we human beings have been given the capacity to think, and we think wrongly. To know how to think requires a great deal of penetration, understanding, but to know what to think is comparatively easy. Our present education consists in telling us what to think, it does not teach us how to think, how to penetrate, explore; and it is only when the teacher as well as the student knows how to think that the school is worthy of its name. Krishnamurti
There is no outside, and this is how it is outside, how it puts me outside myself: this is the experience of pleasure.
There is perhaps no better definition of jouissance and relation than the intimacy of infinity and the infinity of intimacy.
Intimacy is the superlative of interiority (interior intimo meo: perhaps the whole history of sex in the West has to do with this Augustinian god who is so intimate with [oneself]).
Excerpts of Jean-Luc Nancy—Corpus II: Writings on Sexuality
Paz de la Calzada
from the series Kolam, iron oxide and chalk on paper
The “There Is” of Sexual Relation
. . . we must avoid saying “the” sexual relation. We have to stop using a noun and instead turn to what verbs try to say: to bed, to do, to fuck, but also to take, to penetrate, to jerk off, to touch. They are aIl verbs that [in French] can be conjugated in the reflexive—to fuck oneself, give oneself, touch oneself—though without losing the necessary ambiguity of this reflexivity, which always moves back and forth between auto- and alloeroticism. For it is precisely here again, here above aIl, or for example, that it becomes a matter of distinguishing oneself, distinguishing a self, distinguishing it from the other, distinguishing it by the other, distinguishing it by distinguishing the other, distinguishing oneself with the other, that is, with and from the other. Everything that remains indistinct is accounted for by this with, this co- of the community or of copulation. Copulation is the with (co-) of a link, a liaison (apula, from apio), in the same way that coitus is the with of a going (ire), of a coming and going, the movement of which, the approach and retreat, the touch and withdrawal constitutes (or founds, structures, signifies, symbolizes, or activates, whichever you like) in a very precise way the co- itself, which is nothing in itself, nothing but relation, nothing but the shattering of the identical and the one-in-itself. In fact, this is just what sex does; it shatters the one-in-itself.
. . .
Intimacy is the superlative of interiority (interior intimo meo: perhaps the whole history of sex in the West has to do with this Augustinian god who is so intimate with the subject). What interiority is shared and shared out sexually? Precisely not the interiority of any given identity, nor of any relation to self, that is, of any relation in itself. What is shared and shared out and what is spaced out is precisely what does not exist for itself, for there is nothing—no generality or indifference or asexuality—that could ever underlie sex.
. . .
Jouissance is not the jouissance of sex, as though it were some sort of good that could be possessed, and it is not jouissance by sex, as though it gave access to the possession of some good. In this context, using the language of subject and object is particularly dangerous, because it implies, at least in philosophical discourse, the constitution and representation of the object by and for the subject. But sex neither constitutes nor represents any such thing; it differs and defers itself, so it is neither its subject nor its object. Jouissance is the tact or the being of sex insofar as it differs and defers itself: The representation of a fusion, whether original or terminal, represents the extinction of jouissance. The whole history of eroticism testifies to this, from Plato to Henry Miller, not forgetting the troubadours along the way. The same history would also testify—if we wanted to pause here—that pleasure does not exist without touching on suffering, and the joy of anguish: this touch does not itself exist, as it should, without spacing and differentiation.
(In a more general way, it should be added that desire, properly speaking, has no object. What desire desires is not objected by it, is not placed before it as though opposite it, but rather is part of its desiring movement. The thing of desire can no more be ob-jectified than it can be sub-jectified. It is not “-jectable” or “throw-able” at aIl. It is neither the lost object nor the subject of a quest but the throw itself or the throwing, the sending, the address, the inter-jection.)
. . .
Pleasure happens in desire and as desire, thus conforming to the double sense of the German Lust, to which Freud refers (and which is also to be found in the Greek eros and the Sanskrit /çama). When desire is satisfied, it is both its own extinction and its own excess: in discharging itself it also provides the incommensurable measure of an entropy that never takes place (except perhaps provisionally, and thanks to the impossibility of subsisting in a tension without end). Jouissance is precisely the simultaneity of release and the excess of tension. We could describe this as “impossible” if we wished, not in the sense in which we would have to acknowledge a fantasy of fusion as an impasse, but rather in the sense that the impasse in question is precisely what opens the way—to what? To the infinity of desire-pleasure, which is the infinity of sex deferring and differing itself. (And, if we need to be reminded again, desire-pleasure must also be noted as a certain dis-pleasure: beyond contentment.)
It is essential to determine with enough precision what we are talking about when we talk about “desire.” We could stay within the scheme of privation where desire is a lack of being, and there is a whole tradition that puts it this way. In the Freudian lexicon we are then closer to Wunsch (that is, wish) than Gier, Begierde, or Gelüste, which is empty ardor, appetite in its primary sense of tension and impulse. Moving from one register to another, we pass from a motion that is drawn out by absence and lack to an emotion that is excited by a presence that asks to assert itself again.
. . .
this duality of desire has been part of our eroticism since Plato. There it takes the form of the couple who are the parents of Eros: Penia, who is poverty or lack, and Poros, who is passage, with all his resourcefulness and his life impulse (the opposite of aporia or impasse). We must think of Eros as the intimate connection between the two, and this requires, first of all, making sure that desire is not determined unilaterally by its Latin etymon (desidero, “to no longer see the stars, to find oneself in a state of lack, to be out of order”). Qualified in this way, desire is nothing but disaster, and a thinking that tries to make sense of it opens onto an ontology of loss—a dis-astrology or, if you prefer to stick with Greek, a catastrology. But if desire is double, lack is also the opening of its impulse and the thrust of its unreleaseable tension—a con-sideration. If there is a lack, it is the lack of nothing, that is, of no object because aIl is subject to it. The desiring subject can only relate to a subject that is itself a desiring subject.
. . .
The subject of desire is insatiable, not because it never reaches the point of being sated but because it does not respond to a logic, an economy, or an energetics of satiation. It feeds on itself but this is not a matter of repletion or a return to self. It is, rather, a matter of an intimation, a pressing demand to always go deeper, to the innermost depths. What feeds on itself is also what opens relation.
. . .
The beauty of the body I desire is also what pleases that body itself. In this way, the relation between the sexes breaks down like a three-part polyphony, which each time concerns a pleasure or desire that tends toward itself even though its self-sameness consists in its alterty. For that very reason—because its identity consists in its difference—this relation can properly only be infinite, which means both interminable and entirely present each time it is in play.
. . .
Sex essentially exceeds itself, which is why it is essentially exciting. For to relate oneself, in the sense that l’ve said, is to excite oneself: to carry oneself outside, to spurt or spout out. Indeed, desire is not extinguished once it is satiated; by reaching the point of discharge it exceeds itself again.
. . .
