Posted by: atarimonos | January 26, 2010


I’m a cafe frequenter. It’s not that I like coffee, I like to people watch. I may not like people per se, but when you watch persons engage with books, mugs, others, and baristas … well, it’s enjoyable. Obviously confused as a misanthrope, I enjoy the company of humanity … but only in doses, small small doses. Every cafe, be it chain or independent, has their “feel”. Regulars can be loud and obnoxious, quiet and elitist, and even regular. Even on the same day, different crowds filter in: the morning business rush, the mid-afternoon gentlemen’s club, the early evening movie crowd, and the late evening students. Watching gives a sense that the world tumbles on, even when your own life is idling. Yet, all this observation is a witnessed illusion. Which is to say, watching people in every day settings merely reinforces our own notions of what is “natural”, “everyday”, “real”. To our illusions we ascribe much in the way of power. It gives us a sense of sureness, security that we, and all about us, is working and on track.  Those times when our illusions are challenged (perhaps a customer coming into the hallowed cafe throws the established community for a loop) are the times we find ourselves most obstinate.

“A direct attack only strengthens a person in his illusion and, at the same time, embitters him. There is nothing that requires such gentle handling as illusion.” – Kierkegaard   “The Point of View”

My obsession with illusion knows few bounds. Kierkegaard points us to one limit: humans create illusory world-views, hold on to them for dear life, and when challenged pugnaciously defend that which makes sense. How far we take our illusions, how long we defend our illusions, these represent the limit, in one direction, of illusion. Another boundary of illusion deals not so much where illusion end but where it begins. I read an interesting piece on Wes Anderson’s “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” by one Stefany Anne Golberg (here’s the article). G wrote a sentence that struck me: “Our authentic state is the one we imagine for ourselves, the trumped-up life we’ve convinced other people is impressive.” Thus enters illusion’s twin: reality. I’ve always considered both to be separate essences. Illusion is “fake”, “false”, “deceptive” … un-real. Reality holds such epitaphs as “true”, “honest”, “actual” … un-illusory. This is the boundary of beginnings … illusion starts with its creator (us).

Cafes are a space in which person’s engage their illusions. I go to a cafe to experience “x” (x = good coffee, appearance of activity, a rousing game of chess, reading, studying, people watching). All such experiences lend themselves to informing our “authentic self” … which may or may not be real … that we present to those around us. In all cases, the story I give myself is just as fictional as the story I create for the girl across the way, the man behind the counter, or the kid drinking espresso (since when did sub-10 y.o. drink espresso?). My question is how do we get our illusions and realities to become one and the same? When can this forced dichotomy be reconciled?

Remind me never to philosophize.

N.B. Anyone else delight in the etymology of dichotomy? Nothing like a word that means, quite literally, ‘cut in twain’.


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