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Interpretation of “I arrive at the city” by Lhasa de Sela

For this philosophical interpretation, I have picked a French song by Lhasa de Sela, titled J’arrive à la ville: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prAQ8RROiVI.

Before I proceed with the commentary, I must remind the reader that these entries are misleading. Art is not reducible to reason. We can think in artistic terms, though we can also feel artistically. What I do here cannot capture the totality of the experience. In other words, you can enjoy the music and ignore the rest—I do it all the time.

Below are the original lyrics, my translation of them, and further comments. Also check my previous entries on Lhasa’s songs:

J'arrive à la ville

Moi aussi
Moi aussi
J'arrive à la ville
Pour y verser
ma vie
Je monte la rue
comme un géant
Ça c'est la ville
et ça
c'est ma vie

Moi aussi
Moi aussi
J'arrive en fuyant
Je suis encore
loin devant
Si la ville me cache
on ne me trouvera pas
Je ne sais pas qui
Je ne sais plus quoi

Moi aussi
Moi aussi
J'arrive les mains vides
Au sud du Nord
Au nord du Sud
J'ai un passé
Mais je ne m'en sers pas
Le futur sera mieux
Tellement mieux que ça

Moi aussi
Moi aussi
J'arrive à la ville
Pour y verser
ma vie
Je monte la rue
comme un géant
Ça c'est la ville
et ça
c'est ma vie
I arrive at the city

Me too
Me too
I arrive at the city
To pour in
my life
I scale the road
like a giant
This is the city
and this
is my life

Me too
Me too
I arrive elusively
I still am
Far ahead
If the city conceal me
they will not find me
I don't know who
I no longer know why

Me too
Me too
I arrive with empty hands
To the south of the North
To the north of the South
I have a past
But I don't serve it
The future will be better
Definitely better than this

Me too
Me too
I arrive at the city
To pour in
my life
I scale the road
like a giant
This is the city
And this
is my life

Historically, cities are the hotspots of experimentation, innovation, and cultural flourishing. The city has a scale that is larger than the individual’s particular milieu. As such, the life details of the person are abstracted away, as folks from different backgrounds develop communities based on shared interests. Citizens, in the literal sense, are free to make contributions to something that is greater than their own work; unrestricted from the backwardness of their relatives; emancipated from the inertia of their neighbourhood; unaffected by the indifference of their immediate colleagues.

By contrast, the village only allows for self-development. Whatever culture is limited to formulaic folklore three times a year. The person can withdraw from all the noise to contemplate on matters of principle and to remake their self accordingly. Nothing more. Self-development, however, is inherently limiting as the person does not get exposed to the diversity of experiences that citizens enjoy. As such, the mindful villager can spend a decade of being disregarded and belittled. To arrive at the city is, in this regard, an attempt to upgrade oneself. To use the years of self-development as the basis for magna opera yet-to-come.

One can spend their formative years in the countryside and local will still not know who the person is. It is not that the person does not want to elaborate on the specifics, but that the society has no thirst for such knowledge: it has found comfort in its mediocrity and will dismiss or actively undermine any attempt at upsetting the status quo.

Years on the fringes do affect one’s perception, hence the poetic first person’s uncertainty about the future. The desire to hide in the city is none other that the willingness to leave behind all those trivialities of the quotidian rural experience. This relative obscurity, the sense of privacy it engenders, the renewed impetus it offers, is at the heart of every noteworthy proposition. The person has the liberty to redefine their self or, anyhow, to express their potential in ways that their previous environment did not render possible.

The person is not arrogant, nor thinks that they will change the world, hence the cautiousness. Rather, there is a basic notion of justice at play, this idea of utilising resources effectively, of doing something with one’s talents. The future will be better if the city provides the right conditions for novel communities to prosper; communities who will tolerate among their ranks those individuals who simultaneously flee from their old fate while chasing their new one.

Moi aussi, j’arriverai à la ville.