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Tomato bashing

Contre-culture psychique
Traduction de Fanny Quément
Cet article est une traduction de :
Le lynchage à la tomate [fr]

Résumé

Supreme irony: current research on tomato bashing is still based on a spoof paper written by Georges Perec. His 1974 publication entitled Cantatrix Sopranica L. focuses on the lyrical impact of tomato throwing upon female opera singers. Beyond the game that consists in poetically and ironically contributing to this editorial field and mimicking the postures of academic speech, there remain epistemological consequences exceeding the references intertwined in the text under study. To further the investigation beyond irony, we must start again from somewhere below it, for irony seems, in and of itself – but can irony, a distancing process per se, be read in itself? – to terminate the investigation. Rather than adding to the parodic commentary of a scientific parody, we shall take this spoof as an opportunity to deal with the counter-psychic coordinates of interlocked failures: the failure of the artist under attack; Perec’s mock failure, which is meant to deride the stylistic wreck of academia; the frosty reception of his paper (so entombed in its Perecquian bibliographical maze that it misses many a blind spot, such as the industrial dimension of the morphologic standardisation of tomatoes, the cultural history of vegetal projectiles, the complex relations between science and literature, etc.) and, after too many attempts, our own failure in relishing the Perecquian concentrate and rigorously assessing the quality of the throw or/and ductility of the projectile in relation to the antisimplicity of the gestural parameters, the internal and external motives initiating such attacks and how the victim can be stimulated into broadening their range of theatrical pleasures, the reactivity of the spectators that do not have any tomato, of those whose tomatoes remain un-thrown, of those using alternative projectiles or/and opting for alternative targets, and the historical aspects of this practice (from the evolution of aesthetic punishments to the commercial and agricultural genealogy of the tomato, as well as the political and poetical consequences brought about by the successive standardisations that have been operated on various scales).

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Introduction

  • 1 Duyckaerts Éric, Épigone, 12'13'', Mac/Val Production, 2011.
  • 2 For the most talented, this goes as far as feigning the hyperobviousness of the idleness of the pa (...)
  • 3 The most exhausting moralities are, of course, those ranking activity above inactivity, even when (...)
  • 4 For a definition of external conditioning, see Sartre Jean-Paul, Critique of Dialectal Reason, tra (...)

1“Very, very inappropriate”1: this is how Éric Duyckaerts could have qualified the behaviour of those who remain absolutely inert at the opera. And in fact, there exists an extensive scientific literature catching spectators in the act of feigning idle immersion in the hyperobviousness of their passivity.2 As mazy as they promise to be, the morals of listening always lead to the same discovery: any spectator, even the most explicitly passive, is actually very, very active!3 The stimuli helping to heuristically enjoy the resulting expenditure are in many ways externally conditioned.4 Only three of them will be mentioned here, from the most internalised to the less latent:

  • 5 Nancy Jean-Luc, Listening, translated by Charlotte Mandell, New York, Fordham University Press, 20 (...)

2- the self-excited audience, whose excitement is hardly perceptible, but so conceptually dense and phenomenologically vast that it requires a typographic display of innumerable inverted comas, brackets and italics, along with the apposition of embedded rhetorical precautions: “To be listening is thus to enter into tension and to be on the lookout for a relation to self: not, it should be emphasized, a relationship to “me” (the supposedly given subject), or to the “self” of the other (the speaker, the musician, also supposedly given, with his subjectivity), but to the relationship in self, so to speak, as it forms a “self” or a “to itself” in general, and if something like that ever does reach the end of its formation.”5

  • 6 Kaltenecker Martin, L’Oreille divisée. Les discours sur l’écoute musicale aux xviiie et xixe siècl (...)

3- the onto-excited audience, an objectified mirroring of the self-excited audience, sees its mental activity maintained — out of principle, or on supposition — in the tension that builds up between the audience and the work, as when concert programmer Johann Nikolaus Forkel believed figures and tropes pertained to “the faculties of the listener”.6

  • 7 Szendy Peter, Listen, A History of our Ears, translated by Charlotte Mandell, New York, Fordham Un (...)
  • 8 Szendy Peter, All Ears, The Aesthetics of Espionage, translated by Roland Végso, New York, Fordham (...)

4- the socio-excited audience: Thadée Tyszkiewicz’s legal action (1853) against Weber’s “Freyschutz [sic]” – which he described as “scraps sewn together without the slightest concern for stage design, without the least musical feeling” – shows that a spectator could feel so offended by a disrespectful work as to sue the Imperial Music Academy, held responsible for the “ridiculous potpourri”;7 and thanks to Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera, we know it is when discord prevails, as on “a battlefield”,8 that the audience is most active.

  • 9 We must admit this excitement goes with a blind spot: the socio-typology of the under-excited audi (...)
  • 10 See Bailly Jean-Christophe and his idea of the opera as a “rite of class narcissism” in “Metaclass (...)
  • 11 See Feneyrou Laurent, “Réceptions de la Cinquième Symphonie”, a conference given on November 10th, (...)

5How socio-exciting it is to produce a typology of socio-excitologists!9 From the hyperirritable mode10 to artistic stance,11 quixotic legal precedents and fanciful fictions, cases of socio-excitation are incomparably more exciting than any speculation about the listener silently getting excited. So, to prolong the excitement in our way, let us suggest a sub-typology of the socio-excited audience:

  • 12 Jardin Étienne, “Les siffleurs de concerto”, a conference given in the Auditorium Rainier III de M (...)

6- inter-individual socio-excitations are the ones that most strongly tend to be explicitly expressed and reified through interaction (applause, cheering, hooting,12 shouting, flower flinging, fruit throwing, lighter waving or, in a second phase, reviews, flogging, canonising, etc.);

  • 13 Lahire Bernard, La Culture des individus. Dissonances culturelles et distinction de soi, Paris, La (...)

7- intraindividual socio-excitations are inner excitations nevertheless calibrated by repercussions of mirror interactions. They show an alterity in the for-itself of the in-itself (which is porous to the for-yourselves of the between-ourselves): music dismissed for ideological reasons (with various degrees of openness to the musical feeling itself), “shameful” or “guilty” musical pleasures (as when the music is too elementary for the listener to admit they like it), accidentally experienced musical emotions (“Ooh! That illegitimate music in the paint department, it was so moving, I wasn’t expecting it, I’m really experiencing cultural dissonances13 that I cannot use to distinguish myself, especially since everyone experiences such dissonances, frequently or occasionally”);

8- inter-individual self-excitations are the reflux of intraindividual sequences trying to take a new turn by counterfeiting indigestible socio-excitations, as when the self-conscious manly man listens to heavy metal and sees his manliness confirmed, preferring social capital to musical pleasure (as if the one excluded the other), or when a comedian sacrificing the authenticity of their narcissistic ideal performs La traviata to make everybody laugh, on the market of aesthetic flux (values and objects).

9Hence, if one cannot let oneself sink into absolute lethargy when at the opera, some reactions are nonetheless more spectacular than others.

How the tomato became the transitional object of aesthetic decompensation

  • 14 Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary, edited by Abner Kneeland (Boston: J. Q. Adams, 1836), “Liberty (...)
  • 15 Many thanks to Laura Naudeix, Manuel Comejo and Bertrand Porot for having drawn our attention to t (...)

10The tradition of fruit throwing (the genealogy of which includes a whole variety of fruit, such as cucumbers, apples, oranges and tomatoes) constitutes at once a stigma, a trophy and a consecration of the musical flop in its theatrical dimension. In 1615, in his prologue to Ocho comedias y ocho entremeses, Cervantès wrote: “All these plays were staged without a single cucumber offering or any other ordinary fruit throwing, and lived a life without shouts, hoots or tumult”. In 1661, in Les Oeuvres de poésie de M. Pierre Perrin, Pierre Perrin de Chassagne wrote: “But he is not of this world the one who does not know we shouted “cuckoos!”, and that the sovereign’s guards had great difficulty protecting them delle Sischiate e delle Merangole in this libertine country.” Two years later, in Portrait du peintre, ou la Contre-Critique de l’École des femmes (1663), Molière wrote: “Will Normandy have apples enough / to throw at the poor men they laugh off?” In 1682, Jean Racine’s epigram Sur l’Aspar de M. de Fontenelle included the lines: “Boyer taught the audience how to yawn / As for Pradon, if I remember well, / He was offered many an apple.” A handwritten letter from the 1740s gives evidence of an uproar with orange throwing at the Opéra-Comique. In 1764, Voltaire put forward a new idea: fruit throwing is not the alternative to consensus, but the retort to a dishonest shaping of opinion, or the sign that a dissensus is experienced as hurtful. In “Liberty of opinion”, an entry in his Philosophical Dictionary, Voltaire has Boldmind say: “When we assist at a spectacle, every one freely tells his opinion of it, and the public peace is not thereby disturbed; but if some insolent protector of a poet would force all people of taste to proclaim that to be good which appears to them bad, blows would follow, and the two parties would throw apples of discord at one another’s heads, as once happened at London.”14 In 1840, it was stated in Pictures of the French that “If the sylph of the opera, the divine Taglioni, instead of fluttering in the air, were to hobble and stumble over the stage, the public would have the impudence to pelt her with orange-peel.” And this is from an 1880 issue of Le Triboulet: “All galleries patient enough to take aim will throw their apples at the first-floor boxes.”15

  • 16 Not to mention the archaeology that Pierre Senges made up to honour the inside/outside tension pro (...)
  • 17 Perec Georges, Cantatrix sopranica L.: Scientific Papers, translated by Antony Melville, Ian Monk (...)

