Economies of Excess in Brillat-Savarin, Balzac, and Baudelaire
Joshua Wilner, City College of New York
Water is the only drink which truly appeases thirst; and it is for this reason that one can only drink a fairly small quantity.
—Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
A man who drinks nothing but water has a secret to hide from his fellows. . .
The pages which follow offer a preliminary inquiry into the relationship between Charles Baudelaire's writing on drugs and Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin's writing on food. As we will see, Baudelaire's attitude towards Brillat-Savarin was dismissive to the point of open contempt. At the same time, Baudelaire's most sustained philosophical study, Les Paradis artificiels—described by Michel Butor as Baudelaire's "fundamental work on the nature of poetry"(15)—begins with a chapter on "The Taste of the Infinite" ("Le Goût de l'infini"), thus situating itself from the outset, however ironically or unintentionally, within the rhetorical field of the Physiology of Taste's "Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy." Without concerning ourselves with questions of influence, which in this instance are trifling at best, is there some deeper pattern of historical development we can discern in this unlikely conjunction? My argument will experiment with the idea that in both Brillat-Savarin's Physiology of Taste's and Baudelaire's writings on drugs, here represented by his pivotal essay "On Wine and Haschisch Compared as Means for the Multiplication of Individuality ("Du Vin et du hachisch comparés comme moyens de multiplier l'individualité"), the consumption of substance, rather than subserving the economy of the healthy body, becomes human only insofar as it vehiculates an excess of desire. I would also tentatively suggest, following Denise Gigante's lead, though my story angles off in a somewhat different direction, that this progressive transformation of the consuming subject into a figure of human perversity, partially occulted in Brillat-Savarin1, spectacularly displayed in Baudelaire, may be correlated with stages in the emergence of consumer capitalism. Coming between the two, Honoré de Balzac offers indications as to how this process happens.
Savor and Savoir
Though initially published at the author's expense in 1825, the Physiology of Taste's2 quickly gained wide recognition not only as an authoritative disquisition on the pleasures of the table but also as a significant contribution to the world of letters. Thus we find Balzac writing the entry on Brillat-Savarin for Michaud's Biographie Universelle in 1835 and attributing the Physiology's rapid success—of which he was a keen and interested observer—to the "savor" of a prose style which he goes so far as to compare with those of de la Rochefoucauld and La Bruyère. As evidenced by the number of editions which appeared throughout the 1840s, Brillat-Savarin's standing as a writer continued for some time to grow apace, strengthened now in part by the association with Balzac, just as Balzac had earlier traded on the success of the Physiology of Taste's in publishing The Physiology.
Not surprisingly, Baudelaire did not share in the general admiration, his allegiance to the older Balzac notwithstanding, though he seems to have drawn some inspiration from Brillat-Savarin by taking him as a target of abuse. Thus his brief 1851 essay "On Wine and Hashish Compared as Means for the Multiplication of Individuality," begins with an insulting reference to Brillat-Savarin, "[a] very famous man, who was at the same time a great dolt" (377), followed by a misquotation from the Physiology of Taste's—"Noah the patriarch is said to be the inventor of wine; it is a liquor made from the fruit of the vine"3—whose banality and insufficiency he proceeds to devote several paragraphs to mocking:
And then? Then, nothing: that's it. Leaf through the volume, turn it every which way, read it backwards, upside-down, from right to left and left to right, you'll find nothing else on wine in the Physiology of Taste of our most illustrious and most respected Brillat-Savarin: "Noah the patriarch" and "it is a liquor. . . "
[. . . ] How altogether digestive. How very explanatory [. . . ] (377-78)
To better understand why Brillat-Savarin receives such rough treatment at Baudelaire's hands, we will first need to examine more closely the focus of his attack. Like the misquotation, Baudelaire's claim that the Physiology of Taste has nothing else to say about wine is something less than accurate, but neither is it entirely wide of the mark. Other references to wine do occur here and there throughout the book, usually in the course of an anecdote, but there is far less on the subject than Brillat-Savarin's reputation as the classic French authority on the pleasures of the table would lead one to expect, especially when compared with the pages devoted to such items as coffee, chocolate, truffles and turkey (a legacy of Brillat-Savarin's years of exile in America).
