Every once in a while some graffiti lingers around in my head, waiting for a place to be archived. Perhaps it needs to be integrated into my worldview, or perhaps just discarded, or perhaps neither of the two, but classified amongst the other funny tidbits I have come across. And then there was this little piece of academic (semi-)obscenity, written casually but clearly on a wall in the academic Latin Quarter. Yes. Funny at first sight and perhaps even a little insightful…
It is a play on words with Descartes‘ famous maxim –Cogito ergo sum– only a few streets away from his Parisian address. Descartes had come to the discovery of this maxim after a profound philosophical doubt. “I think, therefore I am”, or “I am a being which receives impressions”, which had become the cornerstone on which the rest of his worldview was to be based. And with that, Descartes became the father of modern philosophy.
Fast forward a few hundred years and everyone knows both him and his maxim. But the time of grand philosophical structures has passed. Mocking a basis for a structure of knowledge and affirming ones own existence through a very personal experience is what this quote does. Coïto ergo sum. I have sex, therefore I am. No grand truth, but the subjective experience of living; the full charm of Existentialism. If this was the same young man who used to clamour “Freedom is for Animals”, I think we can safely assume he is back in business, and feeling a whole lot better.
What ever happened to “I love you Nicole”, “the President is a fascist” and a banal teenage tag? It seems that in todays world you can no longer just spray something on a wall anymore, it has to be thought out. And perhaps you need to have completed some kind of formal artistic education to even be sufficiently pretentious as to consider expressing yourself on the public canvas (i.e. other people’s walls). Just have a good look at the attached picture. “Freedom is for Animals”. How far removed can you be from a nighttime scribble of a frustrated youth with nowhere to go?
If you walk a few streets with the line in your head, you realize that it is quite a quote. Forget the half-hearted freedom you may stand to gain at the falling of the regime governing your country, or the eloping with your favourite waitress, or the slapping down of a resignation letter with eloquent profanity. Freedom is forever out of reach of mankind. Freedom is lexically unrelated to human beings, it is strictly for animals. If you, in a moment of doubt at the traffic light four streets away, thought that perhaps you too were an animal, the image of the cat will appear before your mind’s eye, grinning like Alice’s all-knowing Cheshire cat. Yes. It is not for you. If you do whatever you want you may not land on your feet as some other species do. Freedom is animals only.
By the time you have crossed the Seine, you may have considered the possibility that “Animals” is to be read as “Barbarians”. That makes it all even worse. Then the artist would be telling us that Freedom, which everybody wants but nobody defines, is in fact a trap. Freedom is only wanted by those who crave an unethical, barbaric life. It is the path of decadence leading to amorality and ruin. It is for beasts! Oh no, something we all inherently want is not good for us! We need rules and restraint to keep us in check, our innocence too is now lost. This graffiti-ed cat has sent us tail-chasing. Whatever you do, keep your eyes on the walls as you meander on, for somewhere someone may have figured out what it is that we can have. And I hope it is good.