Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Benjamin, Bruegel, & (Judi and Ron) Barrett

Reading The Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin's massive thousand-plus-pages work describing the significance of the 19th-c. Parisian precursor to outdoor shopping malls, his quotation from a French parody of Louis XI brings to mind one of my favorite books:
as well an awesome Bruegel (The Land of Cockaigne, 1567):(pg. 7)

Exposé of 1935, III. Grandville, or the World Exhibitions

Yes, when all the world from Paris to China
Pays heed to your doctrine, O divine Saint-Simon,
The glorious Golden Age will be reborn.
Rivers will flow with chocolate and tea,
Sheep roasted whole will frisk on the plain,
And sautéed pike will swim in the Seine.
Fricasseed spinach will grow on the ground,
Garnished with crushed fried croutons;
The trees will bring forth apple compotes,
And farmers will harvest boots and coats.
It will snow wine, it will rain chickens,
And ducks cooked with turnips will fall from the sky.

-Langlé and Vanderburch, Louis-Bronze et le Saint-Simonien (Théâtre du Palais-Royal, February 27, 1832)

Each of these three nature-bearing-ready-to-eat-food works presents a different moral: in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, food turns deadly; in Bruegel people become lazy and fat; in the Benjamin quote, having your basic (albeit fancy) nutritional needs met paves the way for commodity fetishism. That is, the next line Benjamin writes after the quote reads: "World exhibitions are places of pilgrimage to the commodity fetish."

Perhaps partly because we today are awash with plentiful fast food options from golden arches to extensive prepackaged frozen foods, all much less delicious-sounding than the gourmet food of Langlé&Vanderburch, we are propelled into the world of fashion, advertisements, and sex sells: "World exhibitions propagate the universe of commodities...Fashion stands in opposition to the organic. It couples the living body to the inorganic world. To the living, it defends the rights of the corpse. The fetishism that succumbs to the sex appeal of the inorganic is its vital nerve. The cult of the commodity presses such fetishism into its service (8)." See also Walter Benjamin, "Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century," in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, trans. Edmund Jephcott (New York: Schocken Books, 1986), 151, 152.

However, food-as-commodity can be sexualized itself ---- and the food industry and fashion industry vie for our attention and negate each other (the more you indulge in those juicily unhealthful burgers, the less you look like the models presented by the fashion world). You can't be a hot burger model and eat it too.


  1. I love that you posted this gem and included the The Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs original book! I used to read this book as a child. I read it over and over again because I just really loved the story, and now I think the direct link to food definitely did not hurt the necessity to be obsessed with symbols/images. Very nice correlation with Benjamin and Bruegel!

    Now speaking of commodity fetishism: the 'sexual appeal of the inorganic' statement makes me think that it's not the need for commodity that keeps people mesmerized but more because of what that 'symbol' means. If I purchase and only consume organic foods this represents to the world that I am healthy and take serious consideration when it comes to the state of my being. Not such the case. I see it more as: 'if I only buy and consume organic foods this means I buy into the hype and therefore am a sheep.' We follow trends, we abide by symbols didactic-ism without really considering the real message behind the meaning.

    What does this mean for the natural foods movement? They too are a company based on profit but stick steady to their claim of changing the way we eat to better ourselves and the world we inhabit. Now I'm not saying this is bad or negative--I am questioning commodity fetishism as a means to imbue symbols to persuade the masses through a positive message to instill a factual need for certain 'dominant ideology.'

  2. Nice Jayne. What we buy is symbolic of who we are, that is, our personality is made up of our consumer choices.

  3. I hate that culturally we feel that we are defined by such boundaries and limitations. This symbolic nature of our consumerism deducts from the real beauty of each individual person, from what makes each and everyone one of us an original. The original no longer exists. We are left with nothing but duplications and simulacra of what it could have been. We purged the pornography of anything that has any inherent value that isn't tangible, like real based emotions and instead we rely on flat notes with robotic ennui.

    "We live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning."
    — Jean Baudrillard (Simulacra and Simulation)

  4. you need to join me on google wave!