Ethics, for Levinas, are relational: one cannot begin to live ethically unless one shares discourse with an other. This discourse cannot be one sided: the self cannot impose its own habits and language on the body of the other, but must remain open to allowing the Other to affect or change it. Levinas characterises this response as “non-allergic” because the body of the self, in remaining open to the other, refuses to attack or destroy the other (as the body does to allergens or food it perceives as invasive). Yet conversation with the other is teaching as much as being taught; it is as important to preserve the language of the self, and to offer that language to the Other, so that the Other can also have the potential to be changed.
I will suggest that food is a mode of language, and a means of placing oneself in an ethical relationship with others. Eating is a universal necessity for survival, and food itself is the nexus around which social occasions often occur, and at which political, professional, and amicable relationships form. Food allergies can interrupt these relationships by forcing an individual to choose between either suffering a violent response, or social alienation. The moment at which the sufferer declines food, or opts to absent him or herself from a social gathering because the place serving the food (a restaurant that specialises in seafood, a tea shop, a wine and cheese bar) is too hostile or unaccommodating an environment, is a moment at which the potential for a relationship is lost.
Yes, I have returned to quoting myself. I’ve excerpted the above from my proposal for my “archive and the everyday” class. The proposal can be summed up in four points: 1) I’m archiving my food allergies; 2) I’m attempting to reconstruct the affective relationships that are lost when one is allergic to food; 3) The archive takes the form of a cookbook which outlines the foods I can’t eat and the spaces where I can’t eat it, and ways of re-entering those spaces, or re-creating that food in a way that allows me to eat it; 4) the goal of the project is to draw attention to the ways different bodies adopt different modes of eating, and to think of ways to place these bodies back into discursive relationship with each other.
I love this project. Mostly because it gives me an excuse to eat food and socialise while still “working.” But also because, given the response from other people, it seems like work worth doing (a feeling one doesn’t always get with course work not related to one’s particular field).
And it is a lot of work, by the way. My, how I’ve never cooked so much in such a short space of time!
12 march 2010 ~ Hamilton