I'm taking an hour a
week day to try to teach myself French. Kenyatta went to Paris five years ago and loved it. She wants me to go back with her, and I want to go. But I refuse to do so until I have a rudimentary understanding of the language. This isn't about impressing the French -- I expect my accent to mocked -- it's about how I interpret the world. Language is a big part of it.
Anyway, I'm using FSI. Please don't tell me why I'm doing it wrong. I've found on the autodidact's path, it's much more important to "keep going" than to "be right." Anyway, I took French in my first semester of college. I got an F, and my long descent out of the ranks of the University was on. But there moments like this evening, when I find myself repeatedly writing out "A bientot J'espere" or wondering how you pronounce "Tienes" and am totally struck by what I missed.
I don't regret leaving. I badly wanted to write, and I wasn't doing much writing -- not the kind I wanted -- in college. But I'm always amazed at how much basic shit I missed -- the sort of stuff that people who go around calling themselves "public intellectuals" should know. I understand that there are many fakers out there. But if you're not much interested in faking, that's small comfort.
Perhaps part of the problem is that phrase -- "public intellectual." It means "public teacher" whereas maybe there should be some consideration of adding "public student" to that designation. After all, it was the "public"
that sent me to FSI to begin with.
I would call myself a "public student" but there something presumptuous and faux-modest. Kinda like when Huey Newton dubbed himself "The Supreme Servant of the People"
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is a national correspondent for The Atlantic
, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of The Beautiful Struggle
, Between the World and Me,
and We Were Eight Years in Power