“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

menus con't

Give me liberty, or give me death, and can you make that with extra cheese?” – Patrick Henry at the Burger King

When I cast my beady, crow’s eyes over the long stretch of modernity – in these dog, dead days, I have little else to amuse me – I see nothing that so aptly fits Polanyi’s model of the disembedding of the economy as the rise of the menu – the course of which is, appropriately, a blank as far as I can tell. No opus to light the weary traveler on his way. Just the kind of trace that makes my juices flow. At the same time, of course, LI is a humble blogger, no maker of opuses but a poker of holes: we aren’t going to build Rome in a thousand words or less, or give you the foundations of menu-ology here.

In the two scenes we picked out from two movies in our last post, it would be easy to leave the menus behind. Like the King in Las Meninas, or – a better comparison – like the anamorphic skull in Holbein’s Ambassadors, gracing Lacan’s Seminaire, volume 11, they are where the gazes are gathered and the source that builds the space the gazes all span. So, what royal personage is doing the looking here? Well, it is LI’s humble contention, and the root of the insanity that has obviously driven him mad, that the gaze that stares out from the menu is the fly’s gaze, one in which two hundred flavors of ice cream, thirty brands of corn flakes, eggs with rye toast or steak cooked to your preference and ten combinations of milk (soy, whole, or one percent) and coffee can be held in balance, equally. The restaurant ain’t no panopticon, but it is one of the many entrances to the fly’s world, the kingdom of Capital. And we do know the name of the Lord of the Flies, don’t we?

Not that LI is particularly kicking against Belzebuub. We are humble servitors, more humble, because more miserably unsuccessful, than most - we simply have a causist’s quibble with the definition of freedom in the fly’s kingdom. That definition is spelled out in preferences, and he who says preferences says a pricing and market mechanism before you can say “still working on that, sir?” Or, “do you want onions and pickle on that?” What better text for preferences is there, what better object of the neo-classical school than the menu? Belzebuub’s poetic conceit is that all that exists, exists to be put on a menu. It functions not only to separate and classify choices, but to civilize and educate. Just as the child’s growth as a biological entity is measured by yardsticks and charts, the child’s entry into the fly’s kingdom comes by way of learning about, well, entrees.

All of which is LI creeping towards his object and around it again, instead of making the bold pounce. Maybe I can make the pounce in the next, or the next, post.


Patrick said...

Well, I surely do hope so. You are the most ridiculous person I think I have ever run into sometimes. Why, I've already helped Mistah Scruggs learn how to do Home Ec using sardines, luscious chocolate cakes and a suitcase to hide basic necessities so you won't use them till the financial crunch comes. Now what bothers me about the term 'menu' is when it quit being for food and started being for goddam fucking compyoo-tahs. A further refinement beyond the primer is to remember that the model is way beyond Dickens and 'pots of porter' which all have a basic real sensation to them and make you want them. No, it goes back in literature to the 'meat and wine', rarely described as anything more specific than that, that you got if you fought in the Trojan War. Well, I just know that that 'meat and wine' was so much better than the finest Tournedos Rossini and the top Margeaux. Somehow, the 'loaves and fishes' of the Bible never did quite cancel out the need for overrefinement and piss-elegant restauranting. However, if you keep that 'meat and wine' of the Iliad in mind, and do a lot of your own cooking, you can arrive at a point where the foods partaken and intaken are simplified greatly, and your own food reaches toward Homeric food values of extreme richness in simplicity. This abides at the lower level of paltry menus in cheap places too. I made fish dish from the recipe on the back of the two cans of coconut milk I bought in 1999 today and we had wine that was good with it. There were some vegetables and all I did was insist that my guest be properly appreciative since he arrived an hour early and made me have to rush. After that, we had a 'cake' that came out of an old cookbook. I cannot help that this ended up being like something Tony Soprano's wife would have made, because I didn't even know if was Italian.

If you figure out how to eat all or almost all of your meals at home, then you just take walks or rides and go into places with ridiculous overrefinements of foods and menus. You can then experience them without eating them as cultural products. This is fun, and also works when you are very hungry but about to cook: If you are in a store with many aromas, they will find their way in the form of colours and flavours into your digestive system without eating them; and then you go home and humbly ingest some nice dried apricots or put some preserve on a toasted buttered muffin. Doing this brings you to one of them higher astral planes.

