Thursday, 19 February 2015

Boiled Potatoes and the Analytic Method, part 3

I found myself in need of counselling last year. The counselling I received was extremely helpful, but it's only as, in the intervening time, I've started to study critical perspectives from gender and race discourse in depth that I've been able to understand the wider context of my difficulties. These approaches emphasise connectedness; the marketing of children's toys, for example, contributes to a domestication of women that in turn commodifies their sexuality and devalues their consent, leading to rape culture.

By contrast, the idiom of 'analytic philosophy', the tallest and remotest of the academic ivory towers, to which I've given a decade of my life and all my adulthood, puts detachment and abstraction foremost. It was detachment and abstraction - an overdose of both - that led me to counselling. What follows is a reflection on that journey.

In part 1, I discussed the specific experience that led me to seek counselling.

In part 2, I talked about a lack of emotional sensation that I discovered during my counselling sessions.

Part 3: The Problem with British Food

Boiled potatoes are non-food. Without either flavour or texture, they are sustenance without experience, matter without properties, as close to the Lockean idea of the bare particular (no, that's not a euphemism, though I've just realised I missed out on a hell of a joke lecturing about them last week) as occurs in real life.

At least, they are when I cook them. I'm aware that various interesting things can be done with boiled potatoes, but I've never had much success when trying. It all seemed more effort than the marginally-improved results were worth.

I ate a lot of boiled potatoes during my PhD years. Money was tight, and I am a coward in the kitchen. Boiled potatoes are a very safe option for student cooking - it's not like they can get any blander from being overcooked, right? Yes, I could have mixed things up sometimes with rice or noodles, but that would have meant keeping rice and/or noodles in stock - more diversity of food means more money spent.

And I didn't really care that they were bland. I viewed eating - everything related to sustenance, basically - as a chore, something to be minimised. That doesn't just mean the simplest cooking possible, it also means the least attention-demanding food. The blandness itself became a kind of virtue, a way of reacting against my limited means; 'I can't afford good food? Well I DON'T CARE, SO THERE!'.

(Sidebar: I wasn't poor - in all sorts of structural ways, from parental support to a fees grant without which I wouldn't even have been able to start the PhD, I was well-off. But I was strapped for cash on a day-to-day basis for most of the four-and-a-half years).

Lots of other elements of my daily routine were similarly, deliberately anemic. I didn't care about them. I cared about the things that I thought 'enriched' my life - my work, my studies, my writing, music and gaming. All those things did, of course, greatly enrich my life. They all mattered to me, and still do.

But the quotidian stuff isn't meaningless, and one of the things I learned in counselling was how much I couldn't 'rise above it'. Quite the opposite, in fact - it dragged me down. Initially, I clung to rigid domestic routines to keep my budget under control, a strategy that worked but at a cost. The routine itself began to the object of my clinging, though, and therein became a problem.

When the disruption of decorating began to stress me out last summer, I initially identified my shattered routine as the cause of my mounting anxiety. I felt that if I could just get things back in order, I would stabilise. Only after the discomfort had almost boiled over into meltdown did I start to think that perhaps the routine itself - a rigid sequence of bland, boiled-potato nonexperiences whose only value to me was their place in the order - might be the problem.

I'm not actually eating much more healthily these days (and indeed, I'm still eating some of the same stuff - no more boiled potatoes, though). But I do try to think about what I'd like to eat before making decisions about buying meals. It wasn't hard to start developing actual preferences again.

(part 4)

No comments:

Post a Comment