Making Sense of Taste

Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy

Carolyn Korsmeyer
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Cornell University Press
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  • Book Info
    Making Sense of Taste
    Book Description:

    Taste, perhaps the most intimate of the five senses, has traditionally been considered beneath the concern of philosophy, too bound to the body, too personal and idiosyncratic. Yet, in addition to providing physical pleasure, eating and drinking bear symbolic and aesthetic value in human experience, and they continually inspire writers and artists.

    In Making Sense of Taste, Carolyn Korsmeyer explains how taste came to occupy so low a place in the hierarchy of senses and why it is deserving of greater philosophical respect and attention. Korsmeyer begins with the Greek thinkers who classified taste as an inferior, bodily sense; she then traces the parallels between notions of aesthetic and gustatory taste that were explored in the formation of modern aesthetic theories. She presents scientific views of how taste actually works and identifies multiple components of taste experiences.

    Turning to taste's objects-food and drink-she looks at the different meanings they convey in art and literature as well as in ordinary human life and proposes an approach to the aesthetic value of taste that recognizes the representational and expressive roles of food. Korsmeyer's consideration of art encompasses works that employ food in contexts sacred and profane, that seek to whet the appetite and to keep it at bay; her selection of literary vignettes ranges from narratives of macabre devouring to stories of communities forged by shared eating.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7133-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    C. K.
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    This book is a philosophical investigation of the sense of taste. Usually when a philosopher addresses this subject, discussion moves rapidly to issues of aesthetic discrimination regarding objects of art and to questions about relative preference and standards for artistic judgments. But it is literal taste—that is, the kind that takes place in the mouth—that is the focus of my interest. The literal sense of taste has rarely caught the attention of philosophers except insofar as it provides the metaphor for aesthetic sensitivity If this sense in its gustatory role is considered at all, it is only briefly,...

  6. CHAPTER 1 The Hierarchy of the Senses
    (pp. 11-37)

    The tradition that ranks the sense of taste as among the lowlier attributes of human beings has roots that run long and deep into the history of philosophy Plato and Aristotle not only laid down some of the major alternatives for philosophical thinking but helped to determine the grounds on which an issue should be considered worthy of philosophical consideration at all. The sense of taste is among those subjects that have received only cursory theoretical attention on the part of philosophers. Even in earlier times when philosophy and science were indistinguishable, taste and its cousin smell were given short...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Philosophies of Taste: Aesthetic and Nonaesthetic Senses
    (pp. 38-67)

    Although the hierarchy of the senses has resulted in scant attention directed to the literal sense of taste, there is a great deal of philosophy concerning taste of a metaphorical sort: aesthetic discrimination. The use of the term "taste" to refer to an ability to discern beauty and other aesthetic qualities is intriguing and paradoxical, for literal, gustatory taste is by and large excluded from among the chief subjects of the theories of taste that become prominent in Enlightenment European philosophy. The sense of taste provides the language, indeed the conceptual framework, that fosters theoretical understanding of aesthetic appreciation of...

  8. CHAPTER 3 The Science of Taste
    (pp. 68-102)

    The features of the sense of taste that by tradition have resulted in its low esteem traverse several of the major branches of philosophy. As we have just seen, the character of taste sensations and the nature of food and drink disqualify both from aesthetics and philosophy of art. In the moral sphere, the temptation of bodily pleasure and the vice of gluttony—in Christian categories one of the seven deadly sins—caution against the enjoyments of eating and drinking. Epistemically speaking, taste and its kin, smell , are not considered senses that deliver a high degree of perceptual information...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The Meaning of Taste and the Taste of Meaning
    (pp. 103-145)

    Taste turns out to be a sense that is more complex, subtle, and worthy of interest than its placement in the history of philosophy would suggest. The sense of taste is an educable faculty, as the dizzying variety of eating preferences displayed across the globe testify. At the same time, as physiologists and psychologists have demonstrated, there are a number of inborn, universal preferences, such as attraction to sweet and salt and aversion to bitter. These responses not only account for common likes and dislikes but seem to be the foundation for common meanings assigned to flavors. A question that...

  10. CHAPTER 5 The Visual Appetite: Representing Taste and Food
    (pp. 146-184)

    As we have seen, reflection on eating, and especially on certain special or ceremonial meals, affords considerable food for thought as well as for the body, and the meaning of taste may be apparent in the taste of meaning in the very act of eating. Investigation of actual eating, however, is not the only way to reveal what taste and foods can mean, and indeed in spite of its directness, it is often not the most illuminating way, either. For most people, eating is part of life's daily routine. Extremes of deprivation interrupt the rhythms of ingestion, but unless one...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Narratives of Eating
    (pp. 185-224)

    The variety of meanings we found assigned in visual art to taste, food, eating, and appetite is more than matched in the narrative arts, further attesting to the complexity of what we might label in shorthand "gustatory semantics." Because eating is a daily necessity, one finds scenes of food distributed liberally about the plots of stories, sometimes as the dramatic focus of an event, sometimes as background, sometimes as incidental detail, sometimes merely implicitly. Food invites such a variety of symbolic attachments that it may be employed to suggest opposite traits of fictional characters: Eating can signal gross indulgence and...

  12. Index
    (pp. 225-233)