Belated Non–Cliched Character
Belatedly, here's the exercise from two weeks ago. The task was to write a cliched character, without using cliches. My choice? French Philosopher.
The cafes are all gone.
The stairs fall under my creaking approach, and this is the thought I am summoned to – the cafes which were once, are now not. My lifetime was spent rationalising just such impossibilities, and yet again and again this fact stumps me – the cafes are all gone.
But I’ve spent too long dwelling where things are not, and before me now is a door, a door which swings open to reveal the type of bar the new generation meets in – or rather, the type of pub. I’m in England after all. “Pub” – a contraction of “public house” – a peculiar linguistic artefact hanging on long after it has lost any ability to capture the meaning of a place like this. I take pride in my knowledge of their foreign etymology; a little skill that is dwarfed next to my other achievements, but still indelibly a part of the big hazy “me”. I’m here to share my Philosophy with the lucky tyrones.
I believe that the cafes went to the Arabs. Arabic money backing French developers and (perhaps) an Italian architect, turning the south-bank café district into, what? Trendy residentials, desirable workplaces, “lasting commercial investment”. The warehouses and the granaries went too, and the docklands also, where my father and grandfather and some deep polluted stream of my forebears made things with their hands and tools.
What relationship do I stand in to this crowd of people? Each one a question mark. I’m unannounced and unknown. At the caf we were more than people. Jacques the poet, expounding his latest commercial disaster - Maudeline, whipping me with silence and the furtive promise of ash-tasting sex. Hazy glorious times which may never have been. Here we have the present, the indubitable present, and all I hold are unsatisfied existential statements; there exists some contact, who relates to me thus – we are to meet today, in order to discuss my paper for the colloquium tomorrow. Damn him.
I’m an oddity, a fact acknowledged by all but admitted hardly. One of the idiot Vienna circle stood where I am now, in this relation – intruding, enquiring, stupid and dumb, in a world which was not his own. Jacques lashed him, Paul promised him sex with bitter little whispers and of course did not deliver. I watched the bastard and loathed him, but now I miss those games of youth.
There’s a bar, a barman, a small gaggle of infants peeking at this methusela. I look, I believe, like some drawn out alcoholic. In a certain sense that is what I am, but not the important one. The glory of Philosophy is that midday absynthe binges can be written off as a working expense. I had a friend who knew a man who kept a shaggy dog that claimed back the tax on his alcohol problem. Or so he said; but he was an alcoholic too, and we’re hardly to be trusted.
Peculiarly close to Socrates, that’s how we stand. Corrupters of the youth. This gaggle seem so very child-like. Adult enough to wallow in their first existential crises, perhaps, but not wise enough yet to drink them away. This whole place has the aspect of a creche; the soft leather couches, blocky little tables, the pretend bar counter. My father would have suppressed a smirk at that sort of plastic joinery.
I find that I am increasingly reminding myself of the banal, to prevent myself from forgetting it. For example – what is required, on various levels, for me to purchase a drink, is;
I place myself in a physical relation of conversation with the man standing behind the bar
I enter into the conversation game of asking for a drink
I engage in the social practise of purchasing said drink
But you could probably collapse steps ii) and iii) together. And why these little lists? Because I am losing touch with it. One thousand fucks. Is it alcohol destroying my mind, or is it age? As a young man I would have put a bet down on it, lost, and refused to pay up. I am not acquainted with the answer; but this answer of all preys most heavily on my mind, and if I am denied it, what value is there in any other?
There was a time, a long time ago, when I could say “I am so close”. “I am so fucking close”. But I have been spinning away from that point for ever now. Here I stand, an infinite distance from the bar, asking a simulacra of a human for a lukewarm liquid, watching as my hand makes motions which could be interpreted as presenting him with money from behind the cataract veil of perception and hoping that when it lands on the counter, my body will not have dissolved into gas and I can clutch it, hold the tall smooth glass in my outstretched interaction and move it to my lips and drink.
The glass lands, and the beer is warm and flat.