The act consummates itself in not ending; it makes neither one nor two, it has no result, it never stops beginning, and it never stops finishing. In one sense it is confined to the simple sentiment—or simple shock—of existing itself: existing that, to be precise, is neither separate nor fused, for those are two ways of missing the true sense of the term existing.
The excitement that comes with the pleasure of tension is not “preliminary,” as Freud put it. Or maybe it is preliminary in the sense that it precedes the threshold—the limen—at which it properly touches the intimacy of its own being excited. This is the logic of erogenous zones, the logic obeyed by the pleasure of tension as the tension of pleasure.
. . .
It is not a matter of denying either tension as such or the fact that tension cannot reach beyond the opposition between tension and détente to an intensity that eternalizes itself in presence to self. Of course we never reach this, but that is not the point. The point is precisely in the reaching inso- far as it reaches nothing but itself. It is a reaching that is not a matter of gaining access so much as being a surprise [une survenue) une surprise] and therefore remaining essentially hidden from itself. One does not reach jouissance, for jouissance is a reaching.
There is perhaps no better definition of jouissance and relation than the intimacy of infinity and the infinity of intimacy.
What is surprising, then, in intimate relations is not that two intimacies are put into relation as if they were two given things, one on either side …. On the contrary, what is surprising is relation itself as intimacy. But we must be sure to understand the proper nature of intimacy, which is that of the superlative, intimus, the most intus, the inner-most. It is the inner such that there is no deeper or higher inner. But the depth in question has no ground: if there were a ground, somewhere it could be grounded or founded (in whatever sense), and it (or he or she) could not even enter into relation. This is because a ground assures and fixes a being on its proper substance. The intimate is always deeper than the deepest ground. . . . But the intimate is also the place of a sharing, both of oneself and of the other.
. . .
If there is something impossible about jouissance, it is that there is intimacy, that is, there is a what (or a who) that recoils endlessly from every possible summons. The impossibility of jouissance means that it comes about only by not being deposed in a certain state (as in legal language, where one “enjoys a good”) and that its result is its act itself. But it does happen, in this way. This is aIl it does. In this sense, jouissance knows nothing of the distinction between potential and actual. Ir is actual as potential, and this potentiality (which should not be confused with what is known as “sexual potency”) is the very possibility of the impossible—passive potential as much as active potential. Jouissance enjoys itself, and this can happen only in the distinction, division, and relation of more than one who experiences jouissance. To say that jouissance enjoys itself is to say that it can be only as the other to itself, as what it is, not as “possible” in the sense of something that can happen or not happen, but “possible” in the sense that it contains-and liberates-the power of the impossible.
. . .
Once the intimate is put into play, it does not initially concern what we ordinarily call “sex.” (That could be on the order of what we calI “emotion” or “thought,” but also “gesture,” “expression,” or “presence”). Quite the opposite. The sexual, before or beyond sex, turns out to be what opens an order distinct from both the order of things and the order of signification. It is an order of sense—and the senses of sense—where signs are in play but do not make signification; they make pleasure-desire instead. These insignificant signs are gestures, touches, appeals. (At the risk of vulgarity, we should think of the sense of the English sex appeal …) What is in play is an appeal or call, and we will leave undetermined whether it is a question or order, assignation or request. This appeal can take place between two looks, two intonations, two gestures, with nothing following from it at aIl. It can even play out from a look (or a hearing, a touch, etc.) directed at something outside the human (animal, material, object) that comes to be sexualized, if not sexed. But in this way it is perhaps also appeal in itself, the sending of a statement without anything being stated. This could be the literal sense of the word adoration. (Adoration can remain mute and secret, unknown even to the one adored and in any case far removed from any passage à l’acte. The gospels know something about this, convicting of sin anyone who has even “desired a woman in his heart.” But rather than embarking on a commentary on Christian guilt, we should think first of the infinitization of desire that is opened up here and the fact that it is perhaps not so far removed from the one opened—in a different way—in Plato’s eroticism.)
Whatever form it takes, the opposition between love and desire runs the risk of preserving the Augustinian antagonism between cupiditas and caritas which has structured a whole field of Christian doctrine. This opposition between nature (the principle of insatiable appetite) and grace (the principle of inexhaustible oblation) proceeds from the infinitization of man and world. By this means it separates itself from the Platonic distinction between love of body and love of soul, since the latter leaves open the way from one register to another as a passage from one order of forms (which are by definition not infinite) to another. The movement of this passage is already infinite, but its stages remain defined. Christian infinity is split into the bad infinity of the missing object and the good infinity of the subject of surrection. In any case, it is definitively a matter of this and this alone: no creature is its own essence—but it has its being in a creator who, in the final analysis, has no substance other than relation itself What flows from this makes caritas and cupiditas indissociable in the Greek-Christian scheme of things-right at the heart of their intimate dispute. (Perhaps intimacy is created by this very dispute.)
Since then they say that love—Christian or not, philosophical or not, erotic or not—cannot be distinguished without remainder from desire. And, in fact, it is not certain that, under these conditions, they can be opposed at aIl, even if they also cannot simply be confounded. Love and desire govern and exclude one another, each one representing both the finition and the infinition of the other, each one capable of falling outside the other, while neither can subsist in its essence closed off from the other. There must be love in each gesture of desire and vice versa. But in each case this can tend toward the fading away of one or other of them. Love and desire would thus be the two poles of relation, of its taking place without place, since they themselves stand in a relation without relation. Love gives what is not (according to Lacan), and desire grasps what exceeds it. Somewhere between them is a zone for sharing, whether it is a matter of commerce or collision.
. . .
Therefore, when we do something more than exchange a few signs of appeal, when we make love in the proper sense (but what exactly could be the propriety, if not the properness and cleanliness, of such an expression?) it is not that we change the nature of the appeal in some way. (This leads me ta add in passing that the idea of “sublimation,” as we already know, is decidedly fragile: maybe nothing is ever “sublimated,” but everything is susceptible to being sublime …). But when we make love, we pose or expose relation as such. We pose its “unrelatable” character explicitly. The paradox here is that by making love we expose infinition as such. (We could also say that we pass from the sexuating sexual ta the sexed sexual.) What must be produced, at least up to a certain point, is a determination (a “finition”) of sexed positions, identities, jouissances. The actors also become those who expose their own infinition. But this is how they experience jouissance: on the threshold of finitude.
Certainly, then, there is no relation in the sense that there is no account to be given and no accountability of excess, not because excess involves a gushing that would go on and on interminably (which would eventuaIly come ta the same thing as an oceanic, fusional entropy), but because excess is simply, strictly, and exactly [a matter of] reaching oneself as difference and reaching difference as such, that is, reaching what cannot be examined or instantiated as such, unless its “as such” is exposed as what is never such (which is what would be required by the idea of an evaluation, measure, or accomplishment of relation). There is in fact no relation as relation. lndeed, fucking does not take place as such, but always otherwise (what pretends ta be fucking as such is pornography: it is the only figure of the impossible as impasse). Fucking takes place as reaching or gaining access to its own impossibility, or as its own impossibility as access ta whatever element of self-relation is incommensurable with every relation. But we fuck, and by fucking-whatever fucking is—I say again with Celan, our senses are burned. Jouissance is not something we can achieve. It is what achieves itself and consumes itself in that self-achieving, burning its own sense, that is, illuminating it even as it burns it up.