On a casual reading, the comparative omission may seem yet another reminder, if one is needed, of just how idiosyncratic and unsystematic a book the Physiology of Taste4 can be. Thus while the meditation "On Thirst" is followed, logically enough, by a meditation "On Drinks," the connection between "On Drinks" and the succeeding meditation "On the End of the World" is more elusive. Similarly, one understands why the long central meditation "On Foods" is divided into two parts, the first on foods in general, the second on special kinds of foods. But why it should be capped with a meditation on "The Theory of Frying" is more of a puzzle.
Examined more closely, however, the limited attention Brillat-Savarin pays to wine is an indication of the contradictory role played by excess in the economy of his discourse. On the one hand, the mere pleasure of eating, "the actual and direct sensation of a need being satisfied," which is common to humans and animals alike, must be distinguished from the specifically human "pleasures of the table," "the reflective sensation which arises from the various circumstances of occasion, place, things and persons accompanying a meal," and which emerges distinctly only once hunger and appetite are satisfied —thus, in Brillat-Savarin's analysis, typically with the second course (162-163).
On the other hand, "gourmandise" defined by Brillat-Savarin as a "passionate, reasoned and habitual preference for whatever is agreeable to the taste" (130), must be distinguished from sheer gluttony and voracity, with which, however, it is regularly confused, beginning with the fact that the same word is used for both.5 Here it is Brillat-Savarin who has consulted his references in vain:
I looked through all the dictionaries under the word Gourmandise, and I was not at all satisfied with what I found. There is a perpetual confusion of gourmandise properly speaking with gluttony and voracity: from which I conclude that the lexicographers, however worthy otherwise, are not among those amiable savants who nibble with grace a wing of partridge au suprême and then wash it down, pinky raised, with a glass of Laffitte or clos Vougeout.
They have forgotten, utterly forgotten, social gourmandise, which unites Athenian elegance, Roman luxury and French delicacy, which disposes with sagacity, executes with savoir-faire, savors with energy, and judges with depth [. . . ]6
As we shall see, however, in the very act of distinguishing the gourmand from the glutton, the depiction en vignette of the gourmand also combines savant, savorer, and Savarin in one overdetermined figure, in a process of rhetorical condensation of which the glass of wine is ultimate repository. Unlike the gross excess of the selfish glutton who eats everything, the "fine excess" (Keats) of the "social" gourmand is characterized by discrimination, discrimination in what he eats and in the way that he eats. Indeed, the very analysis of the act of dining into four distinct moments—disposition, execution, savoring, and judgment—is such an exercise in discrimination. These discriminations are energetic—"il savoure avec energie"—because they are the expression of a force of desire that, like labor power in Marx's theory of surplus-value, is in excess of the requirements of self-preservation, which is also why they are essentially social in character—and at risk of being confounded with gluttony. The proliferation of discriminations represents a channeling of the surplus of desire which in the glutton manifests as excessive appetitive into the work of reinforcing and elaborating a symbolic code.
These discriminations are also self-reflexive, "réflechie," a feature which is the mark and mechanism of their refinement, but which also points to the fact that the gourmand's energy of discrimination is directed back on and embodied in the activity of consumption rather than being placed in the service of another aim. In partaking of his meal, the gourmand savors his own knowing exercise of taste, his savoir and savoir-faire. His powers of gustatory discrimination differ from the common not only in degree, differentiating a subtler spectrum of qualities than others are capable of detecting, but in kind, since every perception of difference is compounded with a perception of his own heightened sensibility—heightened because thus compounded and made available to itself for enjoyment. The activity of the gourmand transforms food into an object of refined knowledge, and the process of its consumption into the cultivation, exercise, and display of that savoir, but by the same token that savoir becomes bound up in the object of gustatory enjoyment, an inextricable part of the savor of food. That the gourmand, amiable savant, is pictured as nibbling on a partridge wing (itself related to the arm which raises it to the diner's mouth) au suprême (mark of invested expertise), thus with the expertly prepared food neither completely inside or outside the mouth even as it is consumed, a circumstance that works to prolong the process of eating and its attendant pleasure, emphasizes this ambiguity.
