October 2011

Any Scotch Will Do as Long as It’s Not a Blend of Course: Cultural and Gender Signification of Food and Alcohol

I remember big family gathering where drunken relatives would get us youngens to sip and taste the alcohol they were drinking, usually an after dinner brandy. Of course, already drunk, they would laugh at my cousins and me as they told us to breath through our noses while we tasted the harsh liquors that made our faces crunch up in horror and distaste. The idea was that we were supposed to learn how to drink and learn how to drink properly. The other idea was that if my cousins and I knew we could drink at home, we wouldn’t overindulge as teenagers at parties.

My brother tells me a story about our grandfather teaching him (my brother) how to drink scotch. After taking a sip, my brother stood up saying “This would go great with some coke.” Of course, my grandfather explained to my brother that the point was to enjoy scotch for its taste and that adding a mixer or ice would take away from the taste. As I got older and started drinking, my aunt introduced me to good wine, my brother taught me to drink scotch, and my uncles taught me how to drink beer. My friends taught me what it looks like to overindulge.

The more I bartended and learned about alcohol and food, the more I saw how all food serves as a sign for modern society and culture and the more I became a snob. As Barthes says, “People may very well continue to believe that food is an immediate reality (necessity or pleasure), but this does not prevent it from carrying a system of communication” (22). In serving the public, I quickly began to see the signification. A man on a date orders a steak and scotch to signify his masculinity and “refined” taste, but he nullify it by ordering his steak well done and his scotch with coke . The woman, to signify a feminine refined taste, orders fish with vegetables and a glass of Sutter Home blush wine. These choices are a break down of the signifying system of what these foods represent while also illustrating how food is gendered.

Right now as I write this in a coffee shop, I got up to serves myself coffee from the table the cafe has set up. Next to the table the owner and a woman sit, and as I poured my coffee, the woman apologized, “I’m sorry. I think we used up all your soy milk or cream, whatever was there.” “I like my coffee to taste like coffee,” I responded. She looked at the owner and said “Why is it men drink coffee black?” As I shrugged and walked back to my table, the answer became obvious: because black coffee signifies masculinity for men and seriousness for women. This signification is the same that manifest itself in people’s food and alcohol choices. A steak signifies manliness; a well-done steak signifies ignorance. When a man orders a single-malt scotch, it signifies good taste as well as status. Here is a man who appreciates the finer things in life and is willing to spend the money to enjoy it. Additionally, woman who orders a good wine that pairs well with her food demonstrates her knowledge and status; a woman who orders blush wine reveals her ignorance.

The manners in which certain foods signify appear to be a glitch in Barthes’ system. Barthes’ makes the observation that once food is the standard for consumption, “as soon as it takes on the characteristics of an institution, its function can no longer be dissociated from the sign of that function” (21); however, scotch, wine, and steak have become an institution symbolizing wealth, class, and good taste, but only when consumed properly . When not consumed properly, these items can signify the exact opposite of what they are meant to signify and reveal the character of their consumer. The man who orders a Macallan single malt scotch and puts more than one ice cube in it or adds a mixer is signifying the opposite of taste and class just as the woman who orders blush wine is signifying the opposite of good taste and refinement.

Furthermore, food and alcohol signify gender as strongly as clothes. This signification is the same that works in sexual engagements. A man who experiments with having sexual encounters with men is gay or at least bisexual; a woman who engages in sexual encounters with women is not necessarily lesbian and is just “experimenting.” This same societal rule applies to food. A man who orders a salad with a crisp white wine is considered feminine while a woman who orders a raw steak and a beer is seen as down to earth or as “real” for eating like a “real” person. While I know this signifying systems mean very little, I still can’t help to scorn the man who can afford to order Macallans but puts ice in it; just like in Starnucks, I judge the guy who gets the salted caramel Frappuccino® with extra whip cream.

I think there is a cultural significance to this as well. Most of the people who would get their steaks well done are Central American or from the Caribbean. My Cuban family eats its steaks well done while my brothers and I eat our steaks medium at most. I don’t know what this cultural difference signifies. This cultural difference correlates to the alcohol as well. It was mostly South Americans who would drink their scotch with a mixer, but my family is the one who taught me not to mix good scotch with anything, which was later reinforced as I started bartending. I don’t understand it.

