March 15, 2014

Saturday Mroning Essay: Jean-Paul Orders Cafe-Mais-Non-Lait

Brought to you by Santa Cruz Roasters Full City Blend...

Jean-Paul Sartre, working on a draft of his existential work, Being & Nothingness, is in a Parisian cafe.  The waiter asks him what he wants.

"I'll have coffee with no milk," Sartre answers.

"We don't have any milk," answers the waiter.  "Would you like it without cream?"

Sartre would get the joke (la blague), playing, as the joke does, with concepts of negation, the state of not being in terms of human expectation.  The milk and cream become casualties of phenomenology, something J-P studied in the works of Heidegger and Husserl while a prisoner of war in 1940-41.  He then became a screenwriter for Woody Allen:
"Based on an examination of the nature of phenomena, he describes the nature of two types of being, being-in-itself and being-for-itself. While being-in-itself is something that can only be approximated by human being, being-for-itself is the being of consciousness."
In this interpretation,  Simone de Beauvoir becomes Diane Keaton.  Frequently people have wondered whether her open marriage to Sartre made her happy; the short answer is that no one knows, but it never failed to get a laugh.

My cousin, the writer who lived his life in Santa Cruz, preferred Albert Camus to Jean-Paul.  In essence, Camus was less of a bullshitter and just liked horsing around, whereas Sartre was a hopeless smart ass.  Jean-Paul would have gone on for an hour about the milk and cream deal, while Albert would have spent the time checking out the ladies at the next table.  Chacun à son goût, n'est-ce pas?

Nevertheless, these French horndogs  provided a valuable philosophical bridge between ancient, traditional religiosity, and modern, what the fuck are we doing here? thinking.   WTFAWD thinking has now become the dominant paradigm, or is in the process of doing so, and it has even left behind the seminal tropes and themes of existentialism, with its authenticity baloney about a man being "engaged" in the historical struggles of his time and the rest of it.  Yeah, right.  Bo-r-r-ing.

In the age of Twitter, no one is going to sit at a table in a cafe along St Germain des Prés and scribble notes about phenomenology, but as mankind rose up from the obscurantism of God and the rest of it, it must have been thrilling to sketch out a new framework for human consciousness. Not to mention how such lines would have worked at a Parisian par-tay.  Particularly with a beret and a heavy cloud of Galois smoke swirling around your head.   

In the refrigerator, I have only half & half.  Philosophically, I'm stumped: what shall I not have my coffee with?