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Mapping the Tasteland

Explorations in Food and Wine in Argentinean and European Culture


Matias Bruera

This book draws together the results of extensive research into the complex relationships that some modern European and Argentinean writers have enjoyed with food and wine. The European writers considered include Roland Barthes, Walter Benjamin, Honoré de Balzac, Charles Baudelaire, Italo Svevo, Marcel Schwob, James Joyce and Robert Louis Stevenson; their Argentinean counterparts include Domingo F. Sarmiento, Lucio V. Mansilla, Roberto J. Payró and Ezequiel Martínez Estrada. Through an exploration of both fiction and non-fiction, the author shows how these thinkers’ ideas about food and wine influenced modernity and how they continue to influence contemporary issues such as ‘globalized’ menus and food poverty.


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At the most obvious level the human being shares with all living beings the need to feed itself. However, food is plagued with phantasms and passions, which go beyond its physiological and irreplaceably preservative character because it refers to the perception and exegesis of the world. Food nourishes us, it encourages us to interpret life and grant it meaning. It is a symbolic register in which a wider social reality is transcribed and condensed. To eat is to assimilate or grasp the world. It is to become imbued with it through sensitive resonances which in everyday life throw us physically into a rich cluster of significant possibilities, although stereotyped by habit and self-ref lective apathy about these possibilities. Every text, like every food, is a horizon of allusiveness, a cognitive ref lex which delimits the profile of the ref lection and which does not consume, as knowledge, the thickness of the material which it symbolizes. In this sense, food, diet, and regime are indispensable categories for thinking about human behaviours and identities. And if we speak of identi- ties and imaginaries, it is dif ficult to think of Argentina. It was believed to be “Trapalanda” or the “Empire of Plenty” (Martínez Estrada), an illusionary country plagued with gold and spices which attracted the frustrated pillag- ing conquistador; or it dreamed of being “Eurindia” (Ricardo Rojas), that new ethnic mystery, in which Argentina is the most fecund organ which assimilates the European and overcomes the American. Once a “second hand...

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