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Latke Hamantaschen Debate


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Latke Hamantash Academic Debate at Johns Hopkins University, December 2010.

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Latke Hamantaschen Debate

  1. 1. The Latke: Vive la DifféranceThe joyous interplay of signifiers; the infinite play of meaning. The Significant Latke
  2. 2. Signifier/signified relationshipLet us begin with a review of the basis oflanguage as we understand it -- with thesignifier/signified relationship. A word, letus say “latke” or “hamantash,” is asignifier that signifies a thing, an idea.Language systems are built on this idea,this relationship, as well as the idea ofdifferences between signifiers.
  3. 3. Latke = Hamantash =The Signifier / Signified relation is obvious
  4. 4. One of these Signifieds has a variety of Signifiers: Latke Hamantash Potato Pancake, Hash Brown Hamentash Boxty (Ireland), Rårakor (Sweden) Gamjajeon (Korea), Rösti (Swiss) Deruny (Ukraine), Aloo tikki (India) Kartoffelpuffer (Germany), etc.
  5. 5. And one Signifier has a variety of Signifeds: Latkes Hamantashen
  6. 6. Given the merits of almost unlimitedsignification, the signifier ‘Latke’ has more play than ‘Hamantash’ Let me explain: In 1966, here at Johns Hopkins, Jacques Derrida presented his groundbreaking work: “Structure Sign and Play in the Discourse of Human Sciences,” in which he pondered the unsettling of firm and inflexible signifier / signified relationships. Derrida argued that a Center or Transcendental Signifier limits the play of signification.
  7. 7. So what is a TranscendentalSignifier and why is it a problem? In semiotic terms, the TS is the ultimate source of meaning, the eye watching over things, saying what signifies what. The history of western philosophy, according to Derrida, has involved the belief in and search for The Transcendental Signifier, the Signifier of all signifiers, the concept that stabilizes the system of meaning and limits interpretive possibility. Call it Truth or the Platonic Ideal or G-d, or Man, or The Unconscious, or, for our purposes, Haman.
  8. 8. You can’t have Hamantashen without evoking Haman:Hamantaschen Haman’s pocketsHaman tash -- Heb. “Haman was weakened”Oznei Haman Haman’s ears
  9. 9. Haman watches over and stabilizes all HamantashenThe upside of a stable system is stability. Everyone knows exactly what a hamantash is.A hamantash is always just a hamantash, never a cigar, not an oreo nor a jelly roll. Applesauce rolled up in a latke is not a hamantash.The downside is the loss of interpretive possibility, of the joy of questioning, of the reveling in You can’t theorize ambiguity, of the play of Hamantashen signification.
  10. 10. Nobody is watching over the ‘latke,’which is many things to many people (shredded potato, maybe potato meal, maybe some parsley, maybe parsnips, maybe only matzo meal and no potato, maybe onions, maybe not, many eggs, maybe only one, maybe lots of oil, maybe not so much, maybe one big pancake, maybe many small ones….) And these pancakes can be called by many names and still signify ‘latke.’
  11. 11. Of LatketologyNow let us consider the coming into being of the latke and the community of latkes.A latke is always a matter of a joyous interplay of deconstructed signifieds. The strands of the potato are no longer “a potato” but “potato,” differentiated from “oil” and from “egg” -- egg-matter that is no longer “an egg” but “egg.” These elements meet post- structurally to become a latke.
  12. 12. Structural Elements of a Latke
  13. 13. Only post-structurally can we ask criticalontological questions such as: When do grated potatoes, eggs, and oil become a latke?
  14. 14. Only the latke provokes us to ask, withSpinoza, if we can separate substancefrom attribute? Can we say where one latke ends and another begins?
  15. 15. Michel Foucault (though not a Jew) yet ponders: Who or what is the author of a latke?
  16. 16. Emile Durkheim studied smallcommunities of latkes able to maintain both integrity and coherence Society, he said, was more than a sum of its parts
  17. 17. Gregor Mendel studied inheritedLatke family traits and resemblances
  18. 18. Here is the Freudian Family Romance, or perhaps the Latkean Superego repressing the Ego and the Id
  19. 19. The Latke provokes such mind play;puts our mind in a Derridian state of flux The latke’s Différance is its joyous heterogeneity. The word was coined by Derrida to describe and perform the way that any single meaning of a concept or text arises only by the effacement of other possible meanings, which are really only deferred, left over, for their possible activation in other contexts, like the egg and oil and potato at the bottom of the bowl. This Différance allows an infinite number of possible contexts and textual meaning, modifying notions of identity and difference.
  20. 20. Where does one latke end and another begin?
  21. 21. The playful Latke has nocenter and yet is the center of all philosophy
  22. 22. Hollis Robbins, Ph.D.Johns Hopkins UniversityLatke-Hamentash Debate December 2010 (winner)