Mauvaise Foi with Your Mochachino, Monsieur Sartre?

31 Jan

“It has the quick movement and intense, a little too precise, too fast, it comes to consumers too vivaciously, he bows a little too eagerly, his voice, his eyes express an interest too solicitous for the customer’s order, finally she comes back, trying to imitate in his walk the inflexible rigor of some unknown automaton while carrying his tray with a kind of tightrope walker boldness. All his conduct seems a game. He plays it fun. But what is he? One does not need to observe him long to realize he plays at being a waiter.”

Thus, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote of his waiter at the Cafe Flore in occupied France. Was this a fair characterization of the waiter? Mind you, I had observed the same sort of behavior (or even worse) in Great American Diners like Perkin’s and Danny’s where the waiters and waitresses (some) are definitely a little too friendly, a little too smiley, a little too concerned about whether you like your meal, a little too eager to ask if you have room for a slice of chocolate mudslide. It is this “a-little-too-much” that makes you almost yearn for the comfort of bad service in a Beijing jiaoji restaurant where you have to scream fu wu yuen (waiter) from the top of your lung to prevent starvation. At least, they weren’t “playing waiter” there.

Perhaps it was a bit hypocritical for a former prisoner-of-war to so quickly find fault in a fellow man who is just doing his job. Perhaps it was another manifestation of Sartre’s innate anger at all things bourgeois. Be that as it may, it can be argued that, quite often, it is Sartre who acted a little too contrived, a little too intellectual, a little too cosmopolitan. The tobacco pipe hanging off his lip a little too professorial; the smoke swirling around the swanky cafe, reeks a little too much of Voltaire entertaining his entourage in the cafes of his Enlightened age. Using his own words, all Sartre’s conduct seems like a game. One does not need to observe him long to realize he plays at being a philosopher.

Despite his questionable quip of the waiter, Sartre was trying to illumine an important point from his existential oeuvre: that of mauvaise foi, or “bad faith”.

The concept of “bad faith” is easy enough to grasp. The waiter that Sartre observed seemed to be acting out the role of a waiter (his actions were too strained according to Sartre, thus he wasn’t being himself). This man was trying too hard to play the part of a waiter, rather than being his own authentic self; he was an actor, rather than a director. Anytime someone puts on a mask and not being authentic, he is acting in “bad faith.”

But without a more nuanced understanding, this concept might seem too obvious, simplistic, and even naive. To examine it further and to see why it is such a central tenet of Sartre’s prescriptive philosophy, we need to step back and look at mauvaise foi from the broader context of Sartre’s thoughts and Existentialism in general.

Beginning with the mathematical prodigy Blaise Pascal, the baton of (what we now call) Existentialism passed through generations of intellectual heavyweights such as Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, and Kafka. However, the birth of modern Existentialism is generally credited to the German philosopher Martin Heidegger with the publication of his tome Being and Time in 1927.



9 Responses to “Mauvaise Foi with Your Mochachino, Monsieur Sartre?”

  1. musiqdragonfly June 15, 2012 at 7:21 pm #

    I finished Sartre’s book “Words” few weeks ago, a small book but not too impressive, he described the influence of his grandpa towards his childhood and literary life …. Reading his book was because of having watched a film on TV “Les amants du Flore”, which is interesting, but it talks more about Simone de Beauvoir (the French feminist) rather than Sartre.

    • wubr2000 June 15, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

      Looks like an interesting movie. But I don’t agree with existentialism anymore.

      • musiqdragonfly July 13, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

        you wrote at end – [TO BE CONT’D], hey, hurry up (ha!) with chapitre 2. What do you think about Albert Camus, his book “The Stranger” really touches me.

        • wubr2000 July 15, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

          Aiya. I don’t think I can write on Satre anymore since I don’t think that existentialism is compatible with Christianity!

          • musiqdragonfly July 15, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

            with all the “isms” we shouldn’t be too serious, they are just some secular ideas, in any way God loves all men including “philosophers”, He loves gays and lesbians, the sick and under-privileged …., right?

            • wubr2000 July 15, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

              The sick and underprivileged for sure. I find it quite intolerant that the Bible does not allow for gays and lesbians. They should have the same rights as everyone else.

              • musiqdragonfly July 15, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

                how do you read Matthew 19:11-12?

                • wubr2000 July 16, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

                  I just did. What does it mean in relation to what we’re discussing?

                  • musiqdragonfly July 16, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

                    because I hope “born eunuchs” are metaphorically meant for “born gays”, that God also accept them, I am perplexed by this subject, but I just believe tha God loves born gays and lesbians.

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