Genres as Recipes or Recipes as Genres?
Perhaps this is a stupid question… Especially for someone who has taken almost enough literature courses to be an English minor… An avid reader of novels, graphic narratives, biographies, and texts on philosophy and science…
WHAT IS LITERATURE??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????
Is it the texts of the Western Canon? Is it global? Is it any kind of artist writing? What about important articles? Comics? Papers? Speeches? Films? Recipes?
I would like to present a broad definition of literature. Literature is that, which uses words to create an effect, it manipulates the reader. Every literary text is a template for an experience. A canonical text, like a novel, works by means of the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief. Suspension of disbelief can occur at several levels. The reader of a novel transforms the words on the page into images of characters and settings. Then, the reader must take on the foundations of the fictional reality differing gravitational laws, technological advances, cultures and much more. This act of penetrating into another reality requires a conscious choice on the part of the reader. Thus, the willing suspension of disbelief is the reader’s acceptance of the rules of the fictional world created by the author. The reader’s belief in the text results in an abstract, imagined, personal experience.
In a particular sort of non-canonical text, the reader can translate the text into a concrete, material experience. Such is the case with cake baking from a recipe; it is the instantiation of the text. The literary text is the recipe and the cake is its own interpretation. The baker brings together the disparate ingredients described in the recipe, makes preparations, and places them together like so many pieces of a puzzle. The cacophony of flavors is coaxed into rich thick text for the palate. Baking is the act of constructing a coherent sensory experience. All five senses are engaged in the tasting of a recipe: the sight of the dish , the smell enhancing the taste , the temperature and texture on the tongue , and the sound of the mastication . It is a multifaceted experience compared to the focus of the eyes on the page of a traditional text.
Literary criticism is the study of words, members of an English department perceive, understand, and translate the world through words. Therefore, any words or groups of words are appropriate pieces for literary criticism. Part of the work of literary criticism is judging the quality of the texts under analysis . A value is assigned and a hierarchy of texts is created. The same practice occurs amongst a variety of cooks. A recipe is translated from words to ingredients. There is a certain literacy or expertise required . For example, the ability of the translator to construct a proper distillation apparatus for producing a pure liquor. This process occurs in both culinary and chemical literature. Reading a recipe is more than gathering together a group of ingredients, just as a work of literature is more than a list of words . Sometimes the individual ingredients of a recipe are not even tasty . Both recipes and literature are emergent systems; they are more than the sum of their parts. Reading a recipe is immersing the reader in the text. Chefs and literary critics alike evaluate and give a value relative to other texts.
Pmla article on the joy of cooking
The style of recipes shares elements with a variety of other literary kinds. Cake recipes are similar to the materials and methods of synthetic organic chemistry papers. Both texts provide the reader with precise directions for replicating the desired chemical compounds. Sometimes there is even an overlap in ingredients and instruments such as ethanol, ice baths, and microwave ovens . Recipes are the culinary equivalents of screenplays. Each directs the actions of the character/chef through the words of the absent author. Alternatively, the recipe can serve as a set of guidelines for the creation of a physical representation of the text as early draft of a graphic narrative does. Generally, the words of a graphic novel are written, then the images are created by the artists based on the text. Cakes come into existence in the same order of events.
If the recipe is the work of literature, then the cake is an interpretation of the work . Baking cakes is akin to the activity of literary criticism. There is a one-to-many relationship between texts and interpretations . Or to be more philosophical, there are multiple admissible interpretations of an art object, either a text or a recipe . This theory explains why a single art object can lead to so many subtle varieties in what the senses experience . Cooking ability can be measured by the facility with which one translates recipes. Neither recipes nor the resulting cakes are deterministic. So, is it the cake or the recipe that is the work of literature? If the cake is the work of literature, then the recipe is the genre. The recipe creates boundaries on what an acceptable combination of ingredients is in order for the culinary creation to qualify as a cake. Consider a Jewish apple cake, which contains apples yet is not generally recognized as belonging to the genre of fruitcake. Of course there are cakes, like texts, that can not be confined in a single genre. Cakes are rich layered creations; a cake is more than it’s icing , just as a book is more than its cover . Cakes are read with the consumer’s senses.
Thinking about cakes and recipes in terms of figurative language could help clarify their relationship. For example, metaphor is a type of figurative language in which two unlike concepts or things are made equivalent. Cakes and recipes are two superficially different groups, a collection of words and a composition of ingredients . Yet like the quadratic equation in algebra; there is equivalence. (ax2+bx+c=0) On one side of the equality is the vehicle, on the other side, the tenor. The known and concrete quantity is the vehicle, which “carries” over onto the tenor, the unknown and abstract quantity. A metaphor identifies the tenor in terms of the vehicle. The cake is the vehicle, and the recipe is the tenor . A simile is a comparison between the tenor and the vehicle.
