Interpretation of “La Confession” by Lhasa de Sela

For today’s entry I have picked another song by Lhasa. This one is in French:

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
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
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
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
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.