11In short, if the literary sources are many,16 scientific research on the topic is highly restricted and tomatocentric. And here is the ironic twist: tomato-bashing studies are still based on a spoof paper by Georges Perec, which starts with a review of fictional scientific papers about “tomato as well as cabbages, apples, cream tarts, shoes, buts and anvil throwing (Harvar & Mercy, 1973)”.17

12Cantatrix sopranica L. is a study of the lyrical impact (“tomato-topic organization”) of tomato throwing upon female opera singers. With a title playing on the complexity of scientific stylistics, “Experimental demonstration of the tomato-topic organization in the Soprano (Cantatrix sopranica L.)” was initially written in 1974 as a retirement gift to Marthe Bonvallet, a member of the neurophysiology laboratory at the Saint-Antoine hospital. By another twist of fate (combined with a Matilda effect), when the general public remember Marthe Bonvallet, it is only as the dedicatee of Perec’s tomatoes. But as soon as her retirement is remembered, one forgets to see in her work several structural and analytical axes that are picked up again in Cantatrix sopranica L. Indeed, a comparative reading of Bonvallet and Perec reveals stylistic and graphical affinities that do seem deliberate. Another look at Bonvallet’s older turns of phrases will show they could be confused with Perec’s, and therefore confirm this parodic relationship:

  • 18 Bonvallet Marthe and B. Minz, “Actions de l’acétylcholine et de l’adrénaline sur l’excitabilité mé (...)

In 1932, Feldberg and Minz, working on a pharmacodynamic analysis of the “nicotinic” effect of acetylcholine, had observed that injecting strong doses of this substance caused general contractions and muscular fibrillations in the Dog. Symptoms stopped after the destruction of the centres. In 1934, Dikshit noticed that injecting acetylcholine in the cerebral ventricle of Cats led to respiratory arrest and in some cases to cardiac arrhythmia, observed during the centripetal excitation of the vagus. Henderson and Wilson (1936) recently obtained similar results with Men.18

13Substance and rigour are blithely replaced with a mass of cited works, and if Bonvallet jumps from dog to cat, why not getting off on the donkey sidetrack? This is what Perec imitates in his showcasing of a fictional bibliography to which he could easily add titles, for these sources of his own making were a hotchpotch (more on this later) of neuroscientific studies, architectural investigations, recipes and political speeches:

  • 19 Perec Georges, op. cit., p. 13.

Although numerous behavioral (Zeeg & Puss, 1931; Roux & Combaluzier, 1932; Sinon et al., 1948), pathological (Hun & Deu, 1960), comparative (Karybb & Szýla, 1973) and follow-up (Else & Vire, 1974) studies have permitted a valuable description of these typical responses, neuroanatomical, as well as neurophysiological data, are, in spite of their number, surprisingly confusing. In their henceforth late twenties’ classical demonstrations, Chou & Lai (1927a, b, c, 1928a, b, 1929a, 1930) have ruled out the hypothesis of a pure facio-facial nociceptive reflex that has been advanced for many years by a number of authors (Mace & Doyne, 1912; Payre & Tairnelle, 1916, Sornette & Billevayze, 1925).19

14However, now that these marked similarities have been noted, it is obvious that despite his strenuous efforts, Georges was too much cloistered in his games of constraints and could not rival with Marthe’s lyrical surges, which cause momentous disruptions in her reasoning:

  • 20 Bonvallet Marthe, Albe-fessard D. & A. Fessard, “Quelques Expériences de Contrôle à Propos de Vari (...)

We tested the original experiment on the Guinea Pig by similarly studying the variations of the chronaxie in motor nerves reaching antagonistic muscles; but we moved away from the usual protocol to try and diminish the fortuitous causes of variability which, when precision is required, are quite common in a woken animal and the use of percutaneous stimulation.20

  • 21 One should note that Perec does not consider the possibility that the soprano’s smile may be a for (...)
  • 22 Regarding the becoming-gaseous of reactivity, see Corteel Delphine, Houdart Sophie, Guitard Émilie (...)
  • 23 Let us remark, however, that Noah’s botanical blindness is not complete: some sources present Noah (...)

15Be it deliberate or not, in making a few methodological adjustments that highlight experimental variability at the very moment when her demonstration hopes to wipe it off, Marthe Bonvallet composed a literary piece of unequalled sophistication. The most striking difference between Bonvallet and Perec is that the researcher (MB) tortures any animal she can push around (Dogs, Cats, Rats, Frogs and perhaps even Wolves, Lions, Worms, Alligators…), whereas the research engineer (GP) does not torment any non-human animal; he is even concerned with the suffering of Sopranoes, ironically specifying that “the fact that the animals were not suffering from pain was shown by their constant smiling throughout the experiments.”21 How come, then, that he neglects the agonizing pain of the tomatoes crashing on the singer? Like any other antispecist, Perec is first and foremost anthropocentric in his approach since he does not show any concern for vegetal pain, and therefore widens all the more yellingly22 a gap between two kinds of living creatures. Playing with anthropomorphism, he admits an equivalence of pain in sopranoes and animals. But the anthropocentrism of his relative transpecism establishes a hierarchy in the pains to be taken into account (or not). As it has often been remarked, this botanical blind spot already guided Noah in his choice to save all living things by embarking nearly exclusively animals,23 and it is so pervasive as to loom again in the flash game “Lancer de tomates !”, which invites players to “bomb the fat ballerina with tomatoes”, instrumentalising the fruit to foreground the ballerina’s pain desired by the player, surely a lightweight fat-shamer.

  • 24 URL: http://www.k-netweb.net/projects/lancerdetomates/ Accessed September 7th, 2020, and tested wh (...)

Figure 1: screen shots from the game “Lancer de Tomates !”24

Figure 1: screen shots from the game “Lancer de Tomates !”24
  • 25 However, all this being about playing with food, some people decided to make the most of this oppo (...)

16For want of a soundtrack, the game adds musical deafness to botanical blindness, thus slighting the aesthetic disappointment supposed to justify the attack. All in all, what the game designer wants, just like the player – and like Perec – is not so much to stage a real critical flogging as to feel the good old joy of playing the coconut shy.25

Figure 2:

Figure 2:

Appel H.M., Cocroft R.B. Plants respond to leaf vibrations caused by insect herbivore chewing. Oecologia 175, 1257-1266 (2014). https://doi.org/​10.1007/​s00442-014-2995-6.

  • 26 Appel Heidi and R.B. Cocroft, “Plants respond to leaf vibrations caused by insect herbivore chewin (...)
  • 27 See Christoffel David, La musique vous veut du bien, Paris, PUF, 2018, p. 33.

17When using a tomato as a projectile, you don’t care about its opinion: you assume the fruit was deaf to the lyrical performance. Yet, since the days when Perec wrote his paper, it has been discovered that plants react to strictly acoustic stimuli. Appel and Cocroft have notably exposed salads to the sound of a threatening caterpillar and shown the very sound of the predator was enough to trigger the defensive chemical reaction in the salad.26 Alas, alluding to the musical sensibility of plants remains subject to persistent irony, since the main reference on the topic is a strip by Franquin, in which Gaston Lagaffe can be seen “wishing to ensure his ivy’s general well-being by playing a little tune on his Gaffophone, and is very sad to see the dear plant fly away through the window.”27 Gaston’s ivy is not dissimilar to the poetry lover Nani Ballestrini portrays in his poem “La poésie fait beaucoup de bien” (“Poetry Makes you Feel Real Good”):

  • 28 Balestrini Nanni, Chaosmogonie, Bordeaux, Éditions La Tempête, 2020), p. 27. Concerning the links (...)

anyone is free to act as they choose
free to leave if not in the mood for poetry
glad to hear it
it’s not like we’re gonna hoot them when they stand up and leave the house
hurling fiery insults
you mean bastard go rot in a sack arsehole son of a bitch
throwing things
books shoes mozzarellas28

18Even if it is in the form of a counterhypothesis, Nanni Ballestrini does imagine the attack would be targeted at the stray spectator who came there only because “he had nothing else to do”, and not at the poet (even if he did not have the excuse not to know). Was Perec perfectly aware of this subtle point when he finally published Cantatrix sopranica L. in a poetry journal? This is to be examined.

