Interpretation of “La Confession” by Lhasa de Sela
For today’s entry I have picked another song by Lhasa. This one is in French: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rc8DP0YMa1w.
Below are the original lyrics, my translation of them, and some further thoughts on the underlying philosophical points I discern therein.
La confession Je n'ai pas peur de dire que je t'ai trahi Par pure paresse Par pure mélancolie Qu'entre toi et le Diable j'ai choisi le plus confortable Mais tout cela n'est pas pourquoi je me sens coupable Mon cher ami je n'ai pas peur de dire que tu me fais peur Avec ton espoir et ton grand sens de l'honneur Tu me donnes envie de tout détruire de t'arracher le beau sourire Et même ça n'est pas pourquoi je me sens coupable C'est ça le pire Je me sens coupable parce que j'ai l'habitude C'est la seule chose que je peux faire avec une certaine certitude C'est rassurant de penser que je suis sûre de ne pas me tromper quand il s'agit de la question de ma grande culpabilité Je n'ai pas peur de dire que j'ai triché J'ai mis les plus pures de mes pensées sur le marché J'ai envie laisser tomber toute cette idée de «vérité» je garderais pour me guider Plaisir et culpabilité
The confession I'm not afraid to say that I betrayed you Out of sheer boredom Out of sheer melancholy That between you and the Devil I picked the most comfortable Yet all of that is not why I feel guilty My dear friend I'm not afraid to say that you scare me With your hope and great sense of honour You make me want to destroy everything to tear off the beautiful smile And even that is not why I feel guilty That's the worst I feel guilty because I have the habit It's the only thing I can do with a certain certitude It is reassuring to think that I am certain to not be mistaken when it comes to the question of my great guilt I'm not afraid to say that I've cheated I missed the purest of my thoughts at the market I want to let go this whole idea of "truth" I've been keeping to guide me Pleasure and guilt
What is this confession about? Who is betrayed and what does the betrayal amount to? I think that without the final part of the song, we would have to surmise that this pertains to a private affair. Yet the allusion to the “truth” makes me believe that Lhasa sings about the person who defies the norms in their cultural milieu.
We can think of La confession as an open letter whose opening statement is “Dear society”. The person did not behave in accordance with some conventional wisdom and expresses their guilt about the fact. Though this guilt is not authentic. The poetic “I” has no regrets. The admission of culpability, this performance, is what the prevailing cultural norms expect of an agent who deviates from them. The “I” simply role-plays because that is what it has learnt to do in such circumstances.
The first person view of this confession is the irony of rejecting the given truths of society while still not having fully overcome the misplaced sense of duty one has; duty to conform with the rules; duty to perform the role imposed upon their person; duty to become what this impersonal “society” wants us to be.
You are a boy? You will grow up to be a real man! You are a girl? You must become a mother one day and make a family. Family? But, of course, the union between man and woman! What else? Society has lots of truths and if its infinite wisdom is never challenged, these turn into a superstructure that tolerates no genuine diversity.
Some “truths” are blunt, like gender roles. Others are more subtle, such as how your worth as a human is measured by the material possessions at your disposal. Don’t tell us about yourself. We don’t want to learn about your possible profundity through your words and deeds. No! Show us your status, your certificates, the proof of your qualifications. Otherwise you are a nobody.
Truths! Tokens exchanged at the marketplace.
The poetic “I” betrayed some conventions. In so doing, it realised that these are truths in name only. Their verity is contingent on circumstances and/or institutional arrangements: it does not stand on its own. We provide assent to such narratives through years of indoctrination, during which we learn which is “our” group, who fits in to it, and who the misfits are; the misfits whose tacit claim on the fact of diversity we stand ready to suppress.
It does not matter why the person did not conform with their role. It could be out of boredom, or depression, or chance. The point is that the “I” learns about the possibility of an alternative. As such, it finds a new friend in this newfound realisation; an amiable presence that gives hope and provides the impetus to walk down the path of uncertainty. The “I” shall free itself from the fetters of duty: the fetters are now theirs.
I mention “uncertainty” because rejecting established truths does not mean that we have replaced them with other truths. The renegade’s latent hubris is brought to bear when their propensity for self-righteousness turns into a cult of personality. It is prudent to not take oneself too seriously. It would be frivolous to claim that one’s truth is the truth. Rather, one has merely discovered that what is all too often taken for granted does not withstand scrutiny. What those truths purport to represent are nothing of the sort. Their pretences to sagacity are just that: pretences.
Does the aforementioned irony have a resolution? Will the escape from all the norms engender a better state of affairs? What does “better” even mean? One cannot know in advance. There are cases where it is necessary to make a leap of faith by trusting in our own devices. If it works for us, then that’s good enough. And if the hierarchs of this world admit that, whatever our state of knowledge, there remains the possibility of an unknown god, we will not be persecuted.
[ Read: On hierarchy, heterarchy, and taxis ]
In the absence of definitive truths, we expect from others to just let us be, our great “guilt” notwithstanding.