So, in a flashback to last summer, I’ve been working on Hegel in the coffee shop. My habit when working on a difficult text is to photocopy or print out the section on which I’m intending to write, so that I can scribble over the text and in the margins, while working up how I want to characterise the argument. I also, though, carry the entire text with me in book form, so that I can flip around in sections I haven’t printed out (and I often scribble on this text too – I just try not to obliterate it with notes in the same way I do with my printouts).
So I’m at a table, printouts scattered all around me, scribbling madly on one page, and with the book sitting neglected in an outside corner of this chaos, when an older couple wanders in. I can see them staring at me – this isn’t unusual, and it’s probably somewhat inevitable to attract some attention when sprawling papers all over a table in a public space. After a few minutes, the gentleman wanders over: “Excuse me, could I borrow your book?”
Looking up, “Uh… sure.” I figured that he must know the text, but he volunteered, “I was curious what this was, because I’ve never seen the word ‘phenomenology’ before”. I volunteered a three-word suggestion for contextualising the term, and he said, “Could I take this back to our table for a bit?” I said sure, figuring he’d have a quick flip through and then bring it back.
Instead – and this was just unspeakably cute – he pulled his chair over beside his partner’s, and they sat there for a good forty-five minutes, reading through bits of the preface, pausing often to share impressions. I couldn’t hear much – the coffee shop plays music, and they were speaking quietly. I caught isolated words and phrases – “Oh! It’s philosophy!”… “Nature”… “Science”… “This isn’t easy…” They kept at it, long enough that I stopped trying to eavesdrop and went back to my own reading. Finally, the man wandered back over, somewhat regretfully returning the text: “That’s some difficult stuff!”
Given the lack of progress I feel I’m making, in trying to decide how to write on the section on Force and Understanding, I’m inclined to agree…