The Taste of the Text

Barthes“How blue the sky was”

The figure refers to the happy interval immediately

Following the first ravishment, before the difficulties

Of the amorous relationship begin.

   – Roland Barthes (1915—1989)


The 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.[1] 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 syntagmas, or sentence components—soup adjective, fish noun, chicken adverb.

Is not a good 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 a torsion, a twist of degrees: it turns back, like a lock of hair.

“The fine arts are five in number, namely: painting, sculpture, poetry, music, and    architecture, the principal branch of the latter being pastry.”

—Antonin Carême


The Uncertainty of Signs: (signes / signs)

“Whether he seeks to prove his love, or to

Discover if the other loves him, the amorous

Subject his no system of sure signs at his disposal.”

– Roland Barthes


This is no small jest. Remember that architects must build maquettes, models, which require some of the same fine eye and hand movements, the same precision as the confection of a pastry. Carême’s[2] words came true shortly after I had first encountered them: an architect I have known since childhood, upon retiring, enrolled in pastry-making school and now supplies several Bay Area restaurants with his sugared constructions.



[1] Structuralism (1960s) Literary Theory regarded as a French movement, much indebted to the French linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913), but with Russian and Czech sources, and international implications. Principals: Roland Barthes (1915-80), Gérard Genette (1931-   ), Algirdas Julien Greimas, Roman Jakobson (1896-1982), Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-   ), Tzvetan Todorov (1939-   ).

Literary texts, and other cultural products such as myth, are analyzed as systems of signifying units, like language. Preoccupation with formal symmetries, parallelisms,, contrasts; with features of poetic language which differ from those of ‘ordinary language’; with the general properties of literature (POETICS). Jacobson’s POETIC PRINCIPLE and the NARRATIVE GRAMMAR of Vladimir Propp (1895-1970) are important foci and models.

[2] Marie-Antoine Carême: 1784 -1833) was a French chef and food writer. Though named in honor of Marie Antoinette, he preferred to call himself “Antonin”—no doubt for many reasons, particularly after the French Revolution. A celebrity chef, his was a style of cooking that would now be deemed opulent if not outright excessive. He is now seen as the founder of “La Grande Cuisine Française”, having established the supremacy of French cooking in Europe for the next 200 years. He was also very interested in architecture, an interest which he translated into his monumental edible table pieces constructed of food.


One comment on “The Taste of the Text

  1. Azucena Davis says:

    Sir Gustav Tjgaard, thank you for sharing  and counting me, with expressive mind of linguistic Roland Barthes, a French gentlemen. Your Rum Ram Ruf Blog, is I supposed is only one of your researches online for a purpose(?). Please accept my hurrah to you. Linguist shakes your mind, ruffles around as one thinks until you either conk out or attain a new value and prospective in expression on how one thinks.  A Big Toast of Rum to you, from a friend.


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