I could be in any one of so many different parts of Toronto. The continuous passing of streetcars out front cuts the possibilities down some. But leaving that out, you could lift up this coffice space and drop it just about anywhere on the west side of the older part of Toronto – or many places on the east side, too – and it would make sense. (As it happens, it’s on the north side of College just east of Bathurst.)
This isn’t to say that coffice spaces all look the same after a while. They don’t, but there are some points of consistency, some sets you can group them into. Manic Coffee is of that set that have an exposed brick wall on one side and the espresso bar on the other side. It’s one of the ones that are in a long and narrow old building with the washroom downstairs.
It has rows of square wooden tables – a half dozen at the front and again as many farther back – with a wall bench on one side and white plastic bucket seats on the other. There are also two tables along the wall right across from the espresso bar with two bucket seats for each. I can see family resemblances to several other coffice spaces. The espresso bar has cookies and other baked goods. In a departure from most, it also has a gelato fridge.
Manic Coffee is, as such, a place to reflect on how every place in every moment is perceivable as a set of resemblances to and differences from other places and moments. It is the shaded middle of a Venn diagram with a large number of circles of sets it belongs to all overlapping in just its instance.
The fact that such a place is very much of our cultural moment is further underlined by the music that’s playing in here, none of which is less than 40 years old. But our perception of it is not the perception we would have had of it when it was first released; our relation to this music as a historical artifact is essential to our appreciation of it here and now, just as this exposed brick rubbing my left elbow as I type this is not the same as it was when it was fresh; it is a historical reference, a historical quotation, bespeaking authenticity precisely because it is not in its own authentic time. Its quotational status is underlined by the large neon lemon that adorns it. What can be seen as authentic if it is not seen as “other” and, thus taken out of its ostensible native context, incapable of fully satisfying the definition of authenticity?
In short, Manic Coffee is a good place to have too much caffeine and work on a copyedit on a book about history in the view of early twentieth-century French and German philosophy. We understand history only in relation to a construction of ourselves in the moment in which we experience ourselves, a moment that is already historical as soon as we are aware of it, but is not yet distant enough to be history, although its entire constitution relies on history. And all of this understanding of the immediate moment comes courtesy of philosophers who are themselves historical, dead now for decades. But, you know, have some more coffee and you’re sure to vibrate them to life.
Now. Back to the text.