Robin in the Trees
diary of an urban adventure

Île de la cité, Paris

I wrote this text during the months following my last week in Le Saule Pleureur du bout de l’Île de la Cité, in Paris at the end of August 2019. Here, I took the chance to immerse myself more in writing, and to develop the themes that seemed important to me in connection with this experience.

This story is more than twenty thousand words long, do not hesitate to read it in several parts. The structure of the text follows the days of my week spent in the tree. You will find a table of contents in the menu on the left. Have a good reading!

Cities evolve, they are in perpetual transformation. Just like us, for that matter, and so is everything else. This text is the account of the months that followed my stay in the Pterocarya fraxinifolia of the rue de Soignies. Galvanized by this experience, I wanted to continue my adventures by discovering another territory. Looking for a new nest.

A friend tells me about Marseille. Magnolias, four to be precise. On the Place Jean-Jaurès, nicknamed la Plaine, in the heart of the city. Apparently, some local people like to perch on it. Will I be meeting people in aerial encounters? My curiosity is piqued, I’m getting ready for the trip. Let’s go! Let’s go!

I arrive in Marseille at the beginning of August. The weather is hot, it’s a city that’s boiling. I find in its noisy and colourful streets the Mediterranean spirit, so far from the filtered atmosphere of northern Europe. Here urban relationships are more direct, more nervous too. I witness some scenes of tension, and rediscover without too much joy this southern masculinity that I was so relieved to leave when I moved to Brussels.

Walking in the street I notice two young girls who are being annoyed by a group of little males. Without hesitation, almost instinctively, one of the two girls bursts into a “Go away, we ain’t talking to you, shut the fuck up!”. The puppies leave with their tails between their legs, slightly ashamed. Behind the great sadness of this situation, there is something powerful in the confidence shown by the young girl. I hope to find this spontaneity in the encounters I will weave here.

I arrive on la Plaine. Disappointment. Instead of the space of life that I was so delighted to discover, there is a barricaded construction site that occupies the entire square. Metal barriers and concrete cubes are placed everywhere and surround the outdoor sidewalks, the only accessible traffic areas. Surrounded by a high impassable wall, the magnolias sit in the middle of a bulldozer playground, a desert where the debris of what was once a public square lies chaotically.

I ask around, and gradually grasp the magnitude of the situation. Historically in Marseille, la Plaine is a place of popular convergence, emblematic of a truly urban mode of citizenship. A living space of rare intensity and vector of a singular identity, fiercely defended by its inhabitants.

I am being told about the market, the carnival, musicians and parties, children’s games. And then, the gentrification of the neighbourhood, the political upheavals, the small arrangements. Corruption. The history of the construction project: direct conflicts between the police and the inhabitants. Trees knocked down by mistake, in a hurry. This shameful wall with its exorbitant cost. The price to pay to muzzle the city of its most important citizen space, this lung of freedom to which the people of Marseilles appear so attached.

The stakes of la Plaine are beyond me. Intimidated, I make a difficult decision: it will not be my fight. The confrontation is not my field, I arrive here too late, or too early. What will be left of la Plaine on my next visit? Until then, I have to turn back.

A rebound is offered to me in the form of an invitation. Paris. Instinctively, I say yes: the idea of visiting another capital, a place of power concentration, seems to me to be a judicious one.

I arrive there on August 12, 2019. And go in search of my tree. I then rediscover Paris, the city so fascinating, so rich in contrasts sometimes alarming. By bike, I roam it from one side to the other and observe the multitude of atmospheres that shake it up. Several trees attract my attention, but it is finally an old friend whom I decide to visit, a tree that has already struck me in the past when I came as a tourist to visit the city.

Thursday, August 14, 2019, 3:35 p.m.
I am settled on a branch of the weeping willow at the end of the island of the city, in Paris. It’s only been ten minutes since I’ve been here, and immersed myself in the area, that an amusing duo of English fishermen appears, all dressed in red and equipped with ropes with large metal hooks. The two men approach the shore, they seem to orient themselves with their phone. The harpoon is thrown, thus begins their atypical fishing which intrigues the strollers and tourists in the surroundings, who gather in a small crowd of spectators. And, surprise, on the second throw, it’s a hit! Then emerges from the edges of the river, all muddy, an electric scooter. The crowd applauds, the two men seem satisfied. They’re bringing it down to the ground. They take a look at the code on the handlebars. Oh, gosh, that’s not the right one! So there is still one more to be fished, perhaps even several. I hear a fragment of their conversation with a tourist. They explain being hired by a Brazilian company. There are reportedly 300 “bird” scooters in this branch of the Seine, and only of this brand! The lithium from the batteries of these scooters is already pouring into the waters of 22 European cities. The men continue their fishing. As for me, I am happy to have found this tree: I feel good here, it is beautiful. I think there’s something to be done here.

After a few moments, I leave with my father for our bike ride. I am amused by this scene we have just witnessed, or how in a few facts it summarizes some of the challenges of a globalized system: Englishmen, hired by a Brazilian company to recover scooters designed in California, made in China from materials from all around the world, all this to eventually be thrown into the water by unwise Parisians. I have often thought about these scooters, the symbol they constitute of a form of aggressive and expanding capitalism. This would be the subject of another text.

Concerning this weeping willow, it gives me the possibility of an experience that is radically different from the one I had in Brussels. This tree, far from having established itself in the heart of a neighbourhood life, seems on the contrary to have chosen to isolate itself, at the end of the island, leaving its long falling branches to rest on the calm water of the banks of the Seine. It is an intimate, muffled place, which certainly invites more to introspection than to dialogue. Given my current somewhat foggy state of mind, this seems to be a very good choice. I decide to go back the next day.

Friday, August 15th, 12:48 p.m.
It’s been a while since I’ve been sitting in the weeping willow tree on the island of the city. Under the tree, in the setting of a falling rain of foliage, the atmosphere is calm. A young man with the air of a surfer, who paints in watercolour the view facing him at the mouth of both banks of the Seine, has taken shelter there. A couple who came to hide and smoke a joint, and chat quietly. A young girl, tapping on her phone. A few pigeons. Finally, myself, sitting on the lowest branch, writing these lines. From time to time a cluster of tourists approaches, timidly invades the space and withdraws without bursts, as the atmosphere of this place seems to be imposing itself. Or perhaps they are simply in a hurry, as tourists can be nowadays. In the background, the road traffic layer punctuated by its horn notes, and the thumping roar of the fleet of *bateaux-mouches that never stop going in circles, loaded with a new load of tourists each time they pass. Finally, the wind blowing in the leaves, and the regular swirling of the waves. Regarding the landscape around me, I wouldn’t know where to start, except to say that the tree is very beautiful. I like it. Its twisted and intertwined branches with a bark so rich in colours and patterns. And its leaves, so numerous and so elegant in the way they radiate and reflect light by undulating under the effect of the wind. In short, it is all in very good taste.*

It is a particularly bucolic setting in which I am immersed. Slowly, I discover the possible axes of this text, which are revealed to my presence. Of particular relevance is the issue of tourism. Most of the people here are just passing through, coming to capture a moment, a memory to add to their list of achievements. The symbolic power of this city, particularly felt in its heart of the island of the city, is a source of strong passion, and attracts a true range of humans from all over the world. It’s something I want to understand, a portrait I’d like to develop.

This theme is also obviously in line with the flows that cross the cities in which we operate. When I stand at the top of the tree, it is all around me that I observe traffic channels, river, road, pedestrian, air. The bateaux-mouches parade in particular seems to be propitious to a meditation on this topic: continuously, it seems to highlight the interchangeability of its occupants, their unquantifiable and apparently limitless number. More discreetly but with the same consistency, the passage of barges carrying minerals and raw materials, like the heavy foundation of the production of existences that I attend from my perched post. Finally, when I look up to the sky, it is the lines drawn by the passage of planes that make me dream of this world so vast, so incomprehensible, and that plunge me into the fantasy of wanting to touch everything, to taste everything. As if by defying gravity, man gave himself the illusion of putting everything within his reach.

Another challenge of my presence here is to understand what drives me to continue this work, beyond the pleasure I have in doing it. Can we call it art, and what am I creating? More than a writing of reality, it is the opening of a possible that is at stake, I feel it. A form of survival undoubtedly, since I have to find a way to integrate myself into this system, into these flows that I observe without being able to influence them. The melancholy of being very small, very weak in this stunning landscape.

3:47 p.m.
Of the three English tourists who eat on the steps below, the one on the right drops her cardboard plate, which drops to the river and drifts away, taking the rest of her meal. The group took offense for a short while, before having fun with the absurd raft that now floats a few metres from the shore without having lost its neat presentation, composition salad-fries-meat kebab-ketchup composition highlighted on its bed of seaweed flush with the waves.

At the end of my first day in the tree, I didn’t really meet anyone. It’s a strange territory, this little piece of island. It has only visitors, I am the only one who lives there. So it’s a little bit like home for me, already. At the same time, I think of all those who must have had the same impression, in this very place, so romantic that you want to appropriate it, to make it your own. Several friends have already told me about this solitary weeping willow, a celebrity who embodies a truly Parisian “spleen”. Silent witness to so many stories, through generations. I suddenly become aware of the intensity of this place in which I am lucky enough to be able to retreat, charged with a melancholy that pierces me. I’ll come back Monday, and if everything goes well, I’ll spend the week there. Excitement.

Monday, August 18, 2019

“How can man only be happy, since he cannot defend himself from the misery of this world?”

Ludwig Wittgentstein, Notebooks 1914-1916

8:52 a.m.
Back in the branches of my Willow. Happiness. Two young men calmly chat at the edge of the stairs. The bateaux-mouches of le Pont Neuf have not yet started. I’m going up to have a look at the crown of the tree. A first boat passes to my right, it is “The Gull”. On the deck, a man points at me. We greet each other. I wonder what is its mission, it’s a strange ship. As I go back down to write to note this, the two men below leave and I enjoy a short moment of solitude in my foliage jewel case.

9:15 a.m.
Meeting with a first regular of the place. Intimidated, he will be gone before I have a chance to ask him his name. He is a man with a friendly face, who smiles tenderly when he sees me. He explains that he works on the island and comes here every morning to get some strength before work. He says it’s a magical place, but he doesn’t like people who put locks in the tree and break branches. When he arrived, he poured a few drops of his tea on the tree and put his hand on its trunk. He asks me to be careful with pigeons. When I explain to him the reason for my presence and apologize for interfering in his morning ritual, he gives me a mysterious look: “it’s the difference between seeing and watching”. He leaves immediately.

This sentence, “it is the difference between seeing and looking”, will accompany me throughout the week. I will come back to that later. In the meantime, I let myself go to discover my environment, from the low branches to the summit from which I can observe the city from a perfectly clear view. From time to time, an unsuspected actor bursts in. I’m taking notes.

9:24 a.m.
Two divers equipped with suits, masks and snorkels just passed right by the edge of the island before my amazed eyes, followed by a third with a bald head sticking out of the water. They go around the tip and then disappear. I suddenly realize that they are probably the first-aid firefighters of the city of Paris, whose boats are right across the street on the left bank. The rays of the morning sun illuminate the bottom of the Seine, revealing a crowd of small fishes that move in all directions.

10:02 a.m.
I discover the presence of a nest just above the branch where I am sitting, well hidden from the wind and looks under a thick carpet of leaves. The shell of a hatched egg stands in its centre, as if someone had wanted to signify a very recent birth. It’s a beautiful nest, it seems well done to me, even if I’m obviously not an expert in the field. I wonder what a skillful pigeon would think of it.

10:25 a.m.
The first bateaux-mouches, already crowded with tourists, passed by me, sounding a pre-recorded voice announcing in several languages their arrival at the island of the city. I am concerned about the nest and the absence of its owner. Would I have made them run away? A couple of tourists appear and stay only long enough to take a picture. The man gives me a strangely hostile look.

10:47 a.m.
Always alone, at the end of my island, I offer myself a vocal session in the sun. How good it is to sing! A man armed with a fishing rod suddenly came in with an extremely fast gait, threw his line into the water, soaked it for about ten seconds and left in a snap of fingers. I’ve never seen anyone so hasty, funny attitude for a fisherman. I learn by means of a bateau-mouche that the first inhabitants of Paris, who gave it its name 2000 years ago, occupied the island of the city. It’s funny to imagine that here, before me, another wacky man must have been strolling by the water, in front of a very different landscape than today’s.