Even so, the war culture makes us a nation of tinkerers and dickerers as you have so rightly pointed out. Just now, at Ballet Talk, they have thought it would be just real cute to decide which beloved dancers are catlike and which are doglike. However, on that kind of board, you can't call anybody on bullshit, so I just said that a bunch of them were like cats, and covertly figured out a way to indicate that Nureyev was well-hung. That ought to suit those fool bourgeois.

roger said...

Patrick, ridiculous? me?
Hey, I am trying, in my prose, to do what Weegee did - make every shot a crime photograph, even if what it shows isn't a crime. Thus, my severe tongue lashing of American Kultcha, consumerism, the bourgoisie (and you know I am just a boogie wanna be) is, of course, not the only side. I've gone crazy, lately, but I'm not crazy enough not to know I've gone crazy.

I think you are perfectly right to gather the best foodstuffs from the city and gourmandise in the privacy of your own - in New Haven, I discovered Italian groceries and loved them. And besides, I like grocery stores. I like the aisles, I like the clerks, I like slipsliding around, deciding what I'm gonna have today. I loved, in NH, the small space and the way there was something really seasonal - whereas, of course, at the local Randalls, here, the fruits and vegetables have gotten detached from the seasons. The problem for me, here, is Whole Foods - my money travels from my pocket to the WF register like I'm trying to put the owners kids through college. I have finally learned to exert some control over that expenditure.

So you didn't like the fly's eye bit, eh? Damn. I thought that was pretty whimsical, if I do say so myself.

roger said...

PS -- interesting bit about the Iliad. I haven't checked, but I am pretty sure there is an Inn scene in the Golden ass. And of course, there is the mock heroic catalogue of foods in Petronius. I would bet that there were restaurant menus, of a kind, in Rome - but like I say, I'm stabbing in the dark, since I haven't found the great study of menus, yet. I'm counting on some nineteenth century German scholar having already written it, in three volumes, with Benjamin referring to it in the Passages fragments.

Carla said...

That was funny with a lot of class. I enjoy traipsing through the aisles of a grocery store. There's something soothing about the stacks and stacks of foodstuff of all variety, of all colors and purposes. Maybe it's the little girl in me seeking comfort among food.

new york pervert said...

No, I like all your whimsical eccentricity, I just don't like for smart people to call themselves 'losers,' but I guess that is part of freedom beyond what the non-reality-based community allows. Of course, I am often thought to be ridiculous, but I repudiate this attempted insight.

roger said...

Carla, I'm glad to hear from a secret sharer! All that stuff in the grocery store seems more well intended than the stuff in, say, your average other store - a Home Depot, a Banana Republic, a Nordstrom, not to speak of a pawn shop -- the things in a pawn shop seem pretty hostile, actually, like the crosses on the Island of Doctor Moreau, mutely mulling around, waiting for a signal to revolt.

Mr. NYP:

Oh. The loser thing. You might be right about that. I was standing at a bus stop, yesterday, and two girls - I guess about twelve - were chatting away, and one girl called the other my nigga, and my heart sank a bit. I'd like to think word magic unlocks the chains in that word, but I think nigger is too powerful a spell to unspell. And it is a bad, sick 400 year old thing for a bright twelve year old to be carrying around.

On the other hand, loser doesn't have that curse, to me. It is just one of those deeply ludicrous frat boy words - and of course, he who wanteth to find his life shall lose it, as Crazy Jay once put it, inversion being his strong suit.

Amie said...

yesterday, shortly after reading your 'history of the menu' (part I), i was lounging in my apartment thumbing through Proust's A la Recherche, when i heard a strange slithering sound by the front door. ambled over to look and lo! someone had slipped a menu beneath the door. some poor person delivering menus door to door, hoofing it up to my crummy walk-up.
anyway, took a quick look to see if a madeleine was in the menu. no luck.
so the menu went in the wastebasket and today i don't remember a thing that was in it, or even the name of the eatery.
ah, what menu would have the secret powers of a madeleine?

roger said...

Amie, hmmm, I do remember a menu in... is it a Queneau novel? Dimanche de la vie? Or is it in Perec's La Vie: mode d'emploi? A quick googling tells me that Queneau actually cites the Almanach des gourmands somewhere. Ho ho, the hunt is afoot!

Amie said...

aha! so Queneau cites Almanach des gourmands!
i cannot remember if it is in Zazie perhaps, though i do recall a couple of great restaurant episodes in Zazie -- one where she devours ice cream, and the long insane episode near the end of the book.

new york pervert said...

I guess cussedness is a reasonable enough default position, and it's a good place to be defiant about most anything.