How a red leash is draped round the neck of a golden Labrador; how the dog is not golden exactly but ochre or some combination of colours whose tags only artists know. How the dog has an owner who ties the leash to a pole beside a table where he’s about to sit for coffee. How the correct thing to do would be to smile at the dog and say how sweet that it pulls against the leash, goodhumouredly it seems, because it’s smiling. How sweet and wholesome, you should think, that the man has a dog to call his own.
The colours. The colours alone satisfy me. Red and Dog.
Same café, same window position, looking out at the arrangement of iron tables and chairs that are starkly only themselves in the late afternoon. I name it the pavement hour. Squares on the footpath are bracing themselves for an onslaught of walkers. Another hour and the professionals will begin arriving from their city centre offices to the kinder electricity of their apartments. This café is Saturday mecca for some of them. A genuine French boulangerie in their almost hip urban village. The hip of graduate wage-earners and earnest young mothers; the hip of people who can just about afford to buy. Right now weather is moving in. The tables and chairs become a family of shiny black spiders paralysed by the threat in the air. The cut-back trees reveal their genetics by knowing the wind. Their leaves bend to it and turn their paler sides up. Things beyond property are claiming satisfaction.
Sentences grab my attention and I wonder how you can sort a universe. I suppose if you pay attention to one thing then the universe in a small way rearranges around you, but who has the authority to give this arrangement a name. That it can be grabbed, held, paid, arrested and lost, makes attention sound concrete and valuable. It’s a commercial factor. I’m a dead loss in this respect. My attention can be held by something I’ll never desire to have. That’s not to say I’m sagely satisfied. I’m the opposite. I have no idea what I should be desiring so I try things out and on, invariably ending up back in the vestibule wondering what door to try next. I confess that this odd state or set of states has a certain satisfaction in that my attention is no-one’s long-term “bitch.”
Each of us literally chooses, by his ways of attending to things, what sort of a universe he shall appear to himself to inhabit.
– William James (1890)(1)
early 15c., from Middle French satisfier, from Old French satisfaire "pay, repay, make reparation" . . . from Latin satisfacere "discharge fully, comply with, make amends," literally "do enough," from satis "enough" (from PIE root sa- "to satisfy") + facere "to make, do, perform" (from PIE root dhe- "to set, put").
Satisfaction presupposes a demand, whether it’s debt or desire. I think the most interesting demands are never satisfied. They’re not a matter of question and answer. They’re more mobile than that. The desire to learn, for example, is a function of what continues. The process is a series of small satisfactions that may build a path or building, and where do you stop when you start a habit.
– Online Etymology Dictionary
For as knowledges are now delivered, there is a kind of contract of error between the deliverer and the receiver: for he desireth to deliver it in such form as may be best believed, and not as may be best examined: and he that receiveth knowledge desireth rather present satisfaction than expectant inquiry; and so rather not to doubt than not to err: glory making the author not to lay open his weakness, and sloth making the disciple not to know his strength.
The desire for “present satisfaction” is hardly dead, but doubt has achieved a fashionable quality. A more recent observation:
– Francis Bacon (1561-1626)(2)
Thinking feels like satisfaction, but of what desire? The freedom to think? Is there satisfaction if no-one knows what you’re thinking—all those shapely ideas unadmired? I was wondering about this as I sat outside the Science Museum in London, at the back entrance to the Victoria & Albert museum with its café and garden. I wondered whether it could be enough to experience all this activity as nothing but itself. A sign in front of the café read: The Future Begins Here. My attention was arrested and not satisfied. Somebody’s idea of a good idea: presume everyone wants to go somewhere.
. . . to be able to do anything new you have to be able to organise the existing body of knowledge in some unique way that’s your way of thinking about it.
– Nima Arkani-Hamed(3)
What do I mean by enough? Is there some imperative, some imperator? The plaque at the front of the V & A describes Victoria as the Empress of India in 1899 and I presume this description satisfied her or she would have added something else. Colonisation aside, I suspect simply moving on a street may give us all some satisfaction in an intuitive way. Something is working if the street exists and we have an incentive to walk on it. At the very least there’s physical company and a host of engaging sense impressions.
There is only intuitive knowledge. Deduction and discursive argument, incorrectly called examples of knowing, are only instruments which lead to intuition.
– Jean-Paul Sartre(4)
I am a set of circumstances embedded within a set of circumstances. Satisfaction occurs only sporadically, selectively. People often say they’re satisfied when they mean they’re content. To be satisfied is to be stationary. Anaïs Nin wrote in her Diaries that “. . . faithfulness is one of the perfections,”(5) but perfection is static and conflicts with her writer-self. “The faithful wife is only one phase, one moment, one metamorphosis, one condition.” One dissatisfied husband.An assistant in the Science Museum directed me to “South Ken” for a café, as if it were a mile away, but it was no more than a hundred yards. Some sense of division made him experience it as a separate entity from where he stood, “South Ken” implying something of a mind-state. We’d be unhinged if we didn’t divide things, lost with the leaves. I’m dissatisfied when the divisions get too reflexive—naming experience with readymade tags. She’s like that other person we all recognise as a principle. This writing is like that writing. What results is a mutually-mapped conversation but little discovery. Nothing shifts. I like to treat every event as something that can exist of itself. That’s why I’m heading towards madness.
The café I go to in “South Ken” is Le Pain Quotidienne, because I think I’ll be as satisfied by its offerings as I am by its name. I’m classing it with my regular boulangerie. I'm satisfied by the array of dishes; dissatisfied later that I didn’t go for the pain avec avocado. Satisfied by the scone; dissatisfied later that it cost me £5. Satisfied by the waitress; dissatisfied that she didn’t ask whether my glass of wine was to be small or large. Satisfied overall because there was beauty and history and movement.
. . . we must try to repress our modern conception of the poet as the sole source of his poetry: we must think more of the intrinsic and impersonal beauty or ugliness of matters, plots, and sentiments which retain their own living continuity as they pass from writer to writer. Trouvere as well as maker is the name for a poet.
– C. S. Lewis(6)
(1) The Principles of Psychology (1890), Ch.XI . Quoted in Bernard J. Baars and Nicole M. Gage, eds., Cognition, Brain, and Consciousness: Introduction to Cognitive Neuroscience. Elsevier, 2007, 224.
(2) Of the Advancement of Learning, Bk. II, in Works,·ed. Spedding, Ellis, and Heath (London, 1868), III, 403-404; ed. Wright, XVII, 3. Quoted in Kroll “Attic Prose: Lipsius, Montaigne, Bacon.”
(3) The Observer, 17 November 2013, 16.
(4) Being and Nothingness (1943). Translated by Hazel E. Barnes, Introduction by Mary Warnock, London: Routledge, 1996, 172.
(5) Henry and June. Edited by Rupert Pole. London: Penguin Classics, 2001.12.
(6) The Allegory of Love (1936). New York: Oxford University Press, 1958, 209.