Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category
Like the Christian Existentialists who explain life’s troubling, irreconcilable paradoxes through the existence (and source) of the greatest irreconcilable paradox–Jesus (God/man? mortal/immortal?–anyone else confused? No? Congratulations–you’re smarter than me.)–sometimes we do things not because they make or don’t make sense, but because we just do them. Some things just are. Their absurdity is in line with the inherent absurdity of the universe and hence, given a certain liberal mindset, we are comforted.
I ordered the chicken enchiladas. Here’s the thing about chicken: I was a vegetarian for 11 years, vegan for two of them and I certainly didn’t start eating meat again to eat factory farmed chicken. But, and I’m not making excuses here as I think factory farm chicken is morally and ecologically reprehensible, in the moral/flavor cost-benefit analysis often at work in my food choices, there’s something about that ambiguously but inarguably delicious American Mexican chicken that I’m a total sucker for. So, as I said, I ordered the chicken enchiladas.
At Chavella’s, a pretty good little Mexican joint a few blocks from my Brooklyn digs, one orders his/her enchiladas with a choice of salsa verde or mole. You don’t need a PhD in Cilantro Hate to know salsa verde is quintessentially dangerous to the cilantro averse. For those of you living in the far reaches of xenophobic denial, speaking so little Spanish that you don’t know verde means green–verde means green. It gets its green moniker from a variety of ingredients, most notably tomatillo, lime, green chili and, yes, cilantro.
But the thing is the gentleman next to me had ordered the chicken enchiladas with salsa verde and he was enjoying them with gusto in a not-subtly audible fashion. I asked, “Sir, excuse me, I can’t help but notice that you’re enjoying those enchiladas.”
“Oh, God yes. They’re so delicious,” he replied.
“Sir, do you have a palate for cilantro? What I mean to say is, would you notice if there was cilantro in your salsa verde there?,” I continued.
A good sport, he confirmed what I already knew: “Well, yes, it’s noticeable but certainly not overwhelming and did I mention how truly delicious they are?”
So then the waitress did what I didn’t even consider asking her to do, which was to bring me the mole and verde to try. The cilantro-hating friend who was with me tried them both too. Strangest thing: I could kind of tell there was cilantro in the verde, but I liked it anyway, not because of the cilantro mind you, but despite it. Now, it’s common knowledge that the cilantro taste is mitigated in the cooking process and in this case it was cooked. There was no extra fresh cilantro chiffonade or fresh cilantro finishing touch of any kind. As such it just sort of became one with the sauce. I don’t know what I’m saying here. This doesn’t make sense! This is so, so, absurd.
So I ordered the enchiladas with the very bright, pleasant, garlicky, limy, spicy sauce. It was perfect with the queso fresco and crema and yummy chicken and delicious house-made tortillas. The mole would have overwhelmed everything as (if you want my opinion) it does most everything it touches. In short, the chicken enchiladas verdes were good.
Now, this is not the post you’ve all been waiting for where I change my ways, start liking cilantro and ruin my blog. No. This is the post where I admit there was once a time in my life when I ate something that had cilantro in it and enjoyed it and much to the chagrin of you polarizing cilantro lovers out there–I’m OK with that. Existence precedes essence, if you know what I’m saying.
If you’re anything like me (first of all, God bless you — it’s messy up there, huh?) there are few things as amazing as stumbling across a movie, a book, a philosophy, anything that sort of lays it all out there in a way that not only connects seemingly disparate kinds of things and thoughts, but also does all that in a way that seems true (and you don’t know how you feel about this idea of “true” to begin with — that’s sort of what makes it special). Oprah would call that a light bulb moment; I’d call it learning something really cool, feeling a little more clued in to what’s really up.
So, in the event the foreshadowing has been inadequate, I had one of those experiences or, rather, the catalyst for one of those experiences watching Half Nelson the other day. The movie itself I really liked, but it’s this idea of dialectics that it deals with in explicit and more subversive ways that has me thinking about it still. Before the movie I really wasn’t familiar with these dialectics, but was very much attracted to how the protagonist (Mr. Dan Dunne) was teaching history — not how he was teaching high on crack, which admittedly leads to some practical problems, but that he was teaching through this dialectical lens, if you will. The lessons were dynamic and weird — I question whether the kids were getting it, but I choose to believe kids are as smart as I think they are, so I’ll give them and the movie the benefit of the doubt on that one — and I wanted to learn more about this philosophy that had gotten idealistic Dunne in such a frenzy, to both good and bad effect (to simplify: good = caring and engaging teacher; bad = self-hating drug addict with terrible personal relationships). So, I did what any self-respecting office job holder would do and googled dialectics at work. Suddenly I was reading Marx and Hegel and Wikipedia! Now I’m not going to try and explain the whole thing to y’all because 1) I only know what I know about it, which is relatively little and 2) I wouldn’t want to condescend to anyone who does actually really get it, especially the linguistic conventions of talking about philosophy. But, to the point, it has to do with conflict, paradox, change, progress, movement and uncertainty. In the context of history (of Half Nelson), we can understand events, changes and history itself as reactions to internal and external conflicts, as struggles between opposing forces: it isn’t cause and effect (if a then b). Dialectics doesn’t really work for science (or rather the scientific method; Darwin was all about this shit), but, if you ask me, science can teach us how to make an iPhone (debatable), but not how to live our lives. So, opposites and contradictions have at least three properties: 1) they’re interdependent, 2) they interpenetrate and 3) they’re in union. A lot of Eastern thought, to be totally Orientalist, relies on this — hence the beautiful green yin-yang you see, which is probably why I dig it and subconsciously why I found myself consulting the I Ching the day after watching Half Nelson. But, if it’s valid, to use a word, it ought to hold up to any part of my life, like, and here it is, my hatred of cilantro. How can dialectics inform my understanding of this hate? Well, as it turns out, it has totally shed some light. First, there’s hate in every love and love in every hate (that’s the interpenetration part — the little white and black dots in the yin-yang). What that really means to me is that nothing is pure, nothing is the real ideal of the thing ever, certainly not in reality. So, I can hate cilantro as much as pure hate is possible (and I do; I hate it more than mean people), but it’s only so possible. What’s more interesting to me is the interdependence of love and hate. For better or worse, I need cilantro lovers both to define myself, as in opposition to something and for tons of fodder — I love making fun of those morons. Without cilantro love, cilantro hate couldn’t exist, cilantro would just be. It couldn’t be loved or hated, or it would have gone extinct from lack of consumption or taken over like a weed or who knows but it certainly wouldn’t be like this: the silent culture war instigator that it is. Then, there’s the union of opposites, that the closer you get to the extreme of something the more it is it’s opposite. It’s like my friend Miki’s always saying, hate isn’t the opposite of love, indifference is; I think she’s right. In my case, it’s not so much that I hate cilantro so much that I love it; it’s that it’s become so much fun to hate it I kind of have a soft spot in my heart for it. I hate cilantro, but I love it too.