Just as its practice is reflexive, the discourse of gourmandise is characteristically the self-savoring discourse of the initiate, an expansion into the arena of linguistic performance—the realm of knowledge proper—of the specifically reflective pleasure that distinguishes the gourmand's experience of eating. To distinguish semantically between "gourmandise" in its proper application ("la gourmandise proprement dite") and the common understanding of "gourmandise" as gluttony one must partake in the gourmand's powers of discrimination—unlike the lexicographers, but quintessentially like Savarin, whose prose, in portraying the gourmand's enjoyment of his expertise, takes pleasure it itself. Savarin sait savourer et savoure son savoir. The circularity of this relationship can be read as both a sublimation of the pleasure of eating and a regressive transformation of the written word into a repository and source of oral pleasure. The elegantly managed glass of Lafitte or clos Vougeot with which the gourmand washes down his morsel of partridge au suprême, represents both the distillation of savor that defines him and the inherited threat of imbalance that accompanies it.
The association of wine, not simply with excessive consumption, but with an exorbitant circuit of desire that attaches to the very logic of gourmandise can also be read in the distinction Brillat-Savarin draws between "latent or habitual thirst," which serves to replenish the loss of bodily fluids and thus participates in the natural economy of the healthy body and "factitious thirst," which, like the pleasures of the table, adds a uniquely human dimension to the cyclical processes of consumption:
Factitious thirst, which is specific to the human race, comes from that innate instinct which leads us to seek in drinks a force not put there by nature, and which comes about only through fermentation. It constitutes an artificial pleasure more than a natural need: this thirst is inextinguishable, because the drinks one takes to appease it have the unfailing effect of causing it to arise anew; this thirst, which ends up becoming habitual, makes for the drunkards of all countries; and it almost always happens that the impotation ceases only when the liquor is lacking, or when it has vanquished the drinker and put him out of action. (118)
The difference in kind, especially as it correlates with the subdivision of the section on drinks into "drinks" and "strong drinks," stands in marked contrast to the difference of degree between "appetite" and "large appetites," which latter tend to be associated not with unregulated excess but with the prowess of the "well-constituted" man (51). Neither entirely artificial, since "factitious thirst" comes from an "innate instinct," nor simply natural, since "strong drink" contains a power that is not "put there" by nature but the product of human effort, the addictive cycle which binds them together is the demonic double of the healthy reflexivity that joins the "passionate, reasoned, habitual preferences" to the objects which gratify and sustain his discerning tastes. Brillat-Savarin's analysis of "factitious thirst" registers, while localizing as a danger confined to drinking, the possibility that the cultivation of gustatory refinement, rather than constituting a distinctly human enrichment of the balanced cycles of organic life, might operate a parasitic expropriation of those processes by a kind of mechanical desire whose workings tend to exhaust and ultimately vanquish the subject.
Finally, that the topic of wine or, more generally, strong drink functions for Brillat-Savarin as something of a negative space within the discursive economy of the Physiology is also suggested by the following curious footnote appended to the title of the "Ninth Meditation: On Drinks":
This chapter is purely philosophical: the detailed enumeration of the different kinds of drinks cannot enter into the plan I have formed myself: there would be no finishing. (124)
The note is curious since no similar concern had impeded Brillat-Savarin from devoting the entirety of the sixth meditation to a long and detailed, though of course highly selective, discussion of special foods [63-111]). It is thus yet another indicator of the way in which the Physiology's pursuit of distinction is shadowed by a threat of excess. It also offers further evidence of how the "containing" of that threat is integral to Brillat-Savarin's establishment of the "theoretical bases of gastronomy."