Scotch’s status symbol is perfectly illustrated in a scene from Swingers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_GNoto7sVRc
Mikey makes it a point to order a scotch, single-malt, of course, because he is trying to signify wealth and status.

I was going to put “properly” in quotation to signify that there is no real proper or improper way to consume these food items; however, as I stated before, I am a food snob and believe these foods do have a proper way to be consumed.


Calacro on Derrida

I think I figured out what annoys me so much about Calarco despite his insightful commentary on animals. While looking at dense, very difficult philosophers, Calarco fails to identify and explain just how he reads these philosophers. It appears that Calarco believes his readers know the material he is analyzing well, and he believes that his readers will automatically agree with his readings.

In looking at Derrida, Calarco explores how Derrida stated that his (Derrida’s) philosophy always had the animal in view. Calarco states how Derrida challenges simply binary oppositions and questions the manner in which the Western tradition has separated itself from the animal. And then, he begins to really analyze Derrida’s texts, and this analysis is where he loses me as a reader; for instance, Calarco says that Derrida “gestures” at thinking otherwise about the animal, but “This positive project is… not fully worked out as his critical and negative projects” (105). Why does Calarco not give an example from Derrida’s work of this? What does Calarco mean when he creates this positive/negative critique (project) of Derrida’s work? Calarco goes on to explain Derrida’s strategies, “The first is to develop a series of ‘infrastructures’ (such as ‘diffarence,’ supplement, arche-writing, etc.) that are not exclusively human” (106). Here it would be nice if Calarco would clarify what he means with this statement. My understanding of Derrida’s “infrastructure” is that it is not a structure at all, and that many of these terms overlap, and furthermore, many of these terms, for Derrida, were undefinable. Why doesn’t Calarco explain to me, a Derrida reader, what I have “missed” as Calarco puts it? (106).

I believe Calrco means the loyal Derrida reader has missed that these terms meant to decenter the logos (and the human) apply to more than just humans (Calrco 106). However, any close reader of Derrida’s work on the animal would completely agree. Derrida’s complete project, in fact, has been to expose how ideas of purity (a pure distinction between animal and human, spoken and written language, pure/dirty, etc.) are problematic.

Derrida’s second strategy is to bring the animal “within the scope of the ethical and political” by using the first strategy. Calarco points out how Derrida brings animals within the discussion of ethics and politics, especially when Derrida employs Levinasian ethics to state that animals “confront us with as much ethical force as human beings do, if not more” (Ibid.). However, Calarco points out that Derrida’s work is context and text specific. Calarco goes on to explain that he will not have the time to go into the specific works (thinkers) that Derrida explores. Calarco’s imperative is to examine the ways in which Derrida’s works are theoretically important for the question of the animal. Derrida’s work opens up a space for a “’proto-ethical’ imperative, a “concrete ethicopolitical postion”, and a “reworking of the basic anthropocentric thrust of the Western philosophical tradition” (108). Calarco states that he will explain Derrida’s general positions on ethicoplotical issues, but I wonder how much of this outline a reading of Derrida or actually Derrida? Not that I think it matters because most would agree that Derrida’s is always looking at way to rethink and challenge the Western tradition. Therefore, Derrida’ s proto-ethical stance can always be used to rethink political position, including the anthropocentric and ethicopolitical position in question here.

Calarco examines Derrida’s analysis of why animals are being used for “the so called well-being of man” (Derrida qtd. in Calarco 109), and he states that besides Derrida’s questions, there are a number of other questions to be asked. However, the answers do not appear to be readily available. I would argue that the answer to Calarco’s questions—what besides technology, economy, population growth, and insensitivity could be the cause of so much animal cruelty—is all of the above; furthermore, it is because of all these factors of human chauvinism that the animal has been so radically othered and degraded. When asking these questions, some thinkers have compared the violence of the holocaust with the violence against animals, and here, Calarco has some insightful ideas that Peter Singer addresses in The Lives of Animals. The comparison might be extreme, but, to put it in Calarco’s terms “Perhaps the issue of violence towards animals can provoke thought in this philosophical context only if it is compared with the worst forms of interhuman violence” (111). In other words, the violence may not be one of equality (and comparing suffering, even among human beings, is always problematic), but the question examines how the species in power exercises its power over the weaker of the species. The comparison is searching for an (any) analogy to make and should not be dismissed outright.

