The French government has announced that by May 11 or even by May 7 we will get some deconfinement. When the prime minister spoke he excused himself for relying so often on litotes. Yes, I love that word. Do you think a single member of our US cabinet even knows what it means? It’s the way the world is now and it’s a very French perspective. Just like that crazy word deconfinement. It isn’t freedom or liberty and it’s got two counteracting prefixes de- and con-. How can we move away from and move toward at the same time?
In rhetoric, litotes is a figure of speech and form of verbal irony in which understatement is used to emphasize a point by stating a negative to further affirm a positive, often incorporating double negatives for effect. From Wikipedia but you get the gist.
Welcome to your litotes future people! It’s not the past but it’s not not the past either, it’s a return to normal which was never normal except that now it looks normal because it’s not what we are doing now which has become the new abnormal but ask anyone who wasn’t operating from a pinnacle of privilege about what the hell normal is or was and they will laugh at you sardonically.
Yesterday I saw so many people out – especially running toddlers, tearing breakneck down the still relatively car-free streets – the sun has come and the future has a shape, or at least a very vague outline. We are all delighted to know that something, anything, will happen. Schools will reopen in some form, my one kilometer radius will turn into 100 kilometers, and no more attestations, the little permission slips we have been writing up and carrying about. Hallelujah! But then what?
This is the 67th post on this blog and I am beginning to wonder about my own next steps; as a writer, as a mother, as a teacher, and as a wild woman in the world. I have been pushing myself to write harder more intimate things, in French and in English, it’s actual work, I toil to put things down on the page that are hard to say. They are too raw for a public post but they are showing me something. Or, shall I say, they are not hiding things from me. The revelations are opaque and terrifying.
I have agreed to go back to my teaching job in the fall but from this vantage point I have so little belief that I will return to what I left behind. It’s gone. No more staff meetings where we stand shoulder to shoulder in the library in some kind of bonding game. No more goofy students sipping from the same straw in a big sweet drink after lunch on a sunny day. I want to write about how much I miss my students and how precious teaching is to me. I want to enter a new phase of parenting where my son shapes more of his life than I do.
Last night I slept deliciously, a light early morning rain and cool air coming through the wooden shutters. I awoke with a complicated dream memory. I found my cat, the mischievous and lovely Farrago, missing since last August! Oh kitty.
In the same dream I also saw the person who broke my heart and who was now secretly dating a teenager named Candy. My subconscious is not subtle with its opinions on the bad and good in life. I left behind so much that is simply not there any more or was already gone before I was. A relationship, a pet, a classroom, concerts and milongas, weekly rice and beans with lots of people at my house, a community that had a certain set of rituals (chakra hugs!) and a fabric that supported my son and me. So as we step forward into the future, we are not walking back to the place on the map that we think we know. Uncertainty about the future is so hard on humans and what I hear is that we need each other in big groups to combat those feelings – we are mammals who regulate each other in so many ways.
Yesterday I tried to get my child to do a project, it was our worst day yet. I just don’t know how much to push or how much to leave him alone and focus on my own projects. He is anxious about going back to school because of the language and I am wondering if sending him to school is sending him straight into the jaws of COVID. At some point we need to decide when we will return to the US and how.
Here are some litotes for your pleasure. I added the English but I hope you get the idea that there is much irony and that a positive expressed through a negative is a rather oblique way of saying nothing whatsoever and everything that matters at the same time. I hope they will help you envision a future of which you know nothing at all:
Ça ne sent pas la rose ! Ça sent mauvais. It doesn’t smell like roses [your future].
Ce n’est pas pour demain. C’est pour dans très longtemps. It’s not going to happen tomorrow [your idealized future].
Ce n’est pas l’idéal. C’est mauvais, mal fait. It’s not ideal [your future].
Ce n’est pas rigolo. C’est pénible, ennuyeux. It’s not going to be funny.
Ça ne casse pas trois pattes à un canard. C’est banal, sans intérêt. It’s definitely not going to break a duck’s three legs. Ha!
Il ne fait pas partie de la ligue anti-alcoolique. C’est un ivrogne. Much drinking in the lockdown.
Ils ne partiront pas en vacances ensemble. Ils se haïssent. And….and… no one at all is going to go on vacation together.
Tomorrow is May Day. Thank the unions and the workers and all the laborers who make it possible for you to have food, the internet, clothes on your backs and education.