11:16 a.m.
The first-aid firefighters do their patrol by boat. I stay away from the foliage, not bothering to be noticed too much. A tourist couple arrives without seeing me. At first, I am embarrassed to surprise their moment of intimacy, while they giggle as they kiss under my hanging legs. But quickly my embarrassment is replaced by disgust. These people are vulgar, the man pulls a branch out of the tree, he spits on the ground. Fortunately, they leave quickly.

11:28 a.m.
First children of the day, an English family. The mother is a bit bossy, she gets angry because her children have sat on the first steps of the stairs leading to the water, invoking as justification the fact that there are boats on the river, a fallacious argument perfectly irrelevant. The children see me, they don’t speak to me but warn their mother of my presence. She pretends not to see me. Two American tourists suddenly show up with great fanfare. One of them exclaims: “dude, if I were homeless, I’d move in here!” A few moments later, he tries to photograph me without my consent. The rest of the group arrives, goes around the tree, and leaves in an instant, followed by the two men who don’t give me a look. “And in front of us, the new bridge, 400 years old, is the oldest bridge in Paris!” sings the nearest bateau-mouche cheerfully.

12:24 p.m.
Tourists march past, take a picture or two and leave. Soon it’s time for a picnic. Three groups are installed below. Those on the left who seem to come from Eastern Europe eat their sandwiches and drink red wine, toasting repeatedly. The ones in front, an Asian couple eating noodles in a plastic bowl, accompanied by beer bottles. Finally, the right ones, two slightly greasy English girls, alternate between their sandwiches and the take of “selfies”, and drink ice tea in a can.

1:16 p.m.
The two English girls get up and see me. They seem to think I’m crazy. Maybe they’re not wrong?

Further away, a couple of old English tourists try to photograph themselves from behind, in front of the view. The scene is clumsy: the woman cannot turn her head and decides to present her profile as best she can while the man struggles to trigger the shot on the touch screen of his phone. The Eastern European tourists, on the other hand, continue to drink and seem to have a lot of fun. Already hilarious, one of the two men eating round donut-shaped cookies, places one on the woman’s nose, and the three accomplices burst out laughing. They then throw away the remains of their sandwiches to the ducks, which soon attracts a troop of screaming seagulls joining the feast. The woman’s bag seems to contain an infinite amount of food, she keeps taking out packets of sweets that she hands out to her two friends. For a moment, I envy their complicity. At that moment, the woman kisses the two men, each in turn, and I understand that this is a love triangle. The bateau-mouche docked nearby starts to rumble, like a giant vacuum cleaner.

2:41 p.m.
Two young boys arrive, they speak English and look stout and stupid. They sit by the water and one of them plays with a stick. He hits it frantically against the stone until it is completely destroyed. He then grabs a branch of the tree, full of leaves, and continues to strike with frenzy against the ground. His comrade decides to film him. This surrealist scene continues for a few minutes, before they discover my presence. I talk with them for a few minutes, discreetly slipping into the conversation the idea that it’s not great to hurt the tree. Of course, they want to know how I got up, and when I answer them “by climbing”, the dumbest of the two lets out a “how?” with an air of total confusion. Then the mother arrives, greets me with a frightful look, orders them not to talk to me and the whole family disappears, leaving the ground strewn with young, freshly shredded branches.

3:12 p.m.
I’m starting to feel like leaving. I’ve had my cut of human stupidity. “And in front of us, the new bridge, it’s 400 years old and the most beautiful bridge in Paris,” throws the bateau-mouche in a monotonous voice.

3:23 p.m.
A man with a peculiar gait comes along and nibbles on a piece of bread. He has a hell of a look: his flip-flops are patched up and hold at his feet with multicoloured scoubidou threads. He looks around the tree, sees me and leaves immediately without answering my greeting.

Back to the top, I realize that something is happening on the left bank, at the level of the barge “Sun Day”. A real crowd has formed on the pedestrian bridge just next door. It is probably a shooting. It is already the third one I have observed since I have been in Paris. Just under my feet, a group of young people happily sings: “Happy birthday, Charlotte!”. On small cakes are placed candles that light up by themselves, relaunching with their flames the impulse of the song each time. It’s a party.

3:51 p.m.
A boat named “Île de France” has just passed filled with a group of elderly people. While most of them are at the table, a group of old ladies waddle in front of the bar, wiggling calmly. The scene has an old-fashioned charm. Beneath me, the youngsters develop a strategy to free the wasp that one of them trapped between two plastic cups. Teens decide to attack the insect with an aerosol deodorant. Before taking action, the two most fearful girls run away with their belongings while the remaining duo, a girl and a boy, prepare to attack. After a few pshitt, the cup slips off the girl’s fingers and tumbles down into the Seine. The boy ends the wasp with a book. They repeatedly shout, “the cup is in the sea!”. They leave.

At the end of this day, heralding a week rich of events, I go down from my tree and cross by bike the 4th and 12th arrondissements of the city to return to my father, who is hosting me in his apartment in Fontenay-Sous-Bois, in the east of Paris. On the road, I think about how lucky I am to spend a week in this special place. I wonder about the place that my own life will occupy in this story. Indeed, I mentioned my foggy, even confused state of mind. Do I have to explain and develop the reasons for this state? May I evoke the doubts and fears that I am going through, the convictions and forces that are carrying me these days? This may be inevitable, and I am concerned about the value of these autobiographical details to the meaning of my story. I am afraid to clutter the reading of this text, not having really defined a framework for this writing project. At the same time, it only adds to the anecdotal that I use as a framework to express a point that I have not yet fully comprehended. I decide to let myself go with the flow.

At the end of this Monday spent in the tree, one thing is clear, my relationship with the other will be one of the main themes of this week. I’ve come a long way. Only a few years ago, I confidently held the proud speech of the aspiring anti-system rebel, which consisted in short of proclaiming this: my fellows are sheep, all adults are stupid, and the various authorities to which I am supposed to submit myself are illegitimate in the face of my existence which I intend to carry out as I see fit. My daily experience of being integrated into society could be summed up as follows: I don’t like people. If I have softened with time and learned to discover the beauty that is hidden in each of us, I still have some after-effects of this childish phase. Essentially, this is manifested with the idea, absurd but firmly rooted in my mind, that thanks to a miraculous series of events, I have escaped the normative mill and am therefore in a way the last hope of the civilisation, the last man who can overthrow the established order.

As Paul Audi writes1, such is the artist conscious of his responsibilities that he feels called first of all to save his poor contemporaries from a terrible “alienation” which, it seems, has not reached him himself.” - when I read this sentence, I really feel like he’s making fun of me. In fact, being an artist is my excuse for not trying to earn a living, since I am far too emancipated to waste my time working for money like everyone else. Of course, others should take on the responsibility of making the effort necessary for my own subsistence, given the importance of the mission in which I am engaged out of pure altruism towards humanity.

But at the end of a day like today, spent in large part protesting against my fellow human beings, what should I think of this generosity, this gift of my person that gives meaning to my actions? Why do I want to save my contemporaries, the very people who give me so much disgust and despair? Above all, what does all this say about my self-centeredness? I’m probably no better than the people I’m denouncing. My difference is a decoy, my speeches are wind. How much? How much? A bourgeois disgusted by the bourgeoisie, that’s original! But how do we get out of it?

For Epicure, the virtue of the wise is self-sufficiency. At the beginning of his philosophical journey, Spinoza also thought he could manage on his own. That knowledge offered him enough joy not to embarrass himself with the duty of raising those around him to the same level of knowledge.

But, quite quickly, he realised that the joy of being free, of grasping the challenges of the world to better escape them, could only be experienced if those around him also had access to the same knowledge. If you disagree with your neighbour, certainly understanding the reasons for this disagreement already brings a certain amount of joy, but it will only be complete when the neighbour also clearly understands the terms of the situation. Thus, in the fourth volume of his major work, Ethics, he explains that the free man tries to establish a friendship with others2. That he must try to guide others towards knowledge in order to achieve, together, this happiness or “supreme good”.

Am I following the same path? Or romanticising my supposed superiority by evoking this quality of free man? What’s for sure is that Spino wasn’t an idiot. I just hope I’m not completely.

Tuesday, August 19, 2019

“Let us stick to the facts. Time is immediately given. That is enough for us, and, at least until someone proves its non-existence or its wrongheadedness, we will simply affirm that there is this effective surging forth of unforeseeable newness.

Philosophy would do well to find some absolute in the moving world of phenomena. But we would do well too, to feel stronger and more joyful. More joyful, because reality inventing itself before our eyes will give each of us, endlessly, certain satisfactions that art supplies occasionally to fate’s chosen few; beyond the stasis and monotony that we first see in this reality, with senses hypnotized by the constancy of our wants, reality will reveal to us ceaselessly regenerating newness, the moving creativity of things. But we will above all be stronger, for in this great work of creation that has been there from the beginning and keeps going before our eyes, we will feel ourselves to be participants, creators of ourselves. Our power to act, taking hold of itself once again, will intensify. Having been abased until then in a submissive attitude, slaves of some natural necessity, we will stand again, masters in allegiance with a greater Master. Such will be the conclusion of our study. Let us beware seeing a mere game in speculation on the relations of the possible and the real — it may well be preparation for living well.”

Henri Bergson, Le possible et le réel (1920)3

6:34 a.m.
*I’m in the tree. It is early. The light is superb. I have the feeling I was first to arrive on the scene. Lifting myself up is more difficult than the previous days, I feel that I have to be more careful too because I’m not all that awake yet. The colours that surround me are splendid, the green of the leaves and the blue of the Seine intertwine into a very successful camaïeu. Good news: the nest is unoccupied, I checked it before climbing. The remains of last night’s evening are still there. On the ground, bottles, cans and rubbish. Curious, I wonder if I’ll witness their cleaning.

7:01 a.m.
*An rather old man arrives. His gait is patibular, he drags his feet on the ground. He carries a large shopping bag. I have the impression that he is looking for bottles to deposit. I clear my throat and come out with a shy hello that fails to divert his attention, as if he hadn’t heard it, or thought he had dreamed it. Suddenly, a bird singing, so sweet! The sound landscape is a little polluted by the cleaning truck on the right bank, and the deep rumble of an airplane crossing the sky.

7:10 a.m.
*Two employees of the city of Paris come to collect the bins and pick-up the wastes on the ground. One of them slides his arm under the foliage to grab a bottle of wine from the floor, and I see his face for a short while. I now go back to the top. Under the pedestrian bridge that crosses my field of vision, two tents face each other, slipped into their recesses. Shamelessly, I tell myself that this is probably not the worst place to sleep, me who has never spent a night on the street. I meditate on this reflection, perched in front of the awakening city. Two seagulls jostle the place on a streetlight.

7:56 a.m.
Nothing much is happening. The sun slowly filters through the clouds, its first rays glisten on the river and reach me through the curtain of foliage. A bell rings. “Il est huit heures, Paris!”

There is a very precise area in the Seine where the waves change appearance and turn into wavelets with a finer pattern. The effect is surprising, almost as if this delimited part of the water surface was printing negatively on my retina. Even stranger, a very small part of this area reflects light differently, as if the water itself emitted an intense turquoise blue light. As I take note, the phenomenon gradually fades away and has completely disappeared by the time I finish this sentence. It’s 8:15.

8:33 a.m.
A man approaches with an unusual look. He is equipped with a stick. I say hello, he says, “Hi, how are you?” and leaves. Going up to the top of the tree I see him further away pretending to fish but his stick is too short to reach the water, and I can’t tell from here if his rod is equipped with a line.

On the other side, the bateau-mouche “Parisis” starts spitting water, a sign that the captain has taken control of the ship. In the river, the passage of a barge left the same trace as the one I described earlier, also reproducing the mysterious light effect. I suppose that a recess in the riverbed is the cause of this strange phenomenon, but would very much like to know for sure.

9:13 a.m.
A young girl is having breakfast by the water. She sees me when I come down to her and smiles at me. We greet each other. She uses her mirror, maybe to spy on me or take my picture. I pretend not to realize it and divert my attention elsewhere.

09:21 a.m.
Three Americans, two women and a child, settle down for a photo shoot. When I see her, the photographer exclaims: “How crazy is that? “

09:25 a.m.
A young fisherman appears and throws his line at the end of which hangs a kind of sticky worm made of fluorescent pink plastic. He stays there, turning his back on me for less than a minute before leaving. Either the fishermen here are particularly impatient, or a clue allows them to conclude in an instant that this is not a good spot for fish.

9:39 a.m.
A young man sees me and observes: “Hey, you’re perched up there!” He turns in circles, full of hesitation, then ends up settling down and rolls his joint. I turn my back on him so as not to intimidate him further. People here don’t talk too much. It’s good that I’m only staying for a week. Somehow, I kind of want to go home.

