Saturday, August 26, 2006

Culinary Metaphor Watch

Martha C. Nussbaum reviews Harvey C. Mansfield's Manliness for TNR and, to quote one MeFi poster, "hands him his ass." The book sounds horrendously stupid and Nussbaum's takedown is delicious reading, but my point here is merely to share culinary metaphors.

If the author of Manliness is far from being the patient philosophical type for whom we have been searching, who might he be? Plato's dialogues knew the answer: he is a rhetorician or a sophist, one of those theatrical types so admired by the conventionally ambitious men amply on display as Socrates's interlocutors. Far from seeking truth, the sophist seeks to put on a good show. Far from wanting premises that are correct, the sophist seeks premises that his chosen audience will find believable. Far from seeking analytical rigor, he offers a show of rigor in arguments that are riddled with ambiguity and equivocation and logical error. Far from submitting bravely to Socrates's questioning, he slinks away when the going gets tough, or cranks up the volume in order to try to drown out the courageous voice of the truth-seeking philosopher. Audiences love him -- because, says Socrates, he is like a clever cook: instead of promoting true health, he goes after what his audience will eagerly gobble up.
This would seem to describe the whole culinary trade, fast and fancy food alike. That Socrates sure knew his stuff.

Mansfield's intended readers do not care what modern feminism really says, and they know so little about the subject that they are likely not even to see how little of it Mansfield has described. From their youth they remember the chilling names of Millett, Greer, and Firestone, and they are sure that feminism cannot have had a thought since then. They certainly relish the tasty claim that sexual promiscuity is a central goal of the new feminism. And just to be sure that they are utterly delighted, Mansfield smears all over the top of his dish a thick layer of sneers and jibes, rather like anchovy paste, delicious to some but revolting to others -- patronizing characterizations of women as harboring a "secret liking for housework," or enjoying "the pleasurable duty of henpecking." Or this: "One has only to think of Jane Austen to be assured that women have a sense of humor, distributed in lesser quantities to lesser brains." At this point, I think, even some of the implied readers of this book might turn away. In fact, I suspect that Mansfield underestimates the care and the acuity of his chosen audience (or some of it) throughout his book.
I can't imagine anyone, even a great lover of the salty little fishies, relishing a thick layer of anything "rather like anchovy paste." But since Nussbaum is among the smartest people in the world, I'm not about to call any metaphor of hers bad.


Blogger zoe p. said...

I love "culinary metaphor watch" as a regular feature of haverchuk. And, after my Week of Cable TV I am shocked (shocked!) by the state of television cookery. Ew, gross, people. Socrates is sooooooo right.

That said, I'll take a thick smear of anchovy paste on crusty white bread. With maybe a tomato slice.

12:04 PM  
Blogger mzn said...

Thanx, zp. I have all but stopped watching the food net. Not even Iron Chef holds my attention any more and Alton Brown's new show Feasting on Asphalt is dull viewing too.

12:22 PM  

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