This month I participated in the French department’s first annual Fete de la Recherche, a series of presentations given by students currently doing research in the French department here. Every student taking French was required to attend and most of the professors in the department were present as well. My research so far has been a fairly cloistered experience. My friends writing theses in other departments long ago passed the point where they no longer wanted to talk about “how it was going,” and sometimes it gets hard to remind myself that I am doing something that interests people other than me (or even that I am doing something that interests me).
I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday on our way to class. He’s writing a paper in mathematics based on some work he did over the summer. A few weeks ago he showed me a draft with just a few revisions left to make on it, so when I asked him how it was going yesterday, I fully expected him to say that he was finished or just about. Instead what he said was, “It’s a lot harder to write a paper during the school year.”
There’s been a lot to do since I got back from Paris last month and my thesis has had to take a backseat. It hasn’t been easy readjusting to a world where I have responsibilities other than eating and reading. My goal this summer is to have twenty pages written by the time I go back to school, and it’s only in the past week or so that I’ve been able to make progress towards that goal.
My stay in Paris is rapidly coming to a close. Tomorrow is Bastille Day and just five days after that I’ll be getting on a plane out of here. While there’s too much to read on Haussmannization for there to be a finish line to look to in only two months, I am content with how much I’ve gotten done here.
I’ve now finished five of the six novels I prescribed myself for this project. 450 pages of La Cousine Bette are all that stands between me and a mental break. I am profoundly disturbed by how weird Zola can be (seriously, just one normal relationship would be great. Just write one book that doesn’t involve cheating, incest, rape, necrophilia…) In the room where I’m staying, there is a bookshelf with a few classics that my host sets aside for her American visitors and the temptation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Les Mots keeps me motivated through the 50 pages of Balzac I aim for each day. I love Sartre, but I think I’m particularly drawn to him at this moment because of the affinity this project makes me feel to his Roquentin.