9:44 a.m.
The two garbage collectors come back with the garbage can and throw the bottles that the man with the stick put next to it on the stone bench. Is that why they don’t come and clean up all the way? Some kind of complicit ritual?

10:05 a.m.
I let my thoughts wander as I watch the barges pass by. Most of them seem to be inhabited by families, and I imagine how it must be to grow up like that, to travel at all times at the slow pace of the river flows.

10:13 a.m.
When I emerge from my sweet daydream, I realize that my sweater has fallen to the ground. I go down to the first branches and discover the presence of a young girl who is about to leave, I call out to her in vain and watch her disappear behind the coat of leaves. I feel bad about missing her, because there’s something seductive about her gait. I figure she was probably the woman of my life. And now I have to stay on the lookout to get my sweater back. I feel like everything that’s happening to me is madly exciting, but I really wonder what a reader outside the action would think.

The fire brigade boat patrols a few meters from the island. Fortunately, the willow camouflages me perfectly. One of them dives into the water and I watch him pass in front of me with his snorkel, followed by the boat from which I get voices and walkie-talkie sounds.

10:34 a.m.
After hesitation, I decide to open my biscuit packet but to eat only one of the three. When I finish it of course, I want to eat the second one. I decide not to allow myself to do so until after eleven o’clock.

10:39 a.m.
The Dutch couple who were sitting down stand up and I kindly ask them to hand me my sweater. When I point it to them, they have a frightening reaction, as if they didn’t dare to get close to it. Confusion, they really don’t know what to do, the man seems to have died out and is waiting for the situation to resolve itself. Finally, it is the woman who decides to pick it up and throws it at me with her fingertips. Victory! To celebrate, I plunge my arm towards the biscuits before I remember my contract. Too bad, I practically had it in my mouth.

10:44 a.m.
New photo session, again two women and their photographer. The models sit at the water’s edge and pretend to be chatting while the camera trigger shoots behind my back. They leave, the three of them without noticing me. A moment later, a tourist arrives and takes a selfie in front of the view with a stiff smile. When she sees me on the screen of her phone, I decide to greet her. A nervous, falsely cordial and tipped conversation follows. The woman and her young daughter run away.

10:59 a.m.
I wonder: was it a good idea to wait to eat this biscuit? I feel like I wanted it more earlier than now. The bells are ringing. I’m eating. The first bite swallowed, I stop abruptly: I suddenly realized that the pleasure of restriction, the torture of waiting has taken over the simple gluttony and I hesitate to put it down to finish it at a new scheduled time. A moment later, it disappeared into my mouth.

I observe the water pattern, it’s totally hypnotic. I tell myself that it’s much more accomplished than most contemporary works of art, that it’s really just a matter of framing. If I could cut out a square and put it on the wall, I’d probably be the new Anish Kapoor.

While I’m telling myself this nonsense, a painter settled down just below. I see him take out his equipment and choose his brush. He scratches his ear for a considerable amount of time before taking out his tubes of paint. Let’s leave him alone for a while, I’ll come back to see him a little later.

11:28 a.m.
The painter’s concentration captivates me. I decide to eat the last cookie at 11:45, or even at noon if I can hold until then.

11:32 a.m.
Near the opposite bank, on the Louvre side, a swan. This is the first one I see here.

11:56 a.m.
Tourists march past. Empty moment. An Asian woman greets me shyly and sits by the water. She is busy taking pictures of the landscape. She emanates something very peaceful that fits well with the atmosphere that has settled here, between the painter and me.

12:09 p.m.
The painter is still busy. I think again about the man I met yesterday morning and his sentence: “it’s the difference between seeing and looking”. Did he want to talk about me, and is that what the painter and I have in common, to really try to see what’s going on here? Unlike tourists who only stay for a moment, and take pictures that they will *look at later? Does the painter see anything special, beyond the colours of a common landscape?*

Likewise, do I see beyond my own person when I write, and what am I trying to see? These are difficult questions. I hope I get another meeting with this gentleman - I decide to call him the man of vision.

12:38 p.m.
Again, I was discovered by a tourist via her phone screen while she was shimmering herself under the tree. I tell myself that the effect of my appearance in the intimacy of her relationship with her screen must be somewhat striking. When she finally notices me, I have already appeared many times in the image, the young girl frantically switching from one application to another. She then lets out a: “oh my god!”

A group of children comes along and surrounds the painter, completely blocking his view. Fortunately, the artist remains impassive until the parents arrive and call their snot-nosed children to order. This is followed by a very ordinary photo session, immediately reviewed by the children who gather around the camera.

Suddenly, it’s anarchy. Tourists arrive from all sides and take pictures of the painter, the landscape, their children. Finally, the calm returns. Two boys silently sit by the water and take the mandatory view shot.

1:00 p.m.
For the first time, someone sits at the foot of the tree, against its trunk: a couple of elderly Asian tourists. They eat bread without anything on it. I wonder what their story is.

The painter seems to have finished his painting. In no time, he packs up his things, gets up and gets on the move. I try to call him, repeating: “Hello, sir!” but he doesn’t hear me and disappears in the distance. It makes me very sad, he will never know that we shared this moment. Why are people alone, why do I feel so alone?

1:25 p.m.
Two tourists arrive behind my back, they look stupid, try to take my picture without my knowledge but fail miserably. After a while I decide to say hello and the two women leave without any kind of civility towards me. Was it the painter who vexed me? I can’t wait to get out of here, besides the hunger is slowly starting to gnaw me. As a good, well-educated boy, I still decide to stay until 2:30 p.m. to respect my eight-hour day’s schedule, a decision that was certainly made under the influence of this morning’s biscuit episode.

Contemporary civilization is based on the principles of regularity and reproducibility, which is ensured by the universality of the rule of time. Today time as it is arbitrarily defined by science and shapes our daily experience is nothing more than an industrial technology, you only have to look at the definition of a second4 to realize that this is indeed a tool of power that favours those who produce and establish this standard. There is surely a patriarchal and colonial dimension to the saying, “Time is money”. Myself, in this journal, it is at this time that I refer to each of its entries. It is this time with which I structure my life, my objectives, my sociability. It is this time that keeps running away, always straight ahead, and causes so much stress and anxiety around me.

It is also this notion of time that, in the 15th century in Europe when clocks were erected on the walls of factories, was fundamental to the establishment and expansion of capitalism, where the profit of the capitalist or surplus is derived by paying less to the worker for his work than the value of the product of that work. Thus, it was sufficient to make workers work longer than was necessary for the reproduction of their existence and their labour force to accumulate capital. And there lies the violence of this system: the worker has already earned his salary after four hours but he must work eight hours; if the worker keeps or reappropriates this time to himself, he steals from the capitalist.

Standardized and deployed on a large scale with the arrival of the steam locomotive in the 19th century, it is this time that now drives the digital devices that surround us. Because at the heart of each of these machines is a clock, and it is not only intended to give us the time. Its role is to organize and sequence all computer processes. If the clock does not work, these processes will stop, the device frozen out of time.

It is this regular and universal division of time that allows our machines to be integrated into the machine network. It is also what allows the introduction of micro-events which, if guided by capitalist logic, jeopardize our subjectivity or our sovereignty over the experience of our lives. It is the obsolescence of the individual in the face of the dictatorship of time.

So, the idea of climbing a tree is a bit of a resistance to that order. It’s almost a return to archaism. That is to say, the best clock to decide the time of a meal is my stomach! As a reminder of the ancestral times when time was first and foremost cyclical and non-linear. Days and seasons punctuated life more than train schedules or financial transactions adjusted to the micro-second. It would be an illusion to say that we felt better then, that there was less suffering and injustice, but still, there is no reason to accept to be subjected to the contemporary imperialism of the time.

This approach is also a return to contemplation, so difficult to achieve in contemporary life. Simply, I sometimes get bored when I’m in the trees, which has become extremely rare when I’m on the ground. So I have time to stir ideas in my head, even embryos of ideas which are still abstract and which find space to form, whereas they would probably have vanished if they had appeared during an ordinary day, when I surrender to the pace of our civilisation.

Contemplation is necessary to extract oneself from this rhythm, from this first-person perspective. To ask questions in front of oneself. To contemplate is to look at who you are. The miracle of being there. More gracefully, Plotin already wrote in the third century AD: “To contemplate is to contemplate even more, and to see oneself in an infinite Self “5. For a child, contemplation is a more obvious thing because it is still a question of discovering the world and not of mastering it. Unlike adults, they do not yet have the illusion of possessing knowledge. Paradoxically, the mysteries surrounding them are making their relationship with the world more direct, driven by curiosity. Sometimes it takes only a little distance, whether perched in a tree or at a child’s eye level, offset from adults, for the world to be revealed in all its simplicity.

Similarly for a child, understanding the challenges of the planet does not seem so complicated. Six or seven billion human beings, that’s just one big family. We’ll get along eventually. When I was a kid, I thought we were going to work it out. All together, there was no reason why it shouldn’t get better. For me, wars, famines, all these were part of a vanishing era. Obscurantism, a thing that belongs to the past. My parents and their friends seemed to me to be rational, intelligent beings; thus, today’s adults could be relied on to erase the mistakes of their forebears, who had to be fogged up by some evil power that had been raised since. The world’s problems were only mismanagement, and we were about to readjust all this so that the stocks would no longer rot and the little African children would have enough to eat.

In fact, I was naively but deeply internationalist, this ideological position that defends solidarity among all, across borders. Today this idea is not on any party’s agenda. It has almost no political coverage in conventional channels. It is not part of the collective imagination, except through a song, the international, now chanted by bourgeois who enjoy their privileges in a neoliberal economy of individualistic rather than collective aspiration. The illusion is fragile, everyone is aware of it: internationalism is dead, and everyone is saving their asses as best they can. In this context, it is better to enjoy than to reflect, if one has the means to do so.

Is it still possible to believe in humanity? “It is not us who make cinema, it is the world that appears to us as a bad film”, wrote Deleuze in L’image-temps6. Let’s continue on our way.

Wednesday, August 20, 2019

“Seduction represents the mastery of the symbolic universe, while power represents only the mastery of the real universe.”

Jean Baudrillard, De la séduction (1980)

“Whoever will promise humanity to deliver it from the embarassment of sexual subjection, no matter what foolishness he chooses to say, will be considered a hero.”

Sigmund Freud (1914)

9:01 a.m.
I like to get lost on the way between Fontenay-sous-Bois and the island of the city. I have not followed the same path twice. This morning my detour was a little longer, since I decided not to use my phone. So I had to ask people for directions when I got lost.

It’s my third day in a row in the tree. I had forgotten the physical fatigue that this practice causes. My awakening was foggy and tired out this morning. My father seems proud of me. He appears to appreciate my early departures, the commitment of my effort. I don’t think he expected me to get out of the building before him every morning and come back with the same determination.

9:38 a.m.
I write some ideas about the project Met Liefde of Agathe, her spectacle on love. When I think about it, I now understand why she went into this. There is nothing stronger that one can still live, when one is a bourgeois. Death, no doubt. Violence, on rare occasions. But who wants to talk about that? So that leaves love, love that we’ve talked about so much. To make a show about love, without talking about it, but rather to make love on stage, what a brilliant idea. Not “talking about” but “doing”, “embodying”, that’s what attracts me to dance.

9:52 a.m.
A young girl sat at the water’s edge. She is “on” her phone, as they say, or rather “inside”, captive. Somewhere in the distance, a saxophone escapes a few scattered notes, forming a little jazz tune. Suddenly, the girl burst into laughter, with one of those strange, animal laughter that we don’t usually allow ourselves to hear in public.

10:23 a.m.
I still haven’t written anything about what’s going on around here. My state of mind since yesterday and the absence of visitors are conducive to this moment of introspection. I think back to this question: what am I looking to see here besides myself? At least I can keep from lying to myself. This time, I chose this tree for its romantic qualities, not for its strategic location in a social fabric. Let’s take advantage of it, then. There’s only the willow and saxophone notes to accompany me this morning.

10:31 a.m.
This day promises to be particularly musical: while another instrument has appeared in the opposite direction, towards the Pont des Arts, the singing of a female voice has replaced the unrelenting speech of the bateau-mouche that passes by. The fire brigade makes their little rounds by boat, crossing the zodiac of the police prefecture which never stops rushing by. The breeze is a bit chilly and rushes into the holes in my socks.

