Sunday, April 4, 2010

Eastertide: I have not seen this day before

When I tried to reflect on my day to a friend, I became inarticulate. Did I have a good Easter? Yes! But then I was forced to account for an experience whose nature did not require me to reflect on its nature, as if I could inhabit a body of water for hours without ever consciously being aware of "swimming." (Do babies feel this way in water? Dogs?). Or it was as if I had been swimming in a wide lake, then suddenly hoisted by a bird into the air and made aware of the water's boundaries or boundedness for the first time.

And people ask about days all the time, but this hoisting (or vaulting?) was different because of the quality of my day. A day whose character and content were so immediate that I felt submerged fully in them.

Were I to list it out, you could examine my words with a microscope, noting the microbes that inhabit them but are not them; you could touch them with a stethoscope for a pulse; you could stack them, file them, or compare them to other words of other days you've had, or heard someone else has had, or could imagine someone having. We could both sort it like that, for likeness. But all for what?

I had a day. (This day)
and did not know until it passed.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Spectacle, Security, and Dinner Manners

Old news now, but after reading the NYT's report on Michaele and Tareq Salahi, the two uninvited guests at the White House Indian state dinner, I remembered hostis, the Latin word that can mean stranger or enemy (which, indeed, they were). All for celebrity, most say, downplaying the very real threat any guest poses to a host.

Doesn't their intrusion seem almost literary? Two uninvited guests turn up in the house that represents national ipseity (our home, our place) two days before the national holiday that celebrates England's New-world occupation. Hostility in disguise.

The final words of another NYT commentary by Alessandra Stanley are even more provocative:
The Secret Service is a security force entirely devoted to protecting the president and his family from assault and assassins; it is not trained to screen for people who will risk arrest and breach every safety barrier — and sense of social decorum — for something as mundane and flimsy as media attention.
But how flimsy is the desire to become an overnight celebrity? Isn't a state dinner also mundane? I know there's a larger moral question beneath all these details, but I haven't quite reached it. I just love how a simple dinner party faux pas foregrounds all the problems of hospitality.

The Salahi's have earned their clout, though who knows at what cost? We'll see what happens after their 20 January subpoenas.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Is there any truly smile?"

Eve of Thanksgiving, and I'm thinking on a phrase a student wrote on a paper last week. "The blue gang beats the red gang and violence stops, but there will be no peace when the red gang fights back," he wrote, "Is there any truly smile?"

"Truly smile"--an 18-year-old Japanese student, fresh to American college, translates every thought on paper.

His phrase glimmers near the old, impossible claim of Aristotle: "My friends, there are no friends."

We seek friendship beyond revenge--the bloods and crypts, Israelis and Palestinians, Angles and Algonquian--but does any friendship exist beyond gratitude? My student hopes for an end to reciprocal violence, which we rightly denounce, but how often we dismiss the violence that hides under thanks, under reciprocal gratitude? My obligations to you outweigh my will. My love for you breaks my self into parts. My face seeing yours will match it, leaping into place with a grin.

Beyond reciprocity, "is there any truly smile?"

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Radical Food Politics: Beyond Diet

At the NASCO Conference in Ann Arbor last week, I was supposed to be attending a series on how to start your own co-op, but I managed to sneak out for a session on radical food politics. It's an interestingly baggy term, but associated, of late, with the locavore movement, Michael Pollen, organic, Gentically Modified Foods, lactofermentation, Vandana Shiva, etc. (See Grist magazine for a weekly food politics update).

The room was packed. If you dangle the word "radical" in front of a co-oper, she's going to bite. Actually, the people in the room already knew a lot about food, and most of them wanted to push it further with the group, in the moment, since that seems to make the best conference sessions.

Unfortunately, the level of proficiency in the room seemed to overwhelm the discussion leaders, so the initial set up was a bit shaky. The most important question I took was this:

How do we take food politics and apply it against other oppressive structures (race, class, gender, et cetera)? How do we move beyond diet prohibitions or prescriptions into something more radical?

It hit me this morning that the presenters were on to something: how do our politics change when the question "what are we eating?" develops into "yeah, but who are we eating with?"?

Any thoughts?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Quatrain for Emily

a gift--the cost to get,
and gotten, hard to hold,
and held, the very rift--
could we--imagine--weld

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bread Day!

Scott makes bread for the co-ops every Friday. I think she usually turns out 20 loaves, though her ultimate goal is to provide one loaf per person per week (and there's nearly 70 of us!). Today's loaves had a flaky crust that shed small pieces when you brought a knife to it--the best any of us had ever tasted.

Four weeks ago, Scott invited me over to talk about fermentation. We had a lengthy conversation in the kitchen, her elbows dusted with flour while a mass of dough rose, continually threatening to drip off the counter (in the slothful way that dough drips, I suppose).

The counter couldn't hold it all.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

RMMLA Food Panel

At the Rocky Mountain MLA this weekend I participated on a panel called "The Meaning of Food: Cultural Values and Culinary Choices." The panel took four very different approaches:
1. a BYU professor's close reading of hospitality/food rituals in Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Levinas and Derrida showing up in the poignant 'world's last Coca Cola' scene
2. My attempt to wed hunger to environmental justice in works by James Agee and Richard Wright.
3. A UT Austin grad's look at the role of traditional recipes, mother-daughter relationships and Indian-American acculturation in the "desi" chic-lit The Hindi Bindi Club
4. A BYU grad's articulation of the varying performances of "egalitarian social leveling" in religious food rituals in Sikhism, Judaism, and Christianity.

What struck me the most about this last paper, presented by Josh Goldberg, was his insistence on the latent potential behind religious rituals and traditions. Those elements (including food laws, feasting practices, and cup sharing) which are only waiting to be activated and re-membered and have the ability to dismantle social and cultural power structures. I was excited to meet a new friend. If you are interested in his work, find him on Mormon Midrashim, one of the more provocative blog ideas I've encountered.

The discussion after the papers was also fruitful, several people comparing our approaches to different meal courses or cooking approaches. One woman asked us to consider the act of hospitality in opposition to control (and the attempt to maintain it). As well as the difference between concern for "presentation" and concern for "welcome"--two things that need not be in opposition but often are (Martha/Mary?)

Worth the jaunt to Snowbird Lodge, as was the snowy mountains.

Also, I would not be here without the generosity of the UO English Dept. and the willingness of Paul W. to share a hotel room with a total stranger. Many thanks to them.