I’m finished my exams, and I thought that all educational reflection was done for now–no more discourses and thinking! Then, yesterday morning, I re-heated last night’s dinner for breakfast. I had no idea, just then, that learning was to be afoot.
Anyways, the food in question was steak with a creamy mushroom sauce, alongside a baked potato. So I take the plate out of the fridge, put it into the microwave for 2 minutes on the High setting, and putter around the kitchen waiting for my food.
…That’s when I heard an ominous ‘pop’ sound come from the microwave. I was frightened then; did the potato explode? I hear they do that sometimes in microwaves—but this one was baked, so how could it do that? Exploding potatoes are only supposed to occur when they are solid, raw, and unscathed… but a baked potato challenges all of these criteria.
With trepidation I went to the microwave, wincing in advance, thinking of the clean-up job ahead of me… But alas, the potato was intact. However, the plate it was on was destroyed.
There was a split down the middle of the plate, a little bit of shattering had occurred, and the steak was on one side, separated from the potato by a fault line of broken porcelain.
I looked on in contemplation.
If I were chemistry major, I would probably be able to convincingly define this event in terms of those funny “ion” things–something about heat and expansion, and the rearrangement of particles?
That sounds about right.
However, I am no Chemistry major.
Instead, the only tools I have at hand are the products of an arts education… And how, do you ask, do they define the spectacle of my cracked plate, the separation of meat from potato?
More importantly, how does my education frame the way I experience life and the sights/events in it?
There is a chance that, for me, reality and the way I perceive it has been forever altered by the Faculty of Arts (but, tragically, not science) at the University of Toronto.
This school of thought could probably draw connections from the described event to the partition of Germany by the allied forces in the aftermath of WWII. The plate once held a meal that was whole and unified by the very concept of “meal-ness” (as Germany was a whole country, unified by “German-ness”). However, in the aftermath of a period of tension (cold plate vs. hot temperature of the microwaves) the allied forces (microwaves) ultimately divided what was once unified. The end result = a steak and a potato, separated by a sharp divide, which culminates in the recognition of difference (* see Berlin Wall). The two are no longer one and suddenly… steak seems extremely different from potato. This serves as a terrific cold war allegory, with steak representing American occupied capitalist West Germany, and Potato representing Russian Communist occupied East Germany.
Let’s go again with the idea that the breaking of the plate represents a false introduction of difference. One could say that in the most superficial sense Steak and Potato, as food products, share huge similarities. They go quite well together, one eats them both when one is hungry, and to be crass, the end result post-digestion renders them quite equal. Differences exist (nutritive value/components, how/where the foods are produced), however these differences do not divide the foods into hierarchies of difference. Instead, it is our ways of thinking about them that give them values of “better” or “worse”. The food pyramid, fad diets, these are cultural constructions that change the ways we interpret our food. This is like how gender divides the sexes, and inputs values on to “feminine” and “masculine”, and takes formerly benign traits, and assigns them to roles, and corresponding worth. The cracked plate is the construction of difference, an outside force that frames the steak and the potato. The crack is the western divide between masculinity and femininity. No longer one innocent meal, steak and potato become separate entities, their differences reinforced by the two different parts of the plate on which they rest.
An equity or post-colonial reading could also be constructed around a similar frame of argumentation.
The visual arts student, when capturing this moment either by means of photography, painting, pen and ink, basic pencil sketch, or any other medium of choice, would seek not to merely capture the image, but also the possible ramifications of the image. The spectacle becomes one worthy of artistic interpretation, when one considers how the roles of food and plate have been disrupted. “Plate” is typically taken to be the more permanent of the two. Meals come and go, but dishes remain. Food is transient, but the plate can be counted on. However, in this case, the plate has shown itself to be more fallible than the food it serves. The plate lies broken and useless, outlasted in usefulness by the food perched on top of it’s broken halves. This reversal of roles and expectations lifts everyday objects into a realm worthy of contemplation, and for this reason, a subject worth artistic representation. It can be inspiring, showing the brief triumph of steak over plate. However, it could also be depressing, since it depicts the futility of relying of roles that are not dependable, instead these roles are easily disrupted by chance, as steak, potato, and plate demonstrate when introduced to microwave.
Hinging on the Visual Arts explanation of Steak and Plate, one questions the very concept of “stability”. Both Steak and Plate are shown here to be non-permanent entities. Steak will be eaten (and was, I may point out) even if it outlasts Plate. Plate, thought to be long lasting, ultimately met the end of its life of use. Both Steak and Plate where then both created in the full knowledge that both would be destroyed—the steak would ultimately get eaten, and the plate, no matter what, in the end will ultimately be broken by some means or another. If stability means reliability and permanence, then stability does not apply to either Steak or Plate. So did Steak or Plate ever really exist? Lets say that stability is necessary for existence. If Steak and Plate are permanently in a state of flux and change (through the effects of time, breakdown etc. which exist whether or not the human eye can perceive it), then Steak and Plate are never continuously one thing. Steak and Plate can never exist because due to their continuously changing natures, since they are never the same from one point in time to another. The labels “Steak” and “Plate” fail to address the many changes both entities endure, and if these names are supposed to address the full range of changes the two endure, then the names are inaccurate for their lack of specificity. The very word “Steak” is therefore a falsity since it, in its act of providing a label, insinuates stability where stability does not exist.
Alright, now I could be technical and make some sort of literary theory connection…but lets be honest here, that’s never as fun as “close reading”. What does the metaphor of a broken plate mean in the text that is my life? Probably something to do with the false divisions that I see as being all too real when I engage in personal introspection–in other words, I think too much about little things.
Anyways, my mother eventually came into the kitchen and found me staring at a broken dish. She questioned why this was so; and because I could think of no quick answer I went about the business of cleaning up and trying to not be late for work.
The end result of all this, was that learning can make you conceptualize life in all sorts of, erm, “fascinating”, and “different” ways…however “snapping out of it,” and going about as you were is almost frighteningly easy.
No matter how many realities you can take a peek through, there always seems the be the same old one waiting for you when you come out of your little metaphysical journey.
Or maybe that’s just me.
Either way, I’m done mocking my own education for now.