Unreal Nature

March 26, 2013

Nourishment

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:42 am

Bourdieu characterizes the eating habits of the leisured bourgeoisie as the “taste of liberty or luxury” and those of the working class as the “taste of necessity.” The latter favors food that is nourishing and filling, bulky, gulpable, massy. The taste of luxury is for lighter fare, since it need not nourish a body engaged in hard labor.

… There is no universality of Taste untainted by class privilege, no pure judgment of aesthetic pleasure. … Both kinds of taste are part and parcel of the same social forces.

This is from Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy by Carolyn Korsmeyer (1999):

… in this chapter I shall skip the qualifying adjectives and simply use “taste” with a lowercase t when I refer to the actual sense of taste, and “Taste” with a capital T to refer to aesthetic Taste — that type of Taste signified in the expression “philosophies of Taste” or the “philosophical problem of Taste.”

… metaphoric language is not simply the colorful application of terms from one domain in another for decorative or rhetorical purposes, such that the basic things that positively need to be said can be uttered without the use of metaphor. Metaphors constitute parts of the webs of meaning from which conceptual frameworks emerge. If metaphoric language is so crucial to developing the sorts of systematic relations among ideas that we call philosophies, then the choice of images to serve as theoretic metaphors calls for judicious reflection.

… let us begin by noting how observations about taste furthered the growing field of aesthetic theory. For the first point to make about taste as it appears in the intellectual tradition of early modern philosophy is a positive one: of all the senses, the gustatory sense seems most disposed to employment in aesthetic contexts. While examples of the apprehension of beauty are frequently drawn from visual experience (the sight of a flower, a design, a well-executed painting), the actual operation of the appreciative reaction is compared to the savoring of a flavor in which perception and pleasure merge. Taste comes to provide the chief analogy by which the apprehension of the beautiful and of fine artistic qualities and even social style is explicated.

The English term “taste” has had several meanings in its history, all of which relate in some way to the idea of intimate acquaintance with an object by means of one’s own sensory experience. Precursor terms include usages that mean to touch, to smell, and to test. Also of relevance is the fact that a “taste” of something has quantitative connotations — a very small amount, one that requires careful discernment even to notice. And of course “taste” also refers to personal dispositions and preferences, as in the expression “to have a taste for” something, whether a food or an activity or a type of object. The sensation of tasting seems to carry a virtually inescapable affective valence: tasting involves registering the sensation as pleasant or unpleasant. Therefore this sense provides a suitable analog for judgments of the quality of experience by means of immediate, subjective approval.

The metaphor of Taste fosters interest in unique qualities of objects that seize attention because of their fine character, summed up in the term “beauty.” Beauty is an elusive concept. Objects found to be beautiful display so much variety that it is impossible to specify what constitutes beauty in general. While some writers thought they could identify an objective correlate to beauty, few argued that the presence of beauty could actually be inferred from correlative qualities. Moreover, not every percipient is able to make the particular judgment of Taste, for such discernment requires the development of a special sensitivity. This becomes an important theoretical meaning that Taste carries when it assumes centrality in aesthetic theory: an ability to judge the fine points of an individual object, the presence of which cannot be inferred from principles or rules. “Taste” designates a type of apprehension that does not yield knowledge about the causes of sensation or about the principles that govern the phenomenon, but rather provides an evaluative assessment about the immediate object of experience, perceived directly through firsthand acquaintance and the subjective feelings that arise in response. This capacity comes to be seen as a type of good judgment whereby one responds appropriately to art and beautiful objects of nature.

… However, despite the power of the metaphor and the enthusiastic comparisons advanced by writers such as Dubos and Voltaire, modern European aesthetic theory eventually leaves literal taste behind altogether. The reason is partly that in the European context in which “Taste” develops as a theoretical term, the subjectivity of taste — the very quality of this sense that disposes it to aesthetic parallels — also poses a stubborn philosophical problem. Solutions to this problem permit aesthetic Taste to take its place in philosophical systems only because of the manner in which it differs from gustatory taste. To fail to note the differences between the two kinds of taste is to stop short of dealing with the pressing philosophical issue that faced eighteenth-century European philosophy: the threat of relativism to concepts of value and the consequent search for grounds to support claims of universal validity for value judgments.

[ … ]

… The eighteenth-century philosophers who refined the concept of the aesthetic considered themselves to be articulating a mode of perception that is “universal,” that is, recognizable by any person of sensitivity. Their goal seemed to require the separation of aesthetic Taste, which warrants shared values, from gustatory taste, which does not carry with it the expectation that agreement is either forthcoming or important to secure. While the latter presumption has remained more or less unquestioned over the centuries, the goal of establishing a universal foundation for Taste has come in for considerable criticism. Today this Enlightenment project can be seen to manifest a set of social presumptions and exigencies peculiar to its time, and many contemporary critics have interpreted philosophies of Taste skeptically as components of the historical development of certain class interests.

Bourdieu assaults eighteenth-century defenses of a uniform and universal standard of Taste as disguised class hegemony that regulates values of domination and submission in European societies.

Bourdieu characterizes the eating habits of the leisured bourgeoisie as the “taste of liberty or luxury” and those of the working class as the “taste of necessity.” The latter favors food that is nourishing and filling, bulky, gulpable, massy. The taste of luxury is for lighter fare, since it need not nourish a body engaged in hard labor. Luxurious taste also puts a premium on the presentation of dishes and the visual display of a table; it is tolerant of the fiddling necessary to consume dainty or elaborate dishes without dribbles and spills.

The links that Bourdieu draws between literal taste and aesthetic Taste contrast interestingly with the comparisons made by classic philosophies of Taste, for he has in a way turned the value hierarchy on its head. Unlike most philosophies of Taste, Bourdieu emphatically rejects the qualitative distinction between literal and aesthetic Taste. There is no universality of Taste untainted by class privilege, no pure judgment of aesthetic pleasure. And therefore there is no need to stipulate a particular sort of Taste to ground universal aesthetic standards. Both kinds of taste are part and parcel of the same social forces. In fact the oral pleasures of tasting, primitive and infantile, subtend the developed preferences of aesthetic Taste and remain their point of reference. The philosophical superiority of aesthetic Taste is an illusion rooted in the attempt to make class distinctions irrelevant to contemplative ideals of aesthetics, but far from being irrelevant, they have been rendered only invisible.

… The reason that analogies, comparisons — metaphors generally — are so useful in philosophy is that abstract, opaque concepts can be brought to clarity by apt comparison with a concrete, particular, and familiar thing. The disadvantage of analogies and metaphors is that when the comparison is dubious, the very elusiveness of the targeted concept makes it liable to distortion in the process of comparison. (As George Eliot remarks of one of her characters, “We all of us, grave or light, get our thoughts entangled in metaphors, and act fatally on the strength of them.”)

… Before pursuing a philosophy of taste for its own sake, we first should learn something about how this sense actually functions and investigate how much of the traditional understanding of this sense is accurate.

My previous post from Korsmeyer’s book is here.

-Julie

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