Monday, September 17, 2007

The Weakerthans' "Our Retired Explorer"

The Weakerthans
"Our Retired Explorer (Dines With Michel Foucault In Paris, 1961)"
From The Reconstruction Site


Just one more drink and then I should be on my way home. I'm not entirely sure what you're talking about. I've had a really nice time but my dogs need to be fed. I must say that in the right light you look like Shackleton. Comment allez-vous ce soir? Je suis comme ci comme-ca. Yes, a penguin taught me French back in Antarctica. Oh, I could show you the way shadows colonize snow, ice breaking up on the bay off the Lassiter coast, light failing over the pole as every longitude leads up to your frost bitten feet--Oh, you're very sweet! Thank you for the flowers and the book by Derrida but I must be getting back to dear Antarctica. Say, do you have a ship and a dozen able men that maybe you could lend me? Oh Antarctica!


Is this is fun and silly nonsense song, in which the main attraction is the fact that it uses Derrida's name to rhyme with Antarctica, and imagines Foucault having a conversation with a retired explorer? A song in which the explorer, possibly drunk, cannot understand Foucault's dense philosophy and wants to go home, or is trying to politely extricate himself from Foucault's romantic overtures, or both, and blames it on his lousy French? Is that last question aimed at a passerby, a funny, doomed attempt at an escape?

Or does this song have a point, however small and simple and cliched, to make about the philosophy of Derrida and Foucault? Something along the lines of "Give up the abstractions of philosophy books and appreciate the concrete beauty in the world, such as shadows on snow, ice breaking up on the bay, light at the pole)"? Is there something significant about the use of the word "colonize" -- Is the explorer casting his description in a metaphor that would appeal to the philosopher of power, Michel Foucault?

Or something else?

The video is very cute in spots, but it is a tad literal and unnecessary I think. I will take second opinions on it though.

Forgive me! -- I just did not feel like writing about a comic book today.


James said...

The answer to your question is: I do not know about philosophy and cannot answer the question! I love this song though; " look like Shackleton" is one of my favourite segues to a chorus ever. The lyric over the bridge is exquisite, as well.

Speaking of Canadian indie bands, I heard the new Stars album today - it is lush and resplendent.

Roger said...

right--it's cute but hardly more than that.

You should check out the opera on the afterlife of Walter Benjamin called _Shadowtime_: the lyrics are by Charles Bernstein (a NY poet and English professor) and the music by Brian Ferneyhough. AWESOME...

Björninn said...

I keep coming back to the year, 1961. Had this retired explorer known Shackleton back in the glory days, he would be pushing seventy come 1961, at the very least. He would be in no condition to go trotting off to Antartica again. Certainly not straight after a heavy Parisian meal and a heady bouquet of flowers.

In fact, Foucault's presents indicate an even later date, and an even older retiree. Derrida hardly published anything of substance before the early seventies, and by then our explorer should be thinking twice before accepting dinner invitations from strange, bald men.

But it's probably just a silly song about going mad and talking baby-french to penguins miles away from civilization, with a title referring to the original publication of Foucault's Madness and Civilization.

That's a nice thing to be, too.

Mikey said...

Heh. One of my favourite songs by one of my favourite bands.

I like to think of it as one of those 'unlikely friendship' scenarios. The slightly senile explorer (who may or may not have been rewarded for his years of travel with an academic post to live out his golden years), can never sit still in his office, due to his wandering spirit. While out walking he often bumps into Foucault, who is always alone, but can never remember Foucault's name and always talks to him at length. Tonight he may have just seen him at the restaurant alone and sat down and talked throughout Foucault's meal (this may not be the first time this has happened). He does not know who Foucault is, and why should he? He has met Shackleton. Foucault is somewhat irritated at his meal being interrupted by this character, who always attempts to speak French with him, but politely does his best, despite the fact that he senses the explorer never really listens. That said, he's really kind of the only friend Foucault has. The flowers are on the table of the restaurant, and the book by Derrida is Foucault's. The explorer takes them both.

(I'd never actually noticed the 'romantic' overtures' before - within the logic of the song it seemed entirely natural for Foucault to be giving this guy flowers.)