[lit-ideas] Re: Wow.

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 23 Aug 2007 01:18:54 +0100 (BST)

Stanley Fish once saved me and I must honour the debt incurred by defending
his honour. The story in bullet-form is this.

1. I went to a University open day and there had a conversation with a
philosophy student (who subsequently sent me Walter Kaufman's attack on
Popper's treatment of Hegel), and with Stanley Fish who was doing a post-grad
in English.

2. I asked what it was about. 'Currently about 10,000 words'.

3. I asked what the subject-matter was. 'It's wide-ranging.'

4. Could it be indicated at all? 'Not as subject-matter but by identifying
its central thesis'.

5. Could he identify it? 'Well. I suppose it might be inferred from the
working title.' Which is? 'Nursery Rhyme As A Signifier Of Late Medieval
Economics As A Precusor Of Modern Capitalism'.

6. Could he give an example of a nursery rhyme to illustrate this? 'Jack and
Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.' I can see, I said, how that
might show they were dependent on a hill for water supply or that they maybe
went upstream for their water on grounds of hygiene, lack of sanitation etc.
-but how does it signify in a wider sense how medieval economics were, or how
they gave rise to modern capitalism? 'It doesn't. It's not a good example.'

7. Is there a good example? 'Pata-cake, pata-cake baker's man, bake me a cake
as fast as you can'. 

8. How does that illustrate the thesis? 'Well, first it shows how the marxist
'division of labour' was recognised as an economic reality, especially if we
consider other rhymes that are even more explicit - for example, the one
about the 'butcher, the baker and the candle-stick maker'. It indicates how
in relation to cake - and perhaps bakery goods more generally - this division
was already driving a consumerist and individualist culture ('bake _me_ a
_cake_') and that there was an economic imperative of speed of delivery that
we might surmise already lay at the root of the emergent capitalist system
regarding the supply of goods and services (not 'in your own time' but 'as
fast as you can') - and this long before we had the concept of 'fast food'
for example. We also see that the baker, traditionally perhaps seen more as a
maker of bread and other necessities, is now catering for a luxury good -
cake. But he does not lose his traditional status as baker - he does not
become a 'cake-maker'. Here we sense the underlying tension between
traditional roles of the early medieval period and the new extended
luxury-goods market that threatened those traditional roles. The inherent
contradictions of the process as it were.'

9. Is there an even better example? 'Hot Cross Buns, Hot Cross Buns, One a
penny, two a penny, Hot Cross Buns'.

10. I said I could see that also involved a luxury item - the bun. It also
perhaps showed how this was tied into religious practice, with the cross.
'But you have missed the really important point.' 

11. Which is? '"One a penny, two a penny". It is a matter of some controversy
how best to exegeticise this particular phrase but on either of the two main
schools of thought it does offer a late medieval precusor of an almost
ubiquitous aspect of modern capitalism - particularly in relation to
foodstuffs as purveyed by supermarkets.'

12. What are those schools of thought? 'Well, one holds that the phrase is an
early example of what we know now as the 'two-for-one offer'.'

13. And the other school? 'They hold it's a 'buy-one-get-one-free'.'


Want ideas for reducing your carbon footprint? Visit Yahoo! For Good  
To change your Lit-Ideas settings (subscribe/unsub, vacation on/off,
digest on/off), visit www.andreas.com/faq-lit-ideas.html

Other related posts: