Period Piece

Ember

Or

Silky Szeto
Silky Szeto

This is a great essay in Pacific Standard by John Gravois.  It should be read for its sheer skill and evident pleasure it brought the writer, then the reader.  But I couldn’t help looking at it anthropologically, breaking it down alphabetically, as above.  (I did the first image.  And Silky Szeto took pity on me and offered his alternative, used here by kind permission!)

A  Author spots something in the world (artisanal toast)

B  Author tracks trend to point of origin in the world (Trouble)

C Author discovers the originator (Giulietta Carrelli)

D Author discovers the origin myth which proves to have 3 layers:

D1 Carrelli as a Berkeley students conducts a culturematic experiment in the street, discovers the magic sociological properties of toast

D2 Carrelli wanders in the world before discovering a very wise man (Glenn)  on a beach who gives her essential advice (he is the Buddha CA style, hence his name)

D3 Toast and Trouble prove to be a very good solution to a deeply personal problem, Carrelli’s psychological affliction

E This is the trajectory of so much cultural meaning in American culture.  It begins as a  personal invention, created for  personal reasons, and then it finds its way by logical and diffusion stages into American culture, installing itself in our lives, as a much more public, but still resonant, meaning.  The personal becomes the public becomes the personal.  Think Z-dogs skating abandoned houses in southern California.  Think Alice Waters.  Think Lou Reed.  Think Pete Seeger.  Some film makers.  Most novelists.  All poets.

And I love how well this essay works as an essay.  This may have something to do with the double construction.  Gravois’s quest becomes a study of her quest.  Gravois gives us an artisanal treatment of her artisanal treatment.  The mythic construction. that’s evoked, not inked.  The “just so” quality of the story, how inevitable it feels.  Fragile, perilous,  but necessary.

(This is a nice thing to reckon with: necessary things that seem implausible and barely possible.  Maybe that’s the post hoc at work.  In the early 1970s Alice Waters’ revolution seems implausible.  But these days it now feels like something that had to happen.)

It’s fun to think how much American culture comes from the personal.  From individuals making cafes called Trouble and authors discovering them in essays called Toast.  Apparently, we have pipes down everywhere, there to capture innovations and bring them to the surface.  Meaning as energy.  I’m not sure we know enough about this process.  This is the social face of innovation.  We know how bags of data and thinking on technological and business innovation.  But the social stuff, that’s less clear.

Last thought

Sorry for my graphic.  I thought it would work as a kind of a road map for the post.  But really it just ends up looking like one of those combination locks on the driver’s door of a mid size, turn-of-the century Buick.  Sorry.  I really will have to talk to the guys in the lab.  Design, this is not something they know from.  Silky Szeto was kind enough to intervene with a second, better, graphic.  Thank you, Silky. See more on Silky’s splendid work here.

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