Genealogy of an editorial positioning

  • 29 In no way do we intend to become advocates of tomato throwing, and it is precisely because we do n (...)
  • 30 The specificity of playfulness may lie in the way it pushes its subject into the background and fo (...)

19Perec’s spoof presents itself as a weapon against carnivalesque research in so far as, under the pretext of dealing with the effect of a musical washout, the author stages the conditions necessary to an academic flunk. However, in strictly keeping tomato-bashing studies within a carnivalesque register, at the cost of scientific pluralism,29 the parodic and institutional game tends to lose value. This fallout is enhanced by a reception systematically focusing on Perec’s playful irony30 in Cantatrix sopranica L. Here is one of many examples:

  • 31 Legrand Patrick, « “Cantatrix sopranica L. et autres écrits scientifiques” de G. Perec », Courrier (...)

Georges Perec, a documentalist and a technician at the CNRS, knew them very well, his scientists, with their vanity, their rules, their constraints and myths. In this funny little paper, he went as far as to elevate the scientific spoof to a level beyond satire, a higher point, an elsewhere: he turned it into an experimental form methodically debunking the formalism of scientific papers, the common template underlying any publication in any field, their symbolism and even their perversity. […] Obviously, readers can simply relish the joke and stop there. But there is more to it than that: this opuscule should regularly be read by any member of any review panel, for it is a clear and methodical warning against the risks of a form which, regarded as an absolute norm, can end up making any thesis seem verified.31

20If we believe it is worth quoting extensively from this paper, it is because we want to show it misses major points, such as:

  • the joy or necessity of throwing tomatoes,
  • the pain or pleasure of the soprano,
  • the development of an intercultural approach to the various projectiles used in operatic attacks,
  • the nuances of the musical repertoire, without which the spectator’s brutality would be purely gratuitous (so what?), etc.

21Perec’s paper is emptied out of its substance and we are left with the mere masquerade of the scientific institution.

  • 32 Private correspondence with Liliane Giraudon. Email sent to the author, August 24th 2020.

22If Cantatrix sopranica L. entered poetry territory, it was thanks to Jean-Jacques Viton, who happened to be working as a documentalist in neurophysiology. Liliane Giraudon (co-director of the poetry journal Banana Split) specifies that “after his first life as a ‘sailor’ in the Royal, [Jean-Jacques Viton] volunteered to serve as guinea pig in CNRS experiments on the effects of mescaline on sleep. He turned this experience into a text that was published both in Manteïa and in a scientific journal.”32 The two worlds were bridged not by a happening, but by Viton’s constant stance. Succumbing under the charm of Perec’s work, Viton tried to have it publish in Manteïa, but it was rejected by the rest of the editorial board, perhaps as a kind of mise en abyme of the flop. So Viton included it in his brand new journal, Banana Split, with the complicity of Perec.

23If poetry journals then risked to be taken for bins where rejected papers could be dumped, they actually organised another kind of consecration by integrating the editorial codes of scientific journals. For instance, Banana Split developed working habits that Jean-Jacques Viton had acquired at the CNRS:

  • 33 Ibidem.

Authors received the templates, wrote their piece and, at the top, indicated their name, their address and even their phone number if they wanted to. So readers could reach them without contacting the journal. It was the frame that Jean-Jacques had set up at the CNRS for conference and symposium papers. Recycling this model had something ironic in itself…33

  • 34 Ibidem. Italics added.

24And in some kind of way, Banana Split clandestinely emerged from this institution, the keys of which were in Liliane Giraudon’s possession: “We squatted the reprography department for an entire weekend (I had the keys), in the good proletarian tradition of the ‘perruque’, working on the 500 copies (layout, printing and pasting…).”34

  • 35 If the tomato had been given all due attention in contemporary poetry, surely Nathalie Quintane’s (...)
  • 36 Private correspondence with Liliane Giraudon, ibid.

25This confirms the adventure was first and foremost a CNRS story, a way for its most eminent employees to make the copy machines more profitable, working overtime to produce a strictly poetic output. Hence, maybe, their distancing from musicology. While the journal, planning to publish Perec’s paper, was supposed to be entitled Tomate farcie or Le “mot Tomate”,35 Jean-Jacques Viton and Liliane Giraudon eventually went for Banana Split: “We chose this rather provocative title: a disgusting dessert with sexual connotations, Marseille’s answer to a centralised poetry that we found too postcolonial…”36 At the very moment when Lio was achieving her first success with Banana Split (the song became a number-one hit less than two months after the first issue of the homonymous journal), the editorial board may have picked the title of a current hit in order to ward off the flop Tomates farcies was promising, thus setting up a meaningful turnaround to incorporate the parody of an academic flop studying a musical flop. But the great round of fruit does not stop here: originally, Lio’s song was the cover of a hit by The Ikettes, “Peaches’n’Cream”, and Jacques Duvall, the songwriter, first imagined a more literal version (entitled “Pêche Melba”) for the Belgian singer.

  • 37 Ballard Michel, Versus : la version réfléchie anglais-français, Paris, Éditions Ophrys, 2003, p. 2 (...)
  • 38 Chou, O. & Lai, A.: “Further comments on inhibitory responses to tomato splitting in Soloists,” Z. (...)

26The globalisation of food industry was therefore already promising a savoury interchangeability of fruits or/and projectiles. It even forced a pre-postcolonial journal to adopt the Anglicism “banana split”, whereas Le Robert recommends37 the appellation “banane Melba” (after the name of the Australian soprano Nellie Melba, for whom the famous dessert was invented in London, in 1892). It is therefore no use quibbling over fruit differentiation, while everything is in the split. This is emphasised in Perec’s tenth bibliographical reference:38 the splitting of the banana can be seen as resulting from a jerky move possibly reminiscent of Perec’s tomato throwing or, more subtly, the splitting of socio-excitations. But are all edible projectiles really interchangeable? Do they all punish the same kinds of lemons? Do they all reflect the same idea of failure, the same more or less serious, production-driven reclaiming of failure?

27A year before the founding of Banana Split by Jean-Jacques Viton and Liliane Giraudon, Alain Frontier and Marie-Hélène Dhénin had launched their own journal, Tartalacrème, anticipating any risk of splitting thanks to a collage-word. Poeticising the medium of publication might reduce the debate to playful pastry competitions. Yet, one should keep in mind that these deliberately ironic titles implied strategies of attack varying from one dessert-as-projectile to another. Pierre Senges identified the specific quality of the cream pie:

  • 39 Senges Pierre, op. cit., p. 16-17.

The simple magic of the cream pie, which instantly transpires in its name (saying cream pie is like saying sugar cookie) is that the pie appears in all its truth, without concealing or withholding anything, leaving the cream uncovered in the teeth of wind and rain, showing at once its true colours.39

  • 40 Ibid., p. 15.

28While tomatoes are much like choux (puffs that “come in the cute shape of pastries such as the éclair, with the cream inside, and share the virtues of the aumônière, following an age-old tradition of stuffing”),40 the cream of the pie is uncovered, and there is no need to suppose it stuffed, as if looking for a hidden meaning in the pie-attack.

  • 41 Meanwhile, other poets like Serge Pey and Julien Blaine sometimes mash tomatoes (or other items) w (...)
  • 42 Private correspondence with Alain Frontier. Email sent to the author, September 7th, 2020.
  • 43 Ibidem.
  • 44 “the very base pleasure to see some smart bigwig covered in cream from the tip of his tie to that (...)

29Poets who entitle their journals with the name of a dessert claim a certain materialism, inasmuch as they carry out a literal assessment of their dessert.41 When questioned forty years later, they do recall the gustatory qualities of their dessert-as-projectile. However, while Liliane Giraudon says they opted for Banana Split because of the nauseous feeling aroused by this “disgusting dessert”, Alain Frontier finds substance in pleasure: “Besides, cream pies are damn good!”42 These two modalities of assessment outline an epistemological split in the relation to knowledge, a theoretical amplification of the physics of projectiles: the more concealed soft matters are, the more convoluted the bibliography is. Indeed, if cream-pie epistemology is of the blunt kind (“Splash!… So Tartalacrème is not a concept. It’s a burst of laughter.”)43, the cream topping being openly pictured as a frontal laughter, “a fundamental laughter freed from Freud and Bergson,”44 it is quite the opposite with the use of tomatoes: this practice playfully relies on their convolutions and mazy meanders, the hotchpotch of their inner juices, which keep on blithely hollowing out the concavity of the exegetic process. The topos of the Perecquian obliqueness bends hermeneutics into a curve that, by mimicking the hollow, inflates a vacuum.

From the tomato to the bibliographical maze: between fake sources and real seriousness

  • 45 The alphabet is pure knowledge, rationality. For a view on the relations between the becoming-pure (...)
  • 46 “Chou, O. & Lai, A. Tomatic inhibition in the decerebrate baritone. Proc. koning. Akad. Wiss., Ams (...)

