Stoop to Stoup

I am not sure which of the following three phrases best applies to my Christmas Vacation, so-called:

a) amorphous blob of experience, with emphasis on late-night bodega snacks;

b) productive, yet difficult, time of intense self-analysis, with emphasis on late-night bodega snacks;

c) the usual practice obsession crap, with emphasis [etc.]

Luckily, at the crucial juncture of New Year’s Eve, friend Cory phoned all the way from California to deliver an inspiring voicemail:

Jeremy, another year, Jeremy, another … chance … oh God … [sigh] alright [heavy sigh], bye [click]

Perhaps the climax or crux of my vacation was when I was deeply in the folds of a vicious flu, sitting on my sofa, with the television on mute, watching onions fry on the Food Network. There is something wonderful and pathetic about watching TV on mute, in my opinion, and this moment was no exception, it was a marvel of forlorn lassitude. A virtuosic etude of turpitude. A minefield of scattered zinc lozenges and their discarded wrappers lay around me in an irregular semicircle: my domain. Abandon all hope ye who enter here.

Unluckily, perhaps, I had a Beckett novel right there on the sofa with me: Malone Dies. I decided to stop watching the silent screen, and turned to good old Samuel:

But space hemmed him in on every side and held him in its toils, with the multitude of other faintly stirring, faintly struggling things, such as the children, the lodges and the gates, and like a sweat of things the moments streamed away in a great chaotic conflux of oozings and torrents, and the trapped huddled things changed and died each one according to its solitude.

Yikes! Enough of that. I immediately turned the sound up on the TV. And what did I hear?

Now, here’s my super duper secret tip. OK? You gotta mash up the second can of black beans, mash em up in the can with your spoon, before you pour em into the pot, and that’ll make the stoup super thick and meaty. I’m calling it a stoup because it’s part stew and part soup. Yummo!

You, reader, cannot possibly imagine the existential despair I found myself in at that moment, caught between (betwixt!) Samuel Beckett and Rachael Ray. It seemed like the darkest forces in the universe had massed themselves. I felt sure, for instance, that if I turned on my DVD player, it would be playing The Mummy Returns, or Titanic, or some similar atrocity.

I closed the book, I turned off the TV, I waited for a few solemn moments, senza media. In a flash of clarity, it came to me: Beckett was misery that I loved; Ray was cheerfulness that I despised. Even with a flu, I would rather waddle through thickets of thorny Beckett than suffer even one more flouncy use of the word stoup.

What was appallingly clear on MUTE: Rachael Ray continually mimes her motor-mouth. If she refers to herself, she points a thumb at herself; if she presents an idea, she raises a finger to enumerate it (she mostly only counts to one); if she says the word “running” she brings comical fists up in pseudo-jog; at phrases such as “what are you going to do?” she shrugs, like a perplexed puppet. This superfluity conceals an emptiness. That is, she cannot possibly fill the space she feels in her heart (or stomach, or soul, or spleen?); though she talks through every available nanosecond, time drips on, leaking boredom or stillness, and so she frantically works at sealing us in with the grout of her gestures.

And there were more thoughts that came to me there amidst the lozenges, amidst the absence of flickering screen. It struck me that the Food Network is stricken with a continuous, abject coitus interruptus. Every show is foreplay towards a meal, every show is impotent when it counts. It should get a complex! For when the beef must melt upon the tongue, when the soup must warm and worm its way down your esophagus, the TV is utterly helpless: this conqueror of nations, destroyer of culture, this liquid crystal Genghis Khan rampaging over the minds of youth is like a fish trying to topple its own fishtank. It has wooed, promised, suggested, evoked: but it can never ever deliver, at the moment of taste, at the instant of experience. I’m sure you’re all familiar with this: the falsest moment of a cooking show is when everyone is huddled around the finished dish, saying “mmm…” I have never seen a truly convincing “mmm” on television, and it is surely no coincidence that the theme music inevitably returns at that moment, to tunefully patch the void.

Now, Beckett, when he wants you to taste something … well, he is luckier, he just wants you to taste thought. His words, while describing impotence in great, lurid, circular detail, are super-potent. For instance, this passage from Molloy … (Quick plot summary) The speaker, on his way to his mother, has killed a woman’s dog with his bicycle and is almost beaten by a vengeful mob. The woman saves him by saying she was taking the dog to the vet anyway to get it put to sleep, and it saved her the expense which she could ill afford. Then the woman is talking to him, telling him that she needs him, and he needs her:

She needed me to help her get rid of her dog, and I needed her, I’ve forgotten for what. She must have told me, for that was an insinuation I could not decently pass over in silence as I had the rest, and I made no bones about telling her I needed neither her nor anyone else, which was perhaps a slight exaggeration, for I must have needed my mother, otherwise why this frenzy of wanting to get to her? That is one of the many reasons why I avoid speaking as much as possible. For I always say either too much or too little, which is a terrible thing for a man with a passion for truth like mine. And I shall not abandon this subject, to which I shall probably never have occasion to return, with such a storm blowing up, without making this curious observation, that it often happened to me, before I gave up speaking for good, to think I had said too little when in fact I had said too much and in fact to have said too little when I thought I had said too much. I mean that on reflexion, in the long run rather, my verbal profusion turned out to be penury, and inversely. So time sometimes turns the tables. In other words, or perhaps another thing, whatever I said it was never enough and always too much. Yes, I was never silent, whatever I said I was never silent … For to say I needed no one was not to say too much, but an infinitesimal part of what I should have said, could not have said, should never have said. Need of my mother! No, there were no words for the want of need in which I was perishing.

