This is the first chapter of my coming book “Notes on Café”
The maternal womb is indeed our first impression of a place: The very first dwelling; the fundamental form for reposing, resting, nourishing and surviving; the first “ ” for human’s being.
Once the baby is born, she loses her first “dwelling”. Becoming “restless”, she cries and gets another place: the mother’s arms. The mother’s embrace is a replicate of that fundamental receptacle: it holds, it cares, it protects and it nurtures the baby. In fact, right after being born, one keeps searching for that very first place. Being displaced from his fundamental safe haven, fearful and anxious human seeks to return. And since it is not possible, he looks for similar versions. The most primitive and natural versions of the maternal womb are the caves, the wombs of the nature, the first shelters for man.
Therefore, the maternal womb is the human’s fundamental idea for all the places that function as dwelling or residence. Therefore, the whole history of architecture indicates the various interpretations of the idea of womb. Some of these interpretations are too far from the original idea and some of them are so close. One of the closest receptacles to the maternal womb is a place to live but not to reside and it is a house but not a home. That place is café.
Of course, the appearance is not our criterion of resemblance or at least not the only criterion. As Gilles Deleuze explains:
“Resemblance must not be understood as an external correspondence. It precedes less from one thing to another than from a thing to an Idea, since it is the Idea that comprises the relations and proportions that constitute internal essence. Interior and spiritual, resemblance is the measure of a claim. A copy truly resembles something only to the extent that it resembles the Idea of the thing. The claimant only conforms to the object insofar as it is modeled (internally and spiritually) on the Idea.”
So, what is the idea of womb? What are the fundamental concepts that reveal the idea of the maternal womb? Those concepts, as mentioned before, are holding, caring, protecting and nourishing.
Café’ is a maternal place. It embraces you, nurtures you and lets you rest. It holds you as long as you need and then it lets you go. It prepares you to face with the outside. And the most important, it is always in the middle. It stays beyond metaphysics. Like “the receptacle of all generation” and the maternal womb it is neither in heaven nor in earth.
In her mother’s body, the baby has a median being: She is neither in heaven nor in earth. She is an unborn child. She still lives inside another human that does not even distinguish her from a parasite that lives in “another’ organism. The idea of a baby is to be born. However, we cannot say that an unborn child does not live. In fact, the place that holds the baby creates such a unique situation; simply because the maternal womb, just like the receptacle of universe, stands in the middle of air and earth and rejects any categorization:
“We may liken the receiving (containing) principle to a mother, the source or spring to a father, the intermediate nature to a child…Wherefore, the mother and receptacle of all created and visible and in any way sensible thing, is not to be termed earth, or air, or fire, or water, or any of their compounds or any of the elements from which these are derived.” (Timaeus)
Therefore, the maternal womb as the fundamental form of containing and receiving stays beyond the platonic dualism and its system of cognition. As the womb is somewhere outside the heaven and earth, café stands outside the real and unreal. It does not belong to the real life, or better say the actual life, and yet it is not unreal. What kind of reality a café rejects or resists against? The reality defined and ruled by time. If café does not belong to the real life, then what kind of life is going on in a café? I might answer: the aesthetic life.
At the beginning, the human life was a set of instinctive, emotional and experimental actions to be taken instantly on the basis of desire or need. As humans settled down and the first civilizations appeared, the concept of work as a temporal, purposeful and profitable activity was established. Work and time, are the basic principles of the real life. Therefore, the real or actual life appears as profitable activity that follows the rules of time: time to cultivate, time to harvest, time to supply etc.
As the work and time expand their influence over the human’s life – through the skills such as scheduling the life, supplying, planning, programming- humans leave the aesthetic life behind which is based on mystery, wonder, accident, experiment, instant reaction, improvisation, discovery and danger. By accepting the time as an absolute law, the real life defines the life as a predetermined production plan. Therefore, the life is the purposeful activity within a particular time interval, which is originally the definition of work. Any action in the real life has to be recognized in its relations with work as the basis of life: in this sense, recreation is nothing but an after work resting and a refection to get back to work.
In a world with such an understanding of reality and life, café is a place between reality and unreality. In fact, café challenges all of these concepts and their definitions. When you go to a café, you are leaving your actual life. You are leaving a life in which you have a job to do, duties to attend, things to buy, goals to reach, and you have friends and family to be responsible for. All of these make the “reality” of your life. You also do not make any profit out of the time you spend in a café. You actually pay for your time in a café; simply because the price you are paying is obviously not for what you might eat or drink there. You go to café for the pleasure of “killing the time”. Being in café reminds us of kind of laziness and leisure and indolence, the concepts used by the real life as tools to scorn, warn and punish its rebellious workers. It might seem that these concepts have been always the negative characteristics. However, in early human communities they were rather positive or at least neutral concepts; especially in religious narratives of human’s life in heaven, which can represent the pre-civilized era, these concepts are essential in characterization of human life.
In fact, Café represents a place where you abolish all the fundamental rules of real life (such as profitability and purposefulness). However, café is still part of reality, yet it protects us from the seriousness of “outside”. Café reduces the impact of reality by mixing it with imagination and symbolism. What you do in a café (listening, talking, drinking, eating, and watching) is what you do in your life all the time. Yet, something is different when you do it in a café. There is something more. You are not simply satisfying your needs. You are also satisfying your desires. You are pleasing, cherishing and appreciating your body and your mind. You are treating your body and your mind as a dear guest. You are offering them something more than just food or drink. You are offering them the pleasure of eating, drinking and being in a joyful environment where they can ask for what they desire rather than what they just need. You transcend the acts of eating and drinking to a ceremony of jollity, bringing your mind and body to the center of your attention. You let them to be welcomed, embraced and nourished by the motherly affection of café. You bring your body back to the safest and most comfortable place: the mother’s embrace. Look at the form of sitting in café. Look at a person at the small table on a corner of a café, drinking his coffee or wine. The legs are close to belly and knees are bent backwards; hands are close to the mouth and head is down toward the chest. See the resemblance between his form of sitting and the form of an unborn child in the womb.
The mother of café protects us from the imagination-less seriousness of “outside”. She holds us for a while and prepares us to go back to the reality of outside. She let us experience an aesthetic and poetic life free from the sovereignty of time and profitability, just like a child or a primitive human.
Café is a sweet and pleasant pause in the middle of fast and violent rhythm of modern life; a memorial for the poetry of a life free from time, a fantasy life as charming, imaginary and real as a doll party. The one takes shelter at the café and hides from the omnipotent eye of the real world. He introspects and dives into the dark ocean of his own psychological universe. There is no thinking anymore; there is only daydreaming and fantasizing. He does not see anymore; he just observes.