Syllables, Names, and Theory

There are some strange souls who loosen “France” from their lips, suspecting that there may be more to this country’s name than a word uttered in less than a second (presuming that you are not a soul who drawls out this word languorously, like the pleasant smoke emitted from a cheroot). Just as there remain a few vitiated greenhorns who cling stubbornly to the concept of freedom fries, some folks inherently distrust this name, perhaps because they are distressed by the country’s geographical proximity. Surely, a country separated by England through the thin aquatic sliver of the English Channel — indeed, one that maintains a rather prodigious cultural budget — would have more than one syllable. Or perhaps more than one identity. France is much larger than one syllable when we begin to think about it. And yet we must confine it into this established lingua franca.

Of course, “your theories” on this important subject, if we could ascribe such importance to a silly question, may be altogether different from mine. And that’s perfectly fine. But when one considers the syllable count of a name or a phrase, one realizes that a subject like this often passes for prodigious conversation in an academic environment. Theory, as we all know, is a risky intoxicant. And there are some who remain so determined to see things that are not necessarily there, because the promise remains vaguely plausible. Like that halo drifting above a church from a certain morning light suggesting metaphorical divinity, but that is really just a lovely visual image caused by natural intuitive elements. The pragmatic mind dismisses such a concern as “a steaming load of bullshit,” and it is remains the pragmatist’s right to hold onto this position.

But let us take these dabblings to their naturally absurdist level. When one looks at France’s one syllable, the amateur will certainly never state (if it could indeed talk directly to the country), “You have too much,” to France. In having one syllable, France clings to the most rudimentary requirements in language and time, and therefore presents itself to the mind as a country with a connotative perfect circle. Let us merely assign language a syllabic measure. For the latter (and possibly more important) element, let us consider the old idea of time being nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once — a quip attributed to Woody Allen, John Archibald Wheeler, and numerous other personages. (Indeed, who knows for sure where it came from?) In considering France’s syllabic count and the meaning of this syllabic count in relation to loftier matters, can we not define “time” as a natural medium that gnaws upon our existence? Perhaps it is a form of control that helpfully prevents us from wandering down unfruitful avenues.

Let us also take into account the fact that time is measured by a clock, an instrument composed of two hands. If time is one of those natural mediums which controls us, can we then declare time, by way of the clock’s elements, to keep us “on your hands” or otherwise enslaved to these basic language questions unfolding beyond comprehension in the present?

In this way (and many others), we are enslaved by theoretical constructs pertaining to really fun ideas. Small wonder then that so many with creative and intellectual promise can be seen from nine to five walking forlornly down Madison Avenue.

Don Morrison: Time Magazine’s Cultural Answer to FOX News

A few weeks ago, Don Morrison of Time Magazine suggested that French culture was on the decline. Morrison bemoaned the fact that the French take their culture seriously. He tsk-tsked fashion magazines for carrying serious book reviews (he says this like it’s a bad thing!) and small towns from putting on opera and theater festivals. Morrison’s main gripe was that “[a]ll of these mighty oaks being felled in France’s cultural forest make barely a sound in the wider world.” And that because of this, France was “a wilting power in the global cultural marketplace.”

The chief problem with Morrison’s essay, aside from its considerable hubris, is the term “cultural marketplace.” Why must culture be dependent on the marketplace? In addition, Morrison’s stupendous ignorance of contemporary French cinema — I’m nowhere nearly as steeped in French cinema as I once was, but has this dilettante not even heard of François Ozon or Gaspar Noé? — leads him to report that “France’s movie industry, the world’s largest a century ago, has yet to recapture its New Wave eminence of the 1960s, when directors like François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard were rewriting cinematic rules.” Is Morrison complaining about the French film industry in 1907 or the 1960s? Or is he just a hopelessly confused man? And if box office gross is the paramount distinction, what of 2001’s Amélie ($33 million U.S. gross), 2003’s The Triplets of Belleville ($7 million), 2003’s Swimming Pool ($10 million), or 2006’s Arthur and the Invisibles ($15 million)? And why doesn’t he cite any contemporary examples? Wild stab in the dark, but could it be that Morrison doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about?

I’d plunge into this essay further, but thankfully Bernard Henri-Levy has done my work for me, dispensing with this yokel’s argument quite adeptly and including a helpful taxonomy of axioms.

(Thanks, Gonzalo, for the tip.)