22 October 2016

The Renaissance of the Cafe

The early twentieth century cafe is returning in this technological age.

Aharon Appelfeld, a twentieth century author, did most of his writings sitting in cafes, but towards the end of his life he lamented that cafes had downgraded to sit-down buffets for quick caffeine shots and eateries for plastic wrapped pastries. Quiet conversation had been defeated by piped music, while lengthy stays were discouraged. Yet the current century has seen a renaissance in the cafe.

Today, whether Starbucks, Nero or some other brand, cafes are again oases offering respite from the bustle of the High Street. Coffee costs two or three times the kiosk price, but the customer is paying not just for the espresso or latte in a ceramic cup, but for a clean and comfortable sofa or armchair, the mellow lighting and, more than anything else, a free and fast internet connection. So for those reasons I sit, ensconced in on a corner couch, sipping my coffee and reading on my tablet.

Being alone is no oddity; the clientèle is mostly young and bourgeois, either single people interacting with their electronic equipment or else couples bent forward in their chairs, leaning over their coffee table and lost in intimate conversation. Glancing over my tablet I watch the customers come in from the late October chilly air. My eyes stray onto young women; tight jeans covering alluring bottoms, as they buy and carry their purchases from the counter. Often the enthusiasm falls away as I see an uninspiring face, or I am punched back reality when I see their male partners who are half my age. I turn back to my tablet and check the time because I need to go.

16 October 2016

Truth: necessary and contingent

The two types of truth, necessary and contingent, can be demonstrated by examining our knowledge of shapes.

Imagine a box on a table. Inside the box is an object which we cannot see. If we were asked to say what it was, or what shape it had, we could only reply that without seeing it, or otherwise examining it, we didn't know. This simple example amply demonstrate the value of empiricism.

But, if we were asked whether the object had a shape or not, we would answer in the affirmative. It is literally inconceivable that the an object could exist and not have a shape of some kind. And here our knowledge would spring not from empirical investigation, but from reason alone. We know that all objects have shapes before we look at them. Therefore, that truth is demonstrated by observation, but does not result from it.

We thus have two types of truth. One is gained empirically by observation and investigation, and we can call this contingent truth. We say contingent because what we have observed could have been otherwise, had causes and circumstances in the world been different. The other type of truth is a necessary truth because it is necessarily so, it could not conceivably be otherwise. Necessary truths are true throughout time, while empirical truths can be so at one time and not so at others.

It is important here not to mix up a necessary truth with a truth which is contingent, but almost inevitably true; e.g. Mr Smith is younger than 300. Though there are no known instances of people living for longer than three hundred years, it is conceivable that somebody might live that long. It is not a necessary truth.

1 October 2016

Innocence by Pierre Magnan: Harvill 2001

A teenage boy's love affair with an older women

Stripped down, the novel is a love story between a sixteen-year-old boy and a bourgeois women in her early thirties. Set just after the Second World War in a small provincial town in France, the novel is written in the first person by an introverted loner, born of a near destitute working class family. Having left school, he works as a municipal road sweeper. In the opening pages he stumbles on a murder of a local dignitary and become entangled in a web of of love, jealousy and hate.

Despite the dramatic incidents in the opening chapter, the novel is slow-going, and it was only towards the middle of the book that I felt motivated to go on reading. The focus is definitely on the developing feelings of the young man rather than the logic of events, happenings which seem unreal and distant to the plot.

The power of the book lies in the long drawn out love affair between the adolescent and the older woman which is vividly described with great psychological and descriptive sensitivity. The novel is no masterpiece, but deserves a read.