On Nigella Lawson, Impossible Witnessing, and the Reification of Analysis.



You will have to bear with me, as this involves attempting to take up a thread that I may have lost long ago. Way the hell back in¬†January this Eater¬†interview with Nigella Lawson was making the rounds (three years after it was initially posted, I now notice), and it caught my attention. I have a lazy appreciation for Nigella Lawson, based almost entirely on the one time I caught her show like four years ago and was surprised by how engaging she is, and the casual way the camera moves around the space, but I haven’t watched it since, and don’t know her cookbooks, aside from passing impressions in bookstores.

The interview itself is interesting, if fairly superficial, but I think her take on the sexualization of her image is worth attending to. Elsewhere she has addressed this topic, as in the case of her notorious salted-caramel-facial cover for¬†Stylist¬†magazine, and perhaps what it boils down to is her dual insistence that sensualized¬†and sexualized are mutually reducible¬†ideas, and that male spectatorship is not the¬†ne plus ultra¬†of representation. “The male gaze is such that whatever is there is seen to be there for their benefit,” ¬†she state, “The fact that I’m fleshy looks somehow as if I am trying to display myself.” While this a more generalized sense of “the male gaze” that does not directly correspond either to Laura Mulvey’s original or revised use of the term to critique representation in narrative cinema, nor take account of the various formal strategies of visually representing women as implicitly sexually receptive, there is an important claim about female pleasure embedded here. When she says that, visual insinuations aside, the Stylist¬†photo is about representing a sheer, unbridled appreciation of caramel, one might roll one’s eyes at what one takes an affectation of na√Įvet√©, but I think that might be missing an important point.¬†Effectively she is insisting on not only the possibility, but the immanence of female sensual pleasure, represented in print / on television, that is not constituted for nor defined by a hegemonic male spectator.

I don not mean to suggest Nigella as a critical feminist icon, or that it is this easy to step outside the libidinal economy of patriarchy, but I think that taking such declarations of pleasure – arguably of agency – seriously, is part of the critical work of interrogating phallocentrism. To deny the relevance of the representational subject’s interpretation / experience is in a curious way to participate – actively – in their objectification, by foreclosing the possibility of a female pleasure that is not wholly interpellated and recuperated by the male spectator. By assuming the totalizing hegemony of the male gaze as that which organizes all representation and all looking, we render impossible the witnessing of a female pleasure-for-itself.


The reason I am coming back around to this now is that I see it as touching upon a larger issue of what we might call the¬†reification of analysis, as it applies specifically to feminist criticism (but to which it is not exclusive, of course). I am reminded of this, if you will please forgive the incongruity of scale of importance, first by the debates over ¬†the recently-unveiled Bill C-36 which effectively re-marginalizes and stigmatizes sex workers after the landmark Bedford case which saw the existing laws around sex work struck down, and again by the undeniably more trivial apology from the dude who coined the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”.

In the first case we have a set of laws that intertwines the ‘benevolent paternalism’ of the patriarchal state with the radical critique of sexual relations of second-wave feminism, appealing to both social conservatives and anti-sex work liberal feminists. In the second, we have a writer realizing that the critique he developed to foreground a poisonous trope of (male) screenwriting had in a sense lost its critical teeth and become at best institutionalized and merely descriptive, at worst a means of stereotyping and reducing otherwise complex female characters. Although in the case of the MPDG I think the author’s retreat was a little obsequious, lazy, and intellectually cowardly (in lieu of his almost post-feminist sounding apology it could have been an opportunity to critically reflect on questions of authorship, viewership, and the use and appropriation of the term), in both cases what we see is the calcification of a critical apparatus that comes to participate in the violence and the silencing that it was originally intended to interrogate.

With Bill C-36, the analytically and historically useful concept of all heterosexual sex under patriarchal capitalism being a form of violence, and sex work being merely the least adorned version thereof, no longer serves to denormalize asymmetrical gender relations, but instead has come to enjoy the status of evidence itself, a form of evidence that precludes actually¬†listening¬† to the voices of people involved in sex work. By way of the theory, we may take the structure for granted, the analysis becomes the object itself, the lived realities and analyses of those most directly concerned are occluded, incidental (The sex workers and those who work with them become another kind of impossible witness). With MPDG, Rabin recognizes that the term has ceased to be analytic, and instead operates as a placeholder for actual engagement with characters, texts, actual women as subjects (instead of getting into this, though, he says “This got out of hand, let’s not talk about it anymore”). This can be described as a reification of analysis to the extent that the analytic apparatus no longer helps us to engage with the world beyond its¬†face value, but stands in / in the way, as something more real than the people, the voices, the pleasures, that are being disclosed, but which it cannot accommodate.