The Body of Pleasure
What is a body of pleasure? It is a body detached from the schemas of perception and operation. It is no longer available to sight, or to sensation in general, in any of the usual ways of its functional, active, relational life. It is not turned toward the world, not even toward the other with whom—since we’re talking about sexual pleasure—it is engaged in an exchange. There is no longer an “other” in the ordinary sense of the word, just as there is no self-sameness or fusion. The two (maybe more) are caught up in a mingling that is not just a mingling of these different bodies but at the same time the blurring of aIl the distinctions, roles, or operations connected to the functions, actions and representations of daily life.
. . .
It is a body mingled with itself and organized by this mingling. It is mingled with itself and with another (or others), with self as other. It becomes a stranger to itself in order to relate to itself as another or even itself as the other who encroaches upon it and besieges it, in order to enjoy it and also rejoice in itself.
. . .
what affirms itself is the body as a capacity for transforming itself, reforming itself, or, perhaps, informing or even exforming itself, passing from conformation, even conformity regulated by a collection of social, cultural, and technological practices, to a form that is itself always in the process of formation.
This body invents itself, recomposes and replays itself. It re-forms itself and almost ex-forms itself, indeed de-forms itself in such a way that it is now nothing more than this exposition of self; body as skin touched and touching, that is to say, as the modulation of an approach that always begins again From the proper limit of body. It reaches its limit, it passes its limit, it makes itself limitless.
The body of pleasure tends toward limitlessness, as if it were no longer body at all but pure sou!. In the same way, the opposite movement, pain, tends to reduce the suffering body to a suffering soul that concentrates itself in the burning and its rejection of it or, more precisely, in this burning such that it rejects itself. Pleasure and pain are like two modes of being burned: a burning that feeds on itself and one that resists and repulses itself.
These are two modes of excitation: excitation is the movement of appeal by and response to an exterior agent. Excitability is an elementary property of living beings. The living are above aIl excited, called upon to respond to an outside. As a result, the living being is always already responding to this call, always already excited, affècted by an outside. In- deed, it is being affected by an outside that brings anything to life, whether we are talking about a plant or a human animal.
. . .
We must bring to bear, without hesitation, the determination of pleasure as a demand: call, incitation, excitation to go beyond utility and satisfaction in order to go toward the dismantling of self: abandon, to pass to the limit-a passage that does not clear a way but that brushes past, touching as it goes and in touching lets itself be touched by the outside (nothing-god).
. . .
There is no outside, and this is how it is outside, how it puts me out- side myself: this is the experience of pleasure.
. . .
pleasure consists in tasting the always uncertain, unstable, and trembling measure of proximity, the approach of a certain distinction and renewal, repetition and revival of distance.
. . ,.
To touch: that is, to set in play both attraction and repulsion, integrity and breaking apart, distinction and translation. To set in play together as such, that is, the light touch of unity and its abandonment, its disunion.
The touched and touching body—touched because it touches, touching because it is touched, always having elsewhere the sufficient reason of its bodily being—this body organizes itself around that is, around this contact of bodies that has no end other than itself: around this contact that is also the contact of the same body with itself. For it is precisely in this way that it no longer is or has a “self” but is exposed in its entirety. It exposes itself first by posing itself outside the order of needs, functions, services, or offices. Its office becomes the service of pleasure, which means the service of the movement by which a body recalls itself: gathers itself: and revives itself for itself, to set itself in resonance with the outside of bodies.
This body emerges from its form. Its heart no longer beats to the rhythm of a blood pump but instead to the rhythm of wild panic; its lungs no longer respire but pant, even suffocate in the attempt to draw a breath that would be the suspension of breath itself and the cutting off of air. Its limbs and organs are no longer limbs and organs but are deformed and reform in zones, parcels, or disoriented continents whose entire geography expands or contracts according to the excitations that at every point raise the possibility of a complete recomposition. A body that would arise completely from a breast, a palm, a belly.
Among these various zones, the ones that distinguish and assert themselves are those that are the sites of an effusion, a spurt, a flowing of humor, liquor, that is, a solution/dissolution of form in which an incessantly new possibility of form is sketched.
Everything is there, in the sketch of an indeterminate recomposition out of which another body would spring, another sharing of bodies, another mingling and unmingling of skins, a liquidation of organic and social contours and constructions.
In sex, bodies testify to a vocation for infinitizing oneself beyond all secondary determinations of a given order. . . . Starting from nothing, that is, opening wide what is already itself only opening: mouth, eye, ear, nostril, sex, anus, skin, skin indefinitely reclaimed and aIl its pores reopened. Spacings, generosities, captures and abandonments, comings and goings, swings: always the syncopated cadence of an gait that carries toward the confines of what is delimited, by a body first of aIl.
The body of pleasure (and its reverse, the body of pain) illimits the body. It is its transcendence.
Generally speaking, no one would feel immediately comfortable today claiming the position of prophet.
Naturally, the prophet has not altogether disappeared from Western culture.
Excerpts of “Creation and Salvation” by Giorgio Agamben,Nudities, (SUP: 2011). Edited by Thomas Marconi.
Prophets disappear early on in Western history.
In as much as the Messiah appeared on earth and fulfilled the promise, the prophet no longer has any reason to exist, and so Paul, Peter, and their companions present themselves as apostles (that is, “those who are sent forth”), never as prophets.
In Judaism as in Christianity, hermeneutics has replaced prophetism; one can practice prophecy only in the form of interpretation.
The Islamic tradition inextricably links the figure and the function of the prophet to two works and actions of God. . . the work of creation and the work of salvation. Prophets correspond to the latter. . . . Angels correspond to the former.
And if it true that God is the place where humans think through their decisive problems, then these are also the two poles of human action.
In modern culture philosophy and criticism have inherited the prophetic work of salvation (that formerly, in the sacred sphere, had been entrusted to exegesis); poetry, technology, and art are the inheritors of the angelic work of creation.
What is truly singular in every human existence is the silent and impervious intertwining of the two works.
A critical or philosophical work that does not possess some sort of an essential relationship with creation is condemned to pointless idling, just as a work of art or poetry that does not contain within it a critical exigency is destined for oblivion.
The fact is that these two works—which appear autonomous and independent of one another—are in reality two faces of the same divine power, and they coincide, at least as far as the prophet is concerned, within a single being.
Perhaps the only way to lead them back once again to their common root is by thinking of the work of salvation as that aspect of power to create that was left unpracticed by the angel and thus can turn back on itself.
The prophet is an angel who, in the very impulse that spurs him into action, suddenly feels in his living flesh the thorn of a different exigency.
The crying angel turns itself into a prophet, while the lament of the poet for creation becomes critical prophecy, that is to say, philosophy.
