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Seventh Week

Lucas gives a tour of his eventful Seventh Week, which featured everything from a visiting artist to a visiting astronaut!

Lucas gives a tour of his eventful Seventh Week, which featured everything from a visiting artist to a visiting astronaut!

Wow, Seventh Week was a lot. I guess I’ll dive right into it!

Tuesday was a beautiful day, and brought an awesome and innovative French class in the form of an excursion to visiting artist 2Fik‘s on-campus exhibit.

Skinner Chapel with a blue sky and puffy clouds
Proof of the beautiful day:)

2Fik is from Paris, but has lived in Morocco and, currently, Montreal. He describes himself as “a multidisciplinary artist who confronts assumptions around identity and gender.” We visited his installation in the Weitz, where we had the opportunity to converse with him in French. A pretty clever way to help a class practice their language, I’d say.

I found the exercise particularly well-chosen given the subject matter of the exhibit. 2Fik’s work, at least in the case of his show at Carleton, Gear Shifts, interrogates matters of perception and inference in modern society. When we were given a list of pictures (different “Identities” 2Fik had created), we were asked to match each picture to a different description (written in French, of course). Agonizing over the minutiae of language, and particularly connotation, seemed to underline some of the weaknesses, or at least struggles, inherent to blindly assigning words to other people.

After the exercise, my class gathered in the museum space to sit down and have a conversation (this time in English) with 2Fik about some of the issues behind his work. What followed was a fascinating conversation about gender roles and language in France, and how the two impact each other. As had already been discussed in my French class, the language distinctly lacks gender-neutral vocabulary. In fact, French grammar means that binary gender is deeply ingrained into multiple parts of a typical French sentence. We discussed the challenges inherent to the introduction of new pronouns into such a gendered language, and how such a process has nevertheless found some relative traction in other French-speaking areas of the world.

What followed was a consideration of the cultural contexts behind these different rates of social progress: the traditionalism of French culture was pinpointed as a possible cause of France’s relatively slow adoption of gender-neutral nomenclature compared to, say, Quebec in Canada. The “French attitude” of assuming a social issue is on the aggrieved party to address was examined, and spotted in a recent example. This made me think about how French language and French culture seem to reflect each other (at least in certain ways), and soon I found myself thinking about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, and whether all this was an example of it, or perhaps its inverse. Then a French professor seated near myself mentioned that France’s more binary thinking may also in part be due to the Cartesian logic-y vibes left over in France after the Age of Enlightenment. My head started buzzing in a very good way.

2Fik went on to describe some rather interesting experiences he’s had while on tour, concluding with a particularly engaging story about a conversation he once had on an airplane flight. Surrounded by a silently rapt audience, 2Fik recalled first getting lectured on politics (noting that this lecturer was clearly on the opposite end of the political spectrum than he) and then questioned, obliquely but obviously, about his sexuality. At this point, 2Fik reported a key choice he made: respectfully and honestly answering the man’s questions, as opposed to lecturing him right back about the impropriety of this uninvited interview. At the end of the conversation, the man’s voice had turned less confrontational. The interaction even ended with gratitude, as the man thanked 2Fik and said he felt like he understood queer people, and life, better now.

My very own French professor (Sandra, you are amazing!) asked how 2Fik’s approach to social issues compares to that of the “French attitude” mentioned above, as well as to the “Carleton attitude,” which can be summarized as, “it’s actually on everyone else to advocate on the behalf of the aggrieved.” 2Fik responded that he is “somewhere in the middle.”

It’s certainly unfair to meet an oppressed or otherwise aggrieved group’s struggles with derision, and in many cases these groups are unable to enact the changes they need to live better lives all on their own. However, 2Fik also mentioned that the opposite, “how-dare-you” attitude that many can too easily adopt is often equally unproductive: we can’t expect everyone in the world to automatically be educated, he reasoned, and therefore there is some opportunity on the part of the aggrieved, or unseen, or new to promote empathy through open conversation. This resonated with me greatly.

There’s nothing ideal about the situations of sexual and gender minorities in the world right now, but it can be dangerously easy to react with the very same closed-mindedness and aggression that we’re trying to fight when communicating with people on the “other side.” Progress is best made through a kind of medium approach like the one 2Fik tries to take, where he certainly doesn’t allow others to mistreat him or others, but he also doesn’t allow chances for increased understanding to be dashed by cyclical vilification and the stunted dialogue that comes with it. In general, I just deeply respected 2Fik’s more playful yet nevertheless strong and self-respecting way of expressing himself and engaging in what is usually such sensitive and awkward topics of conversation.

Lucas is in his freshman year at Carleton, bringing with him a passion for all things nerdy and a talent for overthinking and awkwardness (and self-deprecation). He hails from Pasadena, California, and yes, he realizes it gets cold out here. Currently wildly undecided, he can see himself attempting a Physics and Cinema and Media Studies double major, although Chemistry, Economics, and Computer Science (among many other subjects) have been tempting him as well. He misses his bearded dragon.

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