This kind of thing is a big deal in social science research and other academic fields, where it is has been in an unending cycle of getting hashed out since probably the 1920s, but it is also, or should be, a big deal in our day-to-day life. For all their reputation for being abstracted from the world, theory and analysis must be (paradoxically) both transcendent and immanent in,¬†of¬†and¬†to the world. It perhaps sounds odd to suggest that tools for “problematizing” the world are about¬†facilitating¬†our engagement with the world, but it’s a hard world, you gotta get into it.


miscellany/etymology, spirit possession

Aim Low, the Chariot May Swing to Meet Your Mark.

bananagrams is a challenging game.



“It tastes like licorice,” the girl said and put the glass down.
“That’s the way with everything.”
“Yes,” said the girl. “Everything tastes of licorice. Especially all the things you’ve waited so long for, like absinthe.”

. . .

“I wanted to try this new drink. That’s all we do, isn’t it – look at things and try new drinks?”

– Ernest Hemingway
“Hills Like White Elephants” (1927)


it’s funny, the above might well be the bleakest and most succinct expression of existential malaise of the whole damned Lost Gen, ¬†but for all that it still hits a little close to the contemporary bone, i personally derive a significant amount of pleasure (existential, even) and affirmation from the trying of new drinks.¬Ļ¬†at least some of the time.

which may not say much for my spiritual health (i mean, i also like books and smiling dogs squinting in the sun), but it suggests at the least that i suffer little¬†mauvaise foi¬≤¬†in my dilettance.¬†at some point in the midst of my semi-intentional sabotage of my academic career and listless pursuit of literary recognition, it occurred to me that dilettant may well best¬†describe my situation in, and relationship to, the world; a confusion of soft skills and partial knowledges, unified only by their status as what interests i have failed to pursue to expertise (and the possibly mistaken impression that they add to my charm). this could have been a disappointing revelation, given that dilettant probably hasn’t been used as a positive descriptor in the past two hundred and seventy five-odd years, but, like¬†amateur, dilettante proves to have a kernel of etymological honesty in it.

roughly the same one, in fact.¬†for where (as is fairly obvious) the root of amateur is¬†love,¬†and its essence to do something for the sake thereof (contrasted with the expert or professional), the root of dilettant is¬†delectare –¬†to delight. the dilettant, historically, delighted in art, specifically, but like the amateur was so-driven not by professional (read, problematically: “serious”) aims or strictures, but by the sheer delight of the thing. if “delight” seems like somewhat of a fluffy word, that is perhaps a good thing – the inability to pin down the qualities that make something delightful may be part of the charm (or is the charm the unpindownable?), and while “love” and “pleasure” are not far removed, both have the tendency to grow stiff and calcareous with the serious discourse that accretes around them. which is not to speak unilaterally ill of seriousness, indeed there is certainly something to be said for the gratifications of pleasures harder-won, but the love of pleasure and the love of love can be quite ponderous things absent delight.


in the early 18th century, the Society of¬†Dilettanti¬†was formed in London by a group of dukes and scholars and other professionally monied layabouts (NB: monied layabouts by profession, rather than professional classicists) to appreciate and promote the appreciation of Greek and Roman art, but equally to do so in a spirit of light-heartedness and considerable inebriation. Horace Walpole described them, i suppose disparagingly, as “a club for which the nominal qualification is having been in Italy, and the real one, being drunk,” although this reeks somewhat of the triumphalist moderation that mistakes the result for the object and reduces everything else to mere pretext. the dilettant understands,¬†contra¬†Brillat-Savarin, that just because one has ended up sotted and distended and groaning with one’s take it does not mean one failed to truly appreciate what was put before them.¬≥

but the world despises a dabbler, and the dilettant remains hated for loving, unwanted for wanting.


actually that may not be true.


for what has the age of the internet, lifestyle entrepreneurship, and gutted pensions brought us but the exaltation of the non-professional expert and the professional dabbler? an author-turned-publisher-turned-cabinetmaker friend of mine pointed out that there’s probably not a barber, bartender, or business-owner under 37 in any urban centre who doesn’t have a creative writing degree and a stack of unsold hardcore band records clogging up their crawlspace. a valid argument! it demands a modification of my own, that might proceed by forcing a distinction between the dilettante and the amateur. i think that¬†passion, driving passion in particular, is importantly absent from the portrait of the dilettant: if we are surrounded by affirming messages exhorting us ¬†to “Find the one thing you love more than anything else and do it for the rest of your life“, we less often hear the call to “Find a thing that is interesting and pursue it until your interest is exhausted, duuuude.” (if there was a little more mingling of these messages we might have a very different romantic culture, to boot)

there is something to be said, i think, for being compelled in a pursuit not by passion¬†per se, or profession, but¬†appreciation;¬†to be comfortable with something less than mastery of an art or the all-consuming fire of devotion. to quote Philip Gilbert Hamerton against his own prickish grain, “If the essence of dilettantism is to be contented with imperfect attainment, I fear that all educated people must be considered dilettants.” in fact, when i first read that it took me a moment to realize that he was shit-talking educated people, rather than attempting to make peace with the imperfect.


