Hun 10, 2016

Notes on Gertrude Stein’s “Veal”

Very well very well, washing is old, washing is washing.

Cold soup, cold soup clear and particular and a principal a principal question to put into.

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[ bartleby ]

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K—

D— washing is old,

Veal is the meat of the young, more expensive and tender. Washing could be that key and ancient practice of cleaning your meat before cooking. Something that could be taken for granted very easily. It could be a psychic or spiritual (even ritual) cleansing, as this is a sacrifice of calf or lamb for the sake of taste. Not necessity.

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D— I remember a discussion on kosher in one of the Stein threads. Veal must be something of a controversy in that regard.

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D—Yes, technically veal is kosher so long as it’s from official animals and cut in the proper method. Hence the controversy. Some rabbis would like us to look at the principles, and from that there’s a lot going into the conditions in which the animals are kept and raised, how it’s translated from farm to table:
The idea of linking kosher food with other ethical issues is not new. In the 1970s, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein of New York urged Jews not to eat veal. In the late 1980s, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, a leader of the Jewish Renewal movement, wrote that Jews should examine all the resources they consume, not just food, to determine if they were “kosher” in the broadest sense of the word.

There’s more, but I don’t know, maybe this is a very small minority:
Clearly Rabbi Levy was implying that some, I emphasize some and not all, Reform Jews might wish to refrain from eating the foods that are cited as forbidden in our Torah portion. He also seemed to suggest that some Reform Jews might wish to express their social consciousness by not eating veal that comes from calves that were raised in a cruel manner or crops that are cultivated and harvested with the use of pesticides, which are dangerous to farm workers. Rabbi Levy was seeking to explore a range of possibilities for Reform observance, some hearkening back to ancient tradition and some quite modern in spirit.

Still, it’s worth noting that scriptural ethics is at odds with other moral systems and this leads to an internal crisis:
If these unethical violations seem too anomalous an occurrence to judge the entirety of kashrut on, though, consider the fact that within the system itself there abound examples of unethical practices. For example, veal is a common  kosher dish served on Jewish dinner tables across the country, but its production is anything but humane. According to the American Humane Society, hundreds of thousands of calves raised for veal are confined in cages so compact that they cannot move their bodies for their entire sixteen-week lives. While this is the case for both kosher and non-kosher veal production, if there is no distinction between the ways in which kosher and non-kosher factory farms raise veal, what other factors distinguish kosher veal from non-kosher veal? In what sense is it more moral to eat kosher veal?
Very well very well, washing is old, washing is washing.

It’s been justified from the very beginning. And this old white-washing, it’s still at it.

Cold soup, cold soup clear and particular and a principal a principal question to put into.

Could that coldness be a judgment? That these producers (and consumers?) of veal are cold-blooded. They follow a divine code and yet there’s this "clear" outrageous practice that the code condones. And the existence of such "little" issues puts into question the universality and goodness of the rules.

For me, it’s not about moral qualms on the part of Stein. Just because someone drinks coke doesn’t mean this guy’s not mindful of how the multinational corporation runs down local economies and ruins teeth the world over. I think that Stein’s sensing hypocrisy and would like to enter that into what veal is supposed to mean. As in celery, she tries to restore the history of the food as part of the food, as something we consume without knowing we consume it, that we are continuing and absorbing ages-old ideas (slavery, elitism, all manners of prejudice) just by cooking and eating something.

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D— Very well very well, washing is old, washing is washing.

Id look into the youngest of the crew, Pip. He jumps out of the boat twice, washed, so to speak. “Very well very well” seems to lead to a revision (or greater specification) of plans once new factors are identified. It might also lead to compromise. A whale is loosed to save Pip, and no one’s too happy about it.

Cold soup, cold soup clear and particular and a principal a principal question to put into.

No one, that is, except maybe for Captain Ahab. The next time Pip jumps in the water he is stranded there or a long time, in that “awful lonesomeness” (cold soup, cold soup). Captain Ahab looks at Pip as if he is some compass into fate, or to the real (clear) nature of things. I vaguely remember a chapter where Ahab takes Pip aside and confers with him beyond earshot of other sailors but within view. I think he took Pip out on a small boat? Anyway, if so, this is where that principal question was entered.

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D— There are tales and practices where important structures like bridges and large bells would be cursed, would prove dangerous if the builders neglect to pour baby or virgin blood.

The Judeo-Christian tradition is littered with the remains of the young and the innocent. Abel, the son of Abraham (almost, and it was a close call), the firstborn children behind the unmarked Egyptian doors, and Herod’s infanticide. It’s usually done to curtail power (as in those offered to the Minotaur in Greek mythology), keep it on one side or the other, the adults refusing to pass it on to successors or soon-to-be-upstarts. Now if Jesus is God’s lamb, then it might be Pilate doing the washing:

Very well very well, washing is old, washing is washing.

It’s that “very well very well” that puzzles me, though your “well” as noun is fascinating. Tears welling up? It does sound as if the word “veal” was butterflied and unfolded.

clear and particular and a principal a principal question to put into.

In Moby-Dick, what comes closest to all this is Pip. Ahab’s that principal (they belong in the cabin, thanks, K—, I misplaced them earlier) and his quest and question in the heart of the hunt as well as the book. I remember encountering “principal” in Stein’s office once before. It seems to come into this too... and some schoolgirl or schoolboy is about to get it.

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