30Surely, the scientific onomastics that Perec brought in can be explained by the cordial atmosphere that was de rigueur in the context of Marthe Bonvallet’s retirement. However, in addition to its cheering effect, Perec’s choice of names forms a chain of signifiers on which the reader is expected to elaborate. Especially since this onomastic game (with its off-beat kind of humour that is parodical in its intention, but self-referential in its realisation) is the backbone of the text. Throughout his bibliography, Perec plays on the convention that consists in indicating only the initial letter of each first name, thus making puns proliferate without his theoretical hypotheses being that much multiplied in the process. In this game of intratextual referencing, the reader following the logic of the fictive sources is soon caught in the nets of infinite intertwining. We therefore have to roam the maze long enough to uncover its logic, without ending up doing nothing but this. For instance, references to Chou & Lai and Lai & Chou are respectively scientific publications on the one hand, and recipes on the other. When citing the recipe books, Perec reverses the alphabetic order in which he mentions the authors’ names45 when referring to scientific publications. At the same time, the reversal restores the alphabetical order of the initials (Lai, A & Chou, O.).46

  • 47 The term is borrowed from the 31st of Perec’s “35 Variations on a theme by Marcel Proust,” publish (...)
  • 48 In the bibliography, out of the 8 works published in French, 7 are attributed to authors whose nam (...)

31O. Chou & A. Lai” sounds like au chou et à l’ail (“with cabbage and garlic”) and evokes, through a labyrinthine series of isophonic47 variations, the name of the Chinese Prime Minister in the Mao era, Zhou Enlai, pronounced shoe n’ lie; but beyond wordplay, Perec’s use of initials leaves us with two plausible hypotheses: the author may be referring to a single duo, the nature of whose activity is indicated by the order of the initials in their signature (indeed, with equal investment on the part of Chou and Lai,48 Chou and al. cannot have the same research topics as Lai and al.), or he may be implicitly suggesting a concordance of initials in the names of several researchers. Considering these two hypotheses, it seems to us that the first is more probable (but also more abstract), while the second leads to an interesting (but nondemonstrable) combinatorial analysis.

  • 49 Apparently, pluralism only applies to human reactions (see “Mace, I. & Doyne, J. Sur les différent (...)

32If {Chou, O. & Lai, A.} = {Lai, A. & Chou, O.}, then the first hypothesis is conceivable. But at least two factors of asymmetry would still have to be considered: why are Chou & Lai more productive than Lai & Chou (nine references against two)? Why did Chou & Lai stop writing (in 1930) when Lai & Chou had their first recipes published (in 1931)? (Could it be simply because, between 1930 and 1931, Lai was fed up with being in second position?) What’s more and even worse, the only difference between volume 1 and volume 2 of Lai & Chou’s cookbook is the mention of “other tomatoes.” As if their concern for pluralism had been a point of no return. And since it is the only moment when Perec speaks of tomatoes “other” than standard ones,49 we have no choice but to let the exegetic drive go round and round in a complete vacuum, laying out all the possibilities of pluralism opened up by Perec’s letter game.

33This asymmetry is discretely mirrored in the pagination: the first volume counts 99 pages (1-99), while the second suggests the possibility of a back-to-square-one situation (100-1). This looping can be interpreted as a crypto-parody of the constant stalling of research. However, since pluralism is never mentioned except in association with this unique page 1, one may also be right to see it as the dramatisation of scientificity reaching stalemate in pluralism. As if, in a barely repressed resurgence of Plotin, the wreck of science were washed up on the motley shore of the variegated tomatoes France was growing in the 1970s. What a botch-up! Alas! If only Perec had embraced multitudes…

  • 50 Concerning the hypothesis that Olivier, Octavine, Odilon and Oreste could be one and the same pers (...)

34However, if {Chou, O. & Lai, A.} ≠ {Lai, A. & Chou, O.}, other leads can be followed, with the proliferation of first names implied in the initials. Thus, Octavine Chou may have worked with Antoine Lai and Anatole Lai. Unless Antoine Lai worked with Octavine Chou and Oreste Chou Except if Octavine Chou was working with Antoine Lai while Oreste Chou was working with Anatole Lai. Or else, perhaps Octavine Chou worked with Antoine Lai and Anatole Lai, and Antoine Lai with Octavie Chou and Oreste Chou… And even if the following probability is low, it is not null: there might have been as many first names50 (or homonyms) as there were cited works. Is it that relevant to take the language of publication into account? Indeed, if Chou & Lai mainly wrote in English, they also published works in French and, once, in Italian.

  • 51 “Giscard d’Estaing, V. Discours aux transporteurs routiers de Rungis. C. r. Soc. fr. Tomatol. 422, (...)
  • 52 Two references : “Jeanpace, L. & Desmeyeurs, P. Recherches histologiques sur les noyaux de Pesch (...)
  • 53 Two references : “Lai, A. & Chou, O. Dix-sept recettes faciles au chou et à l’ail. I. Avec des tom (...)
  • 54 “Alka-Seltzer, L. Untersuchungen. Uber die tomatostaltische Reflexe beim Walküre. Bayreuth Monats (...)
  • 55 “Pesch, U. Experimentelle Beiträge über anterior reticularis Kerne beim Minnesänger. Von Bulow’s (...)
  • 56 “Von Aitick, A. Ueber geminal-niebelungenischen Schmerz. Ztschr. exp. pathol. Tomatol.” It should (...)
  • 57 “Chou, O. & Lai, A. Musicali effetti del tomatino jettatura durante il reprezentazione dell' opere (...)
  • 58 “Pericoloso, O. & Sporgersi, I. Sull’effetti tomestetiche e corticali della stimolazione di legumi (...)
  • 59 “Pompeiano, O., Vesuviana, A., Strombolino, H. & Lipari, G. Volcaniche effetti della formazione re (...)

35From a broader perspective, Perec’s enriching of a multilingual bibliography parodies the idea that the globalisation of references goes with a substantiation of scientific works, even if it means limiting each language to a given theme. His 68 references count 53 works in English, 8 in French, 4 in German and 3 in Italian. While the works published in French are almost systematically about food and cooking (allusions to Rungis,51 nucleus of Pesch,52 recipes53), the ones in German can all be related to Wagner’s music (allusions to the town of Bayreuth,54 the year when the festival was inaugurated55 and Niebelungen56) and the ones in Italian allude to Ausonian vocality (Verdi,57 Diva,58 funiculi funicula and bel canto59).

  • 60 “Hun, O. & Deu, I. Tonic, diatonic, & catatonic stage-distress syndromes. Basel, Karger, 1960.” In (...)

36The scientific ideal of research teamwork is sometimes replaced by that of a nice alphanumerical series of initials. On the major condition that the letter O be pronounced like the number 0 (/zeʀo/ in French) and the letter I, like 1 (/œ̃/), the sequence 1,0,2,1 is half homophonic and half homographic with the names of the authors cited: “Hun, O. & Deu, I.”, pronounced /œ̃zeʀodøœ̃/ (or, if translated, the reference could be “Wan, O. & To, I.”). One can therefore suppose the only reason why there is no third contributor is that there is no letter resembling a 2. Hence the sudden shift, in “Tonic, diatonic, & catatonic stage-distress syndromes”60, from a diatonic system to the catatonic distress of the duo, who surely would have liked to be 12 or 26 or on stage (respectively in a chromatic, alphabetic or numeral system).

  • 61 See our typology of listening modes in the introduction to “Tomato bashing,” Transposition n° 10, (...)
  • 62 Roubaud Jacques, Poétique. Remarques. Poésie, mémoire, nombre, temps, rythme, contrainte, forme, e (...)

37Whether you consider the combining of Chou & Lai’s initials or the alphanumeric games based on 0,1,2,1, any attempt to decipher the meaning of the puns more or less subtly encrypted in Perec’s bibliography leads you to go round and round in a circle going from Perec to Perec. But this circularity may itself be part of the scientific parody, implicitly pointing to researchers’ tendency to cite their own works.61 This is even a self-portrait of the Oulipian as “a rat constructing the labyrinth from which it plans to escape”,62 as Jacques Roubaud said, implicitly quoting Georges Perec who was explicitly quoting Raymond Queneau. The reading contract is defined by the explicit presence of the implied. The reader’s task would therefore consist in finding the user’s manual. But the rat always wriggles out of the labyrinth, while the reader ends up absorbed and lost in the maze of their readings. Opting for a scientific register works as a convenient excuse.

  • 63 Perec Georges, Cantatrix sopranica L., op. cit. The turn of phrase “Although numerous […] studies” (...)

