Song of the Day: Courtney Barnett, “Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence”

This song may be anthem this semester, for better or worse.


Nostalgia and snobbery

Is nostalgia a form of snobbery?

I’m reading Provence 1970, a fictionalized reconstruction of a pivotal moment in food culture where the Childs, MFK Fisher, James Beard, and Richard Olney, among others, all happened to be in Provence during the same winter. Their tensions reshaped American food culture. I finally finished Julia Child’s memoir last summer, and I wanted something that continued that journey. It’s written by a nephew of Fisher’s who discovered her journal for this period. Olney does not come out well so far, and this was a question/thought I had last night. Many of these famous chefs/cooks became so because of lauding French haute cuisine. It was the cuisine. But Child and Fisher felt the constraints of such emphasis on the past, on the need to present French cuisine in only one way that could be considered “authentic.” Read authenticity here as a form of snobbery. Child, at this stage of her career, was especially cognizant of how French methods had to bend to the realities of food production, consumption, and habits in the US. She had to give detailed instructions for bread baking in her second volume of Mastering French Cooking because most Americans couldn’t go down to the nonexistent village boulangier and get a baguette.

We normally think of nostalgia, of a longing for the past, as a form of homesickness. When first coined, by the French actually, the concept was that nostalgia was a disease afflicting French sailors and colonists who longed for home so intensely on foreign shores that it caused physical effects, even death. As being discussed here, nostalgia isn’t a longing for the past per se, more a guarding of the present against any interference. The thing longed for is protected by proclamations of how it should be read or consumed or treated. The proper way or authentic way is the only way to recreate the past in the here and now. If you can’t do it that way, well too bad. You’re gauche, too American, too new, too not quite pure enough. It reeks of the kind of authenticity policing I see in the green consumption movement or ethical fashion, which by the way is still selling you stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. You’re getting it wrong if your not doing x thing. But I digress.

If we read nostalgia as a form of snobbery, it does change what that concept means because no one can really access the mythical past we’re nostalgic for. There is no authentic or pure before this moment, which is not authentic or pure either. The aura of authenticity is only possible in a work of art, and even then in our mechanically reproducible age, nothing has that aura anymore. But if nostalgia is a form of snobbery then the past’s aura is only accessible by the self chosen guardians of its purity, in this case French cuisine in 1970, but I’m sure you can see the implications for our current political moment.

Romelu Lukaku on Football and Identity

This personal essay by Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku will make you tear up as he recounts his family being flat broke and deciding at 6 that he was going to be a professional footballer at 16 so he could take care of his mum. It’s an essay about what anger turned into determination can do, but also one about how he struggled with being a second generation immigrant. His parents are from the Congo, but Lukaku sees himself as Belgian, no matter how much doubting he experienced growing up or how the Belgian press reports on him.

Commonplace: Laura Norris, “We Don’t Run to Be Skinny”

“Running teaches us – and demands of us – that we fuel our bodies for energy, recovery, and performance, rather than restricting calories for a thigh gap or whatever other aesthetic currently defines female beauty. Running teaches us that we can strive to be more than skinny; we can strive to be strong, resilient, fast, hard-working, and supportive.”

~Laura Norris, “We Don’t Run to be Skinny,” This Runner’s Recipes, a running and food blog. Norris also trains people working on their running. I like her blog and her approach to training. Plus, there are dogs and beer.

The whole article is here. I think this goes for every sport. There’s no ideal yoga body, no ideal runner’s body, no ideal Pilates body, or weight lifter’s body. It’s just your body. Those are activities you do to make your mind and body strong. For me, running and yoga and a mix of Pilates and weights reminds me to get out of my head. Physical activity recenters me and helps me do the intellectual and emotional work I need to do.

Commonplace: Joan Lindsay, Picnic at Hanging Rock

“Even as a little girl, Irma Leopold had wanted above all things to see everyone happy with the cake of their choice. Sometimes it became an almost unbearable longing, as when she had looked down at Mademoiselle asleep on the grass this afternoon. Later it would find expression in fantastic handouts from an overflowing heart and purse, no doubt acceptable to Heaven, if not to legal advisers: handsome donations to a thousand lost causes–lepers, sinking theatrical companies, missionaries, priests, tubercular prostitutes, saints, lame dogs and deadbeats all over the world.”

~ Joan Lindsay, Picnic at Hanging Rock

Open Plan Living Qualms aka Let’s Not Build Back Kitchens

There have been several think pieces lately linking the open plan home and its popularity on HGTV and other channels to myths about the contemporary American family. A few are linking these homes and the flipping of older homes to both the 2008 housing crisis and the potential for a new one. This one by Ian Bogost traces the concept to Frank Lloyd Wright and the movement away from servants in the first half of the twentieth century. The dirty little secret of 1950s upper middle class life, of course, was that domestic help was still necessary to run it. It meant that the mess of the kitchen and laundry–i.e. the labor of the home–was obscured behind closed doors. Victorian advice books on the home discuss keeping the kitchen away from other rooms for this reason. Even the smell of cooking food was too much crossing of the domestic boundaries between living in the home and the work of the home.

Now, the open concept or plan home tries the dubious balancing act of living vs domestic labor. Bogost states

It makes sense, until you think about it for a moment. Wouldn’t family life keep happening, even if a few walls were erected? What open-plan aficionados might really mean is that so much time and effort is spent chasing the residual labor of school, work, and home life into the evenings and weekends, that it would be lovely if some of it might overlook other family activities in the process. There is so much to do, but at least a family can all be nearby one another while trying to get it done.

It’s trickery, however. And it again occludes the domestic labor of the home, most often done by women. The article details a new concept, and Bogost touches on the gendered issues at the center of the contemporary American home. The new concepts is two kitchens: a front kitchen that really is a front and then a back kitchen where the actual mess of cooking occurs. It’s the open plan but with the mess and labor hidden away from the super bowl party guests, where most likely the wife will disappear to in order to clean after the half time show. For some reason, this new plan makes me think of the segments of the film version of The Joy Luck Club where Rose slowly loses herself throwing parties for her husband’s work, sinking into oblivion as she does the actual work, even scrubbing a stain off the floor. Rosalind Chao conveys so perfectly her despair and confusion at ending up in this sad space. How about we design homes that actually help facilitate the work of living? Let’s not design them to put anyone in the back kitchen.