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You, Monsieur L’Idiot

Your Working Boy, Paris, Fall 2012 [1]

Your Working Boy, Paris, Fall 2012

I am sorry that Ta-Nehisi Coates will be coming home from Paris soon. I have so enjoyed his dispatches from the city. Here he is talking about what his humiliations in French class this summer have taught him about education. [2]Excerpt:

Before I came here everyone told me that the enemy was the French. It would be their rudeness, their retreat into English that would defeat me. But I am here now and it is clear that–as with attempting to learn anything–the only real enemy is me. My confidence comes and goes. I have no innate intelligence here–intelligence is overrated. What matters is toughness, a willingness to believe against what is apparent. Learning is invisible act. And what I see is disturbing. In class my brain scatters, just as it did when I was in second grade. I have to tell myself every five minutes to concentrate.

The hardest thing about learning a language is that, at its core, it is black magic. No one can tell you when, where or how you will crossover–some people will even tell you that no such crossover exists. The only answer is to put one foot in front of the other, to keep walking, to understand that the way is up. The only answer is a resource which many of us have long ago discarded. C’est à dire, faith.

As for learning a language, so too for learning anything. Right? To learn anything hard requires humility. I did not have the humility to learn trigonometry. Everything came easily to me before that class. I didn’t like math, but I made As with just a little bit of work. This trig class at Louisiana School, it kicked my butt seven ways to Sunday. I was stunned. How could it happen? I gave up. I failed the class.

I must never, ever let that happen again. How much joy it would give me to be in Paris, being humiliated by my French teachers, as TNC has experienced this summer! What a wise man, welcoming the humiliation of hard experience, in faith.

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13 Comments (Open | Close)

13 Comments To "You, Monsieur L’Idiot"

#1 Comment By DS On August 20, 2013 @ 6:40 pm

You don’t need to go to Paris to be humiliated by the French. Je pete in your general direction!

#2 Comment By Turmarion On August 20, 2013 @ 6:43 pm

Per angusta ad augusta. (“Through struggles to honors.”)

#3 Comment By Charles Cosimano On August 20, 2013 @ 8:27 pm

French is not a language. Language carries meaning and we all know there is no meaning to found in French.

#4 Comment By Will in Mississippi On August 20, 2013 @ 8:56 pm

Who is Saint Idiot? There must be a story…

Though I’m sure it’s a just a name.

[NFR: It means “Holy Fool” in French. It was an Orthodox book I found in a French Catholic bookstore; “holy fool” is a type of saint. — RD]

#5 Comment By Anand On August 20, 2013 @ 9:30 pm

You and Ta-Nehisi should do a three-part book. Him introducing you to his home town, you introducing him to your home town, and both of you in Paris.

#6 Comment By Helen On August 20, 2013 @ 9:48 pm

I love Anand’s idea!! Rod, call your agent!

#7 Comment By Tom On August 20, 2013 @ 10:15 pm

Saint Idiot? Because trig is sin-ful.

#8 Comment By AnotherBeliever On August 20, 2013 @ 10:32 pm

Anand, that would be really something!

#9 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 20, 2013 @ 11:26 pm

The fool is actually a reference to a form of innocence, a naivete’ in which good works are done inspite the one’s ignorance or out of one’s depth. It is no small compliment in that it reflects being a vessel by which God’s might is shown.

I did not see the retreats into nglish as anything but a kindness. Though I was irritated by it. I learned to ignore it and push on oin french. I think they appreciated it.

#10 Comment By Turmarion On August 20, 2013 @ 11:43 pm

The term for “holy fool” in Russian Orthodox contexts is юродивий (yurodivy), and the phenomenon is called юродства Христа ради (yurodstva Khrista radi–“foolishness for Christ”). Many of the greatest Orthodox saints were yurodivye, and such figures were and still are in some places integral to [3].

#11 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 20, 2013 @ 11:49 pm

I have not read the book and have neverheard of it. But the Hunchback of notre Damme and the movie the Mission comes to mind.

#12 Comment By Fran Macadam On August 21, 2013 @ 2:59 am

Let’s not forget Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot”

#13 Comment By M_Young On August 21, 2013 @ 4:44 am

The unit circle — learn it, live it, love it.