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Sunday January 25, 2015

The word taste has a curious meaning in the philosophy of beauty or aesthetics.

The ability to discern what is of good quality or of a high aesthetic standard. "she has awful taste in literature"

Literally, in the quoted example, it means that her literature choices leave an awful taste in the speaker's mouth. But cooking is aesthetic; it is an art form, the only one that involves all five perceptions: sight, hearing, touch, flavor and aroma. Most importantly, one has one's impressions of these five perceptions.

Marcel Proust translated John Ruskin's The Bible of Amiens written in 1885; the translation was published in 1900, the year Ruskin died. Proust spoke little english and he was aided in the translation by his mother. Proust loved his mother and he loved Ruskin too because Ruskin loved Gothic architecture: Proust made pilgrimages to study the Gothic churches in France that Ruskin had written about. 

The important consideration here is Ruskin's sense of the aesthetic and, of course, Proust's too. William C. Carter says, "While accepting many of Ruskin's aesthetic ideas and contesting others, he (Proust) had honed his own." One aesthetic idea, common to both Ruskin and Proust, that of the impression.

In the 19th century one described those who had common impressions ("It's beautiful," one said of a work of art or a dish of cuisine) as being vulgar.

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
1/12/2015 3:08 pm
Labels: Taste

Democritus (460 BC–370 BC), known primarily for an atomic theory of the universe, said there were four basic gustatory tastes: sweetness, sourness, saltiness and bitterness. However a new taste was added in the 20th century, umami. It is a Japanese word, first proposed by Professor Kikunae Ikeda of the Tokyo Imperial University in 1908. He tasted it in Kombu which is a seaweed base popular with the Japanese; it has been described as having a "savory" taste. 

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the chef Auguste Escoffier, along with with famed hotelier César Ritz, opened restaurants in London and Paris. Chef Escoffier created menus that combined umami with salty, sour, sweet and bitter tastes; he didn't know that glutamate containing foods provided the "brothy" taste so savored by umami mavens. His genius was that he cooked food that tasted good.

According to Marcel Proust, A Life by William C. Carter 2002-2013, Proust sourced parts of his writing while dining at the Hôtel Ritz in the early 1900's. He liked the late hours of the Ritz, the waiters, their gossip, and one would guess, the food too as he ate there frequently. I assume it's where he tasted Escoffier's cooking. 

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
1/12/2015 3:03 pm
Labels: Umami

These reflections on Ruskin’s compositional methodology provide us with a foretaste of Proust’s understanding of his own forthcoming apotheosis. He would shortly abandon the need to recreate in himself what a master had felt. Instead, he became one.

Forward by Eric Karpeles 2011, p. x.

Marcel Proust and John Ruskin, On Reading, translated by Damion Searls,  

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
1/6/2015 9:45 pm
Labels: Proust, Ruskin

In the same way, the beauty of a piece of journalistic writing does not lie wholly in the article; cut off from the minds where it finishes its course, the article is but an armless Venus. And as it is to the crowd (even though it may be a highly select crowd) that it owes its completed effect, that effect is always slightly vulgar. It is the imagined approving silences of this or the other reader that the journalist has in mind when he weighs his words and tries out their equivalence to his thoughts; and thus his work, composed with the unwitting collaboration of other people, is less personal.

Marcel Proust on Art and Literature (containing Contre Sainte-Beuve, p. 19 to p. 276) translated by Sylvia Townsend Warner 1957, p. 112 (and by myself).

Ainsi la beauté journalistique n’est pas tout entière dans l’article; détachée des esprits où elle s’achève, ce n’est qu’une Vénus brisée. Et comme c’est de la foule (cette foule fût-elle une élite) qu’elle reçoit son expression dernière, cette expression est toujours un peu vulgaire. C’est aux silences de l’approbation imaginée de tel ou tel lecteur que le journaliste pèse ses mots et trouve leur équilibre avec sa pensée. Aussi son œuvre, écrite avec l’inconsciente collaboration des autres, est-elle moins personnelle

Contre Sainte-Beuve Marcel Proust ~1908, p. 139.

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
1/1/2015 12:03 pm

So he (Sainte-Beuve) differs from Emerson, who said one must hitch one’s waggon to a star. He tried to hitch his waggon to what is nearest at hand, to politics: and said, “I thought it interesting to collaborate in a great social movement.” He harped on what a pity it was that Chateaubriand, Lamartine, Hugo, should have taken up with politics, but in reality politics play less part in their writings than in his criticism. Why did he say of Lamartine: “The talent is left out”? Of Chateaubriand: “These Memoires in fact, are not very kind and that is their main defect. For as far as talent goes, mingled with a vein of bad taste, and with verbal abuses of all kinds—which for that matter are to be found in almost all M. de Chateaubriand’s writings—there are many pages bearing the stamp of the master, the claw-mark of the old lion; sudden flights side by side with childish whimsies, and passages of such grace, such magical suavity, that one owns the enchanter’s voice and wand.” “I really should not be able to discuss Hugo.”

Marcel Proust on Art and Literature (containing Contre Sainte-Beuve ~1908, p. 19 to p. 276) translated by Sylvia Townsend Warner 1957, p. 113.

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
12/31/2014 8:04 am

I like knowing where my food comes from. If it doesn't come from my sheep farm, a friend's vegetable farm or from a farmer in a farmers' market, one who has good intentions about the soil they farm, I feel uneasy about tasting it. Not that this food of unknown origin will make me sick but I can taste its good stewardship or its lack—or so I imagine—and that impression of stewardship is the proving ground of taste.

A good intention, about the soil that makes the food grown in it taste delicious, is that an old farmer pass it along unharmed—by synthetic products: herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, etc.—to a new steward.

