Intellectualism in Café Culture

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Source: www.astleybookfarm.com

Trends have changed, philosophies of existence and their manifestations too have made a brutal and radical shift towards the ‘distortions of something-ness.’ The world once had experienced Socrates, walking down from wild forest, with a swing of gestures on his face, reflecting a deep search with an endless pulse of confusions. The collective social psychology had been occupied by intriguing search for untamed questions like how does reality materialize in physical form? What is the utmost form of happiness? Seeking almost every elementary question from existence to cosmological myths, the order and symmetry of universe were being learned and re-learned followed by understanding of consciousness and the universe within. It developed a ‘logical’ flavour with spiritual aspirations of eternal satisfaction. Life was simple and yet comprehensive. And while the philosophies were constructed and deconstructed, what served to be as one of the connecting place where evolution of intellect and spirit manifested; inspiring minds to have a feel of liking of the ‘ancestral tree’, nurturing through art, literature and modern constructs— was a café.

Remember, Socrates preferred to drink piousness, Hemlock tea rather than to give up the understanding of what he perceived as his utmost form of law and satisfaction. The philosophy of the cafés, as such, resonates with the sign of Socrates’ sacrifice, steadfastness and confidence.

The words seem over-emphatic, imparting a taste of some idealistic society, nonexistent, somewhere in the ‘elsewhere’ of Rumi or restricted in a feeling of reflexive impulses from poems of Shakespeare to the transitive breathlessness of Iqbal, entitling this society as Shaheen. But, they have been existent, with some socio-politico-economic ‘rule-book’ to tame their governance, but the intrinsic and fundamental ‘atom of existence’ was not material in nature, rather it was something divine and transcendental— actualizing in the life, perception and understanding at the societal level. These beautiful minds, not defining and restricting intellectuality with professionalism or social status but without the bounds and division of minds; everyone aggregating under an ‘ancestral tree’, shading and nurturing every mind beneath it, so as to discuss, question, feel and think about almost anything. Here anyone could come and have a say untied with the relations, flying in their ‘ideal interpretations of happiness.’ Remember, Socrates preferred to drink piousness, Hemlock tea rather than to give up the understanding of what he perceived as his utmost form of law and satisfaction. The philosophy of the cafés, as such, resonates with the sign of Socrates’ sacrifice, steadfastness and confidence.

These confined yet dense places have been anything: a room, a store or more significantly a Café. It has been a hub and centre for discussions paving path to social and political reforms to even spiritual and intellectual changes, much like café Riche in Egypt that has been a hub of intellectual activity during its political reform.

From a historical point of view, there has been a deep impact of some places that caused changes, pertinently defining new ways of revivalism in thoughts and yet remained undistinguished and least emphasized. These confined yet dense places have been anything: a room, a store or more significantly a Café. It has been a hub and centre for discussions paving path to social and political reforms to even spiritual and intellectual changes, much like café Riche in Egypt that has been a hub of intellectual activity during its political reform. These transitions in political and social philosophy had been captured in a novel ‘Karnak Café’, a short novella written by Egyptian Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz. Can Café be a place of such an intellectual change? Well, it definitely can and has been. But as for Kashmir, the political philosophy of life is capitalistic in nature, or maybe we designate it with more flavours but its basic defining level has been same along its evolution.

In particular, the tangible form of these changes and redefinitions can be seen in youth. Whatever the reason may be, from political aggression to economic suffocation or social divergences to individualistic suppression, at the basic level it revolves round how a society collectively perceives, understands and thinks about philosophy of being.

Kashmir is at the optimum transitive point, from where there can be a ‘radical shift’ in redefining the basic understanding of life, very well manifested in the collective psychology and aggregate philosophy of the society. In particular, the tangible form of these changes and redefinitions can be seen in youth. Whatever the reason may be, from political aggression to economic suffocation or social divergences to individualistic suppression, at the basic level it revolves round how a society collectively perceives, understands and thinks about philosophy of being. This era has entered what is called as Post-modernism, formulating newer experiences about life and happiness, a new form of capitalism, serving same coffee in newer and shiny cups, glittering and reflecting attractive spectrum of light. It has so far been successful in freeing us from traditional outlook and cultural bounds of Kashmir, pacing towards a yet new beginning of ‘something’ of which one can imagine a feeling of chaos and postmodern bewilderment. We can’t decisively formulate a conclusive remark on the overall scenario, being highly complicated, nor can we know if it brought prosperity or irreversible retrogression to our thinking process, but one thing is for sure, these basic questions about existence, be it individualistic or communized, can have a positive effect if we develop a neutral yet comprehensive platform that can address these seemingly nonsensical dimensions of our existence in a way so as to collectively have a say about ‘anything’ irrespective of who you are and to whom you belong.

…a classical and traditional environment with modern constructs— giving a versatile understanding of being in Rumi’s elsewhere, where we can feel nothing except a different feeling from traditional artwork to modern whirls of dervishes against gravity and then postmodern music of silence, echoing Habba Khatoon’s miraculous wand in songs of Sondir returning from Yaarbal.

Apart from the rugged redefinitions of cafés, especially for Kashmir, cafés can serve to be a connecting link between culture and people, presented in a classical and traditional environment with modern constructs— giving a versatile understanding of being in Rumi’s elsewhere, where we can feel nothing except a different feeling from traditional artwork to modern whirls of dervishes against gravity and then postmodern music of silence, echoing Habba Khatoon’s miraculous wand in songs of Sondir returning from Yaarbal. The portions of it with books, giving a bird’s-eye view of every science; with art presented to give an unending feeling of our cultural heritage. This imparts a surrounding that forces us to be in the other side of the life, away from things, untied in relations about to fly. A feeling as cold as if in wonderland of Alice or inside the chronicles of Narnia! A sip of coffee with feeling as if logically pierced soul is felt fresh to start up a discussion, an idea, an art, a literature, a revival that world inside us has been thirsty of.

…the revivalism of academic values and university is also possible through Café Culture if well formulated and implemented.

Mr. Clive James in his book ‘Cultural Amnesia’ describes café life in pre-war Vienna, pointing to the humanism and scholarship of what he terms these “coffee house intellectuals” who were barred from universities by strict ethnic quotas. He contrasts the creativity, wit, and direct observation of the café, with the “abstruse doctoral theses” of academics that had “the deadly freedom to write as if nobody would ever read the results.” So the revivalism of academic values and university is also possible through Café Culture if well formulated and implemented. It would provide us with an opportunity to Think, Pause and Reflect.


Sahil Imtiyaz is a doctoral student in University of Camerino, Italy and can be reached at his facebook handle @Sahil Imtiyaz 

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