Peripatetic Postcards

Huis Clos

The title is Sartre’s. I conjure it here (first, because I promised in the last entry that I would, but then second, as a way) to suggest that perhaps it takes a French philosopher to explain France. Because this mundane peripatetique can’t.

What I see burbling up around me every day that I step out of my upscale touriste hotel is unrecognizable, inexplicable . . . but infinitely delectable. An image to be desired, to be explored, to be rendered into one's realm of comprehension. By contrast, Sartre's conception of "Huis Clos" was a world of dysfunction, of disdain; a dungeon to be shunned, eluded, rebuked. "Huis Clos" meant "No Exit"; but not simply an inability to escape; rather, the impossibility of breaking free from one's captivity. "Huis Clos" was a euphemism for "hell"; it designated a state in which protagonists were saddled with something they were being punished for; a penalty that they could not tolerate. Huis Clos protagonists were people whose ideas and actions were insufferable, yet remained an inextricable, ineradicable part of existence.

Well, that is simply one idea. Sartre's jaded view of his own society, likely the result of having (barely) survived a Nazi occupation and was now free to rapple with the consequences... survivors being asked to forgive and forget all and join the emerging world of democratic nations.

Yet, in my rendering, the Paris of the early twenty-first century is none of that. It is simply a space that defies easy understanding. There is easy access -- entry -- but no clear exit -- no simp-e understanding.

Democracy. Imperialism. Remnants of times past. Evidence of consciousness still possessed?

The more I walk around, the less any of it makes complete sense. I mean at the “deep-down-rooted-in-the-cultural-chromosomes” kind of way. One thing that does make sense are the signs. France (well, at least, Paris) is full of them.

And this may be why the French pioneered semiotics –- there were so many damned signs floating around that they felt there was a need for a science to explain them all. Et Voila! A home-grown theory of how images work.

What Paris definitely is, is dirty with signs. Left, right (gauche, droit), so on and so forth (etcetera, et puis en plus).

Every kind. Everywhere.

Words are signs, of course, but we don’t really require any more -– well, not at least any of mine. Any words that do arise can come in the form of signs, themselves. Like this:

. . . and this:

Signs can be numbers.

Or systems.

Signs can adorn apartment buildings...

And then signs are simply what they are. No more. No less. Whatever they actually mean. Whatever you bring to the table.

You see what you are capable of seeing. Or, if more than that, then what you are willing to see.

We can leave it at that. Although the Parisian peripatetique never actually can, since everything around him (or her) is symbolic, significatory. A signed form that never really provides any true exit.

No matter how deep you try to go.


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Photo courtesy of Matador Records

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