Epicuri de Grege
An early and enthusiastic admirer of Brillat-Savarin, Balzac clearly understood his wish to divorce the theory and practice of the higher gourmandise from any association with waste and excess, though he also seems to have found it difficult to honor that wish straightforwardly. Thus, writing the entry for the Biographie Universelle mentioned earlier, he assures his reader in a tone of devoted and protective eulogy, "It would be far from the truth to imagine that Brillat-Savarin's gastronomic sincerity degenerated into intemperance. He formally declares, on the contrary, that those who get indigestion or become inebriated do not know how to eat (aphor. 10). He everywhere distinguishes between the pleasures of the table and the pleasure of eating." But the classical reference with which Balzac then continues, "In a word, he may take as his motto Horace's Epicuri de grege, but let none add to it the sad spondee which ends the hemistich," is more unsettling, since it mainly seems devoted to playing, through negation and elaborate periphrasis, with the possibility of referring to its subject as "an Epicurean pig."7
A related oscillation between homage and satire figures prominently in Balzac's supplement to the Physiology, his "Treatise on Modern Stimulants" ("Traité des excitants modernes").8 Solicited in 1838 by Charpentier, who had published that year a new edition of both the Physiology of Marriage and the Physiology of Taste, Balzac's treatise first appeared as an appendix to Charpentier's reprinting of the latter a year later, in 1839.9 In the "Treatise," Balzac pays tribute to Brillat-Savarin as "one of the first to have remarked on the influence of what goes into the mouth on human destinies" (326), and thus as having opened up the field of knowledge to which Balzac's appendix makes its supplementary contribution.10 That there is already an element of tongue-in-cheek in this way of characterizing Brillat-Savarin's enterprise would not necessarily undercut the indebtedness, since what Balzac claimed to admire most of all about Brillat-Savarin's writing was its combination of a goodheartedness with a comic undercurrent, "le comique sous la bonhomie" (Biographie Universelle 537). Indeed, the treatise as a whole may be seen as an exercise in writing in the mode of Brillat-Savarin, but in a more exaggerated fashion. Thus we find the same heterogeneous mix of philosophical disquisition; "scientific" reportage on the nature and effects of different kinds of "alimentation"; extended "illustrative" anecdotes, whether personal or on the order of "lore," (such as the story of the English convict who, in the interest of science, was given the choice of being hanged or subsisting on a diet of nothing but tea, and who, in consequence of the latter, grew so thin and diaphanous at the time of his death that "a philanthropist was able to read the Times, a light having been placed behind the body" ); and expert guidance on proper techniques for the preparation and consumption of particular foodstuffs. Throughout Balzac's treatment is sufficiently broad that his editor Charpentier feels obliged to alert the reader in a prefatory note to the fact that the treatise is a "satire" (393)—whether of contemporary manners or of Brillat-Savarin is never entirely clear.
The comparative exorbitance of Balzac's writing, in which ghastly burlesque supplants the diverting anecdote and the sage maxims of the gastronome take a lurid turn ("Inebriation is a temporary poisoning" ; "To smoke cigars is to smoke fire" ) is obviously of a piece with Balzac's thematic focus on exorbitant forms of consumption, that is, forms of consumption that do not subserve the economy of the healthy body.11 Thus Balzac emphasizes from the start that "The excess of tobacco, the excess of coffee, the excess of opium and of spirits," the three principle subjects of the treatise, "produce grave disorders and lead to a precocious death" (308). Though the valuation remains the same—excess is bad for you—the shift in attention effectively displaces Brillat-Savarin's axiomatic emphasis on the connection between taste and good health: "Taste, which is stimulated by appetite, hunger, and thirst, is at the base of several operations whose result is that the individual grows, develops, sustains itself and repairs the losses caused by vital evaporations."12
A revisionary, critical tendency emerges as the treatise develops and further narrows its focus. Balzac announces in the beginning of the "Treatise" that he will deal with five substances: l'eau-de-vie (which he appears to equate with spirits in general), sugar, tea, coffee, and tobacco. However, sugar, which Brillat-Savarin treats at length, comes in for only scattered remarks, and the discussion of tea is limited to the story of the diaphanous convict and a more analytic paragraph at the end of the section on coffee. By contrast, several pages are devoted to coffee on which matter "Brillat-Savarin is far from complete" (404). And with regard to tobacco, Balzac finds Brillat-Savarin even more remiss:
It is astonishing that Brillat-Savarin, in taking as the title of his work the Physiology of Taste, and after having demonstrated so well the role in its pleasures of the nasal and palatial [sic] cavities, should have forgotten the chapter on tobacco.(411)
Both remarks obviously anticipate the form of Baudelaire's complaint.
