Thursday, April 02, 2009

'And he himself had become unplaced'



I have often felt unsettled, and further unmoored from national allegiance (were that possible or necessary), upon visiting those uncanny establishments where compatriots caught between languages, in some kind of congealed gastronomic time, serve food that somehow connotes 'Italianness' here in Albion. But I never thought metaphysical insight could be garnered from such locales, until coming across this remarkable passage from Conrad's The Secret Agent:

On going out the Assistant Commissioner made to himself the observation that patrons of the place had lost in frequentation of fraudulent cookery all their national and private characteristics. And this was strange, since the Italian restaurant is such a peculiarly British institution. But these people were as denationalised as the dishes set before them with every circumstance of unstamped respectability. Neither was their personality stamped in any way, professionally, socially or racially. They seemed created for the Italian restaurant, unless the Italian restaurant had been perchance created for them. But that last hypothesis was unthinkable, since one could not place them anywhere outside those special establishments. One never met these enigmatical persons elsewhere. It was impossible to form a precise idea what occupations they followed by day and where they went to bed at night. And he himself had become unplaced.

3 Comments:

Blogger CR said...

I recommended that very section of The Secret Agent to a newly accepted phd student just yesterday... I recommend it all the time, as it does so much good work so quickly and presciently about space/modernity/identity. Amazingly good...

For you fan. project you should definitely take a look at Under Western Eyes as well... Probably even better on the topic...

2:30 AM  
Blogger Savonarola said...

Much obliged for the reference, I owe you a denationalised and enigmatical pint.

2:38 AM  
Blogger CR said...

Oh and (now that you've got me thinking about this...) the interesting thing about it in regard to the overall thematics of the book is its relationship to the period's generalized anxiety about the free movement of political actors across borders that led to (from what I understand) the real rise in passport requirements etc. (Nasty Italian anarchists floating around the world!) Be interesting to think where a anti-terror cop could eat today have a sort of fantasy about being outside of the regime of biometric identification...

OK - I'll try to stop thinking about this now...

3:05 AM  

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