Derrida’s position is to undercut the idea of natural and distinct oppositions, so can comparing human to animal suffering not be a way to blur the clear cut distinctions further? Calarco’s analysis is astute on this issue: “The very difficult task for thought here is to bear the burden of thinking through both kinds of suffering in their respective singularity and to notice the relevant similarities and parallel logics at work where they exist” (112). These comparisons break down the human/animal binary and open up a space for thinking about the animal question. Calarco astutely points out that the point for Derrida is that the very comparison, the questions of animal cruelty, and the tension between animal advocates and animal violence apologist illustrates just how important the question has become. However, Derrida remains ambiguous as to a possible solution or answer to these questions, which makes sense because posing an answer can fall into logocentrism and reinforce anthropocentrism. After all, Derrida is very suspicious of absolute answers; therefore, how could he ever propose any? For Derrida, anxiety is the mode of ethics. One can never be comfortable about ethical choices because one can never fulfill the ethical call to the other.

Calarco turns his attention to Derrida’s engagement with other philosophers, first Bentham, explaining that while Derrida would agree with Bentham, Derrida wants to take Bentham’s question of animal suffering further. For Derrida, ethics towards animals should not be limited to suffering alone. The question of animal suffering carries a Derridian trace of the questions that come before it and questions it will lead to. However, Calarco states that to understand what Derrida is explaining here that one has to “pass through this idea of the event” (118). The Standford Encylopedia of Philosophy summarizes what event means for Derrida:

If we reflect on experience in general, what we cannot deny is that experience is conditioned by time. Every experience, necessarily, takes place in the present. In the present experience, there is the kernel or point of the now. What is happening right now is a kind of event, different from every other now I have ever experienced. Yet, also in the present, I remember the recent past and I anticipate what is about to happen. The memory and the anticipation consist in repeatability. Because what I experience now can be immediately recalled, it is repeatable and that repeatability therefore motivates me to anticipate the same thing happening again. Therefore, what is happening right now is also not different from every other now I have ever experienced. At the same time, the present experience is an event and it is not an event because it is repeatable. This “at the same time” is the crux of the matter for Derrida. The conclusion is that we can have no experience that does not essentially and inseparably contain these two agencies of event and repeatability.

And now I am lost again…

It is this kind of analysis that hinders a reading of Calarco’s argument. What does he mean that we have to understand the event? And then he goes on to discuss Derrida’s engagement with Levinas. It appears that Calarco is analyzing how Derrida the encounter with the animal is an “event.” The encounter with the animal is an event (I have an experience with the animal right now, which is predicated in the past but is happening now). In this encounter, I can now immediately experience the animal and this can motivate me to “anticipate the same thing happening again” with the animal. Therefore, my encounter with the animal “is happening right now is also not different from every other now I have ever experienced. At the same time, the present experience is an event and it is not an event because it is repeatable.” Therefore, I am less moved by my animal encounter because the animal embodies such a different from than mine. (maybe?)… I believe the ultimate point is that the question of animal suffering veers away from ethics in that rather than just treat animal ethically, the question demands the answer, and if the answer is no, animals do not suffer, then that answer justifies the mistreatment of animals. This question—and the possible answer—is somplicated because most human do not see the embodied suffering animals endure in the many ways animals are used for science, food, and entertainment. Pushing the Levinasian question further, the encounter with the face of the animal because the locus of animal ethics (just as it was the locus of philosophy for Levinas). The proto-ethical question is how can animals address humans?

