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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Personal/Theological Notebook: "American Psycho" and Further Thoughts on Restaurant Culture 
6th-Feb-2007 01:18 am
John Paul II Champagne
For at least a month, I've had the DVD of American Psycho on my coffeetable. I admit it: I've been foot-dragging. I don't generally care for horror movies. There are images I have no need to have in my head. Yet, I will also admit recognizing The Silence of the Lambs as a fabulous film when I saw it, and important as a kind of study of evil, which can be magnified by intelligence, culture, and education: things all too often mistaken as opposites of evil, rather than as having the potential to be ethically neutral or flexible. I assumed American Psycho was something of a slasher flick (the controversy over the original book is something for which I have no recollection, at all), despite the assurances that this was not so from Matt Chicorel, the Collector's Edge East Manager who had been pushing me to borrow the movie from him. And, of course, he turned out to be entirely correct.

While having its horror elements, certainly, the satire and "comedy of manners" aspects were clear and catching, too. It is the latter that got me thinking just now. I couldn't help but think of the write-ups I have given to recent dinners like that with Kevin Fleming in Chicago, and others here with Milwaukee friends. It was strange to think, I realized, that people could look at the "restaurant culture" as a status game. Are there really people like this, I wonder? Or is such an, admittedly, over-the-top sketch as the one in the film reflective of just our willingness to see the worst in others: the "adult" version of sneering at anyone who doesn't eat at our group's lunch table in the school cafeteria?

I don't know. I suspect at times that I do find myself surrounded by the best quality of friends possible. I find myself loving dining out with friends not because going to this-and-such restaurant becomes a marker of social achievement, but because it is a potential delight: an ornament of shared experience with which to decorate the love of friends. When I try to jot down a menu from a night out, it's to try to use that particular decoration of the senses as a flag for simply preserving the memory of a time with a friend, and the conversation we enjoyed (and, perhaps, as something of a log in order to aid in the development of a typically under-educated American palate).

Thus, for example, I might remember laughing through the evening Friday night at The Knick, eating two roast duck breasts, served in a chutney of carmelized onions, walnuts, and white raisins, with a wild rice pilaf and an artfully-arranged array of pea pods crossed with spears of carrot and red pepper. And this after a bowl of fabulous clam chowder (New England, of course: I'm no heretic) with maybe some secret wine ingredient added to it, and their Idaho Golden Tater Tots, which I had written about some weeks back. Now, let me say, I worked to remember that litany, particularly the chutney, which was a great mix of biting, neutral, and sweet flavours, respectively. Do I think I'm Way Cool for putting that in my journal? If so, asking the question killed that hope! No, the dinner notes are about the experience themselves, which is, as I noted, really about the company: dining as an instance, an expression, or an opportunity of friendship.

Status? Absurd. I'm just as delighted – if perhaps in different ways – to eat my beloved Trailblazer breakfast (with my options: 2 scrambled eggs, 2 pieces of bacon, four pieces of wheat toast, and two pancakes, for $4.95) at The Junction Eating Place in my undergraduate town of DeKalb: a greasy spoon of the most noble American tradition, or to run off and get the two-piece breast and wing meal at KFC (which I think at my sister's lets me bond in some way with my brother-in-law, who I get the feeling uses me as an excuse to eat things my sister would rather he not). Instead of "status," the word to describe what dining culture is for me is "sacramental."

Sacramental?! As in "a visible sign of an invisible reality?" Yup. Again, the "invisible reality" being visibly expressed or celebrated is the love of friends. In Christian spirituality, particularly in Catholic Christian spirituality, it is the sacramental vision that is at the center of the Catholic spiritual experience. As you develop this sacramental vision, you learn to "see God in all things," as my Jesuit hosts at Marquette would put it. We see God made visible in the material of and rituals including: water, olive oil, married sexual love, and even in the meal of bread and wine. Meals with friends or family take part in some way of this sacrament or Eucharistic vision – this mysticism which becomes an "everyday mysticism," and not the reserve of some spiritual elite. It would be a shame to see the culture of dining distorted, even in the form of expensive restaurants, to being a status symbol of elitism for the sake of being elite: could there be anything more inherently meaningless? But as the occasion of sharing – along with the possible delights of food itself – the surprises of laughter, the high art and low play of conversation, the glimpses of one another's spirits behind smiles and eyes: in my life, there's nothing finer, or more common to our humanity.
6th-Feb-2007 01:37 pm (UTC)
Doesn't surprise me in the least. Seems to me you have stumbled across "community". Community in the New Testament world is different from what most people in today's mobile urban and suburban societies. I've known those who will "church shop" and are quite willing to drive to get to their church of choice. The NT world is probably akin to very rural towns with a church at their heart.

