1.14.2011

Taste as Category, or Make What I Like Its Own Thing



I had a fantastic time today at this impeccable purveyor of spirits: Cask, it calls itself. I bought four bottles of booze, each its own species: a rye, a scotch, a tequila, a gin.

But as I discussed each item with one or two of the shop keepers, it became obvious that I wanted the same experience, in a sense, from each: clean, heady, dry, spicy, complex. I used identical words to describe what I wanted but I used different differentiators to make clear what I did not want: no caramel in the rye, little peat in the scotch, not too floral in the gin, no dirt in my repasado.

What I was doing was creating a horizontal species — not a genus of any one species of booze but a palate, a flavor profile, that runs across the different verticals.

Music and film, of course, use this horizontal mood mapping: if you like this music, you'll like this other music that's dark, drone, and contemplative.

But even in those realms, especially in music, the mapping tends to stay within its vertical — if you like The Smiths, you might like The Cure. Of course you might.

What's more complex is making the jump to a different vertical. People do this all the time. It's called their taste. Algorithms have more trouble.

Taste is a predilection that can become a piece of code, a meme. It is an operation, a metabolism, that can become separated from the body that tastes (albeit it in a different form, necessarily).

A vertical category enjoys a certain kind of code, less operational than material: a bourbon uses corn, rye; tequila, agave; gin, fuck if I know. But within each vertical, within each prescription, there is necessarily a horizontal trajectory, a mode of putting those things together.

And this horizontal trajectory transcends the material — it is the operation, the invisible action, of putting things together.

These tastes, these metabolic styles, can become categories. But because we live in a vertical culture, we tend towards vertical categories. Horizontal categories are left to fashion and the arts (curation) but even more to the individual.

As de Certeau argues in The Practice of Everyday Life, the individual is not just a distinctive node, but a productive node within the strategies of power and capital. But he doesn't focus on the kinds of species such nodes can produce and what such a knowledge might look like.

8 comments:

drwatson said...

Interesting. I was thinking a few things and I'm just going to ramble and see if it makes sense.

I would prefer the word virus to meme only because I find Richard Dawkins to be uninteresting and really closed minded, but I certainly know what you mean.

I was thinking in terms of the actual point that I took out of the piece that maybe the horizontal isn't really connected. Maybe it's all singularities that we pretend actually line up. For example, in terms of film, say, I just saw Black Swan a week or so ago and it knocked me on my ass and I also saw Social Network when it came out and I thought it was very, very good. However, I don't really see much of a connection other than they were thoughtful, well made films. I think good pieces of art, this is sort of Kafka, take the wind out of me/you. The one that really did it in the last couple years was Synechdoche NY.

The last thing I was pondering was in reference to a point a professor of mine made a year ago in a History of Rhetoric class. After reading Hume he pointed out that nobody talks about Taste anymore. And then said, basically how would you argue it.

Here's the thing though - people who have humanities degree care so much about taste, that it feels like we all totally believe in it, and at times very vertically. I can't give you a formula to prove that Annie Hall is better than Weekend at Bernies II, but I know if you disagree with me, I really think you're wrong.

Just a few thoughts before sleep.

Glenn said...

Technically on the topic, I just brought back a bottle of El Mayor Anejo on my latest trip to the US. One of my favourite drops.

Definitely on the topic, try Sloe Gin if you haven't as yet.

Daniel Coffeen said...

@ DrWatson: There is taste that only coheres at the singular point of an individual. That is not a horizontal movement per se; it's a zig zag. What I'm talking about is when taste becomes a distinct piece of code, repeatable — to wit, my taste in booze always seeks the same experience. And this can become a category as it can be mapped albeit mapped along the material/invisible experience of the body.

@ Glenn: I'm on it...thanks.

Nathan said...

I love this idea of metabolic styles. It sucks the rarefied air out of taste and drives it into the guts, the peculiar machinery of a given body. It makes a materialist principle out of an idealist principle. Instead of a persona, there's a rhythm, a mode of production. So evocative...

This also reminds me of Nietzche in Ecce Homo, and other books, where he's more likely to blame an error in thought on diet rather than reasoning. Metabolism here is like an immanent machine, coextensive with consciousness. What we consume increases or diminishes our peculiar essence, our will to power. It's an individualist materialist ethics, like Spinoza.

Anyhow, great post!

Daniel Coffeen said...

Yes yes and yes: Nietzsche taught me this, taught me that we are metabolic engines forever making ourselves, that how and what we eat, think, and do are all constitutive of our going in the world.....

Pierre said...

as a productive node and not only a distinct node, may be we can think to the concept, made by nietzsche as a tool of domination. Taste is particularly interesting as it seems to be a prolongation of the body as looking for its own perpetuation.

Pierre said...

we argue for superior ideas justifying taste whereas it is a mask for a very primal instinct.

I am reading a french book about great lakes politics and hutu genocide. The author argues that a lot of ngo, defending human rights betrayed their ideals because they were serving objective state and corporation interests.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Taste, hopefully, prolongs, extend, the body. More often than not, our tastes are nihilistic, crushing our bodies — to wit, fast food, junk food, etc.

I think taste IS primal. But the primal is always already inflected by its host and its environment.