all of which to say, i think i might try making my own vermouth.




¬Ļ recently, Joe Beef’s take on the “Roman Coke”, which contains grappa, chinotto, and fernet branca, and tastes somehow like chocolate.

¬≤ i cannot get out of my head the suspicion that Sartre’s¬†mauvaise foi¬†(“bad faith”) was a pun on¬†mauvais foie¬†(“bad liver”), given that both French and English share a historical belief in the liver as the source of courage (see “lily-livered”; “avoir les foies blanc“), and bad faith by way of some oversimplification amounts basically to intellectual/existential cowardice. also, i like to make drinking related jokes about¬†mauvaise foi,¬†as one might expect.

³ i assert, in rough contradiction to what i have claimed elsewhere.


And Let the Gut Sort ‘Em Out.


i have just been informed of the existence of macon, or macon’s bacon, and am now dying to try it. mutton bacon? i mean, shit. i admit i’ll be woefully disappointed if The Old Foodie is correct in their claim that its name derives from the collapsing of the words mutton and bacon, but it seems believable (maybe a little too believable?). i don’t know why this portmanteau annoys me more than any other, but it just seems so inelegant. not that, i suppose, mutton bacon itself sounds particularly elegant¬†(“light black and yellow in colour, with the outer edges being darker pink”? amazing), but i’d like to think they could come up with something better than that. therefore i shall persist in groundlessly believing that some more satisfying and mostly unpronounceable Scottish word exists for the stuff.

unfortunately i haven’t been able to turn up any evidence for its availability in Mtl, and am not about to order it from goddamned Scotland, so if anyone hears anything, or knows anyone who makes it, word me up.


this also reminds me that i don’t think i’ve ever had bresaola, nor gotten around to finally going back to Dominion¬†to try their duck ham.¬†i gotta get on that, stat.

cure ’em all, i say



Aren’t We All Feeling A Little Abused By Turkey And Peas These Days?


i may as well say right out that i am not a huge fan of poutine. i respect and appreciate it, as a culinary phenomenon, especially in its living of the principle of Go Big Or Go Home, but perhaps as my once-ardent love for french fries has receded over the years, it has happened that i never found a place for it in my life, or on my plate. nonetheless, a permutation of the poutine that i can really get behind is the poutine Galvaude,¬†which is effectively the hot turkey sandwich of poutines, adding peas and shredded turkey or chicken to the already daunting mix. i was in an argument recently over whether or not this was merely disgusting (it has always struck me as the least offensive of variations. so much less so than the “Italian” poutine, for example, which somehow manages to be so grossly unlike chili fries as to boggle the mind/belly), when it occurred to us that neither of us had any idea to what “Galvaude”¬†actually¬†referred. i presumed it to be someone’s name, or perhaps an obscure sub-region of France or Qu√©bec, but lo and behold, it turns out to be so much more interesting (if slightly detrimental to my argument):


galvauder (v)¬†“Compromettre par un mauvais usage, en prodigeant mal √† propos”


the rough English translation is something like to sully, tarnish, waste, or squander, but what it’s really about is ruining something by doing wrong by it, and i (as always) appreciate the deftness of the dictionary definition, to compromise by a wrong or inappropriate usage. there may be some further context for this¬†that could be provided for me by a local, but as it stands it seems like galvaude¬†is¬†just a funny reference to abusing a poutine by subjecting it to turkey (or chicken) and peas; somewhat ironic as poutine already¬†supposedly derives its name from being itself a fucked-up mess.

then just a few days ago we randomly stumbled upon this entry for poutine in the Larousse Gastronomique:

A dish from the south of France, consisting of a mixture of tiny young fish, particularly sardines and anchovies which are fried like whitebait. The name comes from the dialect of Nice, from the word poutina (porridge). Poutine can also be made with poached fish sprinkled with lemon and oil, and can be used to garnish a soup or fill an omelette.

which, btw, sounds delicious, and i wish was as easy to find in dirty neighbourhood diners as is its QC counterpart (although if prepared with only as much care as the average poutine, perhaps it’s better off this way). this is yet another¬†instance when i wish i had an older edition of the Larousse, for i am as interested in it as a historical document and source of anachronistic culinary miscellany as a contemporary resource. so if anyone happens to have an early edition of the LG, i would happily take it off your hands for you know, like, 20 dollars.

yeah, such is my devotion to my craft. TWENTY DOLLARS. commence champing at your bits, you poor starving gourmands, you.