Although numerous behavioral (Zeeg & Puss, 1931; Roux &Combaluzier, 1932; Simon et al., 1948), pathological (Hun & Deu, 1960), comparative (Karybb & Szyla, 1973) and follow-up (Else & Vire, 1974) studies have permitted a valuable description of these typical responses, neuro-anatomical, as well as neurophysiological data, are, in spite of their number, surprisingly confusing.63

38Given that the amount of data cannot explain such confusion, Perec might be relying on accumulation to claim, without demonstrating it, a confusion that exaggerates the number of his walks in the bibliographic labyrinth. The author’s confusion calls for interpretation, but it may run aground on the shore of mere explanation. It establishes a relation between competing forces: either the reader is caught in the labyrinth from which the author’s escape might give a literary work; or the reader rearranges the author and his references into another logic, which is not that of capturing. In wanting to turn the forces around, can we simply conceive such reversal as a way for the rat to satisfy its unconscious masochistic desires?

  • 64 As when Perec refers to Perec in a Perecquian way.

39In Cantatrix sopranica L., Perec neglects the importance of field work. For instance, he never asks the sopranos if they are happy to get shot down with tomatoes. He rejects the hypothesis of a masochistic tendency. The fact that singers be constantly smiling seems to suggest they enjoy being tomatoed down and that the pleasure taken in the suffering is derived from its elective dimension: being the only singer to be targeted can be narcissising for the cantatrix. However, with masochism as with narcissism, one can always identify primary and secondary forms. Having distinguished a primary narcissism (Perec referring to Perec) from a secondary one (disappointed in his hope to see his external desire satisfied, or having done his best to satisfy it himself — knowing there would be no better option, for he has been long aware that he is self-ignorant and that no one can offer him the climax he can reach on his own — the subject returns to himself),64 Freud symmetrically distinguishes primary masochism (which can be satisfied by yourself in your own little maze) from secondary masochism (which requires the intervention of a persecuting outsider, such as a slightly sadistic reader). As usual, the difference between the primary and the secondary fits in a behavioural scheme with a stimulus and a response. Hence the ease with which these categories can be appropriated. In focusing the psychological drama on the author of the paper, Perec missed the following question: can the soprano be a secondary masochist if her basher [lyncheur] is a primary narcissist? No doubt is it a way for him to re-channel the pleasure towards himself. And what about the tomato? Or the pervert third party hidden in Luberon, miles away from any opera, namely, the trader who neither produced nor threw the tomato, but made it possible for everyone to have a nice little go at it? Or the psychiatrist believing they can find a way out in recoding the entire labyrinth into a factual biographical reality, which is just as much labyrinthine?

Conclusion: from interpretation to experiment

  • 65 Corcos Maurice, Penser la mélancolie, Paris, Albin Michel, 2005, p. 16.
  • 66 Such associations are not merely psychoanalytical; Perec’s formal games have been associated with (...)

40In Penser la mélancolie. Une lecture de Georges Perec, Maurice Corcos sees Maman behind all of Perec’s opera singers, who “are nearly systematically in love. Perec’s mother, who was such a wonderful singer, probably knew how to love.”65 Based on a detailed reading of Perec’s texts, the violent hermeneutic association of the tomatoed singer with the deported mother (a consecrated practice which consists in finding out autobiographical elements in constraints, literary playfulness or parody) is irrevocable.66 It tackles a trauma, colligates history with family intimacy, dramatises the filial link, embeds the comical in the tragical, and hystericises the opera. It takes a thief to catch a thief.

  • 67 Corcos Maurice, op. cit., p. 49-50.

The methodical unwinding of thought, its immediate cancelling when it becomes too clear, its displaced and secondarised resuming and its final exhaustion – what this is all about is an omnipresent personal drama that seems to pervade the most anodyne words, overloading them with meaning and reflecting a shameful image of himself as the author of the scenarios he wants to escape.67

  • 68 See Coppel-Batsch Marthe, “Penser la mélancolie. Une lecture de Georges Perec de Maurice Corcos”, (...)
  • 69 Corcos Maurice, op. cit., p. 129.
  • 70 Perec Georges, Cantatrix sopranica L., op. cit.

41Recalling the “lack of air that can be felt by Perec’s readers,68 and that evokes a writing gesture in the throes of a near death”,69 the psychiatrist enters the game of citation by prolonging infratextuality and the pleasure of endless hermeneutics. Could he be taking charge of one of Perec’s blind spots? As a matter of fact, Perec’s paper does not linger over the psychology of the individuals taking part in the experiment. The protocol even goes as far as to empty the attack out of any intentionality, the subjectivity of the throw disappearing in its mechanisation: “Tomatoes (Tomato rungisia vulgaris) were thrown by an automatic tomatothrower (Wait & See, 1972) monitored by an all-purpose laboratory computer (DID/92/85/P/331) operated on-line.”70 In fine, automation minimises the polysemy of the throw: actively getting a new grip on one’s own tastes and opinions; appropriating the flop as a wonderful opportunity for the audience to be more than a receptacle tied down to a numbered seat; hoping to ward off that silent, passively tolerated uneasiness by re-focusing the performance on the tomatoing; and, finally, finding pleasure in taking part in the show by throwing stagewards something that could have been ingested… In brief, all the ways in which tomato bashing can short-circuit the binary assigning of roles opposing the audience’s reception to the singer’s performance.

42But, most importantly, shouldn’t this pseudoscientific objectification of the gesture consider the rationalisation of the work it implies? Reducing bashers to a kinetic mechanism, Perec submits them to the same de-subjectification as that factory workers, which itself resulted from the industrialisation of the tomato. As Jean-Baptiste Malet explains in L’Empire de l’or rouge, this fruit was at the forefront of the assembly-line while the twentieth century had not even dawned yet.

Wasn’t Heinzism ahead of Fordism?

  • 71 Malet Jean-Baptiste, L’Empire de l’or rouge : Enquête mondiale sur la tomate d’industrie, Paris, F (...)

Timing the workers’ manoeuvers, tracking useless moves, drastically accelerating cadences: having enforced scientific management, the Heinz Company benefited from a high rise in output leading to a decrease in the cost prize of their goods. As the very first food-processing company to have adopted the methods for a “rational” organisation of work, which would very soon make the success of Taylorism, Heinz became a pioneer of mass production in the US.71

  • 72 To the best of our knowledge, no one in the entire Heinz dynasty ever bore a first name beginning (...)

43Perec does not dwell upon the various states of the tomato (the hard fruit and the puree being the only ones under study in Cantatrix Sopranica L.), but it is at the one and only moment when he considers the tomato in its semi-liquid state (namely, ketchup), that he trustfully refers to a Heinz typified72 by a single initial letter: “25. Heinz, D. “Biological effects of ketchup splatching”. J. Food Cosmet. Ind. 72, 42-62, 1952.”

  • 73 Malet Jean-Baptiste, op. cit.

44In its historic reality, Heinzism was a social project contemplating the creation of entire villages with gyms, swimming pools and libraries “where books and papers have been carefully selected. Workers are supervised and educated in accordance with their boss’ puritan values. Any other kind of publication is forbidden.”73 Hence, while the standard tomato grew from a society of the disciplinary kind, the hyperrationalisation of fruit fluxes led to the invention, in 1968, of the ketchup single serve packet, which contains more than 50% of concentrated global flexibility in production and storage. And meanwhile, Perec was declaring war on the Nouveau Roman so that tomatoes shan’t be looked upon with myopic eyes:

  • 74 Perec Georges, “Le mystère Robbe-Grillet”, Partisans, no 11, 1963, p. 168-169. Perec is throwing t (...)

One cannot describe with impunity a tomato slice like a mere tomato slice, as Robbe-Grillet did in Les Gommes, probably in an irrevocable way. It is a choice, to say the least, and as such it signifies something: looking at the world with myopic eyes is to cultivate short-sightedness. Hyperdescription, geometric precision (or, rather – it hasn’t been noted enough – geometric illusion), neutrality as a commitment, the rejection of “signifying” – none of this will be perceived as such, as new devices to “desensitise” the reader and make them enter a fictional universe that would be de-sanctified, purified, de-alienated. It will be said, rather, that this obstinate look is hiding something, it will be said these neutral descriptions are actually meant to mask, to cover up another look, muffle another voice that is anguished, obsessed, sick.74

  • 75 Ibidem.
  • 76 To pursue this enquiry on the neo-musicological potentials of tomato bullying, and by way of concl (...)

45Literature has already assimilated the tomato to a model of standardisation. General smoothing out generates general repugnance and, consequently, the tomato is, in strictly generic terms, the projectile. While Perec’s criticism of Robbe-Grillet’s descriptive habits in Les Gommes seems to us ripe enough, his “de-myopic” stance does not make him less obstinately blind to the various states, shapes and origins… of tomatoes. The tomato that Robbe-Grillet idealises in the smoothness of the velouté of his verbal description (“A quarter of tomato that is quite faultless, cut up by the machine into a perfectly symmetrical fruit.”)75 hasn’t much to do with the juicy, slightly overripe tomato bashers dream of. Even when tomatoes are in a semi-liquid state, Perec struggles with the paradoxical fact that the best tomato to be thrown is riddled with GMO (Genitively Motivating Opportunities): when throwing the tomato, the basher can be obsessed with the fruit, impressed by its history or subjugated by it, and therefore replaces the beauty of a gesture with a bashing.76

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Bibliographie

Appel, Heidi and R.B. Cocroft, “Plants respond to leaf vibrations caused by insect herbivore chewing.” Oecologia, volume 175, 2014.

