Category Archives: Communications

Noir au blanc, blanc au noir

Il y a quelques années, quand j’étais en deuxième année de licence info-com à l’université d’Avignon, notre responsable de licence a décédé du cancer. Un grand maître sévère et juste, dont le caractère incarnait pleinement l’identité de la filière. On l’appréhendait tout en l’admirant profondément.

Le lendemain de sa décès, la classe s’accordait à s’habiller en noir pour lui rendre hommage. C’est à ce moment là que je me suis rendu compte que je n’avais aucun vêtement noir. Mais AUCUN. Comme le noir ne me va pas, je n’achète jamais des vêtements noirs. Dans la vie, on ne pense jamais qu’un jour on en aura besoin pour un deuil.

Puis je me suis souvenue d’une chose. Il était professeur de Communication par images. Pour illustrer le caractère arbitraire du symbolisme des couleurs, il insistait souvent que dans la culture orientale, la couleur du deuil est le blanc, pas le noir. Je me suis alors permis de me présenter en classe dans un chemisier blanc.

Parler de la mort, c’est facile. Les médias le font tous les jours pour vendre l’info. On le fait tous les jours pour alimenter nos conversations. Affronter la mort de quelqu’un qui nous est proche, c’est une autre chose. Affronter le vide que la personne laisse derrière, on ne peut pas mettre de mots là-dessus. De quelle couleur sera l’absence ?

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Rapport de stage (1)

Journal de bord – Semaine 2

Chaque journée démarre par une réunion, ou plutôt, deux : celle de l’équipe artistique, suivie de celle de l’équipe globale. Les réunions durent environ de 2 à 3 heures, c’est-à-dire toute la matinée, à l’issue desquelles on remplit l’agenda (imprimé en grand format et collé au mur du bureau) par les post-it “à faire” sans vraiment prendre aucune décision. Tout est soumis à la concertation et à la décision collective de l’équipe organisatrice composée de 4 salariés et de 3 personnes en service civique, autrement dénommées “volontaires”.

Lors de la semaine précédant la soirée d’ouverture du festival, la question la plus urgente et inlassablement débattue concerne la vente de crêpes. Celle-ci se décline en plusieurs problématiques : la recette, les prix, le choix entre sucré et salé – ou plus exactement “la problématique de passer du sucré au salé”, puisque l’association ne dispose que d’une crêpière. En effet, certains membres craignent que les garnitures pour le salé, tel que le fromage, se mêlent à celles pour le sucré et altèrent son goût.

Au début de chaque réunion, la chargée de communication propose (ou impose gentiment) à l’équipe de faire un tour de table “météo”, qui consiste à parler de son état âme, son humeur, son “climat intérieur” de la journée. L’exercice est assez gênant, mais tout le monde y adhère quand même, dans une ambiance bienveillante d’écoute et de compréhension. La plupart constate simplement que “ça va” avec une légère autodérision pour cacher son embarras, ce qui suscite la critique de la maître du jeu qui considère ce moment comme un exercice d’expression de soi et exige aux autres de le prendre au sérieux. D’autres n’hésitent pas à évoquer les épreuves de leurs vies personnelles (rendu de mémoire, décès d’une proche) ; ces confidences sont systématiquement accueillies avec la plus profonde empathie de toute l’équipe, alors réunie par un sentiment d’intimité et de communion d’ordre rituel. La réunion se transforme ainsi en une session de groupe de parole, ce qui peut s’avérer être une solution plus économique pour l’argent public en matière de traitement des troubles de l’humeur en milieu professionnel.

Le devenir

Most of the time, I can’t explain myself, i.e. giving to my thoughts, my ideas or my feelings a form that is understandable to others.

It’s not about having problems with verbal communication. I can every well explain existing information, cause it’s merely rephrasing. But it’s not the same as creating something out of nothing.

I dislike publicity of any sort. Publicity is about bringing into light, and for this, there needs to be a certain fixation of the thing. When something is fixed, it ceases to be alive.

For me, life lies in the boggy, the obscure, the unnamed, undefinable and unknown about. Life is becoming alive : it is before given an objective reality of being. I am not, I am always becoming.