The work of a metaphor consists of creating a well-characterized environment for gaining understanding of the tenor. A well-equipped kitchen is the ideal environment for learning about a new recipe . New knowledge is generated by obtaining sensory experiences of the tenor. A metaphor is a summary of observations about a previously unknown entity, the tenor, or recipe. The next step in understanding the tenor is to test the story; testing is the generation of new observations. Either the observations are consistent with the present narrative or not. For example, following the recipe’s directions precisely might not yield the most aesthetically pleasing cake . Or a modification to the instructions might result in a more efficient preparation. A conflict between the baker’s experience and recipe occurs where the metaphor breaks down . Unanticipated observations demonstrate the different properties of the tenor and vehicle. These observations by the chef are the specific places where the metaphor begins to break down. The process of differentiating between the recipe and the cake begins .
It is possible to make an argument for reversing the assignment and identifying the cake as the tenor. This interpretation is especially suited to the case in which the cake precedes the recipe. The chef tastes a delicious cake and decides to recreate it in their own kitchen. The resulting set of directions for producing the desired cake is a simple material characterization of the complex flavors of the particular dessert . The shared traits are carried over from the recipe onto the culinary creation, the cake or tenor . From this perspective, the function of literary criticism is to translate the cake into words. The problem of matching the tenor and the vehicle with the cake and recipe could be summarized as an attempt to have one’s cake and eat it too for literary critics.
I would like to move from more abstract theories about recipes and cakes as literature to two concrete examples.
My chocolate cake pushes back against the traditional boundaries of that genre
Contains fruit and cloves
The combination of chocolate and cinnamon was inspired by an ancient Mexican drink
Looking at a culinary allusion
Cakes as a work of art
What about mixes or mass produced cakes?
A culinary choose your own adventure?
Cakes as symbols of something greater
There is another medium for reading and interpreting recipes; the visual arts. Photography is particular has a history of documenting culinary creations. Often time photographs of the finished product are included in the recipes of cookbooks. This week an article in the New York Times appeared describing the practice of photographing the food one is about to consume. Whether to document dieting, diary the acts of a life, or remembering a particularly delicious experience, mealtime photography is a popular practice . I count my self as a member of this group at least one-half the pictures in my blackberry are images of food. My phone’s background is a picture of the mother of all omelets . A memorable breakfast prepared by my friend on a vacation. Is this an example of trying to have one’s cake and eat it too? Are photographs replacements or supplements to recipes? The combination of text and images is reminiscent of graphic narratives.
Isn’t that a ridiculous thought? That cake recipes could be considered literature and studied in an English class. I recognize that this essay raises more questions than it answers… As a result of the page limit on the assignment, this paper is supposed to be more provocative than polished. Readers are strongly encouraged to think further about the nature of literature, cake recipes, and everything in between.
The style of the writing parallels the style of cooking presented in the blog Syllabub. Both are carefully crafted artworks, the result of time and craftsmanship.
Both span a significant amount of time
Closer cousin to films in terms of appealing to multiple senses:
I suspect that my particular experience with texts has provided me with a distinct perspective from most literary critics. I began my academic career as a scientist considering biological and chemical literature. Here the past tense and passive voice are valued for the objective voice they imply. Accuracy and precision are prized where as ambiguity is despised. Such ideals come in sharp contrast to canonical literature studied in English classes. Consider Henry James text, “The Turn of the Screw,” which is esteemed for its carefully constructed and impossible to resolve ambiguity. Critical debate continues about the nature of the ghosts who may or may not inhabit the house of Bly. It was only in the penultimate year of my college education that I took a literature course. This class served as a bridge between my knowledge of biology and my love of reading. It was the Stories of Evolution Evolution of Stories course that was cross-listed in the English and Biology departments at Bryn Mawr College. Co-taught by an English Professor and a Biology Professor.
So I come from experience with a group of texts traditionally marginalized by literary critics. This perspective is probably responsible for my desire to bring non-canonical texts to literary criticism.
Darwin's Birthday Cake Recipe:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cups dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups flour (a little little more)
3/4 cups cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1-1 1/2 tsp ground cloves
1-1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup boiling water
on medium-low heat combine
1 stick butter, 1 small jar marmalade, and cocoa powder
allow to cool before applying to cake
in a standing mixer combine
1 stick butter
approximately 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
Ghirardelli ground chocolate
(I prefer Girhadelli's cocoa powder too)
Lastly, bake at 350 for 30-50 min, my oven is a senior citizen and behaves strangely.
Special thanks to my wonderful chef, photographer, and provider of kitchen space, Gracie Lewis.