Juicy Philosophy: A way of life for ripening human organisms
For us to understand some ways for philosophy to be juicy—more mouthwateringly fruitful for our lives—let’s consider what juicy suggests and why human organisms have this cultural activity called philosophy. Then we can consider what philosophy is and how it may benefit us in more personal and practical ways. Only then, can we have a sense of how philosophy happens, what we believe are the three limbs of a juicy philosophy, and how you can bring juicy philosophy into your life.
Once we consider these questions, it will probably make a lot more sense as to why philosophy should be understood as adult education, but something totally unlike what you probably understand adult education to be—llearning how to fully ripen and flourish as a human organism.
If philosophy is supposedly good for you, maybe we can say at least that it is a cultural phenomenon that supports human wellbeing and flourishing. So then, what does the adjective juicy suggest? The New Oxford American Dictionary says “temptingly appealing,” and even “interestingly scandalous.” Juicy suggests ripe, generous, and succulent, according to The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. We would add that something juicy is appealing to our palate in ways that are both exciting and stimulating but also, importantly, nourishing and satisfying.
Why is there philosophy?
Antonio Gramsci proposed that “it is essential to destroy the widespread prejudice that philosophy is a strange and difficult thing”. “Spontaneous philosophy,” he suggests, “is proper to everybody,” occurring in “language,” “common sense,” and “folklore.” Realizing “that everyone is a philosopher . . . one then moves to the second level,” with a “critical awareness” of “a conception of the world mechanically imposed by the external environment.” We can understand Gramsci to suggest that spontaneous philosophy is inherent to human organisms, as is walking and talking, but unlike breathing and digesting. In other words, it is a developed capacity. This is resonant with the famous comment by the artist Joseph Beuys, who said “all of you, you too are artists.” Yet I hope we can agree that artists develop their capacity to express, as do musicians, dancers, or chefs. So too concerning a ripening of spontaneous philosophy. This is why Gramsci suggests we must move to a second level, of developed capacity by means of a critical awareness.
A few years ago in the middle of my tenure in grad school, I received a fortune cookie that professed “the philosophy of one century is the common sense of the next.” My fortune cookie resonates with this notion of a critical capacity that Gramsci proposes, because culture changes, and more quickly today than ever before, with the increasing role of communication technologies changing how we relate to others and how we come to know what we know, believe what we believe. What is also suggested by Gramsci and the fortune cookie is that one needs to develop and refine their critical awareness and sensibilities. It is an imperative predecessor to nurture the ways how human organisms flourish.To color outside the box, one must first be able to notice outside the box.It seems that anything that rightfully earns the title philosophy that would benefit our everyday lives, often has a perspective from the fringes of the popular sentiments of a society. Otherwise the word, the idea, and the practices of philosophy would not exist. In effect, philosophy worthy of the title considers what we don’t normally notice, it serves as a corrective to ideas, values, and practices that have drawn an individual, group or a society too far off on a tangent from values and sensibilities that nurture human flourishing for all and for the living world we participate in. A philosopher is one that inspires, a “change of taste,” in terms of the contemporary collective sensibilities.
A philosophy of praxis cannot but present itself at the outset in a polemical and critical guise, as superseding the existing mode of thinking. . . it must be a criticism of common sense. Antonio Gramsci
Giorgio Agamben describes this role of the philosopher as being a “contemporary.”
Those who are truly contemporary, who truly belong to their time, are those who neither perfectly coincide with it nor adjust themselves to its demands. . . but precisely through this disconnection . . . they are more capable than others of perceiving and grasping their own time.
Contemporaries are “those who do not allow themselves to be blinded by the lights of the century, and so manage to get a glimpse of the shadows in those lights.” As a contemporary, your capacity and your vocation is “not only to firmly fix your gaze on the darkness of the epoch, but to perceive in this darkness a light that, while directed towards us, infinitely distances itself from us,” as the collective sensibilities of an era exert a social gravity of compliance to the norm. Yet, the philosopher as contemporary
returns to a part within the present that we are absolutely incapable of living. . . nothing other than this unlived element in everything that is lived. . . The attention to this ‘unlived’ is the life of the contemporary.
Michel Foucault succinctly describes how the task of the philosopher as contemporary is
to give some assistance in wearing away certain self-evidences and commonplaces . . . to contribute to changing certain things in people’s ways of perceiving and doing things; to participate in this difficult displacement of forms of sensibility and thresholds of tolerance. . . . to bring about that they ‘no longer know what to do’, so that the acts, gestures, discourses that up until then had seemed to go without saying become problematic, difficult, dangerous.
Gramsci also suggest that it is important that a change of taste, a different sensibility proposed by philosophy must “already enjoys or could enjoy a certain diffusion,” because it draws on something about us human organisms that, upon being introduced to the sensibilities of such philosophy, we feel a connection to what it proposes, an “implicit” affinity that resonates with how we are human organisms. In effect, the culture went off on a tangent from ways that nurture and vitalize the community of human organisms.
How can philosophy actually be beneficial in our lives today?
What comes to mind when you think of philosophy? Sometimes, inspiring ideas. Often, we have a feeling that it is dry and abstract, too much heady rationalizing. In our world today, most philosophers are academics, and our interaction with them is a college humanities intro course. Surely, we gained something valuable from this encounter Many famous philosophers (is that an oxymoron?) are political philosophers, and while what they do often is concerned with issues of life in mass society, we may benefit from their works without knowing. Of course, whether philosophical writings are difficult to understand does not take away from their potential benefit.
If we consider a definition of philosophy borne of the common etymology of the word, we get the love of wisdom, which Luce Irigaray fruitfully turns upside-down, proclaiming that “the wisdom of love,” rather than the love of wisdom, “is perhaps the first meaning of philosophy.”
Drawing upon Aristotle’s theory of friendship, Agamben notes how a human organism incessantly experiences a vivid, raw poignancy of the “sensation of being”—we feel alive! Yet, when we are graced by friendship, we notice “there is another sensation. . . that takes the form of a joint sensation, or con-sent with the existence of the friend.”
Friendship is so tightly linked to the definition of philosophy that it can be said that without it, philosophy would not really be possible. The intimacy between friendship and philosophy is so profound that philosophy contains the philos, the friend, in its very name.
This love that grounds wisdom is not simply romantic love, nor simply a love of others, it is being in love with life, that inescapably familiar yet mysterious, impersonal yet very intimate feeling of our aliveness. Yet this philos is only where we begin.
Irigaray suggests that an honestly beneficial philosophy necessarily “joins together, more than it has done in the west, the body, the heart, and the mind.” Further, she insists
That it not be founded on contempt of nature. That it not resort to logic that formalizes the real by removing it from concrete experience, that it be less a normative science of truth than the search for measures that help us in living better: with oneself, with others, with the world.