Rien à foutre

J’entends un chien aboyer. Mais il n’aboie pas comme un chien. Le son me semble “faux”, comme si produit par un être humain. Et pourtant, il est indéniablement un chien. Son discours confirme ce fait (puisqu’il aboie), et en même temps, l’infirme (puisque l’aboiement est invraisemblable). Mais qui suis-je pour nier son identité de chien? Quelle légitimité ai-je pour juger sa production orale inauthentique? Lui seul peut assumer d’être ou de ne pas être un chien. Il n’a pas besoin de ma reconnaissance. Cet instant de doute montre à quel point ma perception du monde est anthropocentrique. Merci chien, même si t’en as rien à foutre.

Wedding speech for my best friend

Introduction

Based on a case study of two young adults engaging in an ambiguous relationship with uncertain outcome, this study investigates how computer-mediated communication (CMC), and more specifically the exchange of private messages on Facebook, could encourage greater intimacy between two potential romantic partners. Conducted by request of one of the two subjects studied who has been suffering from a chronic lack of affection, this study seeks to help her to better infer the meaning of the verbal cues sent by the male subject.

First, I will carry out a close reading of private messages exchanged by the two informants during moments of heightened communication on Facebook (identified by the female subject). The concept of online self-disclosure, i.e. the disclosing of personal information, thoughts and feelings that are not easily shared in an offline context, will provide the main theoretical framework for my analysis. In interpreting these messages, I will take into account the offline events occurring on the same days, events that might be referred to in the text. Second, the textual analysis will be completed by interviews with the female subject on the perceived intimacy between her and the male subject, as well as her memoirs of their offline interactions.

The purpose of this study is not to predict relationship outcome based on the degree of self-disclosure, hence intimacy, but to assist the female subject in her own evaluation. Ultimately, it could perform a therapeutic function by offering the female subject a momentary distraction from her agony through an engaging, insightful and completely rubbish reading.

– Work in progress

Expectation

What does it mean when we say that something is “beyond expectation” or “more than we expected”?

To expect: mid 16th cent. (in the sense ‘defer action, wait’): from Latin exspectare ‘look out for’, from ex- ‘out’ + spectare ‘to look’ (frequentative of specere ‘see’).

Expectation is centered on the future. The future is unknown and uncertain. Expectation reflects a psychological (existential?) need to make this future more manageable, i.e. the need to control.

“Beyond expectation”, in everyday language, indicate the quality of being great, excellent, exceptional, unique; more than what we thought would be the case. It is usually a positive evaluation. It is almost never applied to oneself, but always to somebody else’s performance or behavior. Because it is the Other that represents the unknown.

A surprise is something not expected, i.e. something outside the horizon of possibilities that one has envisioned. It is antonymous to normalcy, the norm. So when expectation is directed toward a person, it acts as a norm, an evaluation, a script to perform according to, thus linked to the idea of social norms, of accordance with a set of rules. What is expected means what is normal, i.e. conforming to a standard, typical, usual. It is also predictable: something known beforehand.

When we do not have sufficient clues about an other, we cannot put her in any existing category that structures our own interpersonal framework. Therefore, we cannot assign that person to any behavior or performance script. In other words, we do not have expectation about that person. “We do not know what we do not know”. However, as mentioned before, expectation characterizes a more general psychological pattern. It is fundamental to help human beings orient themselves in life. It is an inevitable attitude towards the future. Therefore, by conventions of language, we still say that someone is beyond expectation even though we do not have any expectation about that specific person. It should be simply interpreted as a compliment on that individual’s exceptionality.

There is a slightly different nuance of meaning in French: “beyond expectation” is translated as “dépasser les attentes (de quelqu’un)”. Expectation is waiting for something that might or is likely to come, but whose existence is not confirmed until its actual occurrence. Waiting has a taste of yearning in it, which is more sentimental. However, the idea remains the same: it implies a movement forward in time. In the end, it boils down to how human beings relate to everything that constitutes the Other, i.e. what is outside the present self, the unknown, be it the future or an immediate other reality.

