Sunday, June 12, 2005

The satisfaction of a good waiter

A good waiter always calls to mind one of the most famous waiters in literature, a nameless waiter who appears in Sartre's Being and Nothingness and who serves as the locus classicus of the Sartrean idea of "bad faith," i.e., pretending to ourselves that we are mechanistic, determined objects instead of accepting the reality of our (alas, unbearable) freedom. Sartre's waiter's movements betray a kind of bad faith because they are so over the top: "His movement is quick and forward, a little too precise, a little too rapid. He comes toward the patrons with a step a little too quick. He bends forward a little too eagerly; his voice, his eyes express an interest a little too solicitous for the order of the customer....All his behavior seems to us a game." He is playing at being a waiter in a café, says Sartre.

And what a good play that can be! I had the pleasure of dining at Bobino's for a late lunch today, after a trip to the MIA. The café was almost empty, one waiter was working. We found out that the waiter had only recently began work at Bobino's, but it was clear that he was experienced. A key to charisma is to make others feel privileged. Our waiter knew how to do this without being too solicitous: "The pancakes. Very good Sir! That's an excellent choice; well done! I fully approve, fully approve." And on he went, reassuring me that I had made a good choice, congratulating me as if I had accomplished a terribly difficult feat, done what has never been done - ordered the pancakes. (They were delicious).


Anonymous said...

your text-to-self connection feels a bit muddled. what exactly are you trying to say? that you do not mind one acting out of bad faith so long as you receive his good intentions, i.e. the 'good play,' the delicious pancakes? are you being facetious when you say your waiter was not "too solicitious?" because it certainly seems he was.

a good waiter in some sense seems a bad person, because he denies himself a certain degree of humanity. sartre does not seem satisfied with a good waiter, yet you do. am i then to conclude that you do not mind a 'bad person' (my tautology) so long as the pancakes are good, so to speak?

perhaps i am just confused as to what you mean to say. -mike ochs

Ilya said...

You are right Mike, I enjoy a waiter of bad faith in the Sartrean sense. For I do not agree with Sartre's idea of the self's radical freedom. I endorse neither an extreme objectivism nor a (Sartrean) subjectivism. In Pierre Bourdieu's words (in chapter two of _The Logic of Practice_), "Refusing to recognize anything resembling durable dispositions [habits] or probable eventualities, Sartre makes each action a kind of antecedent-less confrontation between the subject and the world." I think Bourdieu is right, the social world cannot be reduced to subjective action devoid of objectivity because we are as much determined as free, and a theory of practice must conceive of historical practice as the result of a dialectic between obejctive products (structures) and incorporated products (habits) of historical practice.

This all sounds quite abstruse, I know. I'm still trying to get my head around Bourdieu.

PiedPiper said...

Uhh...way to go guys. I'm not sure you've met. Ilya, Mike. Mike , Ilya. Here you've debated existentialism, and you haven't even been properly introduced. For shame.

Anonymous said...

i apologize for not having followed up on this for the past two months ...

so the waiter cannot help but act out of bad faith because of his objective product (being of the service-oriented class) and the incorporated products (his being accustomed to acting so servile and fawning)?

your response seems to have made a leap into perhaps what you really were aiming at (sociological discourse), or perhaps as subterfuge for your confusing trope of the sartrean waiter. at any rate, i won't engage a leap from philosophy to sociology.

and as long as we're pulling quotes out of our arse, here's one from Richard Rorty's _Contingency, irony and solidarity_, part 1, 'contingency':

"Interesting philosophy is rarely an examination of the pros and cons of a thesis. Usually it is, implicitly or explicitly, a contest between an entrenched vocabulary which has become a nuisance and a half-formed new vocabulary which vaguely promises new things" (p. 9)

In other words, i was much more interested in what exactly you meant to say in your original post (which was in your own words and seemed promising) than your response, which felt out of left field. i prefer half-baked originals than overcooked rehashings of another's recipe.

and bordieu is no more 'right' than sartre ... for truths are predicated on sentences, which are predicated on vocabularies, which are predicated on language, which is predicated on people, the purveyors of truths. some languages may be more efficient or expedient, but none are 'true.' and no, the irony is not lost on me!--mike ochs

p.s. pieps. ilya and i have indeed met ... too infrequently, it seems.