Place of Refuge

Place of Refuge

03 July 2010

a tomato is a tomato is

I am making a salad tonight,
and wondering why I bought
those damned tomatoes.

I really don't like American tomatoes
from the grocery store,
they are the blandest,
most vaguely structured
of tomatoes that I have ever

But I bought some.

You see, I had this extraordinary experience
a week or so ago,
when I made a recipe that called for
"heirloom tomatoes."

so I ate a bit of an heirloom
and thought:
hot damn, now that's a tomato!

Yeah, we're talking
red, firm, juicy surprising
tomatoey tomato 

~ ~

To tell the truth, I suspect
that deep in the annals of history
someone rewrote 
the story,
and said it was an apple,
because I am certain 
that the fruit
that Eve offered to Adam
was a tomato.

I mean really:
an apple is no big deal:
an apple is
an apple is an apple,
a tomato,
if it's really a tomato

is something to talk about.

What was that texture?
What was that taste?
And that surprising fluidity
amidst all the hardness?
A tomato make you aware
of fluids 
and non-fluids
and surprising tastes
that you never thought you would enjoy,
but yes, yes, you do, don't you--

Tomatoes are dangerous.

Eating a good tomato
makes you want to eat another,

eating a good apple
helps you shit better.

You know,
I can't help but notice
that when I flip through
(and I do)
I find I'm surrounded
by happy families.

Now, I have
nothing against happy families,
I come from one,
I wish I had one,
I don't.

I trudge
endlessly through time, dreaming
of just one more good

But in America,
tomatoes suck,
because American tomatoes are reproductions of tomatoes,
not tomatoes.
They are generally present to represent
(ie: the signifier, idea of tomato)

As some American chefs and mothers
might say:
just drop in a tomato for color.
And that is essentially 
what many American tomatoes have become:

a few weeks ago,
this recipe called for
"heirloom tomatoes,"
so I got them and while constructing,
I nibbled
and thought
hot damn, that's a tomato

$3.29 a pound
It was such a wonderful discovery, though,
that today I bought two
made a salad,
and now I eat it,

the taste of tomato

There it is, but
it's not so strong; still
it would pass 
as a modest homegrown.
The only other way I could get the taste of tomato
is to grow my own
But I don't have time.

This is the problem with America


America is the land of reproductions
gone amuck.

Brittney Spears is nothing but

Madonna to the next degree;

Jakob Dylan is his daddy's son,
just goin' his own way

( spinner )

Green Day reminds me an awful lot
of U2, but I still kind of like them

Washington DC is
an imitation of Athens Greece,
like many Americans citizens,
New Amsterdam
lost sight of the city it imitated
because of a name change,
though the traces
of the original intent
still linger.


America inherited
the compulsion to reproduce
even as it contained
a spirit that wouldn't settle
for the error of its fathers --

to put it another way:
nearly every group that moved
to America
did so because
something wasn't working out at home,
so they wanted to do it
their own way

But so many came to America and immediately sought
to reproduce
their impressions
of the best their father gave them.

That is the essence of the American split personality:

Americans are idealists
who want something better
Americans are trapped
in the compulsion to imitate
the best their father gave them;

America began identifying too much
with the compulsion to imitate
and too little
with the compulsion to be bold and
to leave the unrealistic demands of the father
and create something better

to the point where America is just full of
empty signifiers
and bad tomatoes.

A month or so ago,
I wrote about my coincidental connection
with the German philosopher
Walter Benjamin.

One of Benjamin's most influential writings
is called
"The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction."
That article helps me a little
in explaining what is happening
in America:

In 1936,
Benjamin contemplated how
mechanical reproduction
(ie: cameras & cinema)
could have a resounding impact on original art
(and ultimately, originality itself)

As he says,
"The technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object
from the domain of tradition.  By making many reproductions
it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence."

Now, of course if we consider
a piece of art
like the Mona Lisa,
even if we're standing in front of it,
we're already looking at
an act of reproduction:
DaVinci looked (we imagine)
at an actual woman
and reproduced her appearance on canvas.

The original, that Lisa
is dust today, but
that fabulous fabrication endures
and because it manages to capture a certain
spark - a certain
authenticity -
that painting has come to represent,
over time,
And over time, too, it has gained
more and more value
because it is an original,
and appropriately featured at
an artistic mecca.

Now, back to Benjamin:
as he so accurately foretold,
one does not have to follow the arrows
at the Louvre to behold the
Mona Lisa anymore;

one can buy it on a t-shirt,
or simple Google it.
Many are content to eyeball
Mona Lisa's reproduction,
a multitude of times removed from its hallowed source
so much so
that she has becoem fodder for defacement
or belittlement,
proving Benjamin's claim
that reproductive technology depletes the almost religious
"aura" of an original piece of art,
and with, it the value of originality itself.

( lovelywallpaper )

And what do we have left?
A multitude of imitations
of an inspired
on t-shirts
coffee cups
refrigerator magnets
advertisements  --

Benjamin sees this as inherently political, because
it turns artwork into commodities,
and I would have to agree:
artwork today is often produced to be reproduced,
as that's where the big money is.

~ ~ ~

As American film and television
became such a dominant force
in the 20th century, the same
true of people:

Bette Davis,
Mae West,
Marilyn Monroe,
Clark Gable,
George Clooney, even
Andy Griffith
Archie Bunker
Bill Cosby -
all became prototypes,
images to imitate
by a public impressed by impressive imitation.

The scary thing is: now,
some of the dominant public figures are not even real;
they are cartoon characters, line
drawings filled in with confused
that people actually think
are authentic and real

( topnews )

( ringdrangonz )

A bit like a grocery store tomato,
these figures are just vague outlines
of people,
several times removed from
the flesh and bone creatures that may
have inspired them,
and imminently much cheaper to produce
than a television show with actual actors.

O.K., so I don't 
have any answers to this rather lengthy
diatribe, but it is something
that I have wanted to say --
because I think America is such an important piece
in the puzzle of what humanity is all about,
but America seems to have gotten lost,
in a spooky hall of mirrors
and yes,
bad tomatoes -- but the real sin is:
people keep buying them,
and keep being content with color as opposed 
to taste; taste being the final effect 
of prolongued original attempts
at reproducing an original

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