Balestrini, Nanni, Chaosmogonie. Bordeaux, Éditions La Tempête, 2020.

Ballard, Michel, Versus: la version réfléchie anglais-français. Paris, Éditions Ophrys, 2003.

Benabou, Marcel, “Perec et la judéité.” Cahiers Georges Perec, no1, 1984.

Bonvallet, Marthe and B. Minz,  “Actions de l’acétylcholine et de l’adrénaline sur l’excitabilité médullaire réflexe.” Archives Internationales de Physiologie, 1938, vol. XLVII, Fasc. 2.

Bonvallet Marthe and D. Albe-fessard, “Quelques Expériences de Contrôle à Propos de Variations de Chronaxies Nerveuses Périphériques.” Archives Internationales de Physiologie, 1946, 54: 2, 119-124, DOI: 10.3109/13813454609144876.

Christoffel, David, La musique vous veut du bien. Paris, PUF, 2018.

Coppel-Batsch, Marthe, “Penser la mélancolie. Une lecture de Georges Perec de Maurice Corcos.” Revue française de psychanalyse, vol. 70, no 4, 2006.

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Corteel, Delphine, Houdart, Sophie, Guitard, Émilie and Baptiste Monsaingeon, “Des fripes, des restes et des champignons : de l’irrécupérable en toute chose et de quoi en faire dans un monde fini.” Tracés, no 37 (“Les Irrécupérables”), 2019, p. 157–178. URL: https://journals.openedition.org/traces/10351, accessed 9 November 2021.

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Jardin, Étienne, “Les siffleurs de concerto.” A conference given in the Auditorium Rainier III de Monte-Carlo, on March 25th 2017, at the Festival Printemps des Arts de Monte-Carlo.

Kaltenecker, Martin, L’Oreille divisée. Les Discours sur l’écoute musicale aux xviiie et xixe siècles, Paris, MF éditions, coll. “Répercussions”, 2010.

Lahire, Bernard, La Culture des individus. Dissonances culturelles et distinction de soi, Paris, La Découverte, 2004.

Legrand, Patrick, “‘Cantatrix sopranica L. et autres écrits scientifiques’ de G. Perec.” Courrier de la cellule environnement INRA, INRA, 1992, 16 (16), p. 73-74. hal-01219277.

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Mouton, Antoine, “Les poètes marxistes.” 8 octobre 2020, URL: https://remue.net/antoine-mouton-les-poetes-marxistes, accessed 9 November 2021.

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Notes

1 Duyckaerts Éric, Épigone, 12'13'', Mac/Val Production, 2011.

2 For the most talented, this goes as far as feigning the hyperobviousness of the idleness of the passivity of their immersion in the blatancy of their crime.

3 The most exhausting moralities are, of course, those ranking activity above inactivity, even when inactivity means saving two billion humans (see Stanislav Petrov) – let this be said for the sheer pleasure of immediate hyperactive footnoting.

4 For a definition of external conditioning, see Sartre Jean-Paul, Critique of Dialectal Reason, translated by Alan Sheridan-Smith, London, New Left Books, 1976.

5 Nancy Jean-Luc, Listening, translated by Charlotte Mandell, New York, Fordham University Press, 2007, p. 12.

6 Kaltenecker Martin, L’Oreille divisée. Les discours sur l’écoute musicale aux xviiie et xixe siècles, Paris, MF éditions, “Répercussions” symposium, 2010, p. 69 sqq.

7 Szendy Peter, Listen, A History of our Ears, translated by Charlotte Mandell, New York, Fordham University Press, 2008, p. 26.

8 Szendy Peter, All Ears, The Aesthetics of Espionage, translated by Roland Végso, New York, Fordham University Press, 2017, p. 87.

9 We must admit this excitement goes with a blind spot: the socio-typology of the under-excited audience. Making a “best-of” or a “worst-of” is quite common, but when shall we have a “plainest-of” based on surveys about music causing objectifiable indifference? And how can socio-non-excitation be defined? Is there a self-non-excitation? What is it like? Is it through the debate on inter-individual differences that the question of indifference meets tomato throwing as non-indifference?

10 See Bailly Jean-Christophe and his idea of the opera as a “rite of class narcissism” in “Metaclassique #77 – Phraser”, URL: http://metaclassique.com/metaclassique-77-phraser/, amongst many other examples. Accessed 9 November, 2021.

11 See Feneyrou Laurent, “Réceptions de la Cinquième Symphonie”, a conference given on November 10th, 2015, at the Philharmonie de Paris, URL: https://pad.philharmoniedeparis.fr/doc/CIMU/1114133, amongst many other examples. Accessed 9 November, 2021.

12 Jardin Étienne, “Les siffleurs de concerto”, a conference given in the Auditorium Rainier III de Monte-Carlo on March 25th, 2017, at the Festival Printemps des Arts de Monte-Carlo.

13 Lahire Bernard, La Culture des individus. Dissonances culturelles et distinction de soi, Paris, La Découverte, 2004.

14 Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary, edited by Abner Kneeland (Boston: J. Q. Adams, 1836), “Liberty of opinion”.

15 Many thanks to Laura Naudeix, Manuel Comejo and Bertrand Porot for having drawn our attention to these fruit-based attacks.

16 Not to mention the archaeology that Pierre Senges made up to honour the inside/outside tension proper to the splashing surface of each pastry-as-projectile, comparing puffs, éclairs and pies. See Senges Pierre, Projectiles au sens propre, Paris, Verticales, 2020, p. 15.

17 Perec Georges, Cantatrix sopranica L.: Scientific Papers, translated by Antony Melville, Ian Monk and John Sturruck, London: Atlas Press, 2008, p. 14.

18 Bonvallet Marthe and B. Minz, “Actions de l’acétylcholine et de l’adrénaline sur l’excitabilité médullaire réflexe”, Archives Internationales de Physiologie, 1938, vol. XLVII, Fasc. 2, p. 181.

19 Perec Georges, op. cit., p. 13.

20 Bonvallet Marthe, Albe-fessard D. & A. Fessard, “Quelques Expériences de Contrôle à Propos de Variations de Chronaxies Nerveuses Périphériques”, Archives Internationales de Physiologie, 1946, 54:2, 119-124, DOI: 10.3109/13813454609144876. Italics added.

21 One should note that Perec does not consider the possibility that the soprano’s smile may be a forced smile, a reflect of the symbolic violence inflicted, for instance, on lyric artists.

22 Regarding the becoming-gaseous of reactivity, see Corteel Delphine, Houdart Sophie, Guitard Émilie and Baptiste Monsaingeon, “Des fripes, des restes et des champignons : de l’irrécupérable en toute chose et de quoi en faire dans un monde fini”, Tracés, “Les Irrécupérables”, n° 37, 2019, p. 157-178. URL : https://journals.openedition.org/traces/10351, accessed 9 November 2021.

23 Let us remark, however, that Noah’s botanical blindness is not complete: some sources present Noah as the first wine-grower, he built his arch with a resinous conifer and the dove he released entered the arch with an olive leaf in its beak. See Hamilton Frédéric, La botanique de la Bible : Étude scientifique, historique, littéraire et exégétique des plantes mentionnées dans la Sainte-Écriture, Nice: Eugène Fleurdelys, 1871, p. 80-81 ; Genesis, VIII-11.

24 URL: http://www.k-netweb.net/projects/lancerdetomates/ Accessed September 7th, 2020, and tested while this paper was in progress.

25 However, all this being about playing with food, some people decided to make the most of this opportunity by playing music and limiting waste: from Jean Wiéner’s “Concerts Salades” to the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra and experiments on how to transmit Hertzian waves with a potato (radio potato), any kind of garden lute-making circumvents the risk of aesthetic disappointment and stresses the necessity to reconsider the hierarchy of species.

26 Appel Heidi and R.B. Cocroft, “Plants respond to leaf vibrations caused by insect herbivore chewing”, Oecologia, vol. 175, 2014, p. 1257-1266. Noticeably, discovering that plants can perceive sound probably required a prolonging of botanical blindness, as we developed a sensibility to the sounds produced by insects before suggesting the hypothesis of a listening proper to the vegetable kingdom. Like Knud Viktor, the hero in the novel Bande son, Sven records the secret music of a snail chewing a salad leaf: “A soft spit can be heard in the room: the garden snail is climbing one of the mikes.” See de la Peine Bertrand, Bande son, Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit, 2011, p. 10.

