ON THE LEFT BANK
After the second world war the cafes on the left bank of the Seine in Paris were at the centre of the new movement of existentialism which was soon to renew the philosophical life of Europe. What were those heady days of intense intellectual excitement, when this new way of thinking was coming to birth, like? Fortunately, we have the accounts of onlookers who were lucky enough to be there. This is how it was…..
Jean: Ah freedom! La liberte! What is freedom?
Pierre: Freedom? Ah freedom! There is no freedom in Paris
Jean: Non. Not in Paris. Paris is a cuff link
Pierre: A cuff link?
Jean: Oui. A cuff link
Pierre: Mais non. ‘ow can Paris be a cuff link?
Jean: That is my point. If I, moi, say that Paris is a cuff link then it is a cuff link. That is freedom
Pierre: But it is not a cuff link
Jean: No, it is not a cuff link. La, c’est la tragedie de l’homme
Pierre: If it were a cuff link then I too, moi aussi, would love it
Jean: Then we would be free. Ah Paris, cherie! My little chou chou. Come to me my pretty little cuff link. Ah, if only you were a cuff link, then we would be free
Pierre: But as it is it is degoutant. It is full of the facticity of what it is
Jean: Look at that wine glass. It revolts me. It is so disgustingly there
Pierre: That tablecloth over there. It is so inescapably a tablecloth. It is imprisoning me in its tableclothness. It makes me puke
Jean: Oui, mon ami. C’est la tragedie de vie. Nous sommes les prisonniers du facticite des choses
Pierre: Oui. Mais ici la grande ironie. Because we know that we are prisoners it is we and only we who are free
Jean: Oui. Nous memes seulement nous
Pierre: Only we can save l’humanite from its disgusting infatuation with the thinginess of things
Jean: Ah! L’humanite! How they disgust me
Pierre: Les gens. They are slaves to thisness. They do not know what freedom is
Jean: Ah freedom! It is freedom to get up at three o’clock in the afternoon and declare, in the full grandeur of the human condition, to the accompaniment of great orchestras playing, the violins soaring and the cymbals crashing and the drums thundering – this toothbrush is an elephant!
Pierre. Mais oui! That, that is freedom!
Jean: Mais les gens. How I hate people who get up early in the morning and get to work on time (prolonged vomiting noises). Slimy bourgeois ugh! The disgusting types who write thank you letters when they’ve been given Christmas presents (more vomiting). The even more disgusting types who give Christmas presents. (very prolonged vomiting noises) One should take what one wants. That toothbrush. Donnez moi. That woman. I will ‘ave ‘er
Pierre: How impossible it is to love them, les gens
Jean: Ah love! L’amour. Qu’est-ce que c’est, l’amour?
Pierre: L’amour! L’amour is to escape from the disgusting facticity of things. Love is to eat an ice cream with a squashed fly in it
Jean: Why is love eating an ice cream with a squashed fly in it?
Pierre: Why not?
Jean: Ah! Je comprends! The great why not of love!
Pierre: Ah! The great why not. In love I allow you to enter into my freedom. I triumph over facticity. I allow you to love me. I say to the woman, work, bitch, so that I can sit ‘ere drinking coffee. That is love. If you will not do it it is clear you do not love me. That is true love
Jean: Ah oui. That is true love. Mais les gens du tablecloth. They do not know what true love is
Pierre: Ah how I hate les gens with their muddy little souls. People who get up early in the morning and get to work on time (prolonged vomiting noises). People who expect you to remember their birthday ( more vomiting). Les gens who say good morning and thank you (very prolonged vomiting). Ugh! The viscosity of humanity!
Jean: They know nothing of truth
Pierre: Ah truth! La verite!
Jean: What is truth? C’est la question de Pilate
Pierre: Truth? Truth is to look through a keyhole at a young woman undressing and say Je suis hero
Jean: It is to say two and two make five
Pierre: Oui. To shout through the keyhole “Two and two make five you bitch”
Jean: Oui. Ca la, that is l’heroisme
Pierre: That. That is the grandeur of truth
Jean: It is only we who know truth
Pierre: Only we who know how disgusting is the facticity of the world
Jean: That sauce bottle over there. It’s making me sick
Pierre: It lives a half life
Jean: Mere existence
Pierre: It has no truth. It is a sauce bottle full of nothing
Jean: Except sauce
Pierre: Oui. Except sauce
Jean: Oui. It unexists
Pierre: Like les gens. How I hate l’humanite. Les types who get up early and get to work on time (prolonged vomiting). Who fill your wineglass first and ask you if you want any sauce before they help themselves (vomiting). Les gens du tablecloth (very prolonged vomiting). You viscous wearers of ties, you! Ah Paris! For me you are a cuff link!