March 14, 2016
What Would Leopold Bloom Do? Volume 7
by Josh Cook
Complex and confusing, filled with words you don’t know and people you don’t understand, life is even more difficult to navigate than Ulysses. But luckily, we have Ulysses to help us!
Why shouldn’t we be able to apply our reading efforts to our living efforts? Expansive, generous, humanist, funny, and, of course, difficult, Ulysses can provide answers to the questions kicked up like so much dust as we traverse our day.
Ask your questions, pose your problems, present your challenges, and Josh Cook, author of An Exaggerated Murder and resident Joyce expert, will dispense advice drawn from Joyce’s masterpiece. Just like Ulysses the advice will be serious, silly, and, of course, dirty as required, but always thoughtful and honest. You can send your inquiries to Josh at [email protected]!
Here’s our next question.
Life without Plumtree’s meat is incomplete, but what is life without SPAM? An abode of bliss? —Scared of Sodium in Saskatoon
Plumtree’s Potted Meat is a story about context. We know it’s a good enough product that the Bloom’s have some in their home (though one is allowed to wonder what “good enough product” is when we’re discussing shelf-stable meat in 1904), but Bloom’s attention is first drawn to it because it’s advertised (with a poem that doesn’t scan, mind you) with the obituaries. Bloom’s keen advertising eye notices the poor taste displayed by advertising for a “potted meat” company below the obituaries in the newspaper. Advertising is all about creating emotional associations and Bloom knows very few people will buy Plumtree’s if they associate its “potted meat,” with the “potted meat,” of dead bodies in coffins. For all we know, Plumtree’s Potted Meat is delicious (OK, there’s no way it was delicious. We don’t even know what kind of meat it is!), but the context makes it distasteful.
The Plumtree’s ad isn’t the only encounter Bloom has in which context influences his taste. We know that Bloom is fine with eating the nasty bits, and yet in Lestrygonians the sight of everyone else eating turns his stomach so that, though I’m sure he’s gotten on the outside of his share of pig knuckles, in this moment, with this context, that food is disgusting to him. So it’s a cheese sandwich and a nice burgundy for lunch. When we think about food in general and when we talk about what it means for food to taste “good,” too often we forget how important context is. Sure, the white table cloths and starchy waitstaff might not have any molecular effect on the food, but the context they provide absolutely affects how our brains interpret the taste of those molecules.
Spam might be the most context dependent food in America. So here are some contexts you and your abode might be in and their relationship to bliss and Spam. This list is by no means exhaustive, but I believe its principles can extracted and applied to a myriad of other abode/Spam scenarios.
The Abode You Just Moved Into: Finding oven cleaner left behind by whoever moved out is one thing, but finding a can of Spam in the cupboard is baffling to the point of madness. (I mean, why didn’t they take it. It’s not like it’s going to go bad, right? Maybe it’s memory is bound up to a really bad break-up? Like it was a gift or something? I mean, they took everything else, so they must have left it behind on purpose…) So in this context, the Spam-less abode is much closer to bliss.
Your Abode is in Hawaii: In this case, a house without Spam would be incomplete.
A Zombie Apocalypse Bag in Your Abode: Only if an allergy prevents you from using that space for peanut butter.
You Promised You’d Impress Your Friends with Dinner in Your Abode and You Totally Spaced on It but You’ve Got Some Leftover Rice: Who’s making fun of Spam now? Stay with me here: dice the Spam, fried it up with the rice, a little oil to get the heat moving around, soy sauce (the only time I’d recommend using low sodium soy sauce if you’ve got it), maybe some kimchi or siracha if you’ve got that kicking around, and if you can control a few other aspects of the context (see what I did there) you will blow your friends mind. From then on your abode without Spam will feel incomplete.
Josh Cook is a bookseller at Porter Square Books. His first novel, An Exaggerated Murder, was published by Melville House in March 2015.