10:48 a.m.
♫ “you who mistreat me, I can no longer live without you” ♪♬

10:57 a.m.
A man sitting at the tip of the island seems to be immersed in his thoughts, his feet are bare, his shoes resting next to him. He laughs when he discovers me, his neck twisted to see me eating my piece of bread with chocolate. I am glad that he can enjoy this moment of calm, the tourist bustle sparing us so far. His presence is sweet, I wish it was always like that.

11:06 a.m.
A moment after his departure, a group of Spaniards appeared. They only stay for a moment, while one of the men takes two or three pictures of a woman wearing a sunflower yellow top and tight jeans. All these men have really big cameras. It must be exhausting to carry this over time.

11:21 a.m.
“you who mistreat me, I can no longer live without you “ ♪♫

This short sentence that bites its tail and that I have been humming for a while now gives me the chance to continue my thoughts on love and to address the question that interests me: how can love help me to understand the world? With the help of this refrain that keeps spinning in my head, I realize that there is a real similarity between the suffering caused by romantic love, this social and cultural construction, and the strength of capitalism through this ambiguous relationship that we all have in the face of money, individualism and the law of the fittest. Same ambivalence, same feeling of powerlessness facing the violence of the facts.

11:47 a.m.
A couple of lovers have been smooching for a while, I try to give them as much privacy as possible but my presence doesn’t seem to bother them. They have just returned to each other after their holidays. The man offers a little plush to the girl. When they see me, the boy first searches for his words then compares me to Robinson Crusoe. He tells me there was a swing here before, or something like that. I like this idea : there’s nothing like a swing to encourage contemplation.

12:30 p.m.
I still don’t want to talk to people. I’d rather do a one-on-one meeting with a pigeon. Speaking of them, they really have a very stretchy neck. I imagine that, combined, their natural curiosity and this ability to look in all directions make them manage to survive in this hostile environment. I really don’t know anything about pigeons. I wonder what they know about us.

1:04 p.m.
Slowly, without warning, the lyrics of a song take shape. Amusing exercise I’ve never had before.

1:25 p.m.
A group of young people appeared under my feet while I was writing my song. The model, all dressed in pink, wears very high heels, a mask and a pointed hat. The visual vibe is somewhere between a sadomasochistic manga and a children’s cartoon. His friends put roses in the holes of his mask, white for his eyes and red for his mouth. The strange character greets me: he calls me grandma foliage then Pocahontas.

The shooting starts and the model takes a series of poses. They ask me for help to put up a large veil of red tulle on the branches of the tree, I accept with pleasure. They all radiate an incredible and unusual sweetness, and a kind of youthful naivety full of charm. The way they address each other with kindness seems to me so far removed from the one I so often witness here, and allows me to fantasize about a society emancipated from the violence induced by the well-established logic of a cold and virile masculinity.

2:02 p.m.
My new friends just left, how lucky to have met them! We exchanged contacts. I came down from the tree to give them a kiss and talk for a few minutes with each of them. The photographer Fabio asked me to pose for him, I answered yes without thinking too much. They’re all very moved by my work.

3:06 p.m.
I keep writing my song. The people below notice me and smile at me. I’m immersed in writing, so I’m not too mindful. I’m gonna have to go down to use bathrooms. Strangely enough, it feels weird to go back to prose after working on rhymes, these sentences I write seem very flat to me.

3:36 p.m.
I had to make a long journey to find public toilets, and I’m back all out of breath. When I climb up a man observes me with a lot of fun. He asks me if I plan to smoke a joint up there. I answer him that if I did that I would probably risk falling. He laughs and leaves.

4:36 p.m.
I decide to leave. As I unlock my bike, a young boy who was smoking a joint under the tree a moment ago runs towards me. He asks me: “Were you in the tree? Did you jump out of the tree? But this is crazy!” He can’t believe it. He can’t get over it.

There are many themes I would like to approach in this story. Here it seems necessary to me to open a small autobiographical parenthesis to address this thorny subject of love. Because love is never easy. At least that’s what we were taught. For the model of love, the one that has been sold to us as universal and recounted in thousands of stories, is that of romantic love. And the very basis of romantic love is the suffering self, a terrible story of frustration, drama and impossibilities.

Moreover, the ideal of romantic love is self-sufficiency, with lovers complementing each other in their small fusional bubble. It is infinite, eternal, unchanging love. The main source of melancholy for any self-respecting teenager. Incidentally, a troubled young Deleuze wrote, at the age of twenty, about the woman that she is *“in her essence, what has the power to disinterest me in the rest of things, because she is herself a thing unrelated to others, because she is a world without exteriority”. That’s what we mean by saying: this woman is desirable.”7

Love as an escape, then. A miracle, a dream! We build ourselves with this model in mind, as a unique perspective of what a love relationship can be, or should be. We reproduce the stories, the patterns that have been used to guide us in the face of the mysteries of affection that we discover without being too self-confident. We discover ourselves possessive, jealous, tortured, miserable. On the contrary, we live the most intense affective moments of our existence, we immerse ourselves in love and (the image of) the loved one, we offer ourselves entirely to him/her, we promise ourselves the moon and other astral fantasies.

And then we grow up anyway. We realize that Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty is not quite the same as in the real life. We even start to wonder if there is not some kind of conspiracy, something that would push society to promote this model of the monogamous heterosexual couple, ideal candidate to reproduce the nuclear family model, the foundation of our society that guarantees a certain social cohesion that is considered necessary. Isn’t there some religious propaganda left behind all this? Stability is also what the Romans were looking for when they laid the foundations of the patriarchy in the West, which has been pursuing us to this day. If the church encourages the conjugal nuclear family and imposes marriage in the Middle Ages, it is for the sake of control, in order to establish the family group and ensure its religious continuity, civil status registers being then kept in the parishes8. Anyway, I digress.

So we grow up, and we start looking for answers. What does science say about all this? Let us not forget that we are only animals, creatures of impulses and instincts. Rival to a romantic approach to human relations, evolutionary biology prides itself on being able to explain just about everything through the theory of biological evolution. We therefore fall in love like the caveman inside us, and it is thus propitious to deconstruct our behaviours by analyzing those of our ancestors.

If we follow this reasoning, the neural circuits of our brains have formed over millions of years of evolution during which our species has developed particular attitudes and behaviours for its survival, and this therefore influences our current behaviours. Thus, the eternal monogamous couple of romantic comedies seems to be a heresy in view of the biological realities of our body envelopes still guided by prehistoric patterns.

In any case, exclusive monogamy is a rare phenomenon among animals and especially among our fellow mammals. And it is only marginal for humans in pre-industrial cultural practices. In fact, the typical pattern of human relationships seems to support the hypotheses of evolutionary biologists since they are relationships that last about five years, the same time period that women from traditional cultures need to raise a child during pregnancy, breastfeeding and early childhood education9. Love that lasts forever would therefore be purely a cultural construction, far from guaranteeing us a natural happiness.

Of course, as with all scientific theories, it is only a narrative construction in which several people, intellectuals, scientists and researchers agree on certain ideas in order to defend positions or intentions that are sometimes questionable. Indeed, it would be dangerous to overestimate the importance of evolution in the manufacture of human behaviour, reducing it to the consequences of a natural selection process designed to maximize the transmission of our genes to the next generation10.

For example, these evolutionary hypotheses have been put forward to defend the idea of a gender difference that would be natural, legitimized by science and where the man would be genetically programmed hunter, adventurer and why not rapist while the woman would be reduced to her maternal role as a procreator11. This is indeed a frankly muddy form of essentialism. As a result, there is a conflict in the debates between deconstructionist feminism and evolutionary psychology, as if these two fields of research were incompatible, one explaining gender relations through sociology and the human sciences, the other through biology and the “hard” sciences. For the defense of the feminists, their field of research is close to us and quite well documented, while evolutionary psychology is condemned to be based on a prehistoric era on which we only have little information. I will not dwell on this conflict, as I prefer to give to those interested in the topic the freedom to form their own opinions, knowing that there is good to be gained on both sides.

All this to say that if we accept this idea of behavioural heredity, we can affirm that there is a real tension regarding love relationships between the cultural injunctions to which we are subjected and the body traversed with instincts in which we are in the world. To deconstruct all this would mean going beyond these two shackles to invent a future in which our sentimental relationships would be emancipated from the violence that is part of our biological and societal heritage. By addressing the things that are happening in our heads and bodies. The least we can say is that it requires work and forces us to move forward step by step. That’s how I came to investigate this form of relationship called polyamour.

Indeed, on paper, polyamour fills all the boxes of a benevolent experimental framework to begin this project: defiance of societal norms, defence of honesty and equality between partners, sharing and empathy as modes of functioning. You listen to your desires without losing sense or harming others, the hardest part being to make the transition from the heteronormative codes that have forged you to this space where everything is possible. It is precisely where I am when I write these words and the pain that accompanies this change is real, hence the writing of this song whose text I hope to be able to reveal to you before reaching the end of this week spent languishing by my dear weeping willow tree.

I will not dwell on polyamour either, given the wide range of easily accessible literature on this topic. If only for a remark, that although this is really a step outside and a questioning of a social norm, still we should not lull ourselves into the illusion of being breaking all the castrating patterns in which our good old Judeo-Christian culture locks us. Because if polyamour opposes the scheme of the monogamous couple, it is not immune to reproduce some of its codes or to fall into individualistic and narcissistic logics that are completely conventional. In some cases, it is merely a matter of creating more couples in relationships that are perfectly normalized when considered separately. Finally, it is certainly not ideal for everyone. Thus today, it is still perfectly fine to wish to live in a stable and exclusive relationship, and seek to surpass oneself in this context. To each his own.

So I continue this autobiographical parenthesis to look at another aspect of my life that relates to love and feelings, that of seduction. Because it invades my social relationships with such importance, it is a subject on which I have long wanted to write a few words. Let’s get started!

I have often told myself that, no doubt, there must be an immense potential for emancipation in the idea of freeing oneself from the gendered relationships as they are built during the process of socialization that each individual goes through in our society. Beyond the questions related to parents, Oedipus and to avoid falling into the most complacent freudism, let us say that in general my relationship with others has always been strongly influenced by the gender of the person in front of me. To summarize, it is a mode of competition with men, and seduction with women.

And in one sentence: it’s very tiring, whether on either side. Of course, I do cure myself, and things are already much better since I started to deconstruct my masculinity. Especially at the level of competition. The more I develop my self-confidence outside an identity that carries masculinist values, beyond this image of virility that has been inscribed in me during my identity construction, the less I let myself be trapped in this scheme. I don’t need to play the rooster all day long anymore. I don’t let myself be drawn into these games and sometimes manage to refuse the codes which are forced on me. I even allow myself to be sensitive, and fragile, without having to hide it. But if the competitive attitude tends to disappear in me, seduction is still firmly embedded in my way of being.

In general, seduction is an attitude that characterizes me quite well. As a child king, I spent my time seducing the older ones to get their attention. Actually most children are little bombs of seduction, they almost instinctively master the game by which their minauderies feed them compliments and expressions of affection. Today’s adults are not very different and the success of “social media” is partly explained by the fact that they offer a prime platform for social validation, the anxiety linked to the number of “likes” or “followers” joining this primary psychological phenomenon that we already observe at the childhood stage.

Thus, seduction is strongly rooted in our time. It is even considered normal to seduce to convince or to succeed. To sell or rather to be bought. This is how seduction has permeated everywhere, reducing the ambitions that we could project on our activities since we must always take into consideration the imperatives of seduction. It must shine, it must pulse, and we must immediately understand what it is: a parade. Seriousness, gravity must then be disguised to find their place in the landscape of increasingly bariolated human activities. At the same time, more austere or complex proposals are inevitably rejected because they are less charming.

Should we accept this state of affairs? How can we pervert this logic that extends its hold on our lives? This reign of seduction seems to be partly explained by the structural characteristics of current capitalism and in particular its digital dimension. In an era where everything, including individuals, must be reduced to information, fluidity and immediacy are sovereign values to encourage production, which is the true logic that dominates our existence today. The role of seduction is thus to facilitate and accelerate circulation, which in turn leads to the development of production.

Seduction encourages consumption, which is nothing other than production again: production of production. It allows us to constantly create desires, to make us forget what was in fashion a few months ago. Seduction produces, quickly and in large quantities. It is desire in just-in-time flows. But it also tends to create neurosis. The production of desire is often accompanied by the production of frustration. Finally, it leads us astray. In the service of production, it diverts from other objectives such as survival, knowledge or simply happiness.