As has already been suggested, the shift in focus does not simply supplement Brillat-Savarin's normal gastronomy with an abnormal gastronomy, adding to the Physiology of Taste a chapter on pathologies of taste. Rather, it signals a reorientation of the discourse as a whole. The scope and basis of this reorientation are especially apparent from Balzac's introductory "theoretical" sections, which mimic in abbreviated form the "grave elubrications" (Brillat-Savarin's phrase), which make up the first forty pages of the Physiology. From the start, Balzac makes it clear that his physiology is concerned at least as much with the production of waste as with the consumption of food:
Our organs are the ministers of our pleasures. Almost all serve a double function: they apprehend substances, incorporate them, and then return them, in whole or in part, under one form or another, to the common reserve, the earth. These few words are the entire chemistry of human life. The experts will have no trouble digesting this formula. (307)13
The bouffonnerie of these remarks notwithstanding, they prepare a line of argument that is more explicitly initiated with the dictum that, "For social man, to live is to expend oneself more or less quickly" (ibid.) and which is then developed throughout the treatise. Whereas for Brillat-Savarin, leisure and wealth allow for the further accumulation of gastronomic pleasure (45), for Balzac the more man is freed from serving his basic needs, the more he is driven to expend his surplus energies in the pursuit of excess. "The less human force is occupied, the more it tends to excess, borne there irresistibly by thought" (ibid). One can question whether Balzac's theory of surplus psychic energy represents an improvement on Brillat-Savarin's psychological (and economic) ideas. What matters for our purposes is the way in which it explicitly reconceptualizes a theory of managed consumption as one of managed excess.
The Wine Talking
While Baudelaire makes no direct reference to Balzac's treatise, there is good reason for thinking that it served as one source of inspiration for the essay on wine and hashisch (and consequently, Les Paradis artificiels). First of all, the mocking attack on Brillat-Savarin as a celebrated fool which launches the essay is answered at the conclusion of the same section by a sympathetic evocation of the late-earned success of "our dear and great Balzac," who had died a few months before the essay's publication (379).14 The juxtaposition of the two figures makes particular sense if we suppose that Baudelaire had the treatise in hand as he was writing, a circumstance all the more possible since they were regularly published together.15 Secondly, the association of Balzac with "modern stimulants" would have been reinforced by his presence at a hashish soirée in Baudelaire's lodgings in 1845, an occasion recalled by Baudelaire 15 years later in Les Paradis artificiels (438-439).16 Thirdly, and most significantly, the claim by both "On Wine and Hashish" and Les Paradis artificiels that drugs throw out of balance the "equation between organs and pleasures" ("Il n'y a plus équation entre les organes et les jouissances" [393, 420]) is closely related to Balzac's thesis in the treatise that "All excess is based on a pleasure that man wishes to repeat beyond the ordinary laws promulgated by nature" (307), a thesis which is explicitly identified by Baudelaire in the essay as the theme of Balzac's La Peau de chagrin (393).
Whether or not Balzac's treatise exercised any direct influence on Baudelaire's essay, it offers a valuable intermediate case for thinking about the relationship between Brillat-Savarin's writing on food and Baudelaire's writing on drugs, since it shows us the former in the process of becoming the latter. Some perspective on the larger historical context of this process may be gleaned again from Balzac's entry in the Biographie Universelle, where he mourns Brillat-Savarin as the representative, not exactly of the ancien régime, but of a class that preserved its memory:
Their pleasures were stamped with that je ne sais quoi of that earlier time which conserved the distinction of manners and ideas, even as our youth forget everything (là où la jeunesse oublie tout); these traditions of elegant pleasure are passing away, and our current ways will not bring them back. It is thus a sad advantage to have known these old men seated astride two centuries, who have taught us all that our own has lost in amiabilities.