Addendum: On Fudge.


since writing in passing yesterday about fudge, in connection with Oh Henry bars,* i have been reminded that this is the second time in a matter of days that the uncertain status of fudge has come up. looking at a package of Fudge-Covered Ritz that a friend brought back from America, i wondered aloud what it was that made them fudge-covered as opposed to chocolate-covered. she speculated (forgive me, Camilla, if this was more than idle speculation on your part) that it was because they weren’t made with real chocolate, and i could well imagine that the big wheels down at the Ritz (factory) would have no truck with such obviously second-rate language as “chocolatey.” fudge,¬†in this case seems an inspired evasion, then.

but thinking about Oh Henrys and how alien the ‘fudge’ therein has always seemed to my image of fudge got me wondering ¬†What Up With Fudge, Anyway? what makes fudge, and where does it come from? i ended up having to haul out both tomes of my OED, because curiously “fudge” in the present usage only makes it into the supplement of the 1971 edition, appearing on page 3,972 of vol. 2, as the fifth¬†sense of the word: ¬†“A soft-grained sweetmeat prepared by boiling together milk, sugar, butter, and chocolate or maple sugar.” of US origin, 1897.

the rest of the not inconsiderable space devoted to fudge has to with the term as something shouted to express incredulity or disfavour: “Contemptible nonsense, ‘stuff’, bosh,” or the not altogether different:

To fit together in a clumsy, makeshift, or dishonest manner; . . . To make (a problem) look as if it had been correctly worked, by altering figures; to conceal the defects of (a map or other drawing) by adjustment of the parts, so that no glaring disproportion is observed; and in other like uses.

both of which meanings i had always assumed followed upon the confectionary use, although it appears that these others enjoy priority by a good two hundred or so years. both senses are of obscure, and potentially unrelated origin, although options include the namesake of some lying pig of a 17th-century English captain, and still curiouser, “An onomatopoeic alteration of FADGE v., with the vowel expressive of more clumsy action.” not to interrupt your head-scratching, because it took me a minute to figure this one out too, but fadge¬†is an obsolete term meaning to fit well, or make fit well, get along, fit well into place. fudge, then, is almost its opposite, a clumsy dissembling of fadge: so,¬†fudge is¬†a fudging of the word fadge.¬†


i know, right?

so on top of this, a few hundred years later you have American boarding school debs applying the term to a delicious sugary confection that gradually makes its way into the lexicon, as i understand it, as a thing-in-itself. because perhaps i’m just out of the loop on this, but do people in general think of fudge the food as being some kind of chump job meant to pull one over? what is it trying to pass itself off as? it’s a brown square. but then, regardless, what happens is we have fudge coming back in as a sort of ersatz or pretend chocolate, implying in some parallel material-semiotic** fashion that fudge is a fudging of chocolate, or some other confection!


egad. what a twist!




* and only realizing now that my digression into the subtle comedy of failure could have been parlayed into some reference to the presence of such a thing in the writings of O. Henry, in that such clever twists often turn on some tragicomic or ironic failure, the most famous of which probably being “Gift of the Magi.” it’s a bit of a stretch, but that i should write about something effectively aesthetic, albeit arguably existential, associated with eating an Oh Henry bar, that in turn reminds me of the stories of O. Henry fits too well into this fudge loop (as, if you are reading this footnote inserted in the text, you will see; or if at the end, you have seen) to go unmentioned.

** not in the Actor-Network Theory way, so much as just the way that you’d figure if you tried to figure out what ‘material semiotics’ would look like. although hell, maybe that is the Actor-Network Theory way? or maybe just paronomasia?***

*** yes, paronomasia just means pun, and no, i can’t provide a single solid justification for using the word instead of pun, -except- that i appreciate how the former word (by its being obscure and five-to-six syllables) suggests some of the complexity that is bound up in a good pun. i mean come on, you can’t like word play and not like the word paronomasia. it’s play just to say it.