It’s what you might call the reign of lifestyle, which sometimes gives me the impression of building my life around the image I want to give of myself and not what I really want it to be. The era of “fake it until you make it”, or rather of “fake it until you believe it”: you seduce yourself, until you believe in your own mirages. The reality becomes blurred, the simulacrum takes precedence over what it was trying to imitate. Land of illusions, life is nothing more than a succession of pirouettes and feints to avoid facing the truth that we prudently hide at the bottom of the well. Selfies and cameras have replaced mirrors, and the mediation of our images through their digital paths allows all kinds of measures that blur the clarity of our reflections.

This is related to the question of style. Because style as conceived by the creative being, in this era where everyone is the “ artist “ of his own life and producer of his self, whether real or virtual, is not only the image of himself that the being offers to the world. It is, in fact, the only way in which the being can succeed in erecting Himself within himself. It is an act whose ethical dimension is obvious when we realize how central it is in today’s life: how to dress, what to eat, what to devote oneself to, all this through stylistic questions refers to dilemmas where the sirens of desire, external, and the ethical inner values that we try to impose on ourselves confront each other12. Faced with the confusion of our times, we feel that we have to find our own way, to cut through the mist. It is therefore not simply choices of taste or mood, but the construction of a stylistic ensemble that we decide to embody in our singularity as individuals.

In the previous paragraph, I mischievously used the word “erected” when talking about style, because the etymology of this word, the Greek stylos, means column and it is always fun to go back to the Greeks once in a while. Moreover, it allows me to evoke the character of the “ stylite “, a solitary figure who stands at the top of a column. The most famous of them, Simeon the Stylite, a shepherd’ s son who lived all his life in the asceticism and austerity of radical faith, spent thirty-nine years on his column, a penance to which he submitted himself until his death in 459 AD. He inspired many imitators and the figure of the stylite, an ascetic perched on his column, would last throughout the Byzantine Empire.

The anchorite - the one who withdrew from the world - was not alone. Pilgrims and spectators visited him, and could even climb a ladder to meet him. He wrote letters and preached to his disciples to avoid swearing and usury, in that sense he was already a kind of anti-capitalist figure. Much like me, it was impossible for him to escape the world horizontally, so he tried to escape it vertically. Good old Simeon!

Thursday, August 21, 2019

“A recurring theme in our cultural imagery of gender is the privileged status of men to speak. The very term for the male sex organ, ‘testis’, is linked etymologically to the root for ‘testimony’ and ‘testify’– bearing witness, reliably, truthfully, authoritatively, in the public realm, about events in the world. Thus, the concepts of maleness and witnessing are linked in the very language we use: in the deep logic of our lexical system, to be a ‘real’ witness one must, quite literally, have balls.”

Lucie E. White, Subordination, Rhetorical Survival Skills, and Sunday Shoes: Notes on the Hearing of Mrs. G. (1990)

– The doctor: Number the child. Measure it, blood-type it and isolate it.
– The nurse: Okay, shows over.
– The mother: Is it a boy or a girl?
– The doctor: I think it’s a little early to start imposing roles on it, dont you?

Monty Pythons, Monty Python: The Meaning of Life (1983)

09:36 a.m.
I arrived in front of the tree about twenty minutes ago, carrying my gear for the next few nights I will be staying at Claire’s place. As a result, I first didn’t manage to climb with my too heavy bags: I left them on the ground and continued writing my song on my phone. But, taken by a burst of determination, and the desire to write in my notebook, I came down, and with the help of a skillful construction and a little grip, managed to get myself up with all my stuff. I feel a little guilty about writing this song, as it greatly compromises the work I was doing until then, once again letting my love stories invade the course of my tree adventures. Nevertheless, I tell myself that I will rarely have the opportunity to write love songs under a weeping willow tree on the banks of the Seine, so I might as well enjoy it. Like the young people of yesterday, who don’t seem to care about this world in crisis, I too aspire to a little lightness.

It’s another quiet morning. The saxophone is back, far away.

10:05 a.m.
A couple of lovers arrive, I discreetly climb to the top to leave them alone. When I look down, I see the lens of a man’s camera pointed at me. The man smiles and I go down to greet him but he leaves. He preferred a stolen picture to a meeting as a souvenir of that moment.

10:14 a.m.
A man with a tired gait walks around the tree, slowly, scanning the ground, picking up cigarette butts.

11:22 a.m.
A young girl arrived a few minutes ago, it looks like she’s waiting for someone. She stands with her phone in her hand, then out of boredom decides to take one or two pictures of the view. A boy arrives and the two greet each other clumsily, staying more than a meter apart. I understand then that this is a first date, that they had to plan via a site or a dating application. This is the first time that their bodies ever meet. The girl will have brought the boy here, to this place she likes. I decide to stop writing my song so I don’t miss this scene.

During this time, just under my branch a young girl poses for the pictures taken by her mother. She’s less than a meter from my feet, but she doesn’t notice me.

12:12 p.m.
A soon to be married couple in their wedding outfits, accompanied by their photographer, settles at the foot of the tree, for a few shots. A group of German tourists arrive, the men laugh at my presence. One of them mimics the act of shaking the tree as if to make me fall like a coconut. Out of weakness, I laugh grudgingly, and trouble myself with my own reaction so loaded with convention. I would have preferred to express a much more honest and faithful consternation to myself.

I tell myself that when I rewrite this booklet, I may have to remove all the nationalities and geographical origins that risk only reproducing clichés and dubious stereotypes. In this story, no actor should bear the weight of his origins. I had already made this decision about skin colours, so I might as well go all the way. Ultimately, why not extend this idea to gender?

1:08 p.m.
The date duo is still there. I guess things are going well between them. On my side I’m approaching a final version of my song. I wonder how long it would take me to memorize it.

1:19 p.m.
I went down a little lower to study the scene that still takes place at the tip of the quay. As it turns out, I don’t think the chemistry is fusional: their mutual body language is very measured, a little wimpy. They seem to be talking about a serious subject, debating like the good students in a high school class. The girl is a little pinched, her voice takes on acid tones. For a long time, she holds her phone in her hand and occasionally shows him the screen, which allows him to lean towards her while maintaining a decent distance.

Once the phone is bagged, the atmosphere seems more relaxed. The girl plays with her hair, she tells a long story that the boy listens politely. It’s a little boring to watch.

1:39 p.m.
When I go up to enjoy the sun at the top of the tree, I discover a zodiac of the police prefecture called “Cronos” approaching a small pleasure boat, just at the level of the Pont-Neuf. The police officers addressed the man at the helm of the boat. The zodiac is getting closer to the hull, the atmosphere seems tense. The police are escorting the ship, I have the impression that they want to stop it a little further down the docks. The scene exudes a real oppressive tension, while the driver of the zodiac plays with his big engine and turns around his prey to make it clear that there is no escape, that any hope of a breakout is in vain. They disappear in the distance. When I go down, I discover with horror that I missed the end of the date: the two young people have left, already replaced by three new couples who have arranged themselves in the curve at the end of the quay.

2:42 p.m.
A large family has settled under the tree for a picnic, the excitement is high when the tablecloth unfolds.

I think back to the idea of abolishing gender in my texts. I have the impression that this is a real challenge. The French language being strongly gendered, the question arises: is it a good idea to continue writing in French? Should it then be transformed, like is the case of inclusive writing, which still remains only a somewhat shaky adjustment? Or create a whole new language, careful not to reproduce the biases of the one you grew up with? It’s not an easy topic, but a good one to think about for the next few hours.

3:18 p.m.
I look down, a man lying down smiles at me. We greet each other. I notice that the father of the large family is watching me from the corner of his eye to make sure I won’t fall on his offspring, which would effectively ruin their idyllic picnic by the water’s edge.

3:30 p.m.
I started drawing the shadows of the leaves projected on my notebook, but the wind has risen and the exercise makes me dizzy. In any case, it refocuses me on the exquisite beauty of my host, and I wonder where I will find one as charming a tree for my next experience.

4:12 p.m.
I’m starting to pack my things to get down. A man is lying under the branch that I use as an exit, and I hesitate to disturb him.

It is a calm and reflective day that ends this Thursday. I wrote very little. I would like to take this opportunity to come back to the issue of inclusive writing. After talking about love and seduction, let us focus on the question of gender as it relates to our relationship to language.

In my previous text, I already mentioned the fact that the city is a gendered environment. I was then able to observe to what extent the gender divide is expressed in the way people appropriate public space. In the Anneessens district, the general rule was that men occupy the space while women only cross it13. Similarly, it was much easier for boys to come and meet me, to talk with me, while girls often kept a distance that severely limited our interactions.

Gender seems to be the most visible and sharpest division that distinguishes us between social beings. It is an area of tension, an important axis of the power mechanisms that govern our human relationships. It is even a field of academic research nowadays, and although it is strongly contested by some conservative groups, it is nevertheless commonly accepted that the abolition of gender inequalities is one of the major challenges facing our society today.

Yet these inequalities are everywhere, not only in the cities where we move, but also in our languages, in the way we express ourselves, not only with others but also with ourselves. Because our ideas are already formulated using language in our brain. Even before they are externalized, they arise in the form of thoughts that already suffer the impact of language as it has been influenced over the centuries by a patriarchal domination of our societies.

It is a bit like the idea of the novlangue, a concept born in the famous novel 198414 and which has since become part of everyday language. Manipulate language to manipulate the population. The principle is that the more you reduce the number of words in a language, thus reducing the field of concepts with which people can reason, the less these same people are able to think and therefore become easily manipulable. In Georges Orwell’s novel, this impoverishment of language makes it impossible to form subversive ideas or criticisms of the state, which can no longer even emerge in people’s minds at the thought stage. Any rebellion is smashed in its very potential.

In many ways, we can speak of a new language when we study capitalism or current forms of power. For example, the jargon used by advertising and sometimes repeated by its docile subjects, such as in the famous dystopic scene in the film Pierrot le Fou15, where at a party, the guests’ conversations can only be about repeating advertising slogans. And in fact, who has never as a child happily sang the air of an advertising slogan, thus unconsciously echoing the ideology of consumption?

Similarly, the imperialism of English, which is spreading to the point of establishing itself globally as the idiom of power, for the benefit of those whose mother tongue it is; and to develop in a lighter form, simplified despite the contributions of other languages, the “international english” practiced by the “non-natives” of the whole world, decried by the defenders of the Shakespeare language who wish to preserve its magnificence from the attacks of the contemporary world.

This is also the case when the term video surveillance is replaced by video protection, a subterfuge that conceals the intention of control by relying on the instrumentalization of the notion of security in political discourse. This principle of inversion obviously recalls the totalitarian state of 1984 and its ministry of love responsible for arresting, torturing and executing its opponents.

But then again, when the word “migrants” seizes the media space previously occupied by the one of “refugees” to speak about the same group of people, thus obscuring the political dimension of their condition of exile and reducing them to a simple flow to be administered. This is a point I wanted to make here because I think it is very important to make a proper distinction between these terms. For example, one could say that digital nomads are migrants, but the people who are parked in camps within our democratic states are mostly refugees as a result of our own (post-)colonial policies. The semantic imposture of confusing the two terms is therefore a political act with more than dubious intentions and yet conveyed by the media on all sides.

Emojis are also an interesting form of novlangue: by transcending the language barrier, they seem to offer to the global village a form of communication that is free, apart from a few missteps, from the imperialist stigmas of our national languages. However, they are also part of, or at least illustrate, a neoliberal phenomenon of standardization of sociability, where everyone expresses their feelings and affects using the same set of symbols, where they would previously have used language that may leave more room for invention or imagination. By erasing the vernacular richness of our modes of communication, it is thus a genuine tool for the statistical reduction of social reality, where the expression of our emotions must be reducible to information that can be analyzed and capitalized.

Language is therefore the normative tool par excellence, especially French given its bourgeois and elitist origins. In the aftermath of the French revolution, during the 19th century, a general policy of modern nations developed in Europe for which the teaching of the national language would constitute the cement of political and social unity16. That is why we do dictations in school; not to reflect on the meaning of the language or to develop a critical mind.

To return to gender inequalities, they are everywhere in French, whether in vocabulary, expressions or grammar. Hence the efforts made by a group of people who reflect and propose solutions to get out of this language that promotes and reproduces inequalities. Inclusive writing is the main manifestation of this dynamic, and raises a whole host of questions to which I have not yet really found answers.

Nevertheless, I want to try to understand from where my intuitive resistance to implement it in my writings comes from, especially in perspective of the enthusiasm of my feminist friends who already use it on a daily basis. Being a man, I would naturally be inclined to side with all those reactionaries whose comments can be read on the Internet, who fulminate and repel the idea of an expansion of this “abstruse and unpronounceable verbiage that characterizes the so-called “inclusive” phonemes”17.

