The accusation is that the waiter exhibits bad faith: in throwing himself fully into the role of waiter he is denying his ultimate free will.
It is possible, however, to turn this analysis around, as some critical Sartreans have done, and to defend the poor waiter. Gary Cox, in his excellent The Existentialist’s Guide to Death, the Universe and Nothingness, argues that the waiter, far from being deluded that he really is a waiter, is consciously acting “with ironical intent”. In this sense, he is a paragon of Sartrean authenticity, because “he strives to take full responsibility for the reality of his situation, choosing himself positively in his situation by throwing himself wholeheartedly into his chosen role”.
This is a stunning idea. I really like it. But it doesn’t quite cut the mustard for me. Leading a life defined by one’s occupation is the very essence of bad faith, it being the condition in which people cannot transcend their situations in order to realise their human fallibility and their lack of immortal, conceptual waiterliness.
Still, it’s a great way of letting employed people off the hook. God knows they have enough problems as it is. Perhaps we should be kind and extend to them the benefit of the doubt, if only to cut them loose from our own ledger of concerns.
Buy the complete back catalogue of New Escapologist with a 10% discount today.
Or buy the complete back catalogue on PDF, with £1 off the price each issue.
Buy Issue 3 on PDF for £3 for a limited time only.