Pierre Hadot, a scholar of ancient philosophy, wrote of the ways that, during the foundational era of the tradition in the west, philosophy was understood as a “way of life,” touching all parts of our lives. He makes this emphasis exactly because philosophy has lost its way, an integration with life in practice. What he suggests as relevant philosophical practices from that golden era includes contemplative “spiritual” exercises, including one called the “flight of the mind” to gain “the view from above.” While such practices are undeniably helpful, it is important, as Irigaray suggests, to balance such practices with those which cultivate the wisdom inherent to our embodiment. The vital aliveness that all human organisms share can become abstracted, too heady and philosophy can be accused of lacking heart and gut. If a view from above intends to gain wider perspective, we must recognize that we also gain a valuable and more nuanced perspective attending to the fleshy, mortal sensibilities of a human organism, including our qualities as profoundly social mammals.
Philosophy for human organisms
What brings us to experience others, to feel our separateness as well as what stimulates our affinity, is our existential status as embodied human organisms. I like to use the phrase “human organisms” because it suggest so much more of what we are that we sometimes forget—animals that are highly social, speaking and often literate. Furthermore, in our era, our lives are highly influenced by communications technologies, from language to iPhones, and, for many, we have a significant degree of leisure. All of these are important factors that we must attend to for effective philosophical theories and practices.
How is our awareness of our inherent embodiment a valuable trait of philosophy? Michel Serres notes that “sensation, it used to be said, inaugurates intelligence,” and more specifically, “taste induces sapience” He invokes a forgotten etymological hint—that our embodiment is the inherent source of wisdom as human organisms. He explains how, due to our forgetfulness of our status as human organisms, we are “too quick to forget that”
homo sapiens refers to those who react to sapidity, appreciate and seek it out, those for whom the sense of taste matters—savoring animals—before referring to judgment, intelligence, or wisdom, before referring to talking man.
“Speaking is not sapience. The first tongue needs the second”. Seres reminds us that “wisdom comes after taste, cannot arise without it.” In other words, a sensibility inherent to wisdom is a taste-like sensibility. Perhaps this is why there has been an ongoing affinity between philosophy and the power of aesthetic experience. “Knowledge cannot come to those who have neither tasted nor smelled,” Serres proclaims. Without engaging and developing the range of sensibilities arising from the multivalent modalities of human organisms, our capacity as speaking beings can lose access to valuable inherent capacities for wisdom. As savoring animals, we must savor not only life, or a glass of wine, but our embodied sensibilities, others, and every situation we find ourselves in. How is it we may begin to develop this capacity to savor?
Juicy philosophy is based on an understanding that to experience greater wellbeing it is necessary to become more subtly aware of our “sensory profile.” The term suggests the varying degrees to which we live via our various sensory openings to the world, while such variances profoundly influence how we interact with others and the situations we find ourselves amid.
You would probably agree that human organisms rely highly upon the sense of sight, but this tendency has side effects or byproducts that effect our sensibilities in subtle yet far-reaching ways. What we call objectivity arises from a sensorial capacity to experience objects, most highly developed in sight, and furthermore, eye-hand coordination brings even greater confidence to both our experiences of things and also, most importantly, its derivative sensibility, objectivity. Literacy also has its profound side effects upon our sensibilities. Upon the solid footing of these tendencies, we now live our lives to a precarious degree by means of electronic communications media, thus we often experience ourselves exceedingly in our heads, behind our eyes, between our ears—the two sensory modalities that communications technologies. invoke. Yet this is not something new—even before written language and web surfing on smartphones, the inherent human phenomenon Drew Leder calls the “absent body” describes how our sensory motor capacity to do things with things in the world also lends to a forgetting how we get these things done, i.e., as embodied living organisms.
To regain our inherent capacity of embodied wisdom, we must get out of our heads and practice being a body being aware, engaging and enlivening the more dormant aspects of our more resplendent capacities of a fuller sensory profile that the ancient Greek philosopher Empedocles suggested is paramount to exercising metis, the human virtue immortalized by the Greek goddess of this name, who embodied wisdom, skill, even cunning, yet also prudence.
The three limbs by which juicy philosophy engages the world
The first limb is critical and, at times, logical. A greater, more nuanced awareness of our status as human organisms and a critical sensibility that recognizes why we need philosophy today in our era. The characteristics of our era suggest specific needs of philosophical theories and practice, perhaps in ways that makes some of the issues and concerns of philosophy in different eras irrelevant. Yet critical capacity also includes understanding logic, but most importantly an understanding of logical fallacies. To paraphrase the linguist and political critic Noam Chomsky, pollticians, advertising, and PR in general are all interested in in subtly misinforming you. We need to develop a critical awareness of the limitations imposed upon us, what Herbert Marcuse called “surplus repression,” suggesting unnecessary limitations imposed upon us. Yet human organisms do not live on critique alone. There are two other limbs that juicy philosophy stands upon, touches the ground, engages others, and invokes movement and change.
The second limb is both nurturing and vitalizing. Its activities engage both the the relational modalities of the highly social mammal that speaks, and the fleshy aliveness that somatic practices develop. What is typically referred to as the socio-political and psychological modalities of human organisms must always be integrated not only the relational posture of philosophical friendship, but and the somatic (first person embodied experience) fleshy-aliveness of the human organism. The second limb encompasses the practices that enables us to ripen, and because of its relational and embodied characteristic, it is one of the ways philosophy becomes a way of life, and its practices are not only intellectual in nature.
The third limb of a juicy philosophy is transformative in nature. It too involves philosophy as a way of life. Here we can share briefly some of the theoretical roots of the transformative limb of juicy philosophy, which concerns the role of rituals in our lives. Rituals express an inexpressible aspect of who we are and feeds us in a way redolent of the shared existential feeling of philosophical friends. Ritual has several distinctive characteristics in juicy philosophy.
One, is the understanding of what Mario Perniola calls “ritual without myth.” In ways, a practice of a secular, everyday mysticism, without traces of occultism—a respect for life beyond words and a growing humility with words, a growing appreciation and greater familiarity with wordless living.
Secondly, we must recognize rituals, such as the practice of flavor play are characteristically the profanation of something sacred, whether sacred in a religious or a secular way. Flavor play is, from this perspective. a profane gastronomy, a profanation of the sacred cultural practice of gastronomy.
Thirdly, we must understand that rituals may be formal or informally a ritual, consciously or unconsciously so..”The ritual transmission of customs tends to characterize the everyday,” suggests Perniola. If you sit in traffic for an hour, twice a day, five days a week, this is a ritual. Yet so is looking out the window quietly with the first few sips of your morning coffee, or if, alternatively, if you read the paper or your Facebook wall.
Finally, practicing rituals as a conscious invocation of a ritual without myth, we are engaging in a political activity, stimulating a change of taste, invoking and indulging other possibilities of wellbeing and flourishing inherent to the human organism that have been left at the wayside. Thus Perniola rightly defines a ritual without myth as engaging a sensibility that is aesthetic, suggesting what Welmer deems the “autonomy” of the aesthetic sensibility in relation to common sense and tradition. Perniola describes ritual without myth as “an emancipation of gestures and modes of behavior with respect to their functionality and their motivations,” allowing for news forms of life to emerge as an other possibility from our commonly enacted forms of life.