I would like to propose to the Food Network a 48-episode, epic miniseries entitled Samuel Beckett Makes Risotto. (Each episode is 60 minutes.)

Parts 1-3: Samuel Beckett comes to understand the presence of an onion
Parts 4-9: The onion is “chopped,” whatever that “means.”
Parts 10-11: Consideration of the pan, ironies of shape, futility of cleanliness
Parts 12-18: The onion is browning, apparently, sweating, oozing, while the tragic remorseless life of a chicken flashes before our eyes before becoming broth.
Parts 19-25: 800 grains of arborio rice are counted out, one by one, and each compared to each of its predecessors. .
Parts 26-31: Philosophical Interlude: Beckett outlines the distinction between the flavor of an onion and the onion itself.
Parts 32-35: Return to Action: Broth and wine leap into the pot while Beckett sleeps, Beckett is struck with a ladle several times senselessly, seeks bicycle.
Part 36: “It is a gradual dribble of broth, like life.” The speaker of this line is unknown, unknowable.
Parts 37-43: The desire to eat is compared to the desire to die: death determined preferable to eating, though we will eat anyway. When can we eat? When can we die?
Parts 44-47: It becomes clear that the risotto will never be finished.
Part 48: The onion is no longer visible, it has no “presence,” even as a concept. But there is just the onion, itself. And then it is not there.

I think it would sell, baby. Tell me it wouldn’t be a hit. I’m gonna take Rachael Ray DOWN with this puppy.

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  1. Posted January 6, 2008 at 12:46 am | Permalink

    Idea of Beckett on risotto made me laugh so hard I had to squint my eyes to not see the words. A bizarre and funny post.

  2. Christina
    Posted January 6, 2008 at 12:53 am | Permalink

    brilliant. I only wonder what the connection to Beckett would have been had you caught Sandra Lee or Paula Deen instead, both on an equal (if not similar) level of mind-numbing, hunger-desiccating, “fauxte” cuisine…

  3. dw
    Posted January 6, 2008 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    No doubt, we’re talking multiple Emmys here. Only you, Jeremy, only you. Happy new year.

  4. jim s
    Posted January 6, 2008 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    I’ve found my life’s work. We can put it on ustream if the networks don’t buy.

  5. Posted January 6, 2008 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    I would watch all of that, eventually (when it ‘returns on syndication’). This sounds like the best food-network-show ever, perhaps the best food-network-show idea possible. Rachel Ray would also fit right in as a character in Satre classics like “No Exit” or “Nausea”.

  6. Posted January 6, 2008 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    “Samuel Beckett Makes Risotto” a.k.a. “The Joy of Irish Cooking.” Makes perfect sense to me.

  7. Jose
    Posted January 6, 2008 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    “Samuel Becket Makes Risotto” sounds most definitely like an Alton Brown production. Perhaps he could make a whole season of “Good Eats” out of it, or even perhaps a season of “Road Food”, where each clump of episodes is filmed in a different arrondissement of Paris. -Although, if the overseas budget can’t be approved, maybe each borough of New York City at the least. Of course, Rachael Ray and Tyler Florence would provide the commentary for the Deluxe DVD boxed set – which also includes 800 grains of arborio rice, two aseptic boxes of organic chicken stock, and a facsimile of the recipe in Becket’s handwriting in French.

    On a semi-related topic: Have you seen the program of “Beckett Shorts” at NYTW?

  8. Posted January 7, 2008 at 4:00 am | Permalink

    RR: She stoups to conch err.

    (a Goldsmith Variation)

  9. MJ
    Posted January 7, 2008 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    I’m so glad that someone else finds Ray annoying. She has nearly ruined my beloved low-fat (and they don’t advertise this – lower salt!!) Triscuits through those hideous commercials and her photo on the box.

    I want Beckett, or at least Pinter or Stoppard, on my snack crackers.

  10. wr
    Posted January 8, 2008 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    That’s not nearly enough rice.

    I gave up TV years ago.

  11. rednepentha
    Posted January 8, 2008 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    please do take rachel ray down; it’s not normal to be that chipper. beckett on a food channel would be a riot as would skakespeare…..this risotto “to be or not to be.”

  12. allbetsareoff
    Posted January 8, 2008 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    “…she frantically works at sealing us in with the grout of her gestures.”

    OK, case closed on modern behavorial science.

  13. Posted January 8, 2008 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    thank you so much for this

  14. Zack
    Posted January 9, 2008 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    More Beckett! Fantastic! I am actually writing my undergraduate thesis on Watt and a couple other Beckett novels. I will try to work in some references to your posts, in all their scholarly beauty.

  15. Jack
    Posted January 12, 2008 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Have you had an opportunity to see the new staging of Beckett works in NYC, staring mikhail baryshnikov?

    I was reading your schedule, and noticed you’re playing the Strauss Burleske. How great! I thought I was the only one performing that recently. I hope you agree with my agitation at Norman Del Mar calling it “A Twenty minute piece that’s 15 minutes too long”?


  16. Posted January 17, 2008 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    “It struck me that the Food Network is stricken with a continuous, abject coitus interruptus…. It has wooed, promised, suggested, evoked: but it can never ever deliver, at the moment of taste, at the instant of experience.”

    Genius, and yet it seemed so obvious once I read it.

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