Personally, with the idea of writing this text in inclusive writing, the concern that came to me was to cut myself off from part of my readership, those who would never have heard of inclusive writing and could be intimidated or even rejected by such grammatical fantasy. In fact, inclusive writing is sometimes criticized as an elitist, even discriminatory practice. However, it is easy to counter this type of argument, as any change requires an adjustment period during which the work of the Pathfinders is essential to initiate a transition.

It is important to understand language as something fluid, dynamic and constantly evolving. It is often said that it is the use that makes the language. However, we know that language can be used as an instrument. It is a contested territory whose borders are defined by power relations. Demasculinizing language is a legitimate project, which can only lead us to a more egalitarian world. A French language free from the wrongs of the past is absolutely what we should demand for our future, even if it is not an easily applicable solution in the present.

I do not therefore intend to propose here a fixed point of view on the issue, since the subject is complex and it is important to form one’s opinion by crossing points of view18. The only point I would like to make is that it is through a multitude of practices and experiments that we will move together towards a more inclusive society. In short, let’s be curious, open and optimistic!

Friday 22 August 2019

7:57 a.m.
I arrive this morning in a state near Ohio19. I only slept a few hours again, and I’ve been awake since four in the morning. Curiously, I don’t really feel tired, just a kind of slightly cottony softness and dull pains in all my limbs. I came by bike from my new home, Claire’s apartment in the 18th arrondissement. It was nice to cross through new neighborhoods. My head still in the clouds, I made another long detour that took me in a completely different direction. When I reread these sentences, I realize that I forget to write about one word out of six. Sure, what a strange state.

Today the tree has bloomed: a whole cloud of small bouquets of roses has sneaked among the branches. For a moment, I think it’s for me. Three young men settled at the end of the quay. I’m discreet, don’t announce myself. A strange roar attracts me, I climb to the top to discover what it is all about. It is a flat boat on which a man in green is busy passing the edges of the dock to the karsher. The boat is called “Anita Conti”, I wonder if it is a famous figure of cleanliness20. I turn to the other side, the island of the city in my back, and suddenly I am struck: the water is sublime, it looks like it undulates like a dance, its surface is almost oily.

8:22 a.m.
This morning, I had a conversation with Claire about the ZADs21 and the idea of growing vegetables among the privileged in the countryside. Looking back, I think it is essential that some people remain utopian in their ambitions, even if it means staying on the periphery. But it is also important that others remain at the centre, as close as possible to systemic issues and the current human condition, to be in a position of confrontation. In terms of privilege, it is even more rare to be in this case, thus making the responsibility all the more heavy. I never meet people like me, who miraculously go through the years and resist assimilation, while remaining at the heart of an increasingly alienated social fabric. That being said, let’s not kid ourselves: by writing in my little notebook, in this good old French language, I’m really no more changing the world than a ZAD philosopher. At best, I could still maintain the illusion of the sovereign artist, the cursed genius, the man who produces a singular work because he has plunged himself into his creation alone. This driving force, oh how stupid to want to remain in history, to leave a mark on my time, is something I hope to get rid of one day, a moment that will likely mark the dawn of my youth.

8:55 a.m.
Three young girls came to settle at the end of the platform, followed by another girl who came to talk to me. We greet each other and I explain a little bit to her what I’m doing here, she’s very moved and can’t find the words to express what she feels. She explains that she works for a shooting that will take place here in a moment, that she has never seen this before but that she will ask if it is okay for me to stay here. She comes back a few minutes later and tells me there is no problem. She keeps asking me questions, explains that it is a film by Maïwenn, a director whose existence I vaguely heard. She tells me she would like to film me, asks me if I have ever acted in a movie. At that moment, one of her colleagues arrives with documents in his hands and she leaves while apologizing.

9:20 a.m.
I receive the visit of the whole team, amazed. They’ll come back to see me later. They are very kind, and ask if they bother me. On the contrary, I’m amused by all the excitement.

9:54 a.m.
The man of vision appears at the foot of the tree, I see him taking a look in the air in search for my presence. Delighted to see him again, I go down to get closer to him. He reveals his first name to me: Noël. He works on the stars of the Pont-Neuf. These days he’s at the bar, before he was at the helm - he’s a joker. He offers me to drop by for coffee on occasion. We talk for a few moments, he puts his hand on the tree in the same way as last time. He goes back and I go up a little higher to watch the shooting. It’s funny because the people around the tree are all extras, fake tourists with frozen expressions who have taken the place of the real tourists who usually surround me. The filming out of my field of vision, I find myself immersed in a kind of “Truman Show” in my honour.

10:42 a.m.
At the edge of the quay, filming continues. Thanks to it, the morning is particularly quiet here, under the tree, the onlookers being pushed beyond the shooting area. I wonder when Agathe will come to visit me.

10:57 a.m.
The shooting is over, I think everyone’s gone. I was still hoping to see the girl again, even if at no time did I have any illusions: these people are in a hurry. Moreover, I wouldn’t risk getting involved with an industry as driven by production as cinema, too corrupted by the amounts of money at stake.

12:01 p.m.
*I enjoy writing my imaginary interview. I’m playing the artist a little bit. Meanwhile, the diving firefighters explore the banks with fins and snorkels. I hardly pay any attention to them anymore, who surprised me so much the first time they appeared to me.

12:56 p.m.
A young girl extremely troubled by my presence looks up blankly. She may cross my eyes for long seconds, but she doesn’t answer my hello and considers me as if I were an animal of an exotic species. Just before I caught another girl taking a picture of me when I was posted a little higher up. She has now sat down, turning her back on me and continuing to take pictures of me with the “selfie” camera on her mobile phone. I see myself appearing directly on his screen. Is she too shy to talk to me, or does she also think I’m some kind of zoo beast? Or maybe it’s just flipping the relation of observation against me, to trap me in my own game?

1:14 p.m.
A very pretty woman has just sat on the steps below me, I can’t resist the temptation to write this frivolous remark in my notebook. Behind me, another woman takes a nap, lying on a large scarf. As she opens her eyes, I feel ashamed to be observing her and look away clumsily.

2:26 p.m.
I went back up after Agathe visited me. I also ran into Jacky, the man who asked me if I was smoking a joint in the tree the other day. He told me at length about his love for Belgium. He offers me a cigarette that I accept.

2:40 p.m.
Agathe went to read a little further. Behind the foliage wall a new photo session: the model reveals her chest and I can’t help but spy on the scene for a while. I kind of want to leave. A piece of bread, the end of a baguette floats in the Seine, attracting a crowd of small fish.

At the end of this day, I feel grateful that I was able one more day to continue my reflection on the world around me, this world that I take so much pleasure to scrutinize, to try to understand its challenges and its mechanisms. This is very clearly what brings me to this enterprise, and motivates me when I get up in the morning. I would therefore like to clarify here the notion of deconstruction that I have already mentioned before, a concept that is part of my everyday language without ever having tried to specify it in writing. Here, I will not talk about deconstruction in the sense that Derrida gave it, but rather about the more general one that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s and is now commonly used in cultural and activist circles.

Deconstruction is the idea that there are social constructions (sex, gender, race, class…), which have been built historically, and that we can deconstruct them to better understand them and perhaps shift them towards more conscious and well-chosen modes of sociability. Deconstruction therefore has an emancipatory dimension. It runs counter to an essentialist approach, in which things are what they are by nature, by essence, and therefore cannot be changed. On the contrary, a deconstructionist approach will suggest that these are social constructions, for example gendered relationships, and that they can be replaced by something more fair or more egalitarian. To deconstruct is therefore to reveal these constructions.

Deconstruction is a concept close to Spinoza with the idea that our choices are determined by the environment around us, but also to Foucault with the idea that truth is produced from power relations. It is therefore a question of deconstructing these truths in order to make better informed choices.

Deconstruction is an essential process for understanding how we interact with our contemporaries. Personally, deconstructing my masculinity and white privilege is probably the most important thing that gives me the impression of evolving as a social individual. However, here I would like to focus my attention on the notion of bourgeois privilege since it often seems to me to be put aside in deconstructionist circles, effectively nourished by the bourgeois epistemology that dominates universities, artistic circles and city centres in our major European cities, roughly speaking those who have a cultural capital that could be described as “bourgeois” in this part of the world.

These social groups in which I operate are made up of individuals who generally choose not to engage in a process of deconstruction of their bourgeois privileges, or do so in a superficial way. This is despite the fact that they have all the necessary cultural capital to undertake this process. This social group thus maintains the situations of privilege from which it benefits and reproduces the patriarchal patterns and imperialist policies on which its privileges have been built.

I am talking about a whole stratum of our society composed of individuals who are aware of the systemic inequalities they are complicit in, who have the critical thinking, analytical skills and access to information necessary to be fully aware of them. And who, if they choose not to educate themselves, not to act, in short to maintain themselves in the experience of an everyday intellectual and political disengagement, can only justify it by a reasoned choice. There is no “I did not know”: in these spheres, the local and global exploitation of modern forms of slavery, the complicity of our states in barbaric geo-political strategies, the corruption of the latter by the most aggressive forms of capitalism are perfectly known to everyone and, I insist, it is consciously that we decide to take part.

I point to these communities of which I am a part because I believe in our potential for action. I believe that it is possible to move the lines by directly confronting the imbalances of the world capitalist system in order to challenge it. This requires radical changes, which call into question the comfort of our daily lives and the efforts required to live in society. It would be indecent to continue to live as we do, there is no excuse not to recognize it and act, at any age and at any level of privilege.

Every day we spend awake to act without revolt within this system is an act of complicity with the hegemony of a military-industrial complex with a growing influence on the formation of minds, the production of subjectivity. A majority of the European population is conditioned not to be affected by these problems that go beyond them. These questions have no place in their daily lives. Literally, it does not affect them. They don’t wake up in the middle of the night thinking, I’m guilty. And yet, there is no excuse for not acting. There is no excuse not to devote our free time to educating ourselves, to reasoning alone and in groups for the abolition of our privileges, to the rebalancing of resources, to the despondency of world capitalism. Our inaction makes us accomplices every day in an ecological disaster, monstrous suffering and countless massacres. In short: we are barbarians, and there is no better word for the bourgeois who indulge in the lifestyle of today’s Western society.

So we can debate the usefulness of upholding a form of guilt that may be more likely to freeze than to stimulate the impetus for change. Once again, it is easy for me to give in to criticism or even inept moralization rather than to act and to work out ways to escape the status quo. I don’t really have much concrete proposals to make things better. At least I feel like I’m looking for a direction and not letting myself be too formatted. Illusion?

Samedi 23 Aout 2019

“So how is it that power then enters and interpellates and captures the subject to be a subject of neoliberalism? That I find, like, the most amazing moment for me is the moment in which the subject is interpellated by technology and turns the cellphone as a camera away from the world and into him or herself. That 180 degrees turn of the camera is the moment in which the subject himself polices himself aesthetically. So that the camera that looks at the subject and turns him not into a self but into a selfie, a little selfie, is the most horrendous capturing of subjectivity. Because at that moment you said the most important subject that exists in the world is me, which is exactly what neoliberalism says: there is no society, there’s no world, there’s only you. But, pay attention that in being only you you’re all by yourself. No one is going to help you. You have to be the self-entrepreneur of a project called your life, and in order for you to create this project in a very successful way you better fall into the aesthetic terms of the agreement. In other words you have to know how to smile, how to perform yourself for the camera, put yourself into the stream and create this endless streams of selfies and that, the word selfie it’s like, for me it reminds me when Deleuze in his interview with Tony Negri about control societies, ‘Control and Becoming’ that’s the title, I think it’s 1990. So they’re having a conversation and Deleuze says like, he says something amazing, something like ‘I think we gonna miss disciplinary societies. Because at least in disciplinary societies when the eye of power is not looking at you you could just be in your corner and doing whatever. In control societies, that’s when power is completely internalized molecularly and there is no place left that is not under control […]”

André Lepecki, extract from the podcast SON[I]A #248 (2017)

8:53 a.m.
After having written a few emails from my botanical office, I can finally start my observation day.

A man enters, one of those who every morning scans the ground in search of treasures abandoned by the night’s partygoers. In the Seine floats a rose, further on a bottle of wine whose mouth protrudes from the water.

