The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, December 12, 2003
 

It Ain't Necessarily So #94: Camembert


Via Crooked Timber, a long review in the Guardian of a book charting the history of the famous French cheese.

Just like Christmas and Scotland, today's Camembert is as authentic as the average tourist souvenir: mythical origin, industrial present.

The Anglo-Saxon notion of French rural life - grand châteaux and peasants as crusty as their bread - has a powerful hold on the imagination. It's a branch of the noble savage idea that has Westerners ga-ga over (supposedly) indigenous cultures all over the world. It's highly lucrative - and, as the camembert story illustrates, pretty facile.

One of the attractions of savage culture, as opposed to the Western variety, is their apparent vagueness of time. We have records of all sorts, with dates and names, cross-checkable. Every decent-sized town has a library with runs of the local rag - slowly, newspaper archives are getting online (August 22). The very word archive applies to blogs as well as the pipe-rolls of medieval England.

(Archiving itself is an activity with a checkable timeline: in England, it took a century or two after the Conquest in 1066 for officials to realise the benefits of government archives. And the use of such material for historical purposes took several centuries longer [1].)

Whereas, the savage has his dream-time, where (in the Western imagination) a comforting sort of stasis rules. Where natural calamities - floods, fires and so on - are recorded orally, the edges softened by a lack of 5Ws.

(Now is also the era in the West of oral history - which can offer a similar quality of comforting vagueness.)

I hate it! Checkability rules, OK - time out of mind is a tool for the pol or ad-man. (UK readers will remember the Hovis adverts of the 1970s, as purveying a false image of Northern life for pecuniary gain.)

(The paper on lynching I mentioned on December 2 is admirable not least because it frames in time a prime example of a modern dream-time icon - that the era classic lynching started in 1893 and stopped in 1937.)

  1. The first large selection from the English archives was the Foedera of Thomas Rymer, which he started work on in 1693. Some volumes of the Fœdera are available on Gallica.


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