27 See Christoffel David, La musique vous veut du bien, Paris, PUF, 2018, p. 33.

28 Balestrini Nanni, Chaosmogonie, Bordeaux, Éditions La Tempête, 2020), p. 27. Concerning the links between Chaosmogonie and Tomates, see Quintane Nathalie, “Il faut ouvrir la pizzeria”, URL : https://lundi.am/Il-faut-ouvrir-la-pizzeria, accessed 9 November 2021.

29 In no way do we intend to become advocates of tomato throwing, and it is precisely because we do not really fear such accusations that it seems to us all the more necessary to point that out. There exists a whole literature — let us call it “bourgeois literature, to make a long story short”, as Foucault Michel said (Radioscopies, France Inter, October 1975) — in praise of bashing [lynchage], a kind of aesthetic of the scientific parody (Les effets frappants et la réaction d’hurlement considérés comme beaux-arts), which we see as part of the global smoothing out of speech. Literature and musicology have made room for bashing. For bashers [lyncheurs] are very useful in the end. “They serve a whole bunch of functions”, as Michel Foucault says (ibidem). This is why bashing is in fact mostly tolerated, or at least some forms of bullying [harcèlement]. So this paper is certainly not to be understood as a study saying “bashing is great, all tomatoes out,” or, if a singer is indeed tormenting our ears, “let’s give her a little crown,” to quote again from Foucault (ibidem). No. What we want is to explore the blind spots of an organised musicological flop (in which both the flop and its organisation are undealt with) in order to lay out a plural criticism of the global and systematic smoothing out to which the basher and the bashed both contribute, whether seriously or ironically, as partners in crime championing the asymmetry inscribed in the distribution of enunciation.

30 The specificity of playfulness may lie in the way it pushes its subject into the background and foregrounds its own effects.

31 Legrand Patrick, « “Cantatrix sopranica L. et autres écrits scientifiques” de G. Perec », Courrier de la cellule environnement INRA, INRA, 1992, 16 (16), p. 73-74. hal-01219277.

32 Private correspondence with Liliane Giraudon. Email sent to the author, August 24th 2020.

33 Ibidem.

34 Ibidem. Italics added.

35 If the tomato had been given all due attention in contemporary poetry, surely Nathalie Quintane’s first book (Chaussure, Paris, P.O.L, 1997) would have been entitled Tap Shoe: “I didn’t buy seeds from Kokopelli, but seedlings at Jardiland, thus smoothing a transition from a life without any personal tomato to a life with rare tomatoes. I am well aware that such details give rise to smiles, yet the word Tomato should not prevail over the others and their seriousness. If transposed, the problematic choice between a seed that is not industrial and a young plant grown from an industrial seed is like the dilemma faced by the militant wondering whether they should remain affiliated to the Parti socialiste out of loyalty, in remembrance of a comforting past, or if they had better leave it, and this is tormenting.” See Quintane Nathalie, Tomates, Paris, P.O.L., 2010, p. 6.

36 Private correspondence with Liliane Giraudon, ibid.

37 Ballard Michel, Versus : la version réfléchie anglais-français, Paris, Éditions Ophrys, 2003, p. 256.

38 Chou, O. & Lai, A.: “Further comments on inhibitory responses to tomato splitting in Soloists,” Z. f. Haendel Will. 17, 75-80, 1927c.

39 Senges Pierre, op. cit., p. 16-17.

40 Ibid., p. 15.

41 Meanwhile, other poets like Serge Pey and Julien Blaine sometimes mash tomatoes (or other items) while performing. To show how the tomato draws a figure zigzagging* between certain avant-gardes, let us recall that : “Any poet is a t(o)maturge in the midst of the unsatiated hunger growing in the poems of death / That in Godard’s La Chinoise a female student throws tomatoes at Foucault’s book Les Mots et les Choses / That Soutine painted tomatoes on old canvases he would scratch to erase the previous reproductions / That Robert Filliou declared: that he measured people in non-metrical systems so he was 60-tomato high and 111 115-Paris-Copenhaguen-train-travel old / (…) That Félix Guattari founded Radio Tomate on a rooftop of freedom” (Serge Pey, “Tout poète est un tomaturge,” in Poésie-action. Manifeste provisoire pour un temps intranquille, Le Castor Astral, 2018, p.  174-175).

*For more information about zigzag throwing, see Contre-culture psychique, Étude sur la poly-instabilité du contre-effet boomerang (Revue Boxon n° 34, 2021).

42 Private correspondence with Alain Frontier. Email sent to the author, September 7th, 2020.

43 Ibidem.

44 “the very base pleasure to see some smart bigwig covered in cream from the tip of his tie to that of his hair, and the laughter right there was a fundamental laughter, without Freud and without Bergson, without any wit, we would barely spare a thought for Aristophanes, there was no time, one pie followed another and the stupefied cream-spangled faces would make us swallow our references, shame mingled with full round joy, these pastry fights were like an antidote to Schopenhauer, or to the Grammaire de Port-Royal.Senges Pierre, op. cit., p. 13.

45 The alphabet is pure knowledge, rationality. For a view on the relations between the becoming-pure and the becoming-gesture of the alphabet, the way out of poetry, dissenting interdisciplinarity and the importance of the letter K (which is quite overused by Perec, with 5 occurrences of this letter as a first-name initial in the bibliography of Cantatrix Sopranica L.), see Mouton Antoine, “Les poètes marxistes”, October 8th, 2020, URL : https://remue.net/antoine-mouton-les-poetes-marxistes, accessed 9 November 2021.

46 “Chou, O. & Lai, A. Tomatic inhibition in the decerebrate baritone. Proc. koning. Akad. Wiss., Amst. 279, 33, 1927a. / Chou, O. & Lai, A. Note on the tomatic inhibition in the singing gorilla. Acta laryngol. 8, 41-42, 1927b. / Chou, O. & Lai, A. Further comments on inhibitory responses to tomato splitting in Soloists. Z. f. Haendel Will. 17, 75-80, 1927c. / Chou, O. & Lai, A. Faradic responses to tomatic stimulation in the buzzling ouistiti. J. amer. metempsych. Soc. 19, 100-120, 1928a. / Chou, O. & Lai, A. Charlotte’s syndrome is not a withdrawal reflex. A reply to Roux & Combaluzier. Folia pathol. musicol. 7, 13-17 1928b. / Chou, O. & Lai, A. Tomatic excitation and inhibition in awake Counteralts with discrete or massive brain lesions. Acta chirurg. concertgebouw., Amst. 17, 23-30, 1929a. / Chou, O. & Lai, A. Musicali effetti del tomatino jettatura durante il reprezentazione dell’ opere di Verdi. In Festschrift am Arturo Toscanini, herausgegeb. vom / Chou, O & Lai, A. Suprasegmental contribution to the yelling reaction. Experiments with stimulation and destruction. Ztschr. f. d. ges. Neur. u. Psychiat. 130, 631-677, 1930. / […] / Lai, A. & Chou, O. Dix-sept recettes faciles au chou et à l’ail. I. Avec des tomates. J. Ass. philharmon. Vet. lang. fr. 3, 1-99, 1931a. / Lai, A. & Chou, O. Dix-sept recettes faciles au chou et à l’ail. II. Avec d’autres tomates. J. Ass. philharmon. Vet. lang. fr. 3, 100-1, 1931b.”

47 The term is borrowed from the 31st of Perec’s “35 Variations on a theme by Marcel Proust,” published in Le Magazine littéraire, n° 94, November 1974, p. 181. Along the same lines, considering the initials of the first names are placed after the last names, “Lai, A. et Chou, O.” could be an isovocalism of the sentence “Léa est sous l’eau” (Léa is swamped) pronounced with Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s accent (his “Discours aux transporteurs routiers de Rungis” is cited in Perec’s 22nd bibliographical reference).

48 In the bibliography, out of the 8 works published in French, 7 are attributed to authors whose names form puns: “Lai et Chou” makes “l’ail échoue” (garlic fails); “Jeanpace & Desmeyeurs” makes “j’en passe et des meilleurs” (and so on and so forth); “Mace et Doine” makes “macédoine” (diced mixed vegetables); “Payre & Tairnelle” makes “père éternel” (Holy Father); “Sornette et Billevayzé” makes “sornettes et billevesées” (poppycock and balderdash), and “Vincent, J., Milâne, J., Danzunpré, J.J., & Sanvaing-Danlhotte” makes “Vincent mit l’âne dans un pré et s’en vint dans Lotte” (Vincent left the donkey in a meadow and had a roll with Lotte). The only citation that does not play on words is “Giscard d’Estaing, V. Discours aux transporteurs routiers de Rungis. C. r. Soc. fr. Tomatol. 422, 6, 1974.” (but the reference is not gratuitous, as we have remarked in footnote n° 51).