Calarco examines Derrida’s statement that the latter has always had the question of the animal in his work. Here, again, Calarco uses loaded Derridian terms without a clear explanation as to how the terms apply for the former’s analysis. Calarco inspect Derrida’s The Animal That Therefore I Am closely. His analysis is insightful; however, there is something uncomfortable about his close reading of Derrida’s insistence that the cat is an actual, real, little cat staring at him. Yet Calarco’s analysis is sound. Calarco takes up Steve Baker’s reading of the cat as cat and comments that Baker is missing the point: “At stake here among other things, are a number of questions that concern not only the problem of employing reductive language to refer to the Other, but also finding a nonreductive way to mark the effects of the Other within the very discourses…that are grounded on a forgetting of alterity of the other” (125). While I agree with Calarco, I also believe that Derrida is referring to an actual cat, and I agree with Baker who analyzes Derrida’s attempt of informing the reader that the cat is an actual cat and not a “figure” of a cat, precisely for the reasons Calarco points out. To refer to the Alice in Wonderland analogy employed, it appears dangerous to follow this rabbit hole to deeply. Derrida does not want to reduce the other (the cat) to a totalized representation of a cat, and Derrida is well aware that the language can too easily lead to such reductions; therefore, Derrida explicitly points out that he is referring to an actual cat and not some (playing with language) image of cat-ness. Other than this slight disagreement I have with this section, I believe Calarco’s analysis of what Derrida is doing in TATIA is extremely insightful.

In “Animal Subjects” the traditional discourses of animal liberation are examined, which Calarco says falls into “fundamentally anthropocentric” categories and thus forces an ethics on to animal studies because it uses the language of inherited scientific, biological, and philosophical language. Peter Singer, for instance, defends animal right by way of analogy (wouldn’t Derrida say all language is analogy/metaphor—never fully present). Derrida, of course, wants to question and examine these inherited ways of thinking. Calarco points out that using these ways of thinking are the same ways of thinking that work against animals. He argues that most humanist and ethicist draw lines and make distinctions and use the very logic that has gone against animals in order to try to argue for animals; he uses Tom Regan as an example, caliming that Regan fails to take into account animals without a higher order cognitive thinking. This critigue of Regan appears valid, but should the question not be how can arguments (even anthropocentric ones) be used as points of departure for animals’ rights. However, Calarco does say that Derrida’s questioning of the Western philosophical tradition is a “novel and provocative” thought in concern for animals.

Calarco then deconstructs vegetarianism unfairly in order to support deconstructionism. He claims that such a diet overlooks other ethical problems in food consumption, and on that point, I would agree with him to an extent. I am sure most vegetarians understand that even their vegetables and fruits might be ethically questionable in terms of who is picking the vegetables and fruit and how, but to say that it is “far from the ethical ideal” might be too strong a statement. While it can be easily argued that it is not “ideal” and that veganism is a more radical ethical statement, I would argue that vegetarianism is an immense political, ethical stance. This point along with what follows begins to come to dangerously close to an absolute; as if Calarco’s approach is the “best” (and it almost sounds like the “only”) way to approach the animal question. The two questions posed appear to be the same question worded differently (136).

I don’t know what to eat.

When I was bartending during undergrad, I was also taking a class on Eastern Philosophy, which dealt mostly with Eastern religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, etc). I came across Buddhism a couple of years earlier through Alan Watts, who was recommended to me by a friend. The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Watts changed my life and was the reason for me taking the Eastern philosophy class. However, taking the class was conflicting with my work. Buddhism teaches the Four Noble Truths and the Eight Fold Path. I was having a problem with the Eight fold path: http://www.zenguide.com/principles/eight_fold_path.cfm. The fourth precept states “right action” which means that one should refrain from actions that harm others and to respect others’ rights. The fifth precept states “right livelihood” which states that one should avoid jobs that harm animals or others. As a bartender, I was feeding people the flesh of slaughtered animals along with “intoxicants”, so I began to worry about my karma. I struggled with this dilemma the entire time I worked in the restaurant business. It was also during this time, because of this class, that I tried to be a vegetarian (which lasted about three weeks). This week’s readings bring me back to those moments in my life. These simple Buddhist precepts are still applicable, and when coupled with Singer’s pragmatic approach, all this leads to the ethical conclusion that I must stop eating animals.

