They started to drive around the minor roads and then over rocky mounds and slopes. A useful clue was that Bjerkely lay by the water.
"Why, Jim takes lunch every day in the Wall Street Delmonico's.Yes," she went on with increasing animation, "and only yesterdayhe went down to Police Headquarters, just for a littleexcitement, 'cause Jim does sure hate a dull life. Say, he toldme they've got a mat at the door with 'Welcome' on it--in lettersthree feet high. Now, what--do--you--think--of that!" Aggieteetered joyously, the while she inhaled a shockingly largemouthful of smoke. "And, oh, yes!" she continued happily, "Jim,he lifted a leather from a bull who was standing in the hallwaythere at Headquarters! Jim sure does love excitement."Mary lifted her dark eyebrows in half-amused inquiry.
"It's no use, Agnes," she declared, though without entiresincerity; "I can't quite keep up with your thieves' argot--yourslang, you know. Just what did this brother of yours do?""Why, he copped the copper's kale," Aggie translated, glibly.Mary threw out her hands in a gesture of dismay.Thereupon, the adventuress instantly assumed a most ladylike andmincing air which ill assorted with the cigarette that she heldbetween her lips."He gently removed a leathern wallet," she said sedately,"containing a large sum of money from the coat pocket of a memberof the detective force." The elegance of utterance wasinimitably done. But in the next instant, the ordinary vulgarityof enunciation was in full play again. "Oh, Gee!" she criedgaily. "He says Inspector Burke's got a gold watch that weighs aton, an' all set with diamon's!--which was give to 'imby--admirin' friends!... We didn't contribute.""Given to him," Mary corrected, with a tolerant smile.Aggie sniffed once again.
"What difference does it make?" she demanded, scornfully. "He'sgot it, ain't he?" And then she added with avaricious intensity:"Just as soon as I get time, I'm goin' after that watch--believeme!"Mary shook her head in denial.If only she had a newspaper!
As time passed, she started to look around. She got a couple of glances in return. For a moment Sophie felt like a young woman. She was only fifteen, but she could certainly have passed for seventeen--or at least, sixteen and a half.She wondered what all these people thought about being alive. They looked as though they had simply dropped in, as though they had just sat down here by chance. They were all talking away, gesticulating vehemently, but it didn't look as though they were talking about anything that mattered.She suddenly came to think of Kierkegaard, who had said that what characterized the crowd most was their idle chatter. Were all these people living at the aesthetic stage? Or was there something that was existentially important to them?In one of his early letters to her Alberto had talked about the similarity between children and philosophers. She realized again that she was afraid of becoming an adult. Suppose she too ended up crawling deep down into the fur of the white rabbit that was pulled out of the universe's top hat!
She kept her eyes on the door. Suddenly Alberto walked in. Although it was midsummer, he was wearing a black beret and a gray hip-length coat of herringbone tweed. He hurried over to her. It felt very strange to meet him in public."It's quarter past twelve!"
"It's what is known as the academic quarter of an hour. Would you like a snack?"He sat down and looked into her eyes. Sophie shrugged."Sure. A sandwich, maybe."Alberto went up to the counter. He soon returned with a cup of coffee and two baguette sandwiches with cheese and ham.
"Was it expensive?""A bagatelle, Sophie.""Do you have any excuse at all for being late?""No. I did it on purpose. I'll explain why presently."
He took a few large bites of his sandwich. Then he said:"Let's talk about our own century."
"Has anything of philosophical interest happened?""Lots ... movements are going off in all directions We'll start with one very important direction, and that is existentialism. This is a collective term for several philosophical currents that take man's existential situation as their point of departure. We generally talk of twentieth-century existential philosophy. Several of these existential philosophers, or existentialists, based their ideas not only on Kierkegaard, but on Hegel and Marx as well."
"Uh-huh.""Another important philosopher who had a great influence on the twentieth century was the German Friedrich Nietzsche, who lived from 1844 to 1900. He, too, reacted against Hegel's philosophy and the German 'historicism.' He proposed life itself as a counterweight to the anemic interest in history and what he called the Christian 'slave morality.' He sought to effect a 'revaluation of all values,' so that the life force of the strongest should not be hampered by the weak. According to Nietzsche, both Christianity and traditional philosophy had turned away from the real world and pointed toward 'heaven' or 'the world of ideas.' But what had hitherto been considered the 'real' world was in fact a pseudo world. 'Be true to the world,' he said. 'Do not listen to those who offer you supernatural expectations.' ""So ... ?""A man who was influenced by both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche was the German existential philosopher Martin Heidegger. But we are going to concentrate on the French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, who lived from 1905 to 1980. He was the leading light among the existentialists--at least, to the broader public. His existentialism became especially popular in the forties, just after the war. Later on he allied himself with the Marxist movement in France, but he never became a member of any party.""Is that why we are meeting in a French cafe?""It was not quite accidental, I confess. Sartre himself spent a lot of time in cafes. He met his life-long companion Simone de Beauvoir in a cafe. She was also an existential philosopher."
