Thursday, July 08, 2010

Editorial: Coffee and Existentialism

Recently I tweeted a few messages using the hash tag #existentialism to add a certain poignancy and humor to my posts. Here are some examples:

MetroEspresso:Today: Working on a new post about espresso with and without crema concerning taste difference. Is it better w/o crema? #existentialism

I have come to a crossroads: French Press or Espresso. #existentialism

Does wine or coffee go better with classical music? #existentialism

This spur of the moment addition made me consider the connection between coffee and existentialism, if any. Many people have a passing awareness of Albert Camus, Jean Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir, the main people associated with existentialist thought. Existentialism's common perception is something similar to popular understandings of nihilism. Namely, life is meaningless and full of mundane, menial tasks. Think of Sysphus's task of pushing the boulder of the hill. (Though Camus considered Sysphus happy, but thats another argument) The "meaningless" interpretation stems from a superficial reading, and derives from Camus's earlier works specifically, The Stranger. Much of existentialist thought derives from iconoclast Friedrich Nietzsche. While existentialism is considered by many to be drab, depressing, nihilistic, and an overall "debby downer." Existentialists, especially Camus in his later works, extensively wrote about how to enjoy life and find meaning in an inherently meaningless world. Coming to the conclusion, that humans can project meaning or throw it upon the world they interact with.

A better way to understand Existentialism is through acting "authentically." What does that mean? Roughly, everyone is born into the world, thrown into existence. We have no say where we are born and it's conditions. After being born, humans can act in good faith or bad faith. Acting in good faith means that living freely and following their interests. Acting in bad faith, one is living unathentically such as conforming, not following your beliefs, or being in a state of some form of slavery. Life's struggle is to reach a life in which one acts in good faith to be authentic. For instance, people born into slavery have a harder life to act authentically than middle class Americans as there are many significant barriers to overcome.

How does this relate to coffee?

Coffee accompanies times of creativity and creation. During the early morning and late nights, a warm cup of coffee aids in artistic expression, i.e. meaning creation. When one hits a creative block, the 5-10 minutes to make a pot of coffee allows the mind to wander away from the project at hand. Allowing one to come back with a newer perspective. In short, coffee is a useful distraction to help people act in good faith. As a useful aid in helping one express their feelings through artistic outlets, it plays an important role. By artistic, I do not think so narrowly as merely painting, drawing, and writing, but more broadly. This may include creating a new device, pursuing one's dream of starting a business, volunteering, or vocalizing your support or dissent via political rallies. Coffee is a vehicle to help one think about one's values and beliefs, and how to act on them.

What do you think about coffee, existentialism, and creativity? Please post below! This my first foray into this topic, but it seems fruitful to begin a conversation here.

1 comment:

  1. This was a really enjoyable blog to read. I just thought I'd mention that coffee and cafes played a big role in the Americanization of Existentialism. I think a lot of people blindly jumped on the bandwagon without understanding the underlying principles of creating your own meaning while being authentic and ethical in your actions. American Existentialism seems to have been born in the coffee shop, like many other cultural movements.

    Unfortunately, it was steeped in Nihilism and a misunderstanding of the philosophy. I would consider Nihilism and Existentialism two distinct philosophies that are often mistaken for one another. That's why when people think of Existentialism, they often think of an anguished, cynical, black turtle neck wearing Nihilist, sipping on coffee and contemplating the meaninglessness of existence.

    Thanks for the interesting read!