9:21 a.m.
An American couple arrives for a little picnic far from improvised. They carefully set up their tablecloth, then place a croissant, a raisin pastry and an apple on a pretty plate, all accompanied by a small bottle of juice. The whole thing seems to have been planned long in advance. The couple is ecstatic about their creation: they make large gestures, take pictures of the scene in a variety of framings. Finally, the man takes out of his bag a large plastic water bottle, deliberately excluded from the photographic composition. They start having breakfast.

As they didn’t notice me, I decide to turn my back on them, so they can understand that I’m not here to spy on them. Too late: right at that moment, I cross the man’s gaze. I have just potentially ruined hours of preparation for everything to be perfect. Not being part of his plan, I worry that my presence will disturb him to the greatest extent.

9:36 a.m.
I take a quick look down: the girl at the picnic is on her phone, while the man bites into the apple with an absent look. I tell myself that despite their efforts, these people really don’t understand romance.

9:44 a.m.
I wonder when I will be able to consider myself an expert in this practice of being perched. Maybe when I’ve spent a year in the trees? At the end of this session, it will already be five weeks. Ten times that and we’re there!

9:54 a.m.
I go down as close as I can to them and greet the picnic lovers. They don’t seem too embarrassed, or they pretend well, and the man simply tells me in an honest voice: “it’s a good spot” by pointing upwards. Reassured, I go up and find myself a branch further away. I wish I had sunscreen, I’d like to be up at the top but the sun hits hard with its rays.

10:21 a.m.
The same song as Wednesday comes from the bateau-mouche that drifts behind my back. This time I feel the boredom of the person behind the voice. Same refrain, monotony and platitude, this woman paid to disillusion what is undoubtedly her passion, singing.

11:23 a.m.
The tourists continue to parade under my legs, pouring out their usual nonsense with the consistency that characterizes them. At least the tourist is today almost a universal figure, because although most of the members of our contemporary civilization are punctually tourists themselves, it would be immediately possible for these same people to visualize the stupidity that I am evoking here. All in all, we’re all someone else’s jerk or someone else’s tourist, and also the one of ourselves.

11:58 a.m.
A woman sitting on the steps below is busy choosing the filter she will apply to her selfie. She must have discovered me because a few minutes later, I see her composing her instagram story by writing the text superimposed on a new picture of her where I appear in the background. Neither discretion nor embarrassment seem to affect her, as it is unlikely that she does not know that I am observing the scene. I wonder if she has any idea what image rights are. In terms of civility, it’s probably a thing of the past.

Another woman then arrives smiling: she tells me that she saw me from the bridge across the street, and that she wanted to come and see how I had climbed there. I’m glad she came to talk to me unlike all those people locked in their fear of the other.

12:30 p.m.
Two new tourists discover my presence and decide to take a picture of themselves by including me in the background, as usual. Playful, I ask them if they’d like to send me the picture. I suddenly find them embarrassed. They who had such a good time playing with my image a moment ago, suddenly realize that they are not at all ready for me to do the same with theirs. They ask me if I want to give them my phone so they can take a picture of me, but I tell them it’s more fun if they send me the one they’ve already taken. Trapped, they stare at me ridiculously and then simply duck the situation, resuming their activities as if nothing had happened. The woman greets the boats that pass by the river, raises her glass of rosé wine for them, while the man sends my picture to all his friends. He shows the answers of the latter to his wife as they arrive. They are grossly hilarious.

At this point my hatred of human beings takes over and invades my thoughts. All these people who look without seeing, it’ s as if they are barely alive. They all look programmed in the same way.

12:28 p.m.
Three young girls arrive to have a picnic. Their arms are full of food, much more than enough to feed their flask bodies. The tablecloth unfolded, an avalanche of plastic containers falls to the ground, marking the obligatory step of the posed photograph. One of the two girls says to the one holding the smartphone in her hand, “don’t you want to ask him to take us?” without addressing me. It’s official, I’m really just a picturesque attraction now, not worthy of the respect one would accord to a human being. Or perhaps this respect is simply no longer relevant? I retreat to the heights, weighing the idea of staying there and cutting myself off from this nauseating civilization for good.

12:47 p.m.
I wonder when Agathe will arrive. I don’t want to hang around here any longer, I have everything I need to prepare for the next stage of my work. I have to go home.

12:56 p.m.
Finally, I get bored. I feel like it’s been a long time.

I think it is time, given this day I have just described to you, to focus on this subject, which is eminently essential to the understanding of our society, which is that of images, their place and our relationship to them.

In my life path, I have long been an image creator, it was even my job for a while. The function by which I defined myself, my involvement in the social. It was fortunate because a priori, I was not too bad at that game, having had good mentors and the chance to grow up in a stimulating environment. I was passionate about the stakes of communication, and the impact of images or the role of typography in conveying a message were at the core of my concerns.

If I have moved away from image production, it is first of all in order to move away from production at all, orienting myself towards the search for a form of critical distancing. It is also on the basis of a deeper intuition, that there are already too many images in this world and that it is not necessarily by adding a layer that we will be able to see more clearly.

At the very beginning of this text, I mentioned movement as a guiding line. That’s what it’s all about again here, in the way we interact with images. The flow of tourists passing by at the foot of my weeping willow tree is tangled up in the flow of images that pass through the networks, in this neoliberal radicalization of the concept of culture as a commodity, where each of our actions is integrated into the constitution of a capital, cultural and symbolic.

It is a logic that we integrate, to the point of forgetting the other, the one that sneaks into the perfect frame of our narcissistic images, which are supposed to give us a status that differentiates us, establishing our value in a social scale. Circulation appears to be the central element in this economy, whose main characteristics are: fluidity, flexibility and reproducibility. It is the production of an identity, the construction of oneself thus becoming an obligatory commitment, that of being the self-entrepreneur of one’s life taken as a project subjected to the economic realities of our society.

This is where the “gender revolution”, however precious it may be, sometimes seems to me to be confused with the expansion of a neoliberal individualistic logic. Combined with the phenomenon of a “filtering bubble” characteristic of our current digital environments, this can lead to a kind of confinement where technology, under its air of bringing us closer, instead isolates us, in the very name of tolerance and diversity, widening the gap between social groups that are finding it more and more difficult to understand each other.

I grew up with the Internet. As I approach my thirties, I am part of a generation that is at the crossroads between a pre- and post-internet world. Basically, I have the impression that the older people do not understand anything about it and fall head first into the technical machinery that encloses them, while the younger ones sometimes indulge nihilistically in the disaster that is the Internet today, they who have not known the one where the utopia of a free zone, of an expression space freed from the hoops of capital, was still to be found. Nostalgia on my part, certainly, and illusion: the Internet since its creation has been built on a military architecture, as a tool of domination and control.

Today’s Internet has profoundly changed our relationship to images, I believe I have rarely kicked in such an open door. When I observe all these tourists building a perfectly normalized identity for themselves, repeating the same pattern over and over again, the same rituals, I sometimes find it difficult to imagine how humans will manage to overcome the challenges they face, collectively and not by each building their own little illusion of superiority, which is ultimately only the expression of submission to the established order.

It is urgent to imagine, together, other rituals that can challenge those in the system that appropriates our existence. In the quotation I use to introduce this part of my diary, André Lepecki is right to insist on the internalization of this social control exercised by the forces of power dominated by capitalist interests. This is a crucial point to grasp the loss of control and sovereignty of the human individual, short-circuited between the micro- and trans-individual, in the interplay between neuro-marketing and macro-economic mechanisms that unfolds and extends over our entire field of relationality. Thus, he concludes about the selfie: *“it’s your own hand that turns the camera towards you and says: I will participate in the selfie streams of selfies in the planetary condition of this horrible word: social media. Which is controlled both by national security agencies and Silicon Valley and Wall Street and the financial markets in order to extract from every single moment of your presence online more surplus value, more capital. That is horrendous.” Unfortunately, I can only agree with this conclusion.

Sunday, August 24, 2019

“[…] there are plenty of other proofs which will show that motion is the source of what is called being and becoming, and inactivity of not-being and destruction; for fire and warmth, which are supposed to be the parent and guardian of all other things, are born of movement and friction, which is a kind of motion; is not this the origin of fire?”

Socrates in the Theaetetus by Platon (360 BC), translated by Benjamin Jowett

“Forced movement always comes from on high, from a transcendence which gives it an end, from a ‘mediation’ of abstract thought which appoints its trajec­tory and which always recomposes it with straight lines even before having undertaken the movement; it does not make claims for a supposedly universal Reason without entering at the same time into a disaster which affects the universe, until we start all over again, just as abstractly, just as fatally. It is the contrary of natural movement, which is only com­posed of singularities and only accumulates neighborhoods, deploying itself in a space which it creates commensurate to its detours or its inflections, proceeding by connections which are never preestablished, going from the collective to the individual and inversely, from the interior to the exte­rior and inversely, from the voluntary to the involuntary and inversely. Exploration of neighborhoods, emission of singularities, decision, these are all the act of reason. If reason can be considered a natural faculty, it is precisely as process only insofar as it finds itself in ‘movements that are completely singular, produced by entangled trajectories’, con­structing a ‘voluminous space which arises, advances, folds back on itself, spreads itself out, annihilates itself, weakens, explodes’ (Chronique des idées perdues, p. 237).”

Gilles Deleuze, Pericles and Verdi: The Philosophy of François Châtelet (1988), translated by Joseph Hughes

8:30 a.m.
I arrived around eight o’clock. For the first time, a man slept under the branches of the tree. Sleeping on pieces of cardboard, next to him are an open bag of chips and a bottle of water. He sleeps all dressed up, with his shoes on. I climb up the tree as quietly as possible, and settle a little higher up. Some time later, the man gets up, and I watch him walk mechanically towards the city.

8:42 a.m.
A man, the same as in the past few days, walks around the tree scrutinizing the ground. If I come back here, I’ll talk to him. A week is too short to create real relationships.

9:00 a.m.
A photographer calmly comes to take a few shots. I wonder if he is a real photographer or a simple tourist - what if the tourists had big cameras precisely so not to be perceived as tourists? I take this opportunity to ask him to send me the little pack of mirabelles that slipped down a few minutes ago. I offer him one, but he refuses. Mm, they’re delicious, though.

I think of the tree and its yellowing leaves, and tell myself that eventually I could follow the seasons like that, migrating to always find myself where the trees are alive. I would still have to find times elsewhere to enjoy the beauty of winter. Thus my way of life as a storyteller would be similar to that of a hunter-gatherer, freeing me from the alienation specific to mankind since agriculture, that of being attached to a territory that becomes the scene of so many power games and violence.

Yes, the text I will write at the end of this session will deal with movement, whether it is that of tourists or nomads. And the fantasy of finding, guided by nature, a semblance of freedom lost by the one chained to his position of life or work. For imagine that all humanity would move together every year from one pole of the earth to another, following the sun and plant life, would we not all be happier and more united? Once again, we return to the very foundation of capitalism in its most feudal form, property and with it borders, tolls, and undoubtedly also the fear of the other.

For a while, I keep dreaming that with a little organization and sharing of tasks, all of humanity could be on vacation almost all year round and frolicking happily while enjoying the wonders of nature. Oh, naivety; how sweet you are!

9:21 a.m.
A trio arrives with a bang, a young girl with a drawing board and a couple of relatively old people. The latter seem to have come to have their portrait drawn. The man is authoritarian although charismatic, and the choice of framing is the subject of a conversation that allows him to expose all the domination he exercises over his wife. The young girl, patient, moves her little stool while the couple reach to an agreement. The draughtswoman prepares her equipment, the lady sits at the water’s edge while the man stands up and consults his phone. Begins the sketch of the woman’s portrait. At the top, the sun is already strong. I’m going back to hide under the branches.

9:41 a.m.
I get the visit of Noël. I go a little further down to meet him. I’m really happy to see him as with a friend. He explains that he is finishing his season and that he will soon be going back to Thailand. That’s where he lives, because he’s almost retired. He shares with me his interest in ecology, the aborigines, and tells me about his Kanak friends. He advises me to read Castaneda22, and offers me again to come and have a coffee. I explain to him that I am expected at noon, but that it will be a pleasure another time. I’ll still come by to see him before I leave. I reveal to him that his little sentence from the first day guided me all week, that it was the trigger for a central theme of my stay here.

9:57 a.m.
A woman sat at the tip of the island, in the position of the fetus. She’s meditating. A photographer approaches, unfolds his tripod. This is the first time I’ve ever seen anyone apply themselves like this. I can’t help but think he looks lonely. When he notices me, we start the conversation. Xavier tells me about the G7, about ecology. He is very friendly. He explains that he has lived in France for a long time, that he is a guide for Chinese tourists. He appears to be very cultured and exudes precious elegance. He tells me that he prepared for three days the visit of the Picasso Museum for a group of Chinese children. How to explain Picasso to children? He explains to me that some works are problematic because they were made in brothels. I joke and tell him that deep down, all children are cubists.

