What is this blog for?
The purpose of this blog is to comment on and discuss a wide range of issues under the very general heading of ‘English Language Teaching’.
Primarily, the plan is to focus on the day-to-day business of learning and teaching a second language, and especially English as a second or foreign language.
A secondary aim is to focus on English and/or second language learning as a business, as a commercial enterprise in other words. This will therefore involve consideration of the wider economic and social contexts which affect (or are in turn affected by) the learning of second languages in general, but the learning of English in particular.
– Also Manet:
By ‘Also Manet’ is meant the life, times, and above all, the work of the 19th century French painter Édouard Manet.
More generally, by ‘Also Manet’ is meant a much broader view of art, illustration and design. This might well encompass all that body of work which preceded the unveiling of Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) in 1863 and that which followed it – including popular and disposable artforms such as comics and graphic novels that only became widely available as a result of advances in printing technologies.
Despite being essentially wordless activities, I contend that the acquisition, learning and teaching of skills in the graphic and plastic arts make for a fruitful and interesting point of comparison with the teaching, learning and acquisition of second languages.
This is all very well but why is this blog?
At the time of writing (May 2015), WordPress alone already powers an estimated 60,000,000 blogs. On that basis, it would be more than reasonable to consider the idea of adding yet another one to be, to say the least, more than a little bit … de trop.
Regardless, the fact of knowing that one is but a single, fleeting instance of the species homo sapiens sapiens jostling cheek-by-jowl with close to 7.5 billion others (and rising) is not in itself a compelling enough reason to make an untimely and precipitous check out. For that matter, neither does it present a good enough reason not to want to ‘press’ yet one more single, fleeting instance of our species into being.
So then, with that in mind, the fact that there are at least 59,999,999 blogs already out there (at least 66.6% must surely be related to ELT) is not in any way a sufficient reason for not increasing that already voluminous mass by the value of 1.
Who are you?
I have been working in different areas of English Language Teaching for most of the last two decades, during which time I have taught, worked or studied in countries in Eurasia, the European Union, Latin America, South-East Asia and the UK (and more or less in that order).
I hold both the CELTA and DELTA teaching qualifications as well as a Master’s degree in Linguistics. I have also attended more than one training and professional development course in teaching English for (General) Academic Purposes.
I have worked in a wide variety of roles in ELT, including teacher, teacher trainer, Director of Studies, materials writer, ELT course researcher and developer and, in spite of my admittedly Devil-may-care approach to punctuation, an editor.
While in my daydreams I would love to think that this breadth of experience makes me something of a Renaissance man, I am in fact only too aware of the fact that I am very much a proverbial Jack-of-all-trades (but master of … ) – c’est la vie as they say.
Why is this blog called Salon de Refusés?
Another excellent question.
Salon de Refusés was the name of the alternative exhibition space, created in 1863 with the imprimatur of Emperor Napoleon III, to house the rather large number of art works which had that same year been rejected for exhibition by the official jury of the prestigious Salon de Paris. At that time, the Salon de Paris was the world’s premier exhibition of contemporary art (the Art Basel of the 19th century in other words).
While it is far from incorrect to translate Salon de Refusés as ‘The Exhibition of the Rejected’ or, as Wikipedia has it, ‘The Exhibition of Rejects’, these translations are somewhat unsatisfactory.
The reason for is not the quality of the translations, but because they are being read some 150+ years later by modern readers who have grown up in an era that exalts in youthful rebellion as exemplified in images of, say, James Dean and ‘Che’ Guevara, Tupac Shakur and The Sex Pistols, Pussy Riot and Thora Hird.
The name of this blog is, therefore, a source of potential misunderstanding – not just from the interlingual translation of French into English, but also from the intertemporal translation of the world of the 19th century into that of the 21st.
To clarify then, the sense in which the Salon de Refusés of this blog should be understood is the one that carries the more negative aspects of rejection: ambiguity, uncertainty, failure, anguish, self-doubt and crises of self-confidence.
In other words, Salon de Refusés here means the kind of emotional turbulence that typically attends risk-taking where the form and degree of any success that might result is both unknown and unknowable, but also where the knowledge of failure can be imagined all too vividly.
An example: Boime (1994) describes the reaction of the official jury of the Académie des Beaux-Arts to the creation of a Salon de Refusés – it was not a good one. The feelings of the academicians had not been made any better by the declaration of Emperor Napoleon III that the express purpose of the Salon de Refusés was to allow the general public to judge for themselves whether or not the works that were to go on display had been rejected with justification.
On a generous interpretation, I think it is entirely understandable that the academicians reacted in the way that they did. After all, this was a direct challenge to their expertise. Their decision-making was to be assessed by the public at large, a great mass of people who lacked the years of toil and training that the jury members had undergone in order to become legitimate experts in their field.