Peter Singer elucidates the problem I have with eating animals, which is the question of suffering. The problem is not that the animal dies; as Singer, in another essay, points out: “in what way is painless, unanticipated killing wrong in itself” (88). The problem is that the animal does suffer. Safran Foer’s book is filled with examples of chickens with breast so big they can’t stand, cows that scream as their calves are taken away, and turkeys and pigs that can no longer survive in the wild nor reproduce naturally because of how much science has manipulated their genes. These genetic cruelties along with the unnecessarily cruel killing methods of these animals leave me with a very real ethical problem. Singer’s question is one of the driving forces of my problem: it is not the killing that bothers me, it is the suffering (Singer 28). For instance, a study in 1996 found that slaughterhouses:
were unable to regularly render cattle unconscious with a single blow. The USDA, the federal agency charged with enforcing humane slaughter, responded to these numbers not by stepping up enforcement, but by changing the policy to cease tracking the number of humane slaughter violations and removing any mention of humane slaughter from its list of rotating task for inspectors (Foer 230).

Knowing this happens—that the USDA doesn’t care about treating our food humanely nor sanitarily—exacerbates my problems with continuing to eat meat. I would like to know that the animals I eat are, at least, killed quickly and painlessly, but that is certainly not the case.

Furthermore, I can no longer deny the ethical call of the face of the (animal) other. Emmanuel Levinas posits that ethics is first philosophy, so all philosophical thinking must begin in ethics. Levinas states that I exist in a world among alien entities that are “other than” me. In this world, “I take precedence over the various objects I find around me…. I learn to manipulate and control them to my advantage, either as the member of a group which I identify with myself or simply as myself alone” (Lingis 12). Therefore, as a member of the human race, I control and take advantage of animal others in order to satisfy my palette. Other philosophers, from Hegel to Sartre, have dealt with the other, but Levinas argues that these philosophical systems either reduce the other to a version of myself (make him the same as me), or I categorize the other and justify my power over him (totalize the other). However, Levinas’s philosophy is one of “transendence,” in which when I encounter the face of the other, I am obliged to respond to the other. When I meet a person, Levinas asserts, I can either try to make the other into the same (into me, assimilate the other) and stay within my group that I identify with, or I can transcend by trying to speak to the other—encounter the other in the other’s infinite transcendence. However, humans feel that because of rationale, logic, language, or some other thing that humans have that animals don’t, that humans get to use and treat animals however they see fit. But why not extend this Levinasian ethic towards the animal?

Because I do not face the (animal) other directly and see its suffering, I continue to eat meat. However, because of the suffering that animals go through, outlined so vividly in Foer and Singer, and because of the rational calls to vegetarianism by Foer and Singer, I can no loner in good conscious eat meat, which is not to say that I can easily just cut out meat completely from my diet. This point is something Singer explores well. It reminds me of so many friends who begin to workout so intensely the first week that by the time the second week starts, they are so sore and discouraged they quit altogether. Singer, rather, rationalizes that this big life change is something that needs to be handled in stages. Whether it is because of karma or the ethical call of the face of the other or the very real ecological problems of eating meat, I know that I can no longer partake in it. Ethics is never easy. Levinas teaches that even when faced with seemingly easy ethical questions we must always be anxious that we are doing right—a lesson outlined by Garret Hardin and explored deeper by Avital Ronell.

I am always anxious that I am not doing enough for the other, and that other should include animals.

Works Cited
Coetzee, J. M., and Peter Singer. “Reflections: Peter Singer.” The Lives of Animals. Ed. Amy
Gutmann. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1999. 85-91. Print.

Examined Life. Dir. Astra Taylor. Perf. Avital Ronell. Zeitgeist Films, 2008. Youtube.com.
Zeitgeistfilms.com. Web. 30 Sept. 2011.

Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown and, 2009. Print.

Levinas, Emanuel. Totality and Infinity: an Essay on Exteriority. Trans. Alphonso Lingis.
Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne UP, 1961. Print.

And Say the Animal Responded?

