An excerpt from Isberg’s manifesto on ArtMetropole.com (.pdf), and then a few thoughts on loss, logos and (my) generation.
Lose the plot
When I started cooking, there were a set of skills that I was taught by my betters and as I recognized the worth of curving fingers behind the knife, adding water to a hollandaise to keep it from splitting and so on, I began to take their expertise as something definitive. As a result, I internalized not just the technique, but a belief in expertise and an adherence to the professional milieu, an attempt to replicate a script, simply to keep the restaurant-performance in play.
Eventually I shed many of these conceits and traded them for the ability to play, to trust the ingredients’ own potential and to give space to an ever increasing range of possibilities that come out of the (already and always present) loss of references, the loss of direction, the profound loss of a stable future, a loss of an income based on anything other than the whims of the public, the weather. In a way, cooking is inherently non-accumulative, you create and lose the creation almost immediately, so the process is already in place—and needs only to be extended to the thought process and feelings about what is important about what we do.
Lose your job
Restaurants, and much of our food culture, constitute a network born out of a post-war excess and defining ourselves through acquisition. Restaurants started as a way of separating one’s self from others and distilling surplus into delicacies, and have become a way of making this a way of identifying one’s self. The immense consolidation of resources they demand serve only harness abundance and distribute it along stable lines.
Restaurants are very cool these days, and they are at the forefront of many movements that attempt to preserve food culture. But for the wealth of talk about food as a political point, they remain deeply conservative. The valorization of the culinary professional perpetuates a sense that only certain people have the requisite skills. The reliance on wholesale distribution perpetuates monolithic production and distributive networks. The fetishization of specific foods makes them unaffordable. The strains on one food for a fleeting ethical concern about another collapses their stocks. The attempt to react to prevailing trends by substituting another usually just swings the pendulum in an equal and opposite way. Becoming a citizen through consumption in these contexts
makes people products of food networks rather than producers.
The world is defined more than ever by the risk we run by staying the same, but having absolutely no stable reference points with which we may move forward. More to the point, it is historical precedents that create the problem, but we aren’t doomed to repeat those mistakes again—the mistakes will be much worse.
Saving things, preserving borders, preserving history is a hoarding mentality, a desperate, sad, unnecessary compulsion that builds on itself out of fear of loss and a belief that scarcity is real. The reality is that excess being consolidated is the problem, like a blockage of chi in need of social acupuncture
For those of us that can afford to lose (the luxury of defined territories, oversimplified cataloging, overly simple ways of doing and being, and et cetera), this is one of the only moral acts left. To give space, time or money to an other is to reinforce the limits between the giver and receiver: charity is never generous.
To lose these things by acting in ways that are thoughtful, playful and un-clinging is to afford others the opportunity to enter into these networks and make them more complex, flexible and responsive to every actor within it while preserving our own sense of wonder and potential.
This manifesto is not exactly an encouragement toward becoming lost, because we are already. It’s not about losing things because you probably will lose them anyway. It is embracing that with a passion that holding on can’t compete with; accepting loss, impossibility and absolute futility as a way of trying something new.
Nathan Isberg, February 2014
Nathan Isberg has just opened an experimental new restaurant in Ontario, Canada operating under a “You’ll pay what you want, I’ll make what you want” model. Details here.
via @JustinPickard, whose Gonzo Futurist Manifesto is some of the initial inspiration.
Network culture, hey? It’s pretty exciting to see friends’ ideas go on and DO THINGS out there in the world. More to be said about this.
More also to be considered about this “loss” that Isberg foregrounds. It’s a model of innovation that sits in total contrast to the dominant model of entrepreneurship & innovation which - much as it tries to sell networked services - is still intensely ego-driven and individualistic, the Randian hero disrupting the social to great acclaim and profit.
I can call this model “macho” and you’ll get that - but I actually want to call it “phallic” in symbolic or psychoanalytic terms. I’ve just finished reading Chris Krause’s ‘I Love Dick' which grapples in its own way with questions of authorship and who can create, and what can be serious writing. She is radical for making a claim to the phallic realm of writing - phallic as in, standing up and sticking out and ejaculating (verb: “to shout or say something suddenly”). Phallic realm of writing as in Derridean phallogocentrism, the intimate intertwining of the word (logos) and the masculine subject that leaves the other mute.
But what if we wrote - or built, or innovated, or cooked - from this position (I think I will call it an ethic) of loss? Phallo/ego driven accumulation and territorialisation just looks… Foolish, or kind of exposed, these (end-of-) days. “What goes up must come down”, they say - the economic bubble will detumesce, that much is certain. And these days it’s not even that much fun while it lasted.
Networked, inter-permeable, complex, responsive, generous, flexible. To continue the metaphor, it’s an ethic of a generation who feel that everything’s been fucked over - the planet’s fucked, they’re fucked, the very concept of a future is fucked. An ethic of creation that starts from the principle, “Don’t be a dick.” Maybe that’s not a bad place to start.
There’s still desire - still the motivation to engage with and create the world we live in. This ethic of loss isn’t nihilism. It’s just - the model’s changed. Building a new world in the interstices, in the cracks opening up in the old world. Between.
"This manifesto is not exactly an encouragement toward becoming lost, because we are already," says Isberg.
It’s about how do you act, then?