I have all kinds of thoughts whirling through my head on this - side conclusions to papers I wrote for my degree. When I think of the last supper, it wasn't just a micro-thin wafer and a sip of wine, it was a full blown mean punctuated with prayers. There was real bread to break (which is always a delight at a Eucharist), and family and friends were of course there. For me, this is where the "culture of dining" has its roots. The last supper grew out if this kind of Jewish practice. In many ways, today's Eucharist is a mere shadow of what it was intended to symbolize. Can you imagine if Eucharists were Sunday pot-lucks, but with wine, prayers, and even a sermon? :-)

Reading your post over, I would say that you had the experience of what a past acquaintance termed, an agape feast or love feast.

I have lots of thoughts on community as a result of all those papers I wrote :-).
6th-Feb-2007 02:41 pm (UTC) - agape (with notes to Mike also)
I often feel a little trepidation when I respond to
a friends post and some other of his or her friends
responds to me, but dont worry I do not have a sandbag
or loaded sock in hand and the response does seem to
belong on this continuation of the thought...

I am doubtful of a literal potluck being the thing
wanted but, being myself involved in an intentional
community and close to a number of them for one thing,
I certainly think that the return of the Eucharist to
a setting of something like what the agape was intended
to be(problems pointed up by Paul in practice) is wanted
for the future and present...
which is to say for a sharing by all ,laity in their
various liturgias(works) and clergy deacon and bishop
with priest and acolyte, in settings without the sense
of the hierarchical as determining much... certainly
determining nothing as to the value of the person or
the amusement due some jest offered or interest due some
opinion etc
the absence of this has always tended to isolate each
group from the immense group of the laity in a sense yet
isolated to the tiny group of bishops also isolated and
too often thinking and planning in terms more of each other
than of the world etc...
I expect community itself can be a good part of the
indications forward... though nothing is simple and we
must learn little by little as also the Lord said at the
washing of the feet, you do not yet understand but you
these thoughts in haste...
with dining out of friends, this to Mike, I agree as you
know :) one small note is to be aware of pocket of each person
and not to order wines or foods which will lead to someone
being abashed when the check comes...
as to american psycho looked at it when it first came out
as book and found it not satisfactory and all the brand names
offered as satire but threadbare cover for misogynist porn
as it seemed to a glance... the movie to the extent it removed
this latter is perhaps left with an ungrounded 'satire' its
engine gone.

and back to you, well if you would like to exchange lj friends
it is fine ,or not as it seems, yours
+Seraphim Joseph Sigrist
6th-Feb-2007 05:06 pm (UTC) - Re: agape (with notes to Mike also)
I more than honoured to add you as a friend. I don't post as often as I should, and certainly not as deep as some of your posts. But perhaps this will lead to interesting exchanges.

I went and read your profile, and was quite interested in what I read. I have been influenced by Eastern traditions since I took a course at Saint Paul University in Ottawa (home to the Shepinski Institute - I think misspelled it). While I was doing my Bachelors in Theology, I took a course called "General Introduction to Eastern Churches". Each week, (it was an evening course) we visited a different orthodox church - including Coptic, Greek, and others whose names escape me. I think it was "Christ the Saviour Orthodox Mission in Canada" that helped influence me the most. I ended up attending many services there. My first impression was that I was participating in something very old. Since then, combined with a fascinating book called "Lost Christianity", I have been "eastern flavoured". Oh, I even had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Kallistos Ware, and participating in a "blessing of the waters" service.