Derrida’s main goal is to deconstruct Lacan’s idea of a distinction between human and animal. Derrida says that a more radical critique of the cogito must take place. In other words, a critique more radical than a Levinasian ethics is needed. In “Violence and Metaphysics,” Derrida critiques the idea of such an absolute alterity (or exteriority or distinction, as such); he states that in Levinas’s “face-to-face” encounter is “the emergence of absolute alterity, the emergence of an exteriority which can be neither derived, nor engendered, nor constituted on the basis of anything other than itself. An absolute outside, an exteriority infinitely overflowing the monad of the ego cogito” (Writing and Differance 106). Derrida’s critique of this radical alterity appears again in this essay to critique the absolute distinctions raised by Lacan’s treatment of the animal.

Derrida proceeds to read Lacan and states that Lacan posits that the animal cannot preenter into the symbolic stage because the animal has no language and will never be “prey to language” (120). This Lacanian analysis of the symbolic order leaves humans as animals, but as speaking animals with desires and unconsciouses that are denied the animal. For Lacan, language is central because it is the structure of language that is related to the unconscious and because in the act of language, the unconscious emerges and finds its expression. In the mirror phase, the ego is constituted through its identification with the imaginary projection in the mirror. At the same time, the child meets with the “Law-of-the-Father” (acquires language) and becomes radically split/fragmented. The subject realizes it is different from other things/subjects and starts forming an identity. Derrida points out that there are certain animals that do this as well, however. There are pigeons that are sexed when confronted with other pigeons. Derrida points out that humans receive speech and technics “only inasmuch as he lacks something” (122). Humans only have language because of this radical split of entering language; whereas, pigeon only need a mirror to progress.
The animal is reduced to reaction to stimuli not to response; the animal response is merely an instinct response, and Derrida uses the example of a bee to illustrate Lacan’s point. Derrida has a little fun reading the dance of a bee and questioning the bee’s sign system as language or merely nature’s encoding. Derrida makes the argument that Lacan’s reading of language for animal language and human language are both sign systems: “What he attributes to signs that, ‘in a language’ understood as belonging to the human order, ‘take on their value from the relation to each other’ and so on, and not just from the ‘fixed correlation’ between signs and reality, can and must be accorded to any code, animal or human” (124). What one does through language is seek a response from the other, and both a bee’s dance and a human’s language do that.

Derrida emphasizes that he does not want to erase the distinction between response and reaction; he, on the other hand, wants to question the distinction itself—the binary purity of one thing being a response as opposed to one thing being a reaction. This erasing of distinction might requires to question the idea of responsibility “especially when…the logic of the unconscious is founded on a logic of repetition” which will complicate the idea of original thought especially when the thought is because of language (125). The very psychoanalytic idea of the subject founded in language makes Derrida question the idea of language as response or reaction. Furthermore, by problematizing this distinction, Derrida is afraid of the implication for ethics and responsibility; however, he addresses these concerns, stating that there should always be doubt and concern over question of ethics and responsibility—the very essence of ethics is doubt. Furthermore, it is not a question of erasing the difference rather “of taking that difference into account within the whole differentiated field of experience and of the world of life forms” (126). He wants to analyze the difference between humans and animals. Derrida seeks to establish another logos by returning to Lacan and following the ‘trace’ left by Lacan.

Lacan states that the animal cannot lie. Humans, through language, have the capacity to pretend. An animal can deceive, but it cannot pretend. As Derrida puts it, Lacan states that an animal has the “capacity to trace, to leave a track, but not to distract the tracking or lead the tracker astray by erasin its trace or covering its tracks” (128). Derrida deconstructs the idea of the animal’s inability to lie. It is because of man’s lack—because of the castration complex, because of the signifier’s rule over the subject—that man has language and the animal does not. What the animal lacks is precisely Lacan’s subject’s lack. It is this lack that gives humans their superiority over animals. The big Other allows humans to pretend by believing in something that animals do not partake in. At the end of Lacan’s seminar on the ‘Purloined Letter,’ Lacan states that the letter always arrives at its destination because the big Other reads the letter. The very symbolic order of the big Other—a thing that only exist in so much as the subject believes in it (and because of language) is what is denied the animal; therefore, the animal cannot pretend to pretend to believe in the big Other.

