INTRODUCTION TO JEAN-PIERRE LEMASSON BY DAVID HOWES
There is a revolution in the air of the City of Montreal this Fall - a sensory revolution!
The evidence for this consists in the number of events organized around the theme of the five senses, beginning with the “Sensations urbaines” exhibition here at the CCA, and continuing with the conference entitled “Manger au quotidien” at the McCord Museum in November, and the spectacle entitled “The Theatre of the Senses” facilitated by composer R. Murray Schafer and staged by 75 students from Concordia’s departments of Music, Theatre, and Film in early December.
In view of all these events dedicated to heightening our senses, you could say that Montreal has become the sensory capital of the world! It is therefore appropriate that the tourist logo for our fair City consists of the highly sensuous image of a pair of bright red lips. This logo is probably meant to suggest the idea of a kiss, which is fitting when one considers Montreal’s reputation as a place for romance. But in view of all the events going on here this Fall, I would like to suggest an amendment to this design.
Instead of lips that are sealed, the logo should be redrawn so that the lips are open, exposing the teeth and especially the tongue, like on the cover of the Rolling Stones album. This would bring the logo into line with the theme of tonight’s lecture, “Le goût de la ville.” But the mouth is not only the organ of gustation. It is also the instrument of language. Opening the lips and liberating the tongue in this way would thus have the added function of enabling the tongue (la langue in French) to theorize the sense of taste by putting words around our gustatory experience of the city. Indeed, you should prepare yourselves to have your tastebuds theorized in a most stimulating manner during the presentation this evening by Professor Jean-Pierre Lemasson of the département d’études urbaines et touristiques of the Université du Québec a Montréal.
Professor Lemasson is not a professor like us others - not a professor of music, or history, or anthropology (my own discipline). He is a Professor of Gastronomy! I wish I could lay claim to such a title! Imagine having the pleasures of the table as you object of study! What a delightful vocation it must be to have the theorization of the palate as your profession!
The credit for being the first ever Professor of Gastronomy should probably go to Brillat-Savarin, author of The Physiology of Taste. But this would be to ignore what is to my mind the even more important contribution of Brillat-Savarin’s brother-in-law, Charles Fourier. Born in 1772, Fourier is best known as the architect and planner of the utopian city of Harmony, which his many followers in nineteenth century France did their best to realize in the flesh.
Fourier was a social theorist who understood better than most (better even than Marx) that architectural and urban critique begins with sensory critique, and that there can be no social revolution without a revolution in the senses. Marx’s famous denunciation of the alienation and repression of the senses under industrial capitalism in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 was in fact inspired by Fourier’s writings (see Howes 2005).
Fourier criticized the “civilization” of his day for having perverted the senses not only of the proletariat (who were forced to work under less than human conditions and to subsist on a less than wholesome diet), but also the bourgeoisie. The sensory ills to which all classes of society were subjected included:
Rues nauséabondes dans lesquelles la populace francaise crèche; et ou le vacarme des marchands, des marteaux, des querelles et mendiants, la vue des torchons suspendues, des crèches sales, le travail désagréable des pauvres, l’odeur prenante des égouts dans lesquels ils grouillent, so douloureux pour le regard, l’odeur, et l’ouie.
Fourier also critiqued the conventional Western hierarchy of the senses, which situated sight and hearing at the apex of the sensory order and relegated touch and taste to the nadir. He championed the “lower” senses by observing that:
Le peuple ne commeterait jamais des crimes ... pour se procurer des photographies, des parfums, ou des concerts. Ces trois sortes de plaisir ne pourraient pas faire lever une foule, qui, au contraire, est complètement dévouée aux impulsions des deux sens actifs - le goûter at le toucher. La foule réclame d’être nourrie et habillée.
Or, in the words of the old adage: Ventre affamé n'a point d'oreilles
Whereas the senses were repulsed and repressed in civilization, Fourier’s blueprint for Harmony envisioned a society in which the senses would be attracted and cultivated - particularly the senses of touch (which he associated with love) and of taste. There would be “courts of love” dedicated to matching up partners with common amorous interests, and the place of honour in Harmony would be held by chefs, or rather “gastrosophers” - namely, individuals skilled at matching dishes to personality types. As Constance Classen observes in her discussion of the amatory and gustatory order of Harmony in The Color of Angels:
Fourier parallels the alliance between touch and love with an alliance between taste and ambition. As matters of taste are, according to Fourier, a natural focus of ambitious desires, the inhabitants of Harmony, instead of arguing over politics or competing for commercial success, will argue over recipes and compete in the cultivation of fruits and vegetables. In this savory new world, wars will be replaced by gastronomic contents, involving armies of competitors. Fourier writes of the conclusion of one such contest:
On the day of triumph the victors are honoured by a salvo….The athletes arm themselves with 300,000 bottles of sparkling wine, whose corks, loosened and held down by the thumb, are ready to pop….The moment (the order is given to fire) all 300,000 corks are released at once.
For those who delight in quibbling over points of dogma, there will be gastronomic councils to replace the theological councils of the past. The councils –during which sects may present heretical theses – will then determine the gastronomic policies of Harmony. (p. 29)
Phyllis Lambert, Mirko Zardini, members of the CCA and of the public, I present you Jean-Pierre Lemasson. (Click here for the Jean-Pierre Lemasson lecture).