The Road from Food to Twitter
By Pius Adesanmi.
When I was leaving Paris for Canada to begin my PhD in 1998, my French friends almost considered it a slap on the face of their culture and civilization that I was crossing over to North America. They considered it a lowering of culture in a way. Their only consolation? Well, at least he is going to Canada, not the USA.
Confused? Be patient. Come with me.
Gallic arrogance is such that the French see themselves – especially their language and culture – as the apex of Western civilization. It is from this national imaginary that they look down with supreme contempt on the language and culture of our own colonizers across the channel. Personally, I consider it ibinu ori and bad belle because English has a global reach they can only dream of and they cannot handle it.
Bad belle or no bad belle, they see themselves as the Oga at the top of Western civilization. If they look down on their neighbours in Britain, they almost consider the Americans across the Atlantic a cultural heresy. Or people of no culture. That is Gallic arrogance.
One measure of the fears of my French friends for my level of culture was constantly expressed in what would happen to my gastronomic culture in North America. We know that the French are the owners of haute cuisine and allied elaborate food culture. Add what I acquired in the aesthetics of food and cuisine in France to my foundation of elaborate Yagba and Yoruba food culture and owambe gourmandizing and you will understand the problem of my French friends – I was too gastronomically sophisticated for North America.
For the French, dinner can be a five-hour cultural ritual of numerous courses and excellent conversation. The journey from “apperitif” to “dessert” is a long and elaborate cultural ritual. For the American, dinner can be and usually is a five-minute drive through at McDonald’s. If he has money, he may later send a bottle of Budweiser to join the double Big Mac in his belly.
This is the cultural “sacrilege” that the French can’t handle. But, you see, the American culture of fast food is coming from somewhere much deeper. It is a much deeper metaphor, honed throughout the more than 200 years of their existence by their poets, artists, and philosophers. It is a science of the self as a swift, straight to the point, efficient persona, shorn of fioritura. The American will conquers swiftly, no stories, no detours. The American dream has no room for distraction. Straight to the point.
This is a marked difference from the cultural elaborateness of our friends in France and the notions of the self which devolve therefrom.
The metaphor of the fast food is the story is of the American approach to the self, to nation, to the world. It is his culture, his aesthetics and it is what shapes his science, his innovation, his industry. That is what all these things respond to.
If fast food is expressive of a national self-fashioning, somebody somewhere saw an opening in terms of how information can also be packaged and consumed swiftly as fast food, shorn of fioritura, expressive of the American way and personhood as defined by generations of that country’s writers, philosophers, and artists.
Twitter is a continuation of America’s fast food aesthetics of the self. How we eat – fast food – defines our approach to the production and consumption of information.
The French deceive themselves that the Americans are culturally inferior but there are millions of them eating the cultural fast food that is Twitter and being defined and shaped by it.
The ignorant Nigerian wants to know who culture and grammar “has epped”. But he is expressing it on Twitter. If we offer him a torchlight, he just might be able to peer into that tunnel and see how America’s poets elaborated the national cultural aesthetics which their science and innovation fed on to give him Twitter. He does not understand the relationship between a people’s food culture and Twitter.
Every time he is on Twitter or Facebook, he is using specific products of specific cultures and aesthetics of the self. He is so used to the ignorant disconnect that people make between “arts and science” in Nigeria that he does not understand that the societies he admires in the West see both as synergy and continuity.
So long as the Nigerian does not understand this, s/he will continue to spit on his own sages of culture while ignorantly worshipping other people’s sages of culture with every update, every Tweet.
Well, what you and the generation now seeking empirical economic metrics for culture, poesy, and philosophy do not understand is that everything you see in the societies you spend money to go and gush over was built by people who never applied the sort of stupid question you are applying to Soyinka to Plato, Socrates, Euripedes, Michelangelo, Lenardo Da Vinci, Beethoven, Mozart, Shakespeare, Foucault, Faulkner, and so many other names from across broad fields of the imagination, thought, and philosophy: what is the worth of your art and imagination to society?
The implication of the question is that it is worthless. One ignorant oaf even wrote yesterday that “it is not like your Nobel was in Engineering or Medicine…” bla bla bla.
Advanced societies do not dabble in such ill-informed false equivalence because they realize, unlike you, that there is a straight line from the work of those who thought their society, those who imagined their society, and those who philosophized their society to the modernity and advancement you went to admire in Atlanta.
They know that industry, science and technology, economics, etc, are fundamentally an expression of who a people are culturally across ages and generations. They know that the fundamentals of a people’s civilization, a people’s humanism, as imagined in the philosophy and poesy of generations of her thinkers and artists, have a direct bearing on their advancement and civilization. It goes straight to their science and development. Science and technology always respond to human need and daring as determined and conditioned by their culture. That culture is always imagined for science by the dreamers, the philosophers, and the artists of the people.
How you love, how you dance, how you eat, how drink, how you see where you live, all devolve from aesthetics. They are from the province of culture and how that culture has been imagined and philosophized by your poets. It does not stop at becoming your legacy and civilization. It ties directly to your science and technology, to your economics. Your architecture is an expression of how you culturally imagine yourself in lived spaces and environments. Your science and technology will move in the direction of how you imagine the human.
Go and study how Western Architecture has shifted for centuries in response to movements in culture and imagination.
Go back and study what constituted science for the Greeks and the Romans and see if you are able to find the linkages to art, poesy, and philosophy.
That is the origin of everything you went to gawk at and gush over in Atlanta. That is why you will see monuments to the thinkers, dreamers, philosophizers, and conceptualizers of their society.
That is why no American, no matter how ignorant, will wake up seeking the contribution of Tony Morrison’s or Philip Roth’s “grammar to GDP”. It’s a non-starter of an ignorant question.