And then, I think, that Derrida wonders if since there is no Other for the Other, just as there is no Other for the animal, then could there not be a case for the animal as Other? Derrida explains: “In order to break with the image and with the likeness of a fellow, must not this beyond of partnership—thus beyond the specular or imaginary duel—be at least situated in a place of alterity that is radical enough to break with every identification of an image of self, with every fellow living creature, and so with every faternity or huma proximity, with all humanity? Must not this place of the Other be ahuman?” (131-2). The animal in the discourse of Levinas and Lacan is so radically other(ed) because of the Law-of-the-Father (Lacan) or because of divinity (Levinas) where, at one and the same time, these discourses fail to take into account the animal while at the same time not taking into account the animal because of these absolute beliefs. The animal is turned into a Lacanian Real (“indissociable figures of the same Thing”).

Derrida goes on to re-emphasize that he does not wish to attack this logic so much as to re-think it. By looking at these moments in Lacan, Derrida merely wants to complicate, analyze, and point out how the limits—the distinction—set up by the discourse becomes complicated. How can we distinguish a pretense, for instance. Again, by looking at Lacan’s discourse on the animal and human psychology, Derrida points out that both are not discontinuous. The animal might not be able to cover its track, but the human does the human actively, consciously cover its tracks? The problem becomes: what gives humans the right to say that an animal does not have something when humans can not be sure that humans can say humans have it; in other words, can humans say that they “possess the pure, rigorous, indivisible concept, as such, of that attribution” (135). This questioning leads Derrida to question “tracks” which leads to an analyses of his idea of “trace.” Can humans say an animal does not cover its tracks any more than a it can be said that a human covers its tracks.

Derrida questions this trace—the trace the human leaves—and wonders if a human can cover (erase) its trace. The very idea of the trace means that the trace is always being erased and always capable of being erased. Derrida says the trace cannot be defined because it is an undecidable. The trace is the presence and absence of meaning. The trace is something like the “mark of the absence of a presence, an always-already absent present.” This trace is always being manifest and always disappearing as the subject uses language; therefore, “In this regard the human no more has the power to cover its track than does the so-called ‘animal.’ Radically to erase its traces, that is to say, by the same token radically to destroy, deny, put to death, even put itself to death” (136). This anthropocentric stance, being able to erase the trace and of keeping the distinctions in place, is a result of wanting to be superior over the animal in the face of Darwinism.
Ultimately, humans cannot know how aware the animal is of pretense, just as humans cannot fully distinguish their own pretense. Derrida wants to break down the idea of a pure distinction among response reaction in order to reveal that there is no clear distinction between human and animal. In interesting kismet, as I finish writing this response, I have just read Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence’s article “Cultural Perspectives of Differences Between People and Animals: A Key to Understanding Human-Animal Relationships” where she posits just how alike humans are to animals. While Derrida blurs the distinctions by way of the trace and continental philosophy, Lawrence does it by science and research.

Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.
-James Joyce, Ulysses

Jose did not eat with relish the inner organs of fowls. Maybe he should have used relish to mask the taste.

Burnt sand.

Maybe he should have battered and fried it, but the liver tastes like burnt sand. The texture is crunchy and plastic and not awful but not good.

He wondered if he ruled out the possibility of pleasure because it put up a wall in front of his openness to the experience. How can he describe the taste, which must be subjective since people eat this all the time and like it? This meat brings no pleasure to his palate, and if Taste comes to provide the chief analogy by which the apprehension of the beautiful and of fine artistic qualities and even social style is explicated, then this taste in his mouth can be used to describe the ugly.


Not literally shit, but what he imagines the word “shit” taste like. Not actual shit, which can be guessed by the general smell and look. No, liver tastes like what the word “shit” might taste like or the word “yuck.” As the piece of organ hits his tongue there is not the initial taste he expected, which was a taste of blood and urine. (Maybe because Bloom describes his kidney as tasting of urine). He has to chew and chew because the texture is plastic. He chews quickly so the experience can be over. This is the opposite of mindfulness.

His mind thinks of the other choices he contemplated. Cover your heart, Indy.

He is glad he passed on the chicken hearts. It was more from the ignorance of how to cook them than from aversion to them although he does have an aversion to them. Disgust wasn’t the right word, but it was the first word that came to mind.