The nostalgia of this reflection has the same structure as Balzac's satiric gestures of tribute: it amplifies while repeating a sense of dislocation that already defines the historical situation of Brillat-Savarin, who seeks to adapt courtly distinction of manners—manners that are memories of themselves, even as he acquires them—to the context of a post-revolutionary bourgeois economy. This is the same historical moment that Denise Gigante describes in Gusto with a more forward-looking emphasis:
By disseminating upper-class cuisine and etiquette to an enlarged, bourgeois clientele, gastronomers in part help to maintain the elitist social codes of the ancient régime. Yet, the very publication of these taste rules performed a democratizing function, giving the nouveaux riches access to a previously exclusive sphere of cultural distinction and the cultural tools necessary to distinguish themselves with it. (xviii)
Yet. . . as Balzac writes in 1835, 1848 is already looming: "la jeunesse oublie tout." Brillat-Savarin preserves the memory of the ancient regime sufficiently to enact some version of its manners. Born at the beginning of the new century, Balzac only preserves the memory of Brillat-Savarin. Born a generation later (though the child of a father who was in fact Brillat-Savarin's exact contemporary), Baudelaire's stake in 1851 is in confronting the bourgeois pretensions to which Balzac retains an ambivalent attachment with claims of equality and difference so radical they simply put out of operation codes of intersubjective differentiation. Thus Baudelaire's "defense" of wine in "On Wine and Hashish" begins by addressing itself to the false feelings of superiority of which Brillat-Savarin has been made the spokesman:
Wine resembles man. We will never know how far it is to be prized or scorned, loved or hated, of how many sublime actions or monstrous crimes it is capable. Let us not then be more cruel towards it than we are towards ourselves, and let us treat it as an equal. (380)
The equating of man and wine, here based on their shared and limitless capacity for both good and evil, is a central theme of the essay. The idea is presented later in similar terms, ". . . I have said that wine is assimilable to man, and have agreed that their crimes are equal to their virtues" (382), and it underlies Baudelaire's subsequent assertion that when a "true doctor-philosopher" appears he will (in implicit contrast to Brillat-Savarin and his "false masterpiece" ) "undertake a powerful study of wine, a kind of double psychology in which wine and man will constitute the two terms." Developing the idea yet further, Baudelaire allows that "he would not be surprised should some reasonable minds, seduced by a pantheistic idea, attribute to wine a kind of personality" (387).
"Attributing to wine a kind of personality" is in fact precisely what much of the first part of Baudelaire's essay does. Thus, the admonition to "treat wine as our equal" is followed immediately by a prose rendering of the early poem, "L'Âme du vin," an extended prosopopeia in which wine, from within its "prison of glass" addresses to man, in "that voice of spirits which is only heard by spirits"( "cette voix des esprits qui n'est entendue que des esprits"), a "song filled with brotherly love" (380). To understand what happens to the identification of wine with excess in Baudelaire's essay we will need to reflect further on this figuration, which, in recognizing wine as man's equal by conferring on it the power of speech, transgresses a rhetorical limit which shapes both Brillat-Savarin's Physiology and Balzac's "Treatise."
A consideration of the next section of Baudelaire's essay, this time a prose recasting of "The Ragpickers' Wine" ("Le Vin des chiffoniers"), can guide us in that reflection, for here again the personification of wine, and more specifically the figure of wine speaking or singing, plays a governing role, though this is not so immediately obvious. Rather than directly attributing the power of human speech to wine, the passage works by implicitly identifying the unfolding in time of the ragpicker's movement and song with the flow of inebriation. The ragpicker's song of triumphal progress ("'Forward! march! division, head, army!'[. . . ] Now he compliments his army. The battle is won, but the day was heated. He passes on horseback under triumphal arches." [381-2]) as he picks his drunken way at night through the debris of the city's day is not only the effect of wine, but the analogue of its transformative passage though the individual human body and the collective body of humanity. The underlying analogy approaches explicitness with the concluding sentences of the passage, where the latent figure of the voice of wine also surfaces:
Wine, like a new Pactolus, rolls through languishing humanity an intellectual gold. Like good kings, it rules by serving and sings its exploits through the throat of its subjects. (382)
Wine flows like a transformative river,17 but also and especially it sings like a king through a voice that is not its own. Since the appropriated voice of the king's subject is clearly that of the ragpicker, who in playing the part of the beneficent king "swears solemnly that he will make his people happy," the entire passage becomes a different kind of dramatization of "the wine talking."
Coming just after the attack on Brillat-Savarin, Baudelaire's initial call for the "equal treatment" of wine seeks to reverse the condition of neglect to which it is consigned in the Physiology of Taste, a condition it shares with the ragpicker-king of "Le Vin des chiffoniers," obviously, but also with Hoffman and Balzac, who in Baudelaire's accounting only in their latter days began to enjoy commercial success (379).18 The underlying analogy is threefold: to consume wine or to abstain from its consumption is to welcome into or exclude from the body politic an outcast which is also to grant or deny representation within a symbolic order.
