about bliss

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

afraid for the fraise and pondering the francophiles...

June begins with relentless rain...and thunderous storms. I have to be in just the right mood to enjoy a storm, and I haven't been this storm season. The roaring thunder and sharp cracks of lightening simultaneously shrink my sense of self and magnify the capaciousness of the universe. I can appreciate this from a spiritual perspective, but ahhh, such daily reminders can become too much.

And during the storm, besides thinking of my smallness in relation to everything else, all I could think about were strawberries, becoming waterlogged and floating on pools of standing water around their beds. In my defense, I was reading *Alice Waters and Chez Panisse* and so the significance of food was further magnified...if "how we eat can change the world," as Waters says, and what we most want to eat at a given moment (my Michigan strawberries) is in danger, perhaps you can sense my despair.

I skimmed a bit of Pierre Bourdieu's *Distinction* today...interesting ideas about our relationship to consumption and culture and how our notions of taste are intertwined with qualities like education and class. But then I start the same train of thought...why are literary scholars turning towards French philosophers and sociologists time and again to explain American Lit? I'm not saying this isn't a valuable theoretical enterprise BUT I do think it can become rote and meaningless. I'm not anti-theory, but I wonder why there's a need to justify literature with other disciplines...I do know many of the reasons why, but sometimes I just want to read and have my own theoretical take on a work of art, without qualifying or legitimizing my own views with those of someone else.

And this French influence connects with the Chez Panisse story too, the deep links to French cuisine and culture that inspired Waters and so many of the chefs who have cooked at CP...what is it about the French aesthetic that becomes so seductive to so many of the writers, foodies, and idealists I encounter? I think it largely is that attention to aesthetics as an important component in and of itself, not aesthetics in the service of say, capitalism, but an attention to beauty for it's own sake. Idealistic, yes. Elitist, maybe. Pragmatic, not necessarily.

And I love this aesthetic orientation to life. Even if--and perhaps because--life is suffering, as the Buddhists proclaim, why not combat and dispel this suffering with a heady does of beauty? Recognizing, of course, the fleeting nature of beauty in its material manifestions...those poor water-sodden *fraise* and my favorite peonies, bent to the ground, petals dragging in the dirt...the beauty enhanced by its very transience...

And I can't seem to escape philosophizing and qualifying today. Perhaps it's a good day to work on my scholarly article after all:)

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