“What food grosses you out?” he asked the tall blond sitting across the table from him.
They were in a fancy burger joint; the kind of place with buffalo burgers, turkey burgers, tuna burgers, and a choice between angus or prime meat.

James Joyce’s Ulysses played in his head because he kept noticing just how much food comes up in the novel. Also, he had to write about a food he dislikes. He mistook the instructions of eating one food he hated and amplified those instructions to eating a food that he finds gross. Jose did not eat with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He preferred the outer body and fat of beast and fowl—maybe an occasional rib or wing of beast or fowl.
“Crickets,” she said without hesitation.

“Ya, I think eating any bug would be gross, but that seems too obvious. So why crickets?” he asked as he took a bite from a pulled pork eggroll. She made a face and began to explain: “Because… they have all those legs and those weird eyes. It is grossing me out just thinking about it.” She took a slow bite from her eggroll after looking at it to make sure it was pulled pork and not cricket.

“It’s interesting what we think of as gross. If you think about it, bugs eat leaves and stuff, so they’re pretty clean.”
“Maybe if it didn’t look like a cricket, I could eat it. But I couldn’t do it if I was putting all those legs in my mouth” she repeating the ritual of looking at her food before eating it. Jose thought about how the food we eat doesn’t look like the animal it comes from. The only time he has ever seen the actual animal he is eating is when his family cooks a whole pig for the holidays or a big event.

They sipped some beer and made small talk about life. Jose thought about what he could eat that he finds gross. And maybe a part of him wanted to rationalize how eating an insect would be too obvious. He was too grossed out at the thought of trying to eat with relish an insect. Where would he even find a cooked insect? He thought if he could find a chocolate covered worm, then maybe he would be brave enough to stuff that down his gullet.

“I think I am going to recreate the Ulysses episode where Bloom buys, cooks, and eats a kidney, and I’ll accompany it with some gizzard” he thought aloud.

“You think this pork is cooked all the way through?” she said.

The next day Jose checked what he had written down for the assignment:
Response Paper:

Eat 2 foods
One that appeals to you
Never tasted
One food you hate

He wondered how accurate his notes were. If all he had to do was eat a food he hates, he would go down to the butcher, as Bloom does, and ask the guy for some mutton kidney.
But the butcher didn’t have mutton kidney—or any kidneys.

“What about liver?” Jose asked since liver is an inner organ of fowl.
“We got some chicken liver over there” the butcher said pointing Jose in the direction of his breakfast for the morning. Jose looked forward to the second part of the assignment.

It taste like good poetry. Silky and smooth like violets or roses. It taste like the word “sin.”

“Are you a fan of desserts?” He asked the Ulysees reading brunette sitting across from him at the coffee shop.

“Oh ya, I like desserts better than I like food; I just don’t have them often.”
He couldn’t think of a food that appeals to him that he hadn’t tasted. If something appeals to him, he is going to try to eat it. However, living so close to Bern’s steakhouse, he thought that indulging in a dessert he had never eaten would qualify as something that appeals to him he has never tasted:

Dulce de Leche Liquid Center Cake 11.00
A rich dark chocolate cake filled with dulce de leche, and served with vanilla bean ice cream and dark chocolate sauce.

The first bite was just chocolate cake accompanied by cold, creamy ice cream and warm chocolate sauce. He thought creamy is the word ice cream taste like. And sticky sweet is the word for chocolate sauce. He thought “heaven” does not apply to desserts, which are too sinful and decadent to be associated with a savior begotten from a virgin.

The next bite was perfect: a combination of the smooth, sticky texture of sweet dulce de leche, surrounded by a moist chocolate cake with a side of cool ice cream and sauce—the texture changed from sticky to moist to the hard cold of ice cream until all the textures and tastes mixed together to form a perfect utopia in my mouth. With more room to describe this experience, he would describe the private booths with their private music, he would describe the brunettes face as she closes her eyes in that thing we all do when we taste something so good we try to deny ourselves all our other senses to concentrate on just taste and smell. If he had more room to describe things, he would relate these private booths for eating this decadent food as an extension of Glenn Kuehn’s essay about sinful food.

But it’s time for lunch…