French Writers (And I) Love To Be Sad

This post is in response to my friend Christina who asked for an update on my life and to show her NY in the fall.

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I feel so nostalgic in the fall, but I think that’s actually a pretty universal feeling.

At the very beginning of the semester in my French lit class we were studying French Romanticism, and this line by Étienne-Pivert de Senancour (super long name) is something I still think about when walking through piles of leaves and drinking peppermint hot cocoa:

“Quand la mort nous sépare de tout, tout reste pourtant, tout subsiste sans nous. Mais, à la chute des feuilles, la végétation s’arrête, elle meurt; nous nous restons pour des générations nouvelles, et l’automne est délicieuse parce que le printemps doit venir encore pour nous.”

I’ll let you put it into google translate (in other words, I’m not super confident in my translation skills). My personal interpretation of what Senancour is saying is that when we die, everything continues without us–life goes on. But in autumn, when the leaves fall and everything begins to die, we remain and get to watch as spring comes again. It’s kind of like we get to experience death, without actually dying.

Kinda dark, but he was a Romantic, so I get it.

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The hot cocoa I drink while thinking about French romantic writers. (Pretty sure what I was actually thinking about at this moment was how I had sat on a partially wet bench..)

And speaking of nostalgia, we’ve been studying the King of Nostalgia in my French lit class this week: Marcel Proust! Although I think what he experiences when eating madeleines and drinking tea is so much more than nostalgia. It’s a lighting strike of feeling, so strong that he shudders from the sensation. I’ve never had a Proustian experience from tasting something, but I do get the same flash of remembrance when I smell grapefruit perfume (thanks to that really sweet Bath & Body Works spray that Lois used to wear in middle school) or the smell of a certain type of mold (the kind that grows in really old Honda Civics).

The nostalgia that comes with fall is different than this. It’s slower, less specific. More melancholy.

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(Me.)

But I love the fall, and the feeling of melancholy. This article, “The Case for Melancholy” does a really good job of explaining why sometimes a little sadness can feel good. It’s something I’ve been thinking, and writing, about a lot lately because it’s a newer development within me. I used to shy away from all things sad, even my clothes (remember when I wore pink every day?) were a protest against sadness. But the more I study literature, the more I realize that sadness is a part of humanity that’s vital for creativity. (The beginnings of this transition can be seen in this blog post I wrote Freshman year. So young, so naive.)

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Super intense old dudes in the park playing with RC boats–their own form of nostalgia.

I think what I’m getting out of writing this blog post is that I love my French lit class. Every time I leave that class I have a world of new things to ponder.

How does the fall make you feel?

XOLily

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