Paris changes you. It changes you from inside out: you start looking at your life in a different way, you are thinking about your past with less regret, you are waiting for your future with more anticipation, you are living your present with more curiosity. You spend more time combing your hair and rubbing the lotion into your skin; you close your eyes and breathe in the smell of coffee and croissant. You are sleeping, eating, reflecting, speaking, loving and living – all with more rigor and enjoyment.
So often you are asked, “Did you enjoy this?” And the answer, almost automatically, comes out, “Sure, I did.” In fact, what you really mean is “I had fun.” As much as the word fun is shorter than the word enjoyment, the two are different in emotional connotations. Fun: it strikes you like a shot, it is intense but quick, and it comes and goes. You cannot stick to it, you cannot hold it. A moment ago you burst into laughter but it is over now. Enjoyment: it is continuity, it is a reflective process. You are trying it, you are looking at it from different perspectives, and you are carrying it with you. You are hearing the melody, closing your eyes and smiling – you are submerging yourself into the valley of enjoyment.
Paris is a town that can teach you to enjoy being here and now. Just like yoga teaches you how to concentrate on breathing, Paris teaches you to enjoy concentrating on perceiving enjoyment. It takes time to master the art. It is known if you want to be “on- the-go” in Paris, do not go to Paris restaurants but stop in one of its brasseries to grab a quick snack. You are confused and shocked when you are in a Paris restaurant for the first time. Why nobody jumps to you to take your order and then jumps back with your order to return a few minutes after that with drinks and appetizers. Don’t they value you as their customer? As a matter of fact they do, and that is the reason they want you not to feel rushed, but instead feel relaxed and focused on first anticipation and then slow tasting and rising enjoyment from their food and wine, and conversation with your companion if you have one.
In Paris, enjoyment-type-of-attitude seems to spread everywhere. It also is a good type of self-training: you have to arrange your life in a way to be able to perceive enjoyment from its objects. If you have a job to earn enough just to enjoy life after work and get interested in work just enough to perform your job functions well-enough for them not to let you go, you are never stressed out but stimulated to get it done to devote the rest of your time to yourself. You finally can lead and live your life wisely enough not to think about who is in the control of your life all the time. Sounds like a miracle, doesn’t it?
Be a little bit less serious but wiser and more playful towards reality, and you might be rewarded – you read this on the faces of Parisians. So this is their secret code! Or there is no code at all? It is like an old recipe of French hot chocolate: it is not what is written, it is how you read it.
So, to master the art of enjoyment you have to develop a new reading technique. How should you read to be able to perceive enjoyment? How should you read this “sacred text”, your passport to the world of enjoyment? Do you have to follow any particular strategy of a reader? What is your role as a reader? Do you have a role? And if you do, how much are you in charge of it?
Are you a person who would prefer to read a review on a book before starting to read the book? Or are you willing to be engaged in the direct literal game between a writer and yourself? If you answer “yes” to the second question, then you’d better be ready for this kind of game. Roland Barthes (1915-1980), a French literary critic, linguist, and philosopher, and one of the leading and most influential figures of the New Criticism, could guide you here. Start walking through the streets of Paris just like you would move from page to page of Barthes’ well-known essay “From Work to Text” (1971) in which he showed that ‘playing’ when applied to the intellectual process of reading rather than just consumption of the literary work must be understood at least in two ways. The reader plays the text as one plays a game and plays the text in the musical sense of the term: performing his special and unique role in it. He perceives “the pleasure of the text”. But this is only the very first stage.
Paris with its art of enjoyment changes your vision of life. You do not want to be its passive observer; you are not satisfied with this role any more. It transforms you and your intellectual creative abilities. You do not want to coexist with literature or to consume it; you want to recreate, co-produce the text you are reading and engaging with at the moment. You want creative collaboration with the author. You want an equal partnership. You have a lot of demands but even more obligations. You have to perform your active status of a co-producer of the text. Not only do you have to reestablish text composition in your mind, you have to identify and explore different codes that constitute the meaningful, communicative and symbolic spheres of the literary work. You do not want to follow the common sense conventions of the general public who are able to take pleasure only in consuming. Your task as an actively engaged reader is different: you want to be challenged by the writer, and you want to challenge him by your active presence in the text. He needs to know you won’t be satisfied with little; you want it all – complexity of style, concepts, details. You want more than experiencing pleasure from consuming reading; you want, using Barthes’ terminology, your experience be “blissful”. You are not the object but the subject of the text. What is your strategy of interpretation and decoding text? Following “blissful reading” strategy you cannot speak on the text, only in the text.
Let’s not forget the obvious: different types of literature require different goals for the readers. What Barthes identified as the “readerly” and “writerly” texts can be viewed as consuming, a mass-media- type of literature versus serious reader-engaging texts that are addressed to the active, participating in reestablishing, recreating, co-producing textual game type of a reader. (Let’s also mention just like there are different types of literature, there are different types of readers, and you do not have to be that creatively engaged reader if you feel like consuming for pleasure is all that you want.)
It takes time to realize if you want to be the part of the textual game. As much as Paris can change your vision of yourself, creatively ambiguous text that is open to different interpretations can alter your role as a reader.
What characteristics does such a type of literary text usually possess? To name a few: thematic and/or structural complexity, symbolically charged characters/images, semantic and aesthetic unpredictability and ambiguity, and openness to different levels of interpretations. What are the examples? Here are just a few remarkably good and familiar classic short stories illustrating this type of literature: “The Open Boat” (1897) by Stephen Crane, “Miss Brill” (1922) by Katherine Mansfield, “Sun” (1926) by D. H. Lawrence, “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” (1930) by Katherine Anne Porter.
Paris and Roland Barthes are linked by their playful intelligence. Barthes’ intellectually engaged reader is never a bookworm; you can picture him playing, smiling and observing. He is often ironical but never cynical. He is open to interpretational plurality, curious. He or she likes textual mazes and mosaic narrative structures. Just like Paris brings complex psychological enjoyment into your life, Barthes’ reader brings pleasure and creative depth into his interpretational strategy. Barthes’ reader always seeks the dialogue with the writer. They need one another, they look for one another, and finally, when they find one another, they become inseparable.
Paris of Roland Barthes teaches you to maintain your ability to see excitement in life without taking any drugs; your doping is inside you. It is how you see and perceive yourself, people, and objects around you. Are you wondering sometimes why your personal life seems to be not even half as exciting as you want it to be though you keep trying to change it every single day (with your spouse/partner and therapist together)? Barthes would tell you: you cannot plan excitement, you cannot schedule enjoyment, and you cannot buy happiness (even if some good fellows may tell you money can buy everything). But you can involve yourself in a game of text decoding that would give you the ability to look at life from a creative perspective. You would be on the road of seeking different signals and symbols – verbal, visual, auditory, gustatory – that would intrigue you, enchant you, and give you a strong impulse to your imagination, and the creative, playful part of yourself.
Roland Barthes’ reader is creative; he is always playing. He is a classic “homo ludens”. If he stops playing, he stops being alive. “Boredom” is a word that is not in his lexicon. Only creativity could show you the road to the world of enjoyment. It is interpretive creativity that maintains your curiosity and desire not to stop playing but go further and further, never stop, and just breathe, feel, and enjoy. Paris is a metaphor of enjoyment. Choose to be a creative reader and you can never be bored there or anywhere you go. You carry Parris with you; you cannot make without it anymore. You and the city are merging. That is a huge transformation.