"A woman philosopher?""That's right."
"What a relief that humanity is finally becoming civilized.""Nevertheless, many new problems have arisen in our own time."
"You were going to talk about existentialism.""Sartre said that 'existentialism is humanism.' By that he meant that the existentialists start from nothing but humanity itself. I might add that the humanism he was referring to took a far bleaker view of the human situation than the humanism we met in the Renaissance."
"Why was that?""Both Kierkegaard and some of this century's existential philosophers were Christian. But Sartre's allegiance was to what we might call an atheistic existentialism. His philosophy can be seen as a merciless analysis of the human situation when 'God is dead.' The expression 'God is dead' came from Nietzsche.""Go on.""The key word in Sartre's philosophy, as in Kierkegaard's, is 'existence.' But existence did not mean the same as being alive. Plants and animals are also alive, they exist, but they do not have to think about what it implies. Man is the only living creature that is conscious of its own existence. Sartre said that a material thing is simply 'in itself,' but mankind is 'for itself.' The being of man is therefore not the same as the being of things."
"I can't disagree with that.""Sartre said that man's existence takes priority over whatever he might otherwise be. The fact that I exist takes priority over what I am. 'Existence takes priority over essence.' "
"That was a very complicated statement.""By essence we mean that which something consists of--the nature, or being, of something. But according to Sartre, man has no such innate 'nature.' Man must therefore create himself. He must create his own nature or 'essence,' because it is not fixed in advance."
"I think I see what you mean.""Throughout the entire history of philosophy, philosophers have sought to discover what man is--or what human nature is. But Sartre believed that man has no such eternal 'nature' to fall back on. It is therefore useless to search for the meaning of life in general. We are condemned to improvise. We are like actors dragged onto the stage without having learned our lines, with no script and no prompter to whisper stage directions to us. We must decide for ourselves how to live."
"That's true, actually. If one could just look in the Bible--or in a philosophy book--to find out how to live, it would be very practical.""You've got the point. When people realize they are alive and will one day die--and there is no meaning to cling to--they experience angst, said Sartre. You may recall that angst, a sense of dread, was also characteristic of Kierkegaard's description of a person in an existential situation.""Yes.""Sartre says that man feels a//en in a world without meaning. When he describes man's 'alienation,' he is echoing the central ideas of Hegel and Marx. Man's feeling of alienation in the world creates a sense of despair, boredom, nausea, and absurdity."
"It is quite normal to feel depressed, or to feel that everything is just too boring.""Yes, indeed. Sartre was describing the twentieth-century city dweller. You remember that the Renaissance humanists had drawn attention, almost triumphantly, to man's freedom and independence? Sartre experienced man's freedom as a curse. 'Man is condemned to be free,' he said. 'Condemned because he has not created himself--and is nevertheless free. Because having once been hurled into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.' "
"But we haven't asked to be created as free individuals.""That was precisely Sartre's point. Nevertheless we are free individuals, and this freedom condemns us to make choices throughout our lives. There are no eternal values or norms we can adhere to, which makes our choices even more significant. Because we are totally responsible for everything we do. Sartre emphasized that man must never disclaim the responsibility for his actions. Nor can we avoid the responsibility of making our own choices on the grounds that we 'must' go to work, or we 'must' live up to certain middle-class expectations regarding how we should live. Those who thus slip into the anonymous masses will never be other than members of the impersonal flock, having fled from themselves into self-deception. On the other hand our freedom obliges us to make something of ourselves, to live 'authentically' or 'truly.' "
"Yes, I see.""This is not least the case as regards our ethical choices. We can never lay the blame on 'human nature,' or 'human frailty' or anything like that. Now and then it happens that grown men behave like pigs and then blame it on 'the old Adam.' But there is no 'old Adam.' He is merely a figure we clutch at to avoid taking responsibility for our own actions."