Sound Bites: Roland Barthes


“To eat, to speak, to sing (need we add: to kiss?) are operations which have the same site of the body for origin.”–Roland Barthes, from “Reading Brillat-Savarin” in The Rustle of Language

The quote is taken from a section called “Language,” in which Barthes compares Brillat-Savarin’s appetite for words to his appetite for the luxury of taste. Brillat-Savarin, sometimes called the Father of Gastronomy since his Physionomy of Taste was an early and influential consideration of cooking and eating as science, had a penchant for archaic and obscure words (such as esculent, which suggests a far more luxurious quality than its definition admits). Brillat-Savarin also coined or dredged up an entire lexicon for the movements of the tongue; “Brillat-Savarin becomes a linguist,” Barthes puns; “he deals with food the way a phonetician would.”

Barthes doesn’t make a Just-So story out of his observation that all of the functions listed above–taking in, giving out, sharing–commence at the same part of the body; for the purposes of this essay, it’s one detail among many that suggest a meaningful parallel between food and language. Brillat-Savarin wrote the way he cooked and ate, Barthes suggests: with gusto, with precision, with pleasure. But what interests Barthes is what can be understood about language if it is viewed as an object as well as an expression of desire.

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