“Such Praise Inspires With Diviner Lust Your Friends, Who Guttle With Greater Gust”*

(or, Actions Louder Than Groans, Part 2)


someone once told me something interesting about G sounds in linguistics, but i don’t remember what it was. i am inclined to think it had something to do with the prevalence of G words involved in eating, specifically eating to excess¬†(see also this, this, and this), although they seem to derive equally, and perhaps not coincidentally (if we want to make some claims about grotesque topography in Gargantua) from other words for large size, anatomy, and geographical formations.

to round out some of my earlier forays into this territory, and not at all unrelated to my thoughts on Thanksgiving, try on the following:

gurgulio (n) from latin =¬†gullet, obs. – meaning, well, the gullet. but extended to mean “appetite for food.” as in Randolph: “his palate is lost, and with it his¬†gurgulio” (1630). nature abhors a vacuum, after all.

gutling (n) – “a great eater; a glutton. obs exc.¬†dial,” says the OED, which i originally took to mean “obsolete and exceedingly dialect.” but in fact means “obsolete,¬†except in dialect,” although they do not specify which dialects or of whence.

guttle (n) – the stuff of gluttony, which is to say, what one consumes gluttonously. it derives, interestingly, from the use of gut as a verb meaning not to eviscerate or “de-gut,” as in (modern) common parlance, but rather to stuff oneself. you know, really muscle one’s guts around with foodstuffs. hence guttle also as a verb, for which we have “to eat voraciously; to gormandize.”**

guttable (adj) – “that may be ‘gutted,’ or guzzled.” or, i should think, guttled. the strange thing is the OED only gives it as an adjective, but in the example provided, from Swift, it clearly operates as a noun: “I have plenty of¬†guttables; if we had agreeable companions as plenty as woodcocks, ducks, snipes . . . this would be a paradise” (1735). slippery stuff, this English. there is something very nice about the sentiment of the statement itself, however – ‘oh, we have so much delicious food, now if only we had some people to eat it with who were as enjoyable company as the food is fare, everything would be just perfect.’ it slyly defies the greed¬†implied by many of the other terms that constellate around the idea of gluttony; appealing to the notion that the appreciation of great food invites not only voracity but also good company. which brings us back to the prior paradox of Thanksgiving.

or does it?

* Grobianus et Grobiana. 1739. by Frederick Dedekind, trans. Roger Bull.

** i have elsewhere gotten into Benjamin’s use of ‘go(u)rmandize’, so out of keeping with either the Gastronomic Hierarchy or that of Brillat-Savarin, and subsequently apologized for subjecting you to the tedium of the engagement. well, consider the apology forgotten, because i get even -more- into it (and throw in some amateur German translation, to boot!) in my upcoming book, Food & Trembling. available in mere moments.


Without Being Totally Clear On What ‘Your Cabbage’ Is, I’m Going To Hazard That I’d Prefer It To A Milkshake, Most Days.

on the topic of songs about food, that are or are not about food, i recently picked up She’s Your Cook, But She Burns My Bread Sometimes, volume 14 of the Saga Blues collection, which if you’re not familiar with, and you like rhythm and/the, blues, you should definitely check out. if you live in Montr√©al, i suggest your local national library. if you don’t, i suppose i suggest the internet.

anyway, it’s great, and i’m not that sharp, as evidenced by me being like “Hey [my roommate], i got this awesome compilation of food-themed blues songs, but you know, i’m listening to them and i’m pretty sure these songs are mostly just about sex,” and then actually reading the damn liner notes and noticing that the tracks are divided up into “PART ONE: LEMON SQUEEZERS” and “PART TWO: GRINDERS AND OTHER SEX METAPHORS.” right, check.

highlights include the title track, by Bo Carter, Lil Johnson’s “You’ll Never Miss Your Jelly Till Your Jelly Roller’s Gone,” and Maggie Jones’ “Anybody Here Want To Try My Cabbage?” which i’ve just discovered has a 23-year-old Satchmo blowing cornet on. how about that? one of these days i swear i’m going to sit down and write something concerted and interesting about the history and ambiguous oversignification of the “jelly roll,” but i know that when it happens, it inevitably will result in me being like “you know, this actually doesn’t have ANYTHING to do with food.”

there’s something very satisfying, though, about that sort of cryptic suggestiveness, the imprecision and esoteric quality of which calls to mind the of Monty Python’s “Nudge Nudge, Wink Wink,” and my favourite, from Wet Hot American Summer:

Gary: McKinley needs to experience “The Ultimate”!
JJ: You mean, penis-in-vagina?
Gary: No, dickhead. Sex.

seriously, happy Valentine’s Day.

i don’t know why i said that. i don’t mean it at all.