I entered a new space.1 There is something called mental space, that you’re not in the Rockies, but you know they’re there in the same country. The ocean in Berkeley, the fact that people move in cars, or they moved on bigger spaces in cars. Mostly at that time there were not so many cars, you took buses or went on foot or the Metro. So, it was a different state, physically. It was a new planet.2
And like the head of the department in Berkeley was so friendly, so informal. The French were so formal, you saw your professor once a year, and there was such a distance. You barely looked him in the eyes. And here were the Americans, would put you at ease, chatted with you, these little details are immensely important. Even hamburgers, you know, because at that time you still had little restaurants. And yeah, you mean they chew and everything about the — the fact that the university had a football team, I never thought of actually seeing. So, everything was a discovery. And I was free of any references.
So, everything, even words — like in Beirut, I learned French in a bookish way. I knew words, and I never saw the objects they meant. In America, every word I learned was a real experience. Like if they would tell me a spoon, I had the spoon in my hand, or I don’t know, a sweeper. So, it was really — for me, on every level. Because at that time, European philosophy and philosophy taught in America were very different. Today, it’s not that way.
But in the ’50s, what they taught, American philosophy was mostly symbolic logic, mathematical thinking, philosophy of science, analytical philosophy coming from England.3 And I didn’t know all these approaches to philosophy, I didn’t have time for semesters to catch up with it, but it was, again, fascinating. There was a student in Berkeley, in the middle ’60s. He was Yugoslav. And he came to prepare a thesis on Nietzsche, and the department refused to receive him.
They said Nietzsche is not a philosopher, he’s a poet. He couldn’t find a university in the US to accept his thesis.4 He ended up in Washington University in Seattle — who accepted him. So, for me, that was the opposite. That’s what I called philosophy, and what they were doing, I couldn’t see what it had to do. But these are fascinating things. If you accept them instead of rejecting them, then it’s wonderful.