[T]he Surintendant des Beux-Arts, Nieuwerkerke, left the spurned artists the option of withdrawing their works from the Salon de Refusés … Over six hundred works were withdrawn … Nieuwerkerke exploited their fear of ridicule … by creating a risky situation for those who still aspired to official honors. The jury itself invited public derision and took pains to show what were considered the worst pictures in the most conspicuous places. The administration could thus appear liberal, while sustaining the aristocratic concept of the Salon by isolating the rejectees.
(Boime, 1994: 413-14)
As this clearly shows, the rejected – including Manet himself – did not revel in their rejection, or demand that Nieuwerkerke and the rest of the jury capitulate to the historical force of a new generation that was about to sweep them aside. No – they were wracked by self-doubt.
Perhaps then a more apt (even if less accurate) translation of Salon de Refusés might be the Exhibition of the Losers, the Exhibition of the Epic Fails or the Exhibition of the Art-tards.
The meaning of Salon de Refusés here is therefore far remote from the sense of a Reject as someone who not only expects but positively revels in the idea of Rejection as hard evidence of their claim to moral superiority and membership to a heroic and revolutionary avant-garde.
People who embrace Rejection can be an interesting bunch, not least because being ‘interesting’ is an assessment with which they themselves tend to agree. These are people for whom the future holds no terror because they are riding a wave of history toward ultimate triumph – this is literally their time.
If the failing of the Reactionary and Conservative mind is that it is one that lives in a vision of the past that never existed, the corollary of that is the Revolutionary and Progressive mind that lives in a vision of a future that is yet to appear.
Perhaps this is an explanation for why it so often seems to be the case that the most reactionary conservatives turn out to be the parents of the most ardent revolutionaries.
Simplistic ideas are bright and attractive, but what they gain in instant appeal they lose in depth and durability. It is a flame that burns very brightly, but only through being passed quickly from one hand to the next without giving much thought to the blackened and blistering hands of the previous torch bearer.
In 1851, when he was just 19 and still an art student, Manet was detained along with his friend, Antonin Proust (no relation to the more famous madeleine-scoffing scribbler Marcel), during a failed coup against the soon-to-be French Emperor Napoleon III.
The next day, December 3, released into silent streets, they watched the executions in front of the Hotel Salandrouze, and on the fourth, with members of [Manet’s art master] Couture’s class, they went to sketch the corpses laid out on the paths of the cemetery of Montmarte.
Archer Brombert (1996: 62-3)
Complexity, by etymology as well as by definition, does not appear instantaneously as if by magic, but only emerges across time.
Only in retrospect can a person’s future appear to have been pre-ordained by whichever external force du jour is considered to be the most efficacious: fire, gods/God, zeitgeist, the relentless march of history, the inevitability of Socialism, the fantasies of L. Ron Hubbard, & etc.
By contrast, the way the future appeared to Manet – and indeed all of the other artists of that only-later-to-beome seminal Salon de Refusés of 1863 – was a long way from certain as we have seen.
As noted above (and below – see caption), this is very much the sense in which Salon de Refusés is intended to be taken here.
Are you sure this blog’s primarily about the teaching of second languages (especially English)?
No doubt about it.
Observe, for example, the extent to which more formal registers of English make use of expressions borrowed wholesale from French – all of which have appeared in the foregoing:
- au pair – a young person (most usually from another country and almost exclusively a woman) who lives with a family and cares for their children.
- avant la lettre – the state of having been something before a word had been coined to describe it
- de trop – not wanted; unwelcome; superfluous
- jejune – dry and uninteresting
- c’est la vie – an expression of résignation about a state of affairs that one can do nothing about. The most common English translation of c’est la vie is ‘such is life’. These were the last words of Australian Ned Kelly before his execution.
- cause célèbre – a controversy
- avant-garde – the state of being progressive and experimental; of being ahead of the curve and an early adopter
- plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same’
- du jour – contemporary and highly popular but with a popularity that is short-lived
In a manner of speaking, these are all ‘English’ words and expressions in the sense that they form a very real part of certain kinds of discourse in English. They are not being used because no equivalent words exist in English, but because the ‘Frenchness’ of these expressions carries with it a pragmatic force that the denotative meaning simply cannot do.
At a time (2015) when interest in issues surrounding Globalisation and World Englishes (see e.g. Kirkpatrick, 2007 or Jenkins, 2009 amongst many, many others) are gaining more traction, it is worth remembering the seemingly obvious point that English is a Germanic language whose development has been significantly influenced by contact with and/or reverence for the dozens of other languages it has come into contact with throughout its history.
Boime, A. (1994) “The Cultural Politics of the Art Academy” The Eighteenth Century Vol. 35 (3)
Brombert, B. (1996) Edouard Manet. Boston: Little, Brown
Jenkins, J. (2009) World Englishes: A Resource Book For Students (Routledge English Language Introductions). Routledge
Kirkpatrick, A. (2007) World Englishes. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press