Marx and My Sentimental Education

Oscar Wilde wrote that “the nineteenth century, as we know it, is largely an invention of Balzac.” Fredric Jameson similarly attributed the beginning of what has come to bear the name of “modernity” to Balzac and the Comédie Humaine.

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“Field” Research

I have a friend who studied abroad in Germany last year at the same time I was in France, and we were talking once about our experiences adapting to a different culture and learning the language. He said that one of the best things about being in Germany was that if he didn’t understand a grammatical structure or if he didn’t know a word, he could just stop a random person and ask them to explain it or translate it for him. When he said that to me, as obvious as it seems, I looked at him bewildered. The idea of just telling everyone that I was American and that I didn’t speak their language ran counter to everything I had been thinking. My first day at the French universities, I was utterly terrified and desperate to appear native, but when the girl sitting next to me leaned over and asked what year I was in and if I knew anything about the professor, I turned to her and said, “I’m sorry. I’m afraid.” And that was the end of that conversation…

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Why My Project Fascinates Me

I remember my first day in Paris. I told you about it a little. I walked all over without knowing where I was or where I was going. I had a vague idea that I wanted to have a Real French Meal at one of the big, old- fashioned restaurants around Les Halles. I worked at a restaurant in DC called Brasserie Les Halles (of Tony Bourdain fame) so it seemed like a symbolic enough goal. I wasn’t aware at the time how silly the idea of walking from Auteuil to Les Halles was. It must have been something like 10 kilometers the way I zigged and zagged from the Eiffel Tower to the Champs Elysées, from the Latin Quarter to Sebastopol. I would wander for ten minutes, look up, see the Louvre, and think, “Oh, that’s it…” I saw half the city on that walk and blamed everything from hunger to fatigue to overstimulation for why the city I had waited so long to see wasn’t knocking me off my feet the way I expected it to.

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Settling in to the Second Empire

It’s been almost two weeks since I arrived in Paris – a horrifying thought. I don’t understand how the start of the World Cup, which is in about fifteen days, can seem an eternity away while the 54 days until I leave seem like they could evaporate in a second. To return to what I said about leaving for Paris and how it always seems like you didn’t have time to prepare, I fear that no matter how long I stay here, my trip will come to an end long before I’m ready to leave.

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Introduction

Hello, everybody. My name is Macs Smith and in two days I will be leaving for Paris for my summer research. I admit that when I was planning this research trip, I assumed that a week between the end of my finals and my departure would be more than enough time. One week of sitting at home, torturing myself with all the things I could be doing in France, telling my family stories about my spring semester to make it seem more interesting than it was… All of that would make one week feel like five, and five weeks seemed like a reasonable amount of time to leave myself to prepare. My current state of panicked anxiety suggests that maybe I was not entirely correct in my assumptions. I am reminded in retrospect of the first time I left for Paris: August of 2008, to spend my sophomore year abroad at Columbia’s program at the Sorbonne. After the longest summer of my life, working double shifts six days a week at a restaurant in DC to fund my Paris trip and counting the days down to my departure starting at 100, I finally got to the last week of waiting and felt my stomach fall into my feet. I was terrified and thought maybe I shouldn’t go.

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