I am limited for time, so I will respond to you other comments at a later time.
6th-Feb-2007 05:14 pm (UTC) - new acquaintance
mutually happy to know you...are you
an ordinand or intending the liturgy of
the laity?
7th-Feb-2007 05:48 am (UTC) - Re: I have tagged you for a meme
A good warning: now I wonder if I have needed to be aware of that in ways I hadn't. No one has ever said such a thing, but it's good for me to keep it in mind....

I had to smile at seeing your full name written out: when I first saw you online through aristotle2002, and given the convention of internet-related things like Apple's iMac to have that little "i" tag in their names, I originally read your journal as entitled "Seraphim's iGrist"
7th-Feb-2007 06:14 am (UTC)
no one has ever said such a thing as what?
I feel a bit fuddled...
and what warning?
but perhaps I am just tired and not following

the most of this note was to mr_messy
7th-Feb-2007 06:17 am (UTC)
Oh, I meant the "warning" of: one small note is to be aware of pocket of each person and not to order wines or foods which will lead to someone being abashed when the check comes...
7th-Feb-2007 06:30 am (UTC) - ah!
this is a problem we often have
when a group of us meets in new york
someone will take charge of ordering
appetizers and wines and by the end
when the check comes we remove our
glasses and peer in disbelief at what
looks like the annual budget of bangla desh.
a terrible sign is if they bring you free
anything, brandy say, towards the end.
7th-Feb-2007 09:23 am (UTC) - Re: ah!
LOL I know exactly what you mean! I remember a time in Rome where, very pleased at the roughly $8 price for the daily catch of fish, we ordered a flounder and two sunfish, which came to us after a huge spaghetti-with-seafood (clams, mussels, scallops, shrimp, squid, baby octopi) pasta course. We were stuffed and had no room left for the fish! It was at about that point where we realized we had paid $8 a pound, however, and we now had $50-odd worth of fish that we had to eat, just to justify our spending. The owner brought us several bottles, of which the best was the brandy....
7th-Feb-2007 05:36 am (UTC)
I hadn't been thinking of it in terms of koinonia, but that certainly makes sense: and I can remember my own interest/delight in that concept as it became clear to me, too: and thanks for resurrecting those memories! There's some good ones there....

But it makes sense to me why the Eucharist would become more ritualized and the agape feasts were split off to a different part of the life of the church (if that reconstruction is correct), and perhaps becoming part of that ethic of "hospitality." The problems Paul already talks about with the celebrations seems predictably human....
6th-Feb-2007 01:40 pm (UTC) - Can't spell
full blown MEAL.

Ugh, still not used to this keyboard. That's my excuse and I am sticking to it ;-)
6th-Feb-2007 02:09 pm (UTC)
i enjoyed american psycho more than i expected to. bale was terrific.

what you wrote about sacramentality made me think of an old poem of mine, maybe a poor cousin to your experience: not required reading, just on offer.
7th-Feb-2007 05:41 am (UTC)
Thank you for sharing that Vicki: yes, more public and broad than the "best friend"-type scenario that I was describing, but I see what you mean. I remember entries of yours along those lines at that time, but the poem captures it in such a way as to make it all more immediate and familiar an experience for the reader. Some of those bits of description of "the mundane ecstasies and sorrows of a public place" are exactly that.
7th-Feb-2007 02:08 pm (UTC)
i'm so happy you liked it! thanks, mike. :)
6th-Feb-2007 05:00 pm (UTC) - I have tagged you for a meme
I have tagged you for a meme, an
old one but I have reshaped it
substantially, welcome if interested
7th-Feb-2007 05:50 am (UTC) - Re: I have tagged you for a meme
Alack! Alack! Alack! The link does not work....
6th-Feb-2007 06:54 pm (UTC)
On the food: My thoughts to a T. I write about food a terrible lot in my journal, and I think you've expressed entirely why. Good thing it's a sign that I'm progressing in my understanding of Sacramentalism. ;)
6th-Feb-2007 06:55 pm (UTC)
PS - I am particularly fond of chutney.
7th-Feb-2007 05:51 am (UTC)
7th-Feb-2007 05:51 am (UTC)
Excellent! No doubt, someday when we are able to meet and share a meal, we'll go into some sort of mystical overload....
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