Questions and Demands

Demander in French is to ask; it is the origin of the English verb to demand. To ask and to demand in English are not the same. In French they share  a word, again, the fore mentioned demander. What do we do when we demand something of someone, from someone? We know there is a way of asking someone for something or to do something or to give something that this someone feels is a demand. Our response, we know at times, is incredulous. I’m only asking, any one of us might say. You demanded, is the reply. Yet . . .

There is always a demand in every French question. To demand is an imposition in English; a demand is not simply a question to be answered, but a toll to be exacted, to be taken. We are very sensitive in America. In French, I assume that to ask is to demand, but to demand is also simply to ask. Who has the thicker skin? France is  not the United States as so many American bigots, braggarts, jingoists and jinglists never fail to remind us; I have found American anti-French bigotry to be more pronounced and less articulate than across the Franco-Anglo-American lake. My tongue is in my cheek, which is far better than having it up your ass as so many of my compatriots do when it comes to food, not speaking.

To answer in French is repondre, literally, ‘to lay again,’ a kind of re-putting or re-placing, that is, laying out the answer, or in this case, the demand or the question. Repondre is the origin of the English to respond. In English, the word answer and the word respond share a degree of synonymity, but no two words are ever completely synonymous, interchangeable in all contexts of usage. This is the case for the verbs to answer and to respond in English, where a response is not in itself an answer, but to answer is to respond, in a way. At least in French, one takes the responsibility to respond, which is, once again, to lay out the demands of the question asked. Yes, responsibility is answerability, to be answerable for the demands one faces is what responsibility is; we are answerable for what we say and what we do, all of them of necessity in the logic of our lives. Even doing nothing or saying nothing in face of our lives is a choice, is a decision, with consequences, thus the answerableness . . . no words, no deeds, are themselves rhetorical positions, thus political ones.

Of course, interroger is also a way to say ‘to ask.’ It is also the origin of the English to interrogate. Every one, we know, poses questions, but not all asking is interrogating; yet, virtually  all interrogating is demanding, although there are ways to demand that are not interrogating. Again, the French sense of demander. Every interrogator must demand otherwise it is not interrogation.

How to ask or not to ask is now the question. Whether it is nobler to respond responsibly when we answer the questions demanded of us, or instead, to avoid responding because we are unable to take responsibility for whatever demands are in question.

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