Performative love

The philosopher of language John Austin, in his theory of speech acts, distinguishes two types of speech: the constative and the performative[1]. A constative refers to an existing reality, declaring such reality to be the case. A performative produces a new reality. Most speeches fall into the first category, as speaking, writing and verbal communication in general are conventionally considered to describe/express things. But the performative does not express anything. It performs, acts, does things. Example are the “I promise”, “I swear”, “I order you to”, “I accept”, “I declare”, and the famous “I do” in a wedding ceremony. These sentences are neither true or false. The very reality that they “express” comes into being with the utterance.

Roland Barthes wrote that the sentence “I love you” (Je t’aime) is a performative[2]. According to the semiologist, it does not express what the amorous subject feels; on the contrary, it is said with the desire to produce an effect, “I expect you to return my love”. Even the subject herself, by saying “I love you”, reifies her love: I do not love you until I declare my love for you.

I think that not only performative utterances — in the way that Austin defines them — are performative, but all speeches are. Do we not always have the feeling that something is not real until it is said? The signifier, i.e. the written word or the acoustic voice, does not exist independently from the signified, i.e. the meaning, the concept, the mental representation of “the thing”. In the same way that humans are embodied subject and the mind is not separated from the body, meanings and words might not be two distinct entities, but come into being together.

For me, language is the public life of ideas, feelings, or whatever abstract thing it conveys. The love that is kept secret is private. Once spoken, it takes up a social existence in the eye of the Other, be it the lover or society. This leads me to reflect on the nature of being itself: do we exist without being recognized by others? Is a solipsist existence possible?

When two people are in a relationship, they make it official by announcing it to their families and friends. “Official: having the approval or authorization of an authority or a public body.” The idea of authority and publicity is central here. Such public approval marks the moral distinction between an official and recognized relationship, which exists in the light, and a love affair, which is kept secret. Love is a thing between two individuals. Is it? I’m not so sure. It depends on whether you take the perspective of love-for-love’s-sake or love as embedded in a wider web of social relations.

Years of being in a long-distance and secret relationship, i.e. one that was not known to everyone in my circles and was intended to be so, has resulted in my profound skepticism of the reality of love. On the one hand, recognition acts as a kind of social surveillance assuring that you stay faithful to your partner, otherwise there would be severe public sanction. In the end, it is what makes the love real. Two people are in love because they are so in the eyes of others. But then it is not a private thing anymore. On the other hand, if this love is not made official, then it might not exist at all. My ex-partner had a social life of which I was not a part. Therefore, when he took on his other social roles (than the role of being my lover), our love was dismissed. He could very well have another lover as secret as I was, whose existence remained undisclosed.

In the end, what is real? How do we know that feelings are real? Do we need words and social conventions to make them real?

I often imagine myself waking up one day only to find out that it has all been a hoax. I figure that one could very well delete all the proofs that testify one’s love, such that there would be no trace or evidence left. Would it still exist then? But then I remember how deeply feelings can be engraved in one’s heart. After all, the things that we cannot erase by a physical gesture are the most difficult, if not impossible, to remove.

 —

[1] J. L. Austin, How to do things with words. Oxford / New York 1975 (1st edition 1962), 1–11.

[2] Roland Barthes, Fragments d’un discours amoureux, “Tel Quel”, Seuil, 1977.

The switch

Years of being in long-distance relationship with my close ties while having a strong need for intimacy has frequently led me to reflect on being disconnected. In the age of constant mediated connection, disconnectivity might very well be a sign of longing for more meaningful, bodily contact.

When people learn about the “story of my life”, they always ask – very understandably – if I don’t miss my family and my home country. I just casually reply that I get used to it. If I say so, no further explanation is needed. But of course it’s more complicated and ambiguous than that. I only know that talking about it and sinking in nostalgia don’t help because it’s not gonna change anything. What matters is how to cope with it. At the same time, I’m not a rational and positive person who leads her life with efficiency. I do miss everything. But it’s just not as simple as saying “Oh I miss my dog so much, can’t wait to get home”. Or writing long facebook posts on special occasions. It’s a big deal to me. Conventional ways of expressing emotions are not fulfilling enough.