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
12/28/2014 6:08 pm
Labels: Food

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
12/25/2014 10:03 am

Let Marcel Proust speak about writing style in his own words in a note to the translators preface of Ruskin's Sesames and Lilies:

19. For example, I believe that the charm we are accustomed to find in these line from Racine’s Andromaque:

Pourquoi l'assassiner ? Qu’a-t-ilfait ? A quel titre ? Qui te la dit ?

[Why murder him? What did he do? On what grounds? Who told you that?]

comes precisely from intentionally breaking the customary syntactical connections. ‘On what grounds?’ refers not to ‘What did he do?’ - the immediately preceding sentence - but to ‘Why murder him?’ and ‘Who told you that?’ refers to the ‘murder’ as well. (Recalling another line of Andromache’s, 'Qui vous Va dit, seigneur, qu'il me meprise ?’ [‘Who told you that, milord, that he mistrusts me?’], we might at first suppose that ‘Who told you that?’ means ‘Who told you to murder him?’) Such zigzags of expression (the broken lines I speak of in the text above) can only obscure the meaning, and in fact I have heard a great actress, more concerned with clarity of sense than prosodic exactitude, simply say: ‘Why murder him? On what grounds? What did he do?’ Racine’s most famous lines are in reality famous because we are charmed by their bold audacity of language, thrown like a daring bridge from one euphonious riverbank to the other.

Marcel Proust, On Reading, Translators preface to Sesame and Lilies, 1906, in Marcel Proust and John Ruskin, On Reading, 1911, translated by Damion Searl, p. 40.

That Proust was aware of Racine's break of "customary syntactical connections" by 1906 is a reason to closely read À la recherche to see if Proust implemented what he knew of Racine's writing style, and if so, how often.

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
12/24/2014 11:51 am

Eugene Wyatt @CatskillMerino

Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu is a 3000 page novel with writing that existed in similar versions written years before.

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
12/17/2014 7:23 am

From Contre Sainte-Beuve ~1908,

And just then I saw, quivering on the sill of the French window, a pulse like a heartbeat, dim and colourless, but continually dilating and enlarging, and which one felt was going to become a sunbeam. And indeed a moment later it half invaded the sill, and then, after a brief hesitation, a shy drawing-back, flooded it all over with a pale light in which swam the rather indistinct shadows of the iron-work balcony railings. ...

Marcel Proust on Art and Literature (containing Contre Sainte-Beuve) translated by Sylvia Townsend Warner 1957 p. 74.

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
12/17/2014 7:12 am

From Swann's Way 1913,

... And so, from lunch-time onwards, my anxious eyes never left the unsettled, clouded sky. It remained dark. The balcony in front of the window was grey. Suddenly, on its sullen stone, I would not exactly see a less leaden colour, but I would feel as it were a striving towards a less leaden colour, the pulsation of a hesitant ray that struggled to discharge its light. A moment later, the balcony was as pale and luminous as a pool at dawn, and a thousand shadows from the iron-work of its balustrade had alighted on it. ...

Published in Le Figaro 1912 from Swann's Way Marcel Proust 1913, translated by Moncrieff, Kilmartin and Enright 1922-1992 p. 563.

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
12/16/2014 5:09 pm
Labels: Proust, Swann's Way

At heart, I know quite well that a number of people, some of them my intimate friends, will make nothing of my article; but even from these I get the agreeable feeling that today I shall occupy their minds, if not with my thoughts, which will be totally inapparent to them, at least with my name, my personality, and the merit they impute to some one able to write so many things they do not understand at all. There is a person to whom this will give the idea of me that I so much desire she should have. Just by fact of existing, this article that she will not understand is a declaration of my merit which will reach her ears. Alas, a declaration of the merit of someone she does not love will no more charm her heart than a page filled with ideas she does not possess will detain her mind.

Marcel Proust on Art and Literature translated by Sylvia Townsend Warner 1957, (from Contre Sainte-Beuve) p. 66.

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
12/16/2014 9:10 am

I unfolded the copy of Le Figaro. ... It is my article! ... What I am holding in my hand is not only my own thought, it is thousands of wakened attentions taking it in. ... If I compared my article with the article I meant to write—as later on, alas! I shall do—instead of delightfully coherent passages I should probably find palsied stammerings which even to the most well-wishing reader could barely hint at what, before I took pen in hand, I supposed myself able to express. That was how I felt when I wrote it, when I revised it; in an hour’s time I shall feel so again; but at this moment each sentence that I extorted from myself flows, not into my own mind, but into the minds of thousands on thousands of readers who have just woken up and opened Le Figaro.

Marcel Proust on Art and Literature translated by Sylvia Townsend Warner 1957, (from Contre Sainte-Beuve) p. 61.

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
12/15/2014 6:45 am

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
12/14/2014 4:25 pm
Labels: Sheep Journal

Beauty is not like a ne plus ultra of what we suppose beautiful, an abstract type of the beauty before our eyes; on the contrary, it is something novel and, until life puts it before our eyes, unimaginable.

Marcel Proust on Art and Literature translated by Sylvia Townsend Warner 1957, p. 45 (from Contre Sainte-Beuve).

La beauté n’est pas comme un superlatif de ce que nous imaginons, comme un type abstrait que nous avons devant les yeux, mais au contraire un type nouveau, impossible à imaginer que la réalité nous présente.

Contre Sainte-Beuve Marcel Proust 1908 p. 70.

Beauty is not a superlative that we imagine, like an abstract concept before our eyes, but on the contrary something new, impossible to imagine, until reality presents us with it.

My translation.

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
12/14/2014 8:35 am