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John P. Jones III
- Publié sur Amazon.com
Margaret Visser writes on this quotidian activity with astonishing erudition. Her survey of our eating habits is global, spanning numerous societies, and she draws from all periods of our historical development. (There are roughly a thousand entries in her bibliography.) She reminds me of Simone de Beauvoir, whose also has a humbling erudition, and who used it to address the subject of woman's role in society, as well as aging. Visser draws the reader in with the antithesis of the Emily Post approach; she details the cannibalistic practices of the Aztecs, as they were first revealed (and experienced) by Spanish explorers / conquistadors.
The author devotes the first couple of chapters to our acculturation, drawing lessons from how monkeys learn to wash potatoes. She points out that children are "brought up," a passive construction, and taught the norms of social behavior. For some small segments of society, it is a never ending process; there "manners" are what set them apart from others, and re-enforce their power; others continue to try to break into society (p 69). Power relations surrounding food are just one of the recurring themes in this book. Consider: "In the modern world, where openly stratified hierarchy is an affront to the egalitarian myth, people are rarely permitted to display naked social ambition; snobbery must go decently disguised as creativity, free choice, good taste, and so forth. (p. 100). In the postscript she ruminates on the concept of "no time" in society today, and says: "Powerful people love impressing upon those needing their services that they have trouble finding time `to fit them in': making others wait because one's own time is more precious than theirs is one of the great hallmarks of desirability and success (p. 353)."
Visser's book is also an etymological discourse; time and time again she explains the origins, as well as the associated connotations of words, such as the Latin word for a hearth or fireplace, which is "focus." She includes numerous wry observations, such as: "A Freudian analysis of the knife, fork, and spoon gives the spoon the female role in the trio; the fork, if I understand the writer correctly, is the male child of the knife and the spoon, and, like a little Oedipus, resentful of the knife, and jealous of the spoon.) She even worked in the old quip about a certain insouciance towards formal manners, with the proverbial Canadian waitress advising British royalty: "Keep you fork, Duke, there's pie."
Usually serious, but occasionally light-hearted, there are ample conversation starters for a decade's worth of dinner parties, and may even help you win at "Jeopardy," as one reviewer noted. I also noted that two reviewers indicated serious mistakes in this book, one concerning Chinese meals, the other Jewish holidays. That may be so; it would be surprising given the scope of this book, and hopefully the author would comment on these assertions. I found none, however, and remain grateful for this scholarly view of one of life's most important rituals. I note that she has recently published a book about an equally important ritual, concerning our ability to say "Thank you," entitled: "The Gift of Thanks," and would consider that book to be important, based on her work in this one. A solid 5-star effort.