I just think about all this today, how I feel about my life, when I come across a photo of the light switches that I took back at home in summer. I can’t remember what was so fascinating about them that I had to immortalize them. But the switch is quite a good metaphor. Let’s say that my life as a whole has a control board with many switches; each gives access to a singular life among my many lives that is attached to a specific location, a specific period of time, specific people and so on. Each time I leave a place, I just switch it off the same way I turn off the light when leaving a room. It will still be there, intact, autonomous, ready to be re-activated at any time, only I will not look back into it while I’m away. I will not have a security camera installed inside the room to occasionally check in from a distance. That means I will not call my parents everyday or Skype with them every week, I will not share every instant of my life, every activity, every meal, every acquaintance that I make, etc. Same with my boyfriend (also because he doesn’t talk to me but that’s another story). Somebody once told me that “It’s the little details that keep the relationship going on”, maybe she had her point but we can’t deny that such details are totally irrelevant to one’s life if one is not in it. Trivial incidents are not meant to last; they are only significant at the very instant of their occurrence – that’s why they’re part of the “daily” life, not the Life.

I see myself becoming increasingly individualistic and unconcerned with moral standards, and my extended horizon of cares only reduces my capacity for affection. I’m not bothered by it. I’m not bothered by anything at all. I’ve drifted too far from the life in community.

Now let’s step out of this egocentric perspective. In fact, I’m also just a room in someone else’s life. It’s very likely that they can switch me off. When I’m the one being shut down, I can’t complain. Each has their own way of coping with change and distance.

Cutting ties

B. reports that she had a fugitive encounter with C. In the past, they had been involved in accidental exchanges with a low degree of intimacy and self-disclosure; notwithstanding, B. considers at the present moment that these contacts remain without impact on the evolution of their affinity. In addition, she acknowledges C.’s limited investment in the formation of a profound relation with her, which proves her attraction towards him to be unidirectional. As a matter of fact, they have never been mutually emotionally involved. Neither did he publicly demonstrate at any time his appreciation of her affection for him.

In consequence of her disillusionment, she presently experiences emotional distress, which leads to her avoidance of the aforementioned male subject. This attitude is manifested through highly associable behaviours towards the former potential romantic partner, for example fleeing at his sight, one that can be interpreted as a defence mechanism against probable disappointments caused by the unattainable object of affection. Therefore, she actively cuts the ties that she initiated.

Identity in a mobile and diverse world

No matter how much I’d want to embrace diversity, mobility and cultural dialogue, I’m still uncomfortable living far away from home, being deprived of the food, the living habits, even the atmosphere of the city – everything that gives meaning to my life, because that’s what culture is about, giving meaning – or at least the illusion of it – to our meaningless, mundane existence. However, it’s not a nationalist sentiment. I don’t feel any affinity with my compatriots. I only maintain connection with people of my primary group, basically composed of family members and high school friends. These are people with whom I share the same culture, but not only. And there are also French people whose values and vision I share, but there’s still a barrier between us. So I guess culture is not just a territorial or ethnic affair. It’s also group culture, i.e. people from the same professional category or doing the same major at college. But then the nature of the relationships would be different too. You can feel affinity with some people on a certain subjects; it doesn’t make them your friends. Maybe the culture of a person is like a dish, made up from different sources of culture. So when the dish lacks an ingredient because of geographic context, it can’t deliver the harmony of its tastes. It becomes those “immigrant food” or “ethnic food” – inauthentic derives of the original dishes of a culture. Like those broccoli and noodles served in Asian restaurants here.

I guess I just have attachment issue and I’m totally not a 21st century adventurous youngster, those urban nomads or whatever. Meanwhile half of me still live up to social norms, with quality such as internationally-mindedness and curiosity and cross-cultural sensitivity. Even though I doubt the sincerity of these terms, frequently used in institutional PR materials and textbooks, and find that they mean nothing on a personal level, I know I will still put them on my CV and cover letters in the long journey of getting a proper education (and eventually job) in the first world.

As a young expat, I never feel like I belong to anywhere. It’s not a question of culture shock. I don’t fit in here because I’m a foreigner, but I don’t either back home, in “my culture”. I think as long as there are borders everywhere, I can’t find my place and my life will be perpetual escaping and running away.

Culture means community, shared values, heritage, and the sense of belonging. Culture defines what is identity and what is alterity. Therefore culture means borders, because it includes Us and excludes the Other. My utopia is a world without borders.