humans insist on return – why they build it into their lives, why they employ return as a strategy to define, direct (and even sabotage) their lives, is one worthy question. It could be asked of me, but since this is also a blog for you, we might better wonder: “is eternal recurrence one of your operant patterns? Is it one of your lifestyle orientations?

Not to get too nosey or anything.

I once had a friend who could never get over the girl who had dumped him in his first year of college. Met her on the day he moved in, convinced himself it was fate, committed himself fully to her – and then was fully, totally, completely devastated when she decided she didn’t share the same fate. After that, he didn’t stop thinking or talking or pining after her—even 6 years later when I first bumped into him at grad school. For the considerable gravitational effect that that gal exerted on our pal, one of our mutual acquaintances dubbed her “the ghost” (she should have dubbed our friend “The Apple”!). As for the long-gone girl, she was an apparition noted for her recurrent re-appearances, with the strength to haunt our friend’s every emotional maneuver. For him, the thought of “the ghost” was a trope of eternal return that stopped him from moving forward in his life – let alone make anything of his present.

Well, I am not him. And I do want to move forward! I have no interest in return. Dwelling in the past has limited uses, unless it is to decode patterns, to come to understand why we humans insist on duplicate forms; why we dedicate ourselves to worshipping the acts of our previous lives.

As for me, what I most have an interest in is self-knowledge. Especially that knowledge that I can link to something tangible and facilitative of growth.

  •   How did I get here?
  • Who is this entity called “me”?
  • What is this me capable of?
  • And where is this me going to end up?

Of slightly less interest (save for the fact that I am an academic and tend to interrogate worlds that are neither here nor there):

  • how (if at all) is where the I who is me came from related to where this me is going?

Of course, there is the (current) moment (and person) that we are passing through that has/will have some bearing on that. So that is worth pausing to consider, as well.

Well, I suppose I have strayed a bit from where I started out. And maybe you tuned in thinking of Paris and got return instead. If you have even made it this far. If you have then what you will encounter is another “re”. Not the one about making one’s way back to a place once visited, as much as the “re” involved in coming to know that place. Because that is what has really been challenging to me in this Parisian return.

This much I think I know, from having once lived here, and thumbing through my Petit Larousse hourly for that all-too-brief year of discovery; feverishly grasping for words that would not always come, as I queued up to buy the evening pain du compaigne or after meal pommes and fromage.  In French, “connaissance”—to know – is the root for “reconnaissance”—to explore or survey; to recognize. But the contradiction inherent in this particular wordcraft is that the more one explores (reconnasiance) the less one seems to truly know (connaissance).

I had originally thought to entitle this entry “no exit”. And perhaps I still should. Or better, perhaps I should leave that discussion for the next entry. For it is not only that paradox about how knowing exposes even more ignorance; less certitude; far deeper questions with elusive answers and even more incomplete understanding . . .  no, the more one comes to know, the more refined and intricate the questions become. The deeper the inquiry required, the more extensive the investigation demanded.

Reconnaisance trumping connaissance. As confounding as that may be.

For it pushes the peripatetique—who already has a premium of time and a finite amount of concentration and good humor—even deeper into this cultural hole he has tumbled into. Without a flashlight or any guide book to help him work his way out.

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