The Taste of the Text

taste1The linguistic philosophers of France, especially the late Roland Barthes, understood how French cuisine and French culture are related, and how both fit with structuralist philosophy. A Parisian dinner is meant to be a single elegant statement, like a well-turned sentence or an outfit from Yves Saint-Laurent. The Anglo-Saxon view of a banquet can be expressed in terms of the history of the world. You begin with soup—water with things swimming in it—then move on to the aqueous kingdom, then to flying creatures, then to mammals. Finally you celebrate man in cheeses and desserts, both products of sophisticated culture. This is the diachronic view, which the French reject. They prefer to see the various courses as syntagms, or sentence components—soup adjective, fish noun, chicken adverb.

But we must remember the wine. . . . is not a good wine the wine whose flavor oscillates, alters, doubles, so that the mouthful swallowed does not have quite the same taste as the next mouthful taken? In the draught of good wine, as in the taking of the text, there is torsion, a twist of degrees: it turns back, like a lock of hair.

taste2a

Balzac laments, coffee, coffee.  Alexander Pope, who had a constant headache during the long diseased life, would sniff coffee all day long and nights in public houses to relieve the pulsing pain. Like alcohol, coffee is a social drink: people are always asking, “Do you want a cup of coffee?” when they mean, “I want to drag you to my bed.” Coffee is also a necessary ritual between the sheets and the streets. Bach wrote a piece called “The Coffee Cantata,” whose raucous laughter and jollity we can only attribute to the magic of the drug. It’s about a father who won’t let his daughter marry unless she gives up drinking coffee, but she outsmarts the old man and has coffee written into the marriage articles, and becomes the first bride in history to live happily ever after.

The Armenian language cannot be worn out; its boots are made of stone. Well, certainly, the thick-walled word, the layers of air in the semi-vowels. But is that all there is to it? No! Where does its traction come from? How to explain it?

I felt the joy of pronouncing sounds forbidden to Swedish lips, secret sounds, outcast sounds, crunchey sounds like the chewing of filbert or almond nuts, and perhaps, on some deep level, shameful.

There was some fine water boiling in a pewter teapot and suddenly a pinch of marvelous black tea was thrown into it.

That’s how I feel about the Armenian language.

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