“Boiled food is life, roast food is death. Folklore the world over offers countless examples of the cauldron of immortality; but there is no indication anywhere of a spite of immortality.” – Claude-Lévis-Strauss, The Origin of Table Manners (1978)
having delved no further than the brief excerpt containing this quote in Kurlansky’s Choice Cuts anthology, i find this curious. perhaps the anthropological record bears it out, but presents quite the opposite attitude to my own, if i think about it, which i did, just now.
i tend to associate boiling with lifelessness, dissipation – the draining away of colour, juice, vitality into the boiling liquid. roasting, on the other hand, evokes for me the sealing in, the concentration of flavour, heat, richness, under a layer of heat-reflecting oil, char, or caramelized tissue. i boil food as little as possible, with the exception of grains and the like – i roast food as a luxury, as often as time permits. roasting seems to call the food to create an armour around itself, it forces in, instead of drawing out. i see it thus as a matter of interiorizing v. exteriorizing, and it is clear the which i find attractive.
but my language betrays itself, ultimately. for what of the above description of boiling is inconsistent with immortality? put more precisely, my thoughts about roasting and boiling actually correspond to two different schools of thought about immortality, and particularly the (im/possible) role of selfhood therein. in many (mystic, not exclusively eastern) traditions immortality is conceptualized as just that sort of dissipation/disintegration into the surrounding waters – the return of one’s life energy to the perhaps undifferentiated cosmic glop, the end of the self, effectively(“A rite performed by the Cree Indians of Canada conveys very clearly the cosmic totality attributed to boiled food,” Lévi-Strauss again). but is this immortality or is it (mere) death? when Dr. Reinhardt fantasizes about passing into and through the black hole, he imagines entering a realm without and beyond death, but seemingly not beyond life – he hopes to claim an immortality for himself, a limitless knowledge, but still believes that he will persist as a knower, as a life, as opposed to being consumed, subsumed into this knowledge.
roasting, i suppose, recalls this position – an idea of immortality that is a sort of concentration of life inside the self, inside a body or at least loosely within the contours of a consciousness – the condensation of (a) life as opposed to its disintegration. the life is toughened against the ravages of time, not integrated into its warp and weft.
in this respect, it is Lévi-Strauss’s mingling of Life v. Death with talk of Immortality that puts me in a bit of a muddle. Immortality v. what? Mortality, presumably? but Life-Death is not the same dialectic as Immortality-Mortality. Life and Death are under the purview of Mortality – Mortality is the condition that allows Life, just as it guarantees Death, Immortality is the opportunity to opt out of the conversation entirely, in a sense. assuming that we mean something different from Immortality when we say “I Want To Live Forever,” which clearly i was, but perhaps it is not a safe assumption to make.
well, have fun with your boiled garlic, you bunch of life-lovers. if you need me, i’ll be in flavour country, with the skeletons.