The manner in which Baudelaire's writing brings wine into the field of "medical-philosophical" discourse from which Brillat-Savarin had excluded it, however, goes beyond any metaphor of organic or political integration, for it is precisely because the power of wine always has the potential to exceed itself, for good or evil, that it deserves to be treated as an equal: "We will never know how far it is to be prized or scorned, loved or hated, of how many submlime actions or monstrous crimes it is capable." The prosopoepia does not transfer an attribute, voice, from man to wine, based on some stable common measure or principle of equivalence (of the kind, for example, proposed by Brillat-Savarin's famous fourth aphorism: "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are" ). Casting the relationship between wine and man as intersubjective gives rise to an extended series of specular reversals and equivalences summed up in the figure of the king who "rules by serving." But this same substitution by means of prosopoeia of a symmetrical intersubjective relationship for one that is precisely not intersubjective is itself an exorbitant rhetorical imposition.
An object-lesson in the production and management of quotidian surplus-value, the discourse of gastronomy, like its pleasures, is constituted by a tendency to excess which, at the same time, it seeks to regulate as an exercise in good taste. Baudelaire's "Essay," like Balzac's "Treatise," exposes that underlying tendency both through stylistic exaggeration and by taking the consumption of excess as an explicit theme. Unlike Balzac, however, whose satiric heightenings, however broad, remain within the limits of what Baudelaire's refers to in "The Essence of Laughter" as "signifying comedy," based on intersubjective relations of superiority and inferiority, Baudelaire's "absolute" or "hyperbolic" comedy, in transgressing those limits, holds up to the prosaic discourse of gastronomy a phantasmagoric, poeticizing, mirror in which the voice of the other talks back.
1 Cf. Barthes's observation that ". . . gastronomic perversion, as described by B.-S. (and on the whole it could hardly be described better), always implies a kind of affable and accommodating acknowledgement which never departs from the tone of good breeding" (252).
2 The full title in French is Physiologie du goût: ou méditations de gastronomie transcendante. Except where the French is self-explanatory, I will cite in translation, while occasionally providing the original text in a foonote or, for very brief quotations, in parentheses. With the exception of Howard's translation of Barthes, all translations are my own.
3 The passage to which Baudelaire refers actually reads as follow, "Wine, the most lovable of drinks, whether we owe it to Noah, who planted the vine, or to Bacchus, who pressed the juice of the grape, dates from the infancy of the world" (126). The suppressed phrase, "qui planta la vigne" is biblical, "Et Noé planta la vigne et connut l'ivresse," Baudelaire's "citation" accentuates the partriarchal note and flattens out everything else.
4 Though it is also the case that Brillat-Savarin's reserve on the subject was in some ways characteristic of the gastronomic writing of the period. As Denise Gigante observes in Gusto, "Despite the emphasis on wine connoisseurship in gourmet circles today, wine and other psirituous liquors came second to food in nineteenth-century gastronomy. Intoxication was thought to dull the sensibility and lessen the capacity to exercise discernment. . . Modern gastronomy rises or falls by moderation, and all writers in this tradition insist on temperance as a key to good taste" (25). As will be seen, my argument, at least in part, is that the gastronome indulges in gustatory discernment, making of his show of temperance a screen.
5 The Dictionnaire de l'académie française of 1832-35 defines "gourmand," in the first instance, as an adjective with a substantive employment signifying "Qui mange avec avidité et excès") ("[one] who eats avidly and in exces"). The gastronomic sense is secondary, "Il se dit queslquefois pour Gastronome." ("Sometimes used for Gastronome.") "Gourmandise" is defined exclusively as: "Vice de celui que est gourmand" ("the vice of one who is a gourmand"), one source no doubt, of Brillat-Savarin's complaint.
6 "J'ai parcouru les dictionnaires au mot Gourmandise, et je n'ai été point satisfait de ce que j'y ai trouvé. C n'est qu'une confusion perpetuelle de la gourmandise proprement dite avec la gloutonnerie et la voracité: d'où j'ai conclu que les lexicographes, quoique très-estimables d'ailleurs, ne sont pas de ces savants aimables qui embouchent avec grace une aile de perdrix au suprême pour l'arroser, le petit doigt en l'air, d'un verre de vin de Laffitte ou de clos Vougeout.