Ritual without myth, as collaborative, improvisational performance art, suggests an “aesthetic education of man,” that Schiller proposed over two centuries ago in the face of the nascent problems of the hegemony of so-called reason in mass society.
How can you bring juicy philosophy into your life?
It seems that one who hears a calling from outside the box of present-day conventions needs a friend, a companion on this way, a guide or a teacher, as always was the case in the ancient mediterranean philosophical schools and likewise in the popular Buddhist traditions, including how they are manifesting in the West. Reading books and participating in the amazing wealth of engagement that the internet offers will never replace face to face engagement, whether around a table, taking a stroll, silently sharing a view or a glass of wine.
The practices of a juicy philosophy must engage the multivalent modalities of the human organism. A truly juicy philosophy is an education about living well, learning and practicing how to be a ripe human organism.
And learning is not obtaining knowledge, but gaining experience and developing an inherent skill of the sapient, savoring organism. Many of us are not taught how to live well, as adult education is often vocational training, with a small taste of humanities added. Within the teachings of juicy philosophy, our notion of adult education spans from an education in learning how to live well and includes aspects of what in contemporary culture we define as psychotherapy as well, but also, in some ways, a post-secular theology.
A juicy philosopher is a catalyzing friend, a teacher who brings you to notice and then develop your innate sensibilities that support wellbeing, as was the case in the ancient philosophical schools, facilitating practices that that develop into a way of life.
This suggests a two-fold role of a juicy philosopher. First, as the critical cultural theorist of the human organism—one who notices outside the box of conventions, who sees a incongruity between the practices and values of an era and the potential for human flourishing at that time amid its conditions. In effect, a philosopher must be a contemporary of the era, as Agamben suggests. Yet also, as much of what philosophy has to offer may seem dry and abstract to many, there are voices and notions within the outpouring of philosophical theories that we find actually beneficial for human organisms. Some of us have a taste for exploring the theoretical landscape for poignant sensibilities that resonate with our impersonal wisdom, our inherent embodied genius. Our task is to share this with others.
Secondly, the role of juicy philosopher is as a teacher and a Maitre d’ at the existential table of life, an engaging learning catalyst to nurture and vitalize the capacities of human organisms, capacities that are inherent, though are drowned out by the social gravitational forces that the common sensibilities and practices of the era exert upon most of us, most of the time.
As a Maitre d’ at the existential table of life, the juicy philosopher facilitates an attitude of “studious playfulness” in the art of living and creating new forms of life.
The philosophical Maitre d’s role is to facilitate practices individually and among the companions of juicy philosophy, such as sharpening one’s critical rigor, the profane gastronomy of flavor play, learning a new way with words, “embodying wellbeing,”, or an ecotherapy amid the elements—earth, water, sun, wind, sky.
In short—the goal of a juicy philosophy is to refine your sensibilities in order to notice the subtleties that have not-so-subtle influences, allowing you to more creatively and effectively, in a more response-able fashion, appreciate, nurture, and vitalize your life, and transform your ways of living.
Are you ripe for the wisdom that a juicy philosophy has to offer? Is such an invitation temptingly appealing in a somewhat scandalous way?
An aspect of the practice of flavor play that is quite important is the final part when we begin to speak about our experiences, though it may be subtly obvious as to why this is the case. While we are speaking about our experiences of flavors, we are developing our capacity to communicate. Flavor play develops an increasing sensitivity to subtleties, and this encourages more nuanced responsiveness. If you are attending to flavors as you are bringing the right balance of flavors and mouthfeel to a herb sauce you are more capable of finding such balance. This is the opposite of putting salt and pepper on the plate of food that just arrived before you, before even tasting it. With this attentiveness comes the capacity to be appropriately responsive. What is not so obvious is how this relevant to communicating with others.
If you are attentive and more response-able, you are also more capable of speaking from the subtleties of the interpersonal flavors of the person or people you are engaged with more responsibly. To follow my analogy of salt and pepper, think of a situation with someone as a plate of food before you. You are not so effective if you engage most situations by applying the usual salt and pepper on the situation without tasting it first, or by always saying salty or peppery things. There is a lack of awareness of the subtleties of the interpersonal dynamics. Words are like spices we add to the situation.
Yet practicing a new way with words can be a scary thing with people or in situations that are important to you. We can take a cue from Buddhist philosophy, that suggests words are a primary way of relating, and our relationships are saturated with hopes and fears, however subtle they may be. A popular way that people learn a new way with words is psychotherapy. The relationship with the therapist is the opportunity for you to learn to redescribe your stories that you narrate your life with. But this capacity does not stop here, you take it on the road of life. Similarly, the pop motivational speaker Tony Robins speaks of a transformational vocabulary, where you “change your words, change your life.” Both of these example suggest that what we say is not necessarily as relevant as how we say it.
People and situations have “flavors,” as my teacher Julie Henderson of Zapchen Somatics likes to say. Like our relationships, flavors are often difficult to describe and speak about. The difference is, for many, that speaking about our experiences of flavors is not so loaded and important emotionally that we find it a little easier to speak about flavors than our marriage. Of course those troubled by the symptoms that have come to be described as “eating disorders” may not find this so easy, though, in a preliminary way, it seems the flavor play practice may have beneficial fruits here. This is a research project I am very interested in. I invite therapist, psychologists, dietitians, or others professionally interested to participate.
Again, both flavors and relationships or interpersonal situations are often difficult to speak about. Yet the how, the way of communicating about the experiences of both flavors and feelings is similar—we are not talking about static objects, what the philosopher Jean-Luc Marion describes as common or poor phenomena. Mass produced objects are common phenomena and we often treat our experiences as we are having another MacDonald’s hamburger or a new bar of soap, each exactly like the previous ones we have experienced. The other point Marion makes it that we often have a poverty-attitude towards experience, experiencing things poorly. This tendency is flavored by our hopes and fears. With a poverty mentality towards phenomena, we only notice things that we can easily “call it as I see it,” as when we make hasty generalizations or stereotypes, when I close myself off to experience by categorizing (literally, publicly accusing) someone of being stupid or an expert, or when I say “honey, you are doing that again.” When we experience phenomena poorly by naming it prematurely, thereafter we simply experience the word and the story we are telling ourselves, we close off the possibility of experiencing the different fruitful possibilities of that particular situation.
This final part of the flavor play practice enables us to develop a greeter, yet humble capacity to communicate. Humble here means without a poverty attitude towards experience, we are more humble rather than accusatory in our ways with words. Then we can take this capacity on the road of life with us. As I suggested earlier, we can develop this capacity in a situation not so fraught with hope and fear, while playing with your food. I invite you to play with your food and play with your words. Please share your experiences with us at our virtual table: an online discussion for companions of flavor play.
