The 9th Floor

Friday, October 14, 2011

The foremost purpose of a writer is to be quotable.

There are at least a few theories of what a cafe is. One of the more popular is that it's how people gather in a cafe, whatever may be served. As one of the louder proponents of this academic fad, B. Ayn Jojo laboriously puts it, "while 'cafe' has its own array of significations in the English-speaking world, we may freely ignore these to develop a precise, unified theory of cafeness, which is a mutating collection of socio-econiomic practices going back to the Renaissance, and which encompasses everything from a shisha bar to Starbucks." However, there is some disagreement even among Jojoians, who for the past ten years have been whittling down their theory of cafeness to a more and more essential meaning, and tracing its origins to prehistoric times. In fact, Madeline Javangle has gone so far as to postulate that cafeness is "at the very core of human ontology," and that "the tendency towards cafeness is one of our earliest and most primal." Of course, Javangle has defined cafeness in such abstract terms that our hypothetical prehistoric ancestor need only have wiggled his toe in the right body-act to create cafeness.

The renowned Marxist Gerald Hunam of course takes issue with a cafe being anything but a historically situated practice driven by material conditions. At least year's CafeCon, in one of his more polemic (and some say inebriated) moments, he said "the idea that a Starbucks is essentially the same as a London coffee house in the 17th century only holds water among you namby-pamby metaphysicians."

Still others insist that a cafe has to do with coffee, and that a cafe may only be called a cafe if it serves coffee. These coffeeists moreover argue that the sociocultural function of a cafe only came about because of coffee. They take a rather broad view of agency. “We like to think of ourselves as being the only force in the world," Martha Wuwuberg writes, "but if this perception of our intentional effect upon the world is merely an effect of our sentience, indeed the perception of our sentience--sentience itself--then it could be equally said that anything and everything works its will on the world. The coffee plant is one of the more breathtaking examples of this."

I have taken the coffeeist position to write this post, not so much because I believe it but because I have run out of lay-defined cafes in Ashland, and the idea that wherever I take my coffee becomes a cafe gives me something to go on.

So I have come to the ninth floor of the Mark Anthony, which may only be thought of as a cafe in the coffeeist way, because there's nobody else sitting around, no employees, and no coffee served. There is only a small table with two wicker chairs, surrounded by tall windows, probably the highest-up windows in the Rogue Valley.

From these windows the buildings downtown look oddly exposed, as if they had been upturned, revealing this undersides to me above them. From the street one only ever seeds the facade, and maybe the very top of a vent or something, but up here I can see the whole mess of wires, rusting air-conditioning units, fans, satellite dishes, skylights, and television antennae. The top of the post office looks like it's designed so that water drains from its almost flat roof into a few holes, but actually it collects in puddles on top. Not that long ago the post office was covered in white and grey stones, but these were removed to reveal the pink bricks beneath. Zoey's Cafe & All Natural Ice Cream, which I'm not sure qualifies as a cafe, even though the nominalists would have it otherwise, has put their logo atop their roof, as if to announce themselves to high-resolution aerial cameras. If the logo is intended for hotel guests (for the Mark Anthony is a hotel called Lithia Springs Hotel), it is unnecessary. Even here at the top floor the sign on their awning is highly visible.

What if we posit the following tautological theory: a cafe is where psychocafegraphy can happen, and psychocafegraphy is writing that occurs in a cafe and whose subject is a cafe. In other words, if I can write a blog post from this 9th floor wicker chair, it is a cafe. This is potentially problematic because this would mean that a cafe does not necessarily involve hot drinks, much less coffee. Moreover, one of the ventricles of psychocafegraphy’s heart is observing and eavesdropping on people. If a cafe is a place where psychocafegraphy can happen, then people must gather there to converse. I am inclined, then, to agree with the Jojoians, if not quite to their recent extremity. Unfortunately, I am close to finishing a psychocafegraphy post about a place where very few come to talk. (When two or three people do come here to talk, if another group comes, they politely avoid sitting near the group who is already there. Just a minute ago a woman came over here, poked her head around to look out the window, apologized, and scurried off, as if I owned the place. I didn’t have time to say I didn’t mind her looking out the window. But perhaps she did.) This post, then, is a (very tiresome) paradox (for which you probably want to hit me for boring you with).