Issue 69, Spring 1977
Books published by The Philosophical Library seemed high in catalog price for 1959, like ten dollars for an anthology of Buddhist texts, but you could always somehow pick them up for a song. He bought the Being and Nothingness, for instance, for two-ninety-eight from those pleasant stacks, the prices on the dust jackets often neatly scissored away along a diagonal, in the Eighth Street Bookshop, then located at MacDougal and 8th.
This translation by Hazel Barnes of the University of Colorado soon filled his days and nights with profound pleasure.
The original Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was still upon the lavatory wall when first he began to lounge by night at The Figaro. In later years he realized he should have gotten his art restorer friend at the Met to sneak in late one woozy night and to photograph it in situ, to date it, and then to remove it and frame it, as a literary / cultural relic of enormous worth, say, to a rich Texas library collecting Albeenia.
The graffiti quality was high indeed above that plumbing, and the young man felt emboldened to place his first upon any wall since certain innocent chalkings urging action relative to an aerially traversing jelly doughnut he had placed on the bulletin board outside the scoutmaster’s tent at scout camp.
“Ich bin Ich” was his first attempt, rendered in incredibly witty Pollockian blob-whirls in the new breed of colored felt-tip pens just then coming on the market. Ahh sweet wit! he exclaimed to himself, hastening from the tense area of scribble. It was almost immediately effaced, however, with a nervously-scrawled “I See You Leave, Therefore I Am.’’
Not for nothing had he several well-thumbed books on self-hypnosis. That night he put himself under to try to reconstruct—he considered it as cool as Camus’ Stranger remembering the exact cracks on his bedroom vase—to reconstruct the exact circumstances of his leaving the lavatory, and who, as his mind tried to picture it, was lurking outside to dash in and ruin his work. He was sad when, after instructing himself to write out the name, the name Robert Rauschenberg appeared on the jot-pad; a name of course which had, at that time, no meaning for him. In later years he chalked the name up to an act of satire, and possibly of ridicule, performed by the hypnotic In-itself somehow acting against the For-itself.’
The For-itself, acting through consciousness, exists just slightly in the future, and is absolutely free. Yet if the In-itself, in Sartre’s view unconnected to any numinal noumena, should somehow possess an ability to act, or to express its own freedom, then it could be interpreted as having preexistent numinal transcendence. For the In-itself should never have been able to cause a false answer, even as a joke, to a post-hypnotic question. Or perhaps our writer’s unconscious heard the name of the culprit who erased his graffito, without the conscious mind being able to retain it, and it was retrieved during hypno-self-interrogation.
Although, when you consider it, that would have been an act of religion, and religion—well there were not enough of ha-ha’s for that in those days, as you recall.