Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Food for Thought: "An Aural Fixation"

Rand talked about the arts being determined by the nature of the senses, and claims that in order for a new art to be developed, man would have to develop a new sense. Oddly enough, though, she downplays the contribution of two existing senses: smell and taste (and oddly enough, since she categorizes music as "art," hearing):

The development of human cognition starts with the ability to perceive things, i.e., entities. Of man's five cognitive senses, only two provide hum with a direct awareness of entities: sight and touch. The other three senses-hearing, taste, and smell-give him an awareness of some of an entity's attributes (or of the consequences produced by an entity): they tell him that something makes sounds, or something tastes sweet, or something smells fresh; but in order to perceive [emphasis mine] this something, he needs sight and/or touch.
One has to ask why Rand allows music to be classified as an "art," given that hearing, according to her view, does not enable man to "perceive." To be fair to Rand, she did acknowledge the discrepancy: "Music does not dealt with entities,which is the reason why its psycho-epistemological function is different from that of the other arts...". The short answer would be that music, being a temporal art, requires a process of integration of tones, thus, making it "conceptual" and not merely "decorative." This would be in line with her explanation of why photography is not an art, but film is the "story" bringing it under the umbrella of literature, as opposed to a meaningless juxtaposition of images." But to get to the root of her statement regarding the senses: What does she mean by "perceive?" The etymology of the word is this:

perceive Look up perceive at Dictionary.com
c.1300, via Anglo-Fr. parceif, O.N.Fr. *perceivre, O.Fr. per├žoivre, from L. percipere "obtain, gather," also, metaphorically, "to grasp with the mind," lit. "to take entirely," from per "thoroughly" + capere "to grasp, take" (see capable). Replaced O.E. ongietan. Both the L. senses were in O.Fr., though the primary sense of Mod.Fr. percevoir is literal, "to receive, collect" (rents, taxes, etc.), while Eng. uses the word almost always in the metaphorical sense.

It's beyond the scope of this brief blog post, (which is already longer than I intended!) but I wonder how Rand would explain just HOW sight and/or touch "take in entirely" all aspects of reality, when it could be said that sight does not take in auditory phenomenon, for starters...anyway...

As a result, many Objectivists reject the idea of the culinary arts. I reckon this has to do with the conceptual nature of Rand's theory; if music is already a sticky widget in Rand's theory, can you imagine the rationalization needed to explain haute cuisine and perfume in her cognitive theory? (They might accept it as art in the sense of "craft." ) And yet, I think my discussion of the somatic aspects of art open the door for an art based on those senses. At least one Rand fan, Jennifer Iannolo, has taken the art of cooking seriously enough to explore the connection between food and philosophy; witness The The Culinary Media Network, "home of the Gilded Fork and the World's First All-Food Podcast Network." Iannolo,

A dedicated sensualist...is committed to exploring as much of the planet as possible in her lifetime, with plenty of food, drink and sass to make the ride a smooth one. Food Philosophy is her expression of those pleasures -- call it an aural fixation.
I've enjoyed Jennifer's work since I was first exposed to it on the original SOLO website (trivia for the day: the original theme for her podcast, "New York Cheesecake," was written by Adam Buker), and maintain that even though her work has less to do with Objectivism per se, it makes real the goal of "a philosophy for living on Earth." Whether you find it to be "art" or not, Jennifer's site is "Objectively" certain to make you salivate. (Check out the recently published Gilded Fork Cookbook!).

(On the other hand...now that I think about it, I might not want to make the case for the culinary arts. Someone is bound to make it a moral issue, with people divided over the moral superiority of Toaster Strudel to Pop Tarts, or linguini and clams to Chef Boyardee...or Chef Boyardee to Franco-American...)

Now, for the case for "aural cuisine," consider some of this post by Jonathan on the eternal flamewar at SOLO:

Ellen wrote, about my music/cuisine analogy,
"However, you are the one who is making the claim that the analogy is a good one. So let's turn this questioning the other direction about: Please attempt to justify the claim."

Cooking can be similar to the other arts in that it can use a wide variety of elements to achieve drama and expressiveness through similarities, contrasts and emotional and conceptual associations. Much as a musician chooses a key, or a painter chooses to selectively limit his palette to a specific range of hues and values, a chef can do the same with flavors, temperatures and textures.

A chef might limit her "palette" to a small range of flavors to highlight one contrasting element, and the style of contrast she chooses can be expressive. She might contrast, say, a "hot," spicy meat with a cold vegetable medley, resulting in a course that evokes feelings of lightness, naturalness, freshness and summer, feelings which might be reinforced by the similarities and contrasts of flavors of earlier or later courses. Or she might "cool" the spiciness with a warm, sweet, cream sauce, which might generally evoke feelings of heaviness, tradition, family, calm and winter. Or she might not "cool" the protein at all, but instead choose to modulate the "heat" with an unexpected complementary spice, which might generally evoke the feeling that the dish is very energetic, festive and new.

Courses can be structurally selected to dramatically build to a climax. Then can, say, increase from mild flavors to more intense ones. The courses might offer structural variations on a theme -- different courses using the same wine as an ingredient, for example, or all of the ingredients used might be only those that are found naturally within a given region.

All this suggests that it is possible for the culinary arts to meet Rand's criteria for being an art, in her sense. There is a "recreation of reality," integration of sensory material, and yes, value judgements. Whatever your stance, you gotta admit, it's still a fine day in this fallapart country when a argument like this can be the highlight of one's afternoon.

And now, it's lunchtime.

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