"Ils ont oublié, complètement oublié, la gourmandise sociale, qui réunit l'élégance athénienne, le luxe romaine et la délicatesse française, qui dispose avec sagacité, fait exécuter savamment, savoure avec énergie, et juge avec profondeur[. . .]" (130).close window
me pingeum et nitidum bene curate cute vises,
cum ridere voles, Epicuri de grege porcum.
(As for me, when you want a laugh, you will find me in fine fettle, fat and sleek, a hog from Epicurus's herd)close window
9 Philippe Dubois offers a detailed discussion of the publication history in his valuable recent article, "Savarin/BalZac: Du gout des excitants sur l'écriture moderne." Dubois' more general argument is that the connection between the two texts was important in establishing the literary value of gastronomic discourse and the scientific value of novelistic discourse: "The close ties which are going to unite the "Treatise on Modern Stimulants" and the Physiology of Taste from this point on will bring a certain literary legitimation to the emergence of a new gastronomic discourse, while extending to the novellistic the scientific covering of a physiology it needs to establish itself as a genre" (76).
10 Thus, according to Gortassier (explaining why the treatise was published as an appendix rather than a preface), "in [Balzac's] mind, the 'Treatise on Modern Stimulants' is a complement to the Physiology of Taste, since Balzac addresses there material that Brillag-Savarin hadn't treated. The text thus quite logically ought to follow that the Physiology of Taste" (982). My argument, in part, is that the subject matter of the "Treatise" upsets the balance of Brillat-Savarin's project.
11 Though they may serve other purposes. Thus Balzac devotes the most famous passages of the essay to instructions for the preparation of coffee, which he drank on a nightly basis in staggering quantities as an essential part of his writing regimen. This fact alone summarizes the exorbitant economy in Balzac which links together writing and excessive consumption.
12 Le goût, qui a pour excitateurs l'appétit, le faim, et le soif, est la base de plusieurs operations dont le résultat est que l'individu croît, se développe, se conserve et répare les pertes causées par les evaporations vitales" (25).
Balzac, Honoré de. "Traité des excitants modernes." Ed. Rose Fortassier. La Comédie humaine. Ed. Pierre-Georges Castex. Vol. XII (Fortassier). Paris: Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1981.
___. "Traité des excitants modernes." Physiologie du goût, ou méditations de gastronomie transcendante. Paris: Charpentier, 1865.
___."Brillat-Savarin." Biographie universelle ancienne et moderne. Vol. 5. Ed. Joseph et Louis Michaud. Paris: Michaud Frères, 1811-62.
Barthes, Roland. "Lecture de Brillat-Savarin." Brillat-Savarin, Physiologie du goût. Ed. Michel Guibert. Paris: Herman, 1975. (Translated as "Reading Brillat-Savarin" in Roland Barthes, The Rustle of Language. Trans. Richard Howard. University of California: Berkeley, 1989.)
Baudelaire, Charles. "Du Vin et du hachisch, comparés comme moyens de multiplication de l’individualité." Oeuvres complètes (OC). Ed. Claude Pichois. Vol. 1. Paris: Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1987.
___. Les Paradis artificiels. Oeuvres complètes. Vol. 1. Ed. Claude Pichois. Vol. 1. Paris: Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1987.
Brillat-Savarin, Jean Anthelme.Physiologie du goût, ou méditations de gastronomie transcendante. Paris: Charpentier, 1865.
Butor, Michel. "Les Paradis artificiels." Essais sur les Modernes. Paris: Gallimard, 1960.
Dubois, Philippe. "Savarin/BalZac: Du goût des excitants sur l’écriture moderne." Nineteenth Century French Studies 33.1-2 (Fall-Winter 2004-2005): 75-88.
Gigante, Denise, ed. Gusto: Essential Writings in Nineteenth-Century Gastronomy. New York: Routledge, 2005.
Horace. Satires, Epistles, Ars Poetica. Vol. 194. Trans. H. Rushton Fairclough. Cambridge: Harvard, 1991.
Robb, Graham. Baudelaire, lecteur de Balzac. José Corti: Paris, 1988.