This is my first post to The virtual table: an online discussion for companions of flavor play. Those who are companions of flavor play are invited to participate in this discussion, sharing their experiences of the practice and any reflections that may arise. This is the beginning of a qualitative research collaboration comprising of narratives of the practice and other online links, book reviews, or videos that are pertinent to the practice of flavor play. My wish is that the participants in the discussion range from literary foodies to dietitians, psychotherapists, psychologists, philosophers, theologians, sociologists, interdisciplinary scholars, meditators, somatic practitioners…
welcome everybody everywhere!
Since my last blog commenting on an op ed piece about the negative cultural consequences of “foodism,” I found a book review of Steven Poole’s You aren’t what you eat: Fed up with gastroculture.
The reviewer, William Skidelsky, describes how Poole finds foodism populated by people “who seek to enliven their dull existences by continually stuffing their faces,” who are “at once pretentious and perverted.” In short, “cooking and eating” are “inherently trivial activities, undeserving of serious attention.” To Poole, foodism is “a new, western type of deviance” and “a corrosive force spreading through western culture.”
As Skidelsky suggests, Poole is painting a straw man argument, creating a caricature of foodies, though some of his notions ring true. I’ve lived in the San Francisco bay area for nearly twenty years, and I can attest. Yes, there are foodies who are “perverse and decadent,” excess is always a possibility with any beneficial pursuits—food and wine, but also exercise, dieting, technology, success, even a moral compass in life.
Poole also laments the foodie celebrity and the way that our society of the spectacle has also swallowed this cultural phenomenon and created yet another form of arm-chair entertainment, making food a spectator sport. Yet, isn’t this what has happened with much of cultural and political life for many in our age of electronic reproduction? I do not need to share statistics on the hours per day spent watching TV or on the internet for entertainment.
In both political life and our lives with food and each other around the table, we have ways to regain what Walter Benjamin described as the lost “aura” that resulted from the dawning of mechanical reproduction in art. He noticed how this mass availability also takes away a quality of uniqueness, what Giorgio Agamben describes as the “loss of experience” that has overcome our lives in mass society due to two factors: The rule of objectivity due to the successes of science in bringing human wellbeing and the predominance of engaging others via technological communications media. Arguably, this loss is what has made our existence seem dull. Yet the wisdom inherent to the living—what Michel Serres calls life’s “stubborn empiricism”—is calling us back to our senses from a skewed existence lived exceedingly via our eyes and our ears, what are known as the higher senses.
Similarly, if we are eating the labels of our food we have lost our experience to a over-reliance upon the parallel universe of objectivity, at times like a profane scientism that can entangle speaking beings beholden to the symbolic order. We have an over-reliance on the story we are telling ourselves about our experience, in effect, making us a spectator—or even worse, a judge— of our own lives rather than simply living them. Food also has a symbolic order, many times telling us about status. In the face of a pretense to objectivity, we must grow up and accept the reality of what Gianni Vattimo describes as a weakness of thought, what I prefer to describe as a humility of thinking. The bumper sticker implores you: Don’t believe everything you think.
We should not write off foodies, but notice how this phenomenon is like a toddler learning to walk, at first a stumbling but genuine attempt to rectify our imbalanced ways of living. We regain our balance by living more of our lives face-to-face, as devotees to the grace of our embodiment, in a relation with the natural world as friend and teacher, from garden to table, at a slower tempo than the speed by which we achieve over 100,000 hits in a google search for foodies. There is an oblique hint given by Freud in a couple of footnotes to Civilization and its discontents. He suggests that when humans became bipedal, the sense of smell became less important for human sexuality, and vision took up the sensorial slack. Thus, he lamented, humans will never be satisfied. There is the possibility of endless visual stimulation and excitement, but not a sincere satisfaction. This says something about pornography, and food porn too. But also in a more subtle way, social media. . .
As a rallying cry to reclaim our experience, I return to my refrain—you are HOW you eat, not what you eat. So, I agree in some ways with Poole, and see his book as an ironic self revelation for this cultural phenomenon we call foodies that does not simply condemn its practitioners and its practices, but allows us to be more critical in learning to live our lives more broadly among the resplendent modalities of sensorial engagement that human organisms are.
“Art reveals the how of experience that we call aesthetic” Michel Henry
There was a great op-ed piece in the New York Times sunday paper a couple weeks ago by William Deresiewicz about the foodie movement (that I pointed to in my last blog), where the author surmised that “we are in danger of confusing our palates with our souls.” At the advent of the foodie movement nearly twenty years ago, he hoped that “our newfound taste for food would lead, in time, to a taste for art”—a correlation was what the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu found to be more than simply plausible in 1979 book Distinction: A social critique of the judgment of taste. My dissertation A taste for life: Exploring our senses and their influences upon our sensibilities includes a chapter on the foodie phenomenon. Deresiewicz and I both find cuisine often falls prey to becoming a vehicle of social status. I also find the insatiable appetite for novelty and ever more sublime experiences is a symptom among many others of a subtle discontent or uneasiness with contemporary culture.
Deresiewicz keenly describes how “aestheticism, the religion of art inherited the position of Christianity” amid the secularizing trend and the growth of liberal education at the turn of the last century, yet this has been superseded by “foodism” at the millennial turn. He reminisces of “the patina of high culture” and “old world sophistication” of a refined aesthetic sensibility, redolent of Bourdieu’s barely veiled attitude towards the uneducated working class and the correlations he found between literal taste for food and taste for art.
Surely, while one may appreciate an amazing meal, it is not like the aesthetic experience of fine art or literature, as it will not “give you insight into other people, allow you to see the world in a new way, or force you to take an inventory of your soul.” Yet, in the young and gastronomically enthusiastic, he surmises, foodism is an expression of “creativity. . . politics, health, almost religion.”
I suspect Deresiewicz would agree with the food writer MFK Fisher that you are how you eat, not simply what you eat. Metaphorical taste suggests this how. One doesn’t experience the work of art in the same fashion as they would a car speeding towards them, or the numbers when doing their taxes, or, as the usual derision of sensual pleasure in aesthetic theory goes, an attractive person you have amorous intentions towards. The biological anthropologist Terrence Deacon describes aesthetic experiences as “unprecedentedly deviant emotional states.” Michel Henry describes how “through the mediation of the artwork,” we experience “a kind of intensification of life,” where “there is the constant possibility for the installation of a new ontological dimension,” “something like a horizon,” that avails us to “more fundamental potentialities”. Art is, according to Henry, “ethics par excellence.”
Taste is, to use a Foucauldian term, an apparatus of sensibility. Giorgio Agamben reminds us that the translation of apparatus in Latin heralds from the Greek economy. Taste as a sensibility expresses a different economy of sensibility, a different ethics of existence from that of either monotheistic religion, the marketplace, what Husserl deemed a crisis of science and Hans Jonas decried as the “mathematization of nature,” or a deference to juridically-based normative judgments.
