Chapter 4. Spoerri Reads Rumohr: The Spirit of Culinary Art Revisited
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77 Chapter 4 Spoerri Reads Rumohr The Spirit of Culinary Art Revisited Margherita d’Ayala Valva Premise, Methodology, and Objectives In this essay, I argue that Daniel Spoerri’s writing on food is a form of palindromic reading. Conducting himself as an all-around amateur (Universaldilettant), Spoerri often chose sources that the scholarly world regarded as heterodox, including cookbooks that bore no temporal distance and that lacked traditional authority. This decision on his part to return to the kitchen and to nature is—as has already been highlighted by other scholars—neither a reactionary nor a Primitivist recourse to tradition,but rather,as will be demonstrated,the development of an already latent form of postmodern kitchen-kitsch.1 This essay takes as its point of departure the footnotes of Spoerri’s Gastronomic Journal (1966–1967), and moves chronologically backward to its sources and cross-references—particularly to the source from which he most profited, Carl Friedrich von Rumohr’s gastronomic treatise The Spirit of Culinary Art (Geist der Kochkunst, 1822, read by Spoerri in its 1966 edition). It thus proposes a backward, or palindromic reading, as the ideal way to decrypt the rationale, to shed light upon the parallels and divergences among the authors, and to examine the dialogue—without distance—between the artist, the English translator, and their intertwined sources.2 My reading espouses a methodological approach that is attentive to the history of knowledge and focuses on artists as readers. There have been very 78 Taste of Art few studies on artists’ libraries or artists’ reading practices, and those undertaken have mainly focused on the early modern era.3 The question regarding how“select”knowledge from books found its way into the heads of artists and was reinterpreted in their own works remains unanswered. Do artists read books in a different way than philosophers and scholars do? Marginal notes and sketches within books are eloquent documents for assessing this particular history regarding artists’ active textual interpretations. Transcriptions and quotations, as in the case of Spoerri, are one way of looking at how authors of the past functioned as companions in the present to the working artist, including the everyday labor that takes place in the kitchen. As textual art sources for artistic production, I take two genres that bear longstanding literary traditions: the art treatise that deals with issues related to craftsmanship, and the cookbook—both of which typically address analogous raw materials.4 Consciously confronting and challenging these sources and literary genres, Spoerri reads, writes, and cooks (though not necessarily in this order). The Gastronomic Journal: Writing and Editions To Spoerri, writing signifies an autobiographical archaeological assemblage;5 an intricate construction/deconstruction that needs to be analyzed according to the poetics of the topography of chance, namely mapping the references,cases,occasions,and anecdotes given by the artist—akin to what the artist literally did in 1962 when he documented the history of a particular sort of trap-picture: the objects and remnants laying on the table of his room in Paris.6 Similarly, the Gastronomic Itinerary (an anecdotal recipe diary kept by the artist during one month of his stay on the Greek island of Symi in 1966– 1967) assembles pseudo-scholarly references and personal narratives as a form of topographic-artistic-linguistic decontextualization. The linguistic switch contributes to this sense of estrangement: Spoerri has said that he dictated the text to Kichka, his companion in adventure in Symi, and the protagonist of his first trap-picture devoted to food (Kichka’s Breakfast, 1960).As the daughter and sister of teachers, she was naturally able to raise a great deal of discussion about each word and sentence, resulting in a text with a greater control of both Spoerri Reads Rumohr 79 form and language. The text was thus conceived by Spoerri, whose thinking was in keeping with the intricacies of German syntax, and it was then translated into a French that consisted of much simpler sentences and critical constructions; the author later affirmed that he would have written the whole text without any conclusion,since each statement is not final and “needs to be contradicted.”7 He also avows that he began to dictate this diary in order to justify his decision to cease learning how to draw,a discipline he proudly assumes he would never master.This statement is relevant to our discussion: the spoken/ written words, in the unsystematic, fragmentary form of a diary, are chosen as an alternative medium to artistic orthodoxy,just...