The woman who was meditating on the ground gets up and leaves without a word. I notice what is written on her t-shirt: “Spiritual Gangster”. I look behind my back – it’s now the man who is posing for the young artist from earlier. I wonder why they didn’t pose together, instead of living separately that moment.

10:46 a.m.
The diving firefighters continue their underwater tour of the banks of the Seine. Earlier Xavier explained to me that many findings have been fished out in recent days, scooters but also rusty and twisted carts and bicycles, which make him think of sculptures.

11:14 a.m.
Down from the tree, I sit by the water for a while. I’m going to check on Noël before I leave. When I arrive on the boat, I discover him locked in a kind of cage, busy selling expensive refreshments to tourists who come to him with the same sympathy as one could show towards a vending machine with excessive prices. We talk for a few moments, he hands me his card before I even give him the piece of paper on which I wrote my contact details. He gives me another gift: a medal from the star of the Pont Neuf, whose visual he draws himself. He proudly declares to me that this object increases in value by 10% each year. I wonder what that means. He offers me a bottle of water, I tell him I don’t need anything. He talks to me about plants, he has a friend in Thailand who has large lots and wants to open a botanical garden. Finally, we shake hands and I leave, leaving him to his hurried tourists.

I go back to the tree and talk for a moment with the young artist who is still busy methodically drawing the leaves of the tree. On paper, the couple is reunited as if they had posed one alongside the other at the foot of the tree. The composition presents a superficial perspective that gives a slightly kitschy feel to the whole. I approach my tree and hug it for a while. It’s time to go.

11:47 a.m.
I am sitting on the steps of the church at Saint-Paul. I stopped to drink at a public fountain. I notice a street vendor looking at me from the corner of his eye. He probably recognizes me from the scene I made before his eyes this morning: stopping at the same fountain, eccentric bare-chested sweating under my multicolored robe, I inadvertently dropped like dominos a whole row of electric scooters in a strangely exhilarating crash, although I was a little embarrassed to leave all that mess there. I tell myself that this man is like me: all day long he observes urban life, its little scenes, its repetitive rhythms, the passing seasons. He simply does not write about them. He probably doesn’t choose either where he settles, forced to stay where it is possible, where his business allows him to live, just like Noël who sells water bottles to tourists in his small floating box.

I observe the flows that surround me and meditate on all these movements. People run in all directions, but the machine that guides their steps is rarely at their service. The movement, if it is rationalized, cut, imposed, is the source and accomplice of the greatest sadness of our time. But if it is a dance, something that bears it is very different: that’s what we need, not to remain still, and especially not to let ourselves be dictated our directions. Detours and impulses, that’s what we must try to inject into the all too often predefined path of a life. As I finish this sentence, the doors of the church open, it is the end of the Mass. The dramatic singing of the organ resonates with my thoughts. A crowd escapes from the church, and I watch the believers resume their day’s journey, following their foreordained path.

What can I say at the end of this week spent in the tree? That it is undoubtedly difficult to cover so many topics in such a modest literary proposal. The construction of the self in today’s world, this is broad, there are really many things to say. I would have liked to have developed some of my arguments further, such as degrowth, the abolition of gender or the relationship between knowledge and power. Similarly, what I didn’t really talk about, but only mentioned, is the process of assimilation, which is central to my self-extraction process, of getting out of the reality shared on the ground between humans, in this withdrawal to the heights during my urban journeys.

If I thus perch myself like a mischievous wild bird, it is perhaps to mock the capture forces of the big capital, and to show my fellow men that it is still possible to do so. It is the naive promise that as long as I am in the tree, there will still be hope. For all? I’m not sure about that. I do not believe that I myself have reached the open-mindedness that I defend, that of being driven by the desire to impose an internationalist and intersectional vision of the world, without even mentioning an exit from anthropocentrism yet. I don’t have this emphatic power, years of individualistic formation of my mind won’t just disappear in an instant. Sometimes I still look without seeing, I can feel it. Only the door is ajar, and I must now maintain the effort to push it towards the unknown, disconcerting.

As an epilogue, I would like to share with you the lyrics of my song, to conclude on a poetic note this stay on the banks of the Seine. It is an intimate object, but it transcends the scope of my experience by evoking the question of polyamour which has been pursuing me during this week. Transposing the codes of the love song into a reality freed from the normative model of the couple is to establish a space of transition to a more open world, an ambition that has brought me here and will continue to carry me, as long as there are trees to climb and love to share. Thank you for reading me.

Ritournelle du Saule Pleureur (Weeping Willow Ritornello)

Au bord de la Seine, (On the banks of the Seine,)
je te compose cet air là (I’ll compose this tune for you.)
Cette ritournelle, (This ritornello,)
oh ma sirène, elle est pour toi (Oh, my siren, it is for you.)

Toi, ma douce reine, (You, my sweet queen,)
quand je te sens tout près de moi (when I feel you so close to me)
Moi, qui suis si frêle, (I, who am so frail,)
oui je me sens devenir roi (Yes, I feel like I’m becoming king.)

Chaque jour qui se lève (Every day that rises)
le soleil brille, oui quelle joie ! (the sun is shining, yes, what a joy!)
Quel bonheur d’être en chair, (What a delight to be in the flesh,)
De me blottir tout contre toi (To snuggle up right against you)

[ chorus: ]
Toi qui me malmène, (You who mistreats me,)
je ne peux plus vivre sans toi (I can’t live without you anymore.)
Oh, ma douce belle, (Oh, my sweet beauty,)
Je t’en supplie, ne m’oublie pas (I beg you, don’t forget me)

La vie si cruelle, (Life so cruel,)
il fallut qu’il s’éloignât (he had to move away)
Ce n’est pas un problème, (It’s not a problem,)
murmura-t-elle, oui ça ira (she whispered, yes, it will be fine)

Par la vie qu’on mène, (By the way we live,)
il arrive qu’on ait pas le choix (it happens that we don’t have a choice)
Toi et moi on s’aime, (You and I love each other,)
ce n’est pas ça qui nous arrêtera (It’ s not going to stop us.)

Portés par l’ivresse (Driven by the drunkenness)
de leur tendresse, ces deux là (of their tenderness, these two)
Les amoureux traversent (The lovers traverse)
les temps durs sans baisser les bras (the hard times without giving up)

[ Chorus ]

La solitude (The solitude)
s’approfondît de mois en mois (deepened from month to month)
Et puis d’aventures, (And as time went by)
nous vécûmes d’autres émois (we experienced other stirs)

Mais, pas d’inquiétude (But, not to worry)
l’amour fait fi de ces choses là (love disregards these kinds of things)
Et comme d’habitude (And as usual)
nous nous retrouverons sous tes draps (we’ll find ourselves under your sheets.)

Entre nous tout est clair, (Everything is clear between us,)
pas de secrets, non surtout pas (no secrets, certainly not.)
Et comme il n’y a pas de mystère, (And since there is no mystery,)
tu sais que je ne m’en fais pas. (you know I don’t worry)

[ Chorus ]

Oui, mais à l’usure (Yes, but with the wear of time)
lorsque je suis si loin de toi, (when I’m so far away from you,)
je me sens si blême (I feel so ghastly)
quand je t’imagines dans ses bras (when I picture you in his arms)

On n’allait pas sur la lune (We were not going to the moon)
que l’homme était déjà comme ça (that man was already like that)
Fier, et sans mesure (Proud, and without measure)
toujours à faire son cinéma (always doing his little act)

Laisser ma prunelle, (To let the apple of my eye)
s’offrir à d’autres, ça ne va pas (offer herself to others, it’s not okay)
Moi, sur cette terre, (Me, on this earth)
aucun autre ne la touchera (no one else will touch her)

[ Chorus ]

Depuis l’époque romaine (Since Roman times)
la société marque sa loi (the society makes its law)
Un lui et une elle, un point c’est tout (A him and a her, period)
on ne discute pas (you don’t argue about that)

Pour ceux qui se prennent (For those who catch themselves)
au jeu de déconstruire tout ça (in the game of deconstructing all this)
Vite, on leur assène (Quickly, they are being told)
que c’est tabou, ça ne se fait pas (that it’s taboo, you can’ t do that)

Ça n’est pas si facile (It’s not that easy)
de délier tous ces schémas (to unbind all these schemas)
Il faudra s’unir pour (We will have to unite to)
révoquer le patriarcat (revoke the patriarchy)

[ Chorus ]

Une nuit d’ébène, (An ebony night,)
un soir où tu es loin de moi (on a evening when you’re far from me)
Triste comme une madeleine (Sad as a madeleine)
je plonge dans la paranoïa (I plunge into paranoia.)

Pris par l’amertume, (Taken by bitterness,)
je me mets à douter de moi (I start to doubt about myself.)
Perdu dans ma brume (Lost in my mist)
je pleure mais tu ne me vois pas (I cry but you don’t see me)

L’ombre de ma peine (The shadow of my sorrow)
ne doit pas ternir tes éclats (must not dull your sparkles)
Vis, et vis quand même (Live, and live anyway )
quand bien même je ne suis pas là (even when I’ m not here)

[ Chorus ]

Quand cette rengaine (When this tune)
te fait frémir d’émoi (makes you quiver with emotion)
Je sens que tu m’aimes (I feel that you love me)
que tu ne me quitteras pas (that you will not leave me)

Perdus dans les dunes, (Lost in the dunes,)
nous avancerons pas à pas (we will move forward step by step)
La vie n’en est pas moins belle, (Life is no less beautiful,)
elle est juste faite comme ça (It’s just made like that)

Toi qui me malmène, (You who mistreats me,)
je ne peux plus vivre sans toi (I can’t live without you anymore.)
Oh, ma douce belle, (Oh, my sweet beauty,)
promets moi juste, ne m’oublie pas (Just promise me, don’t forget me.)


  1. Paul Audi, discours sur la légitimation actuelle de l’artiste (2012), p. 58 ↩︎

  2. Spinoza, Ethique (EIVp70) ↩︎

  3. The full text from which I picked this translation can be found here↩︎

  4. “The second is the duration of 9 192 631 770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom.” BIPM Bureau International des Poids et Mesures, The International System of Units (SI) (2008), p. 113.
    On this subject, I recommend reading Baruch Gottlieb, Digital Materialism: Origins, Philosophies, Prospects (2018) ↩︎

  5. Plotin, “Du Beau intelligible”, Ennéades, V – 8. ↩︎

  6. Gilles Deleuze, L’image-temps (1985), p. 223 ↩︎

  7. Gilles Deleuze, Description de la femme, Pour une philosophie d’autrui sexuée (1945), p. 29 ↩︎

  8. Danièle Weiss, Évolution sociohistorique de la famille (2010) ↩︎

  9. Jon A. Sefcek, The Evolutionary Psychology of Human Mate Choice: How Ecology, Genes, Fertility, and Fashion Influence Mating Behavior (2006) ↩︎

  10. Demazeux Steeves, À quoi tient le succès de la psychologie évolutionniste ? (2014) ↩︎

  11. Irène Jonas, Psychologie évolutionniste, mixité et sexisme bienveillant (2010) ↩︎

  12. Paul Audi, Créer : Introduction à l’esth/éthique (2012), p. 131 ↩︎

  13. I would like to point out that this phenomenon can be found in most public spaces, I am not pointing the finger at the inhabitants of the working class district of Anneessens. On this subject, listen to the episode Des villes viriles of the podcast Les couilles sur la table (in french) ↩︎

  14. Georges Orwell, 1984 (1949) ↩︎

  15. Jean-Luc Godard, Pierrot le Fou (1965) ↩︎

  16. Jacques Leclerc, Histoire de la langue française ↩︎

  17. https: // ↩︎

  18. Some sources in bulk: https: //, ↩︎

  19. This is an expression taken from a french song to express a deep state of confusion. ↩︎

  20. In fact, she is the first French woman oceanographer, she was an explorer, a photographer and as early as the 1940s she became concerned about the environmental consequences of overexploitation of the oceans. What a class! ↩︎

  21. Zone à Défendre, expression used to refer to a militant occupation that is intended to physically blockade a development project. ↩︎

  22. If I have nicknamed Christmas the man of vision, it is as a tribute to Castaneda. To begin, I recommend reading The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (1968) ↩︎