While Deresiewicz is right to suggest that “Proust on the madeleine is art; the madeleine itself is not art,” our experiences of food do not happen in a solipsistic bubble. We must recognize our experiences of food are often the site of “conviviality,” to borrow the notion from the Slow Food Movement. A shared meal is always the potential site of collaborative, improvisational performance art. Further, we can consider this event as what Agamben describes as a “profanation” of the meal and cuisine, while also as what the Italian philosopher Mario Perniola describes as a “ritual without myth.” May I suggest a profaned meal is an aesthetic ritual of a secular religiosity that stimulates an intensification of life?
In his multivalent critiques of the bounds of fine art, Richard Shusterman proposes a more robust aesthetics that includes practices of embodiment under the neologism”somaesthetics.” His book’s title “Thinking through the body” lauds a wisdom of embodiment that is redolently aesthetic, and only accessible through practice. In allegiance to the practical nature of the somaesthetic endeavor, and its profoundly beneficial influence upon human wellbeing—philosophy’s calling—we invite you to not only visit our blog, but also indulge the practices of Flavor Play.
Here is an article from the New York Times Sunday review. I will respond to it shortly, both here and there…
What if Foucault wrote about the history of gastronomy, rather than a history of sexuality? After all, what he was interested in was the ways in which the practices of sexuality, including the discourses about sexuality—public, private, as well as the dialogue within one’s head—exert a power over how we experience ourselves as a subject. What are we subject to? How is our sense of self? How is our sense of self under these powers that explicitly and implicitly influence our sensibilities, our values, the everyday practices due to the apparatuses of administration that form our lives, including the electronic communications media, including the mass media? Foucault’s critical counter-practices can be stimulated by asking “what are the regimes of practices” that have informed gastronomy and also flavor our sense of self and possibly diminish our potential for wellbeing? These regimes include both practices and how we describe and evaluate these practices, and such regimes have been normalized to the degree that they are not simply explicit, but have become a normalized sensibility, part of our collective common sense.
In the face of the sometimes-subtle dominance of these forces, Foucault’s “project,” he claims, is “
to give some assistance in wearing away certain self-evidences and commonplaces . . . to contribute to changing certain things in people’s ways of perceiving and doing things; to participate in this difficult displacement of forms of sensibility and thresholds of tolerance.
“My project,” he proclaims,
is precisely to bring about that they ‘no longer know what to do’, so that the acts, gestures, discourses that up until then had seemed to go without saying become problematic, difficult, dangerous.
In taking up this invitation, it might be juicy to consider the subjectivity of the Nineteenth century gastronome in comparison to the contemporary California foodie, the Midwesterner visiting Napa valley wineries, an ardent consumer of fast food, and the laborer (as defined by Bourdieu in Distinctions) who considers food to be fuel. Alternatively, how is one experiencing themselves when eating comfort food, or food for one who has an “eating disorder,” or one who eats at the most popular, though gastronomically mediocre restaurants? How would such experiences differ from that of one who humbly appreciates cuisine—one who takes the time to shop without the checklist that arose from the ideal recipe, one who even cooks without a recipe, and those who enjoy despite the quantitative pedigree of the food and wine?
Other juicy juxtapositions of styles of subjectivity would be the sports enthusiast who is fond of sports statistics trivia and the wine connoisseur who is replete with micro-climate information on grand cru vineyards of Burgundy or the family tree defining the hybrid pedigree of an heirloom tomato. Yet another would be to compare the sensibilities of foodies with cars and those without, or, those who watch a lot of television (including the requisite food network) and those who don’t own one and seldom watch television.
While we will not indulge specific comparisons here, now, they are indicative of differences in sensibilities that result from differing sensory profiles—the degrees to which these different gastronomic personas live via and find meaning, satisfaction, and vitality by means of the different sensory modalities. I am sure that you feel a sense of how these different gastronomical personas suggest different styles of experiencing flavors. Implicit in these questions is an interest to determine, via what can only be a qualitative, non-normative interpretive analysis of the ‘sensory profile’ of the people who indulge these different combinations of practices and the degree to which they are capable of greater wellbeing. Within the cultural anthropology has arisen a sub-discipline that considers the degrees to which we live in—and, importantly, speak of—our experiences of the different sensory domains. And the speaking lends to metaphorical and allegorical invocations of the sense modality into a sensibility. Which leads us to consider taste.
In Taste: A literary history, Denise Gigante explains that,
by the eighteenth century, physicality provided access to cognitive dimensions of human experience, such as epistemology, morality, aesthetic pleasures and pains; the umbrella term for this new mode of embodied cognition was taste.
Come the turn of the nineteenth century,” Gigante describes how
the dialectical counterpart to taste was not only bodily appetite but also the wider sphere of material desires fed by consumer culture. . . . All of the major Enlightenment philosophers of taste were involved in the civilizing process of sublimating the tasteful essence of selfhood from its own matter and motions, appetites and aversions, passions and physical sensibilities. . . .
[C]onsumption is considered a matter of individual choice, and the so-called man of taste had to navigate an increasing tide of consumables, seeking distinction through the exercise of discrimination
Yet are we consumers in the style of the duck whose liver becomes foie gras? Arguably, we are all but force fed, and yet, to a significant degree, we willing to indulge. We are offered so much that we insatiably consume—like a kid in a candy store or a toy store. Yet there is a subtlety to this. I am reminded of a sales training seminar I attended when I was young. The man suggested “Don’t ask if they want to buy the car— ask them if they want to buy a red one or a green one.” As Foucault reminded us, the apparatuses of power are not simply restrictive, they offer us something stimulating, and thus we willingly comply, to a degree.
For some, the sensitive ones who become discontent in the face of technoculture and who are not overcome by such phenomena as boredom, the sex appeal of the inorganic (Benjamin and Perniola) and the subsequent wild hunger (Wilshire), a change of taste ensues. This visceral stirring we call a change of taste is the sense that vitalizes Juicy philosophy.
The Philosopher Michel Serres invokes an often forgotten etymological hint at our inherent source of wisdom as human organisms—our embodiment. He explains how
“we used to read in our textbooks that our intellect knows nothing that has not first passed through the senses. What we hear, through the tongue, is that there is nothing in sapience that has not first passed through mouth and taste, through sapidity. We travel: our intellect traverses the sciences the way bodies explore continents and oceans. One gets around, the other learns. The intellect is empty if the body has never knocked about”.
Not only empty, but perhaps even malnourished.
“Knowledge cannot come to those who have neither tasted nor smelled. Speaking is not sapience. The first tongue needs the second.
We were too quick to forget that homo sapiens refers to those who react to sapidity, appreciate and seek it out, those for whom the sense of taste matters – savoring animals – before referring to judgment, intelligence, or wisdom, before referring to talking man. The rise of the golden mouth at the expense of the tasting mouth. But hidden within a dead language, we find this confession of the first about this dead mouth: namely, that wisdom comes after taste, cannot arise without it, but has forgotten this”.