49 Apparently, pluralism only applies to human reactions (see “Mace, I. & Doyne, J. Sur les différents types de réactions tomateuses chez la Cantatrice.” Gaz. méd. Franco-rus. 6, 6-11, 1912). Perec constantly essentialises the tomato, except when he writes “Only tomatoes affecting faces and necks were taken into account.”, but the real point in this sentence is to reject difference and return to tomatic monism. Throughout the paper, when the word “tomato” is used in the plural form, it is a generic plural not to be confused with a differential approach to said tomatoes.

50 Concerning the hypothesis that Olivier, Octavine, Odilon and Oreste could be one and the same person, see Hacking Ian, L’Âme réécrite. Étude sur la personnalité multiple et les sciences de la mémoire, Paris, Les empêcheurs de penser en rond, 1998, or Guesdon Maël and David Christoffel, “La fête des voisins”, Faire #004, Éditions Mix, 2018. As for the hypothesis of a pseudonym with fanciful initials, it is formed by Perec himself in Life: A User’s Manual: “The information card also mentioned that she perhaps used “Sampang” perfume, was perhaps using the name of Véronique Lambert, that her real initials could be E. B.”

51 “Giscard d’Estaing, V. Discours aux transporteurs routiers de Rungis. C. r. Soc. fr. Tomatol. 422, 6, 1974.”

52 Two references : “Jeanpace, L. & Desmeyeurs, P. Recherches histologiques sur les noyaux de Pesch & de Poissy. Dijon med. 5, 1-73, 1932.” and “Poissy, N. de. Atrophie congénitale des Noyaux de Pesch. Bibl. clin. Homeoprat. Lugdun. 65, 22-31, 1880.”

53 Two references : “Lai, A. & Chou, O. Dix-sept recettes faciles au chou et à l’ail. I. Avec des tomates. J. Ass. philharmon. Vet. lang. fr. 3, 1-99, 1931a.” and “Lai, A. & Chou, O. Dix-sept recettes faciles au chou et à l’ail. II. Avec d’autres tomates. J. Ass. philharmon. Vet. lang. fr. 3, 100-1, 1931b.”

54 “Alka-Seltzer, L. Untersuchungen. Uber die tomatostaltische Reflexe beim Walküre. Bayreuth Monatschr. f. exp. Biol. 184, 34-43, 1815.”

55 “Pesch, U. Experimentelle Beiträge über anterior reticularis Kerne beim Minnesänger. Von Bulow’s Arch. f. d. ges. Musikol. 1, 1-658, 1876.”

56 “Von Aitick, A. Ueber geminal-niebelungenischen Schmerz. Ztschr. exp. pathol. Tomatol.” It should nevertheless be noted that one reference seems to question this distribution: “Roux, C.F. & Combaluzier, H.U.Le syndrome de Charlotte. Weimar Ztschr. musikol. Pomol. 7, 1-14, 1932.” is like a double agent, French in its culinary allusion (a charlotte is a cake) and German in its musical reference to the ball where Goethe meets Charlotte Buff in Thomas Mann’s novel entitled Lotte in Weimar.

57 “Chou, O. & Lai, A. Musicali effetti del tomatino jettatura durante il reprezentazione dell' opere di Verdi. In: Festschrift am Arturo Toscanini, herausgegeb. vom A. Pick, I. Pick, E. Kohl & E. Gramm., München, Thieme & Becker, pp. 145-172, 1929b.”

58 “Pericoloso, O. & Sporgersi, I. Sull’effetti tomestetiche e corticali della stimolazione di leguminose nella Diva. Arch. physiol. Schola Cantor. 37, 1805-1972, 1973.”

59 “Pompeiano, O., Vesuviana, A., Strombolino, H. & Lipari, G. Volcaniche effetti della formazione reticolare nella funiculi funicula. C.r. Ass. ital. Amat. Bel Cant. 37, 5-32, 1971.”

60 “Hun, O. & Deu, I. Tonic, diatonic, & catatonic stage-distress syndromes. Basel, Karger, 1960.” In an opera entitled L’Art effaré a homophonic rendition of la ré fa ré Perec had imagined a pentaphonic opera with the 120 permutations possible with these five notes, and a pun for each permutation. For instance, the sequence la si mi do ré became approximately homophonous with “l’alchimie dorée” (golden alchemy), and for Perec, “ré si mi la do” sounded more or less like “Rêche il mit la dose” (Abrasive he put the dose).

61 See our typology of listening modes in the introduction to “Tomato bashing,” Transposition n° 10, 2022.

62 Roubaud Jacques, Poétique. Remarques. Poésie, mémoire, nombre, temps, rythme, contrainte, forme, etc., Paris, Seuil, 2016, § 2694.

63 Perec Georges, Cantatrix sopranica L., op. cit. The turn of phrase “Although numerous […] studies” pays homage to the many researchers that highlight the shortcomings of a literature which they only superficially review in order to prove how substantially new their own work is.

64 As when Perec refers to Perec in a Perecquian way.

65 Corcos Maurice, Penser la mélancolie, Paris, Albin Michel, 2005, p. 16.

66 Such associations are not merely psychoanalytical; Perec’s formal games have been associated with biographical elements, the theme of the oblique having been treated by Perec experts such as Benabou Marcel, “Perec et la judéité”, Cahiers Georges Perec, n° 1, 1984. Moreover, in Life: A User’s Manual, Perec’s portrait of the mother/cantatrice is like a fruit to be tomatoed with: “he provided me with a key piece of information: a few months earlier, he had invited her to see Dido and Aeneas at Covent Garden. ‘I hate opera,’ she had told him, and added, ‘It’s not surprising, my mother was a singer!’”

67 Corcos Maurice, op. cit., p. 49-50.

68 See Coppel-Batsch Marthe, “Penser la mélancolie. Une lecture de Georges Perec de Maurice Corcos”, Revue française de psychanalyse, vol. 70, no 4, 2006, p. 1156: “A bit further, he [Corcos] converses with a hypothetical naïve reader, possibly the embodiment of an authoritative superego: ‘the reader might legitimately wonder why the author of this essay persists in seeing innuendos in the works of another author who can no longer defend himself, in exhuming the id from a tragic story facing which it would be more appropriate to close one’s eyes.’ But closing one’s eyes would mean, in a way, betraying Perec, misreading his imagery, which is rich with ‘the sadistic drives of the abandoned child’, and missing the idea that his pervading sexual fantasies result from ‘the collusion between human barbarism and his own infantile violence’.”

69 Corcos Maurice, op. cit., p. 129.

70 Perec Georges, Cantatrix sopranica L., op. cit.

71 Malet Jean-Baptiste, L’Empire de l’or rouge : Enquête mondiale sur la tomate d’industrie, Paris, Fayard, 2017.

72 To the best of our knowledge, no one in the entire Heinz dynasty ever bore a first name beginning with a D.

73 Malet Jean-Baptiste, op. cit.

74 Perec Georges, “Le mystère Robbe-Grillet”, Partisans, no 11, 1963, p. 168-169. Perec is throwing tomatoes at the following lines from The Erasers: “The peripheral flesh, compact, homogeneous, and a splendid chemical red, is of an even thickness between a strip of gleaming skin and the hollow where the yellow, graduated seeds appear in a row, kept in place by a thin layer of greenish jelly along a swelling of the heart. This heart, of a slightly grainy, faint pink, begins – toward the inner hollow – with a cluster of white veins, one of which extends toward the seeds – somewhat uncertainly. / Above, a scarcely perceptible accident has occurred: a corner of the skin, stripped back from the flesh for a fraction of an inch, is slightly raised. / At the next table, three men are standing, three railroad workmen. In front of them, the entire table top is covered by six plates and three glasses of beer.” Robbe-Grillet Alain, The Erasers, translated by Richard Howard, New York, Grove Press, 1964, p. 152-153. Let’s note that to qualify the stripping of the skin as an accident is in itself a way to search for the entelechy of the tomato.

75 Ibidem.

76 To pursue this enquiry on the neo-musicological potentials of tomato bullying, and by way of conclusion, one should draw up a register of experimental protocols which will only be outlined here, as a kind of final throw:
- To better understand the smiling of the soprano hit by the tomato, the tomato-bashologist shall organise, first of all, tomato-throwing sessions. The idea will be to lead researchers to see by themselves if it really makes one smile: why and how? Researchers should of course previously make sure to set up a representative sample group of throwers, with an equally representative diversity of tomatoes (home-grown, industrial, concentrated, Campbell, ripe, not ripe…).
- The tomato-bashologist will then set up a “Zeuxis” ANR research project to study the recent changes in this field and, more specifically, the domestic practice of tomato-throwing during lock down. Regarding the links between tomatoes and marital relations, see Sorrentino Gilbert, “L’épisode de la tomate” in Petit Casino, Arles, Actes Sud, 2006.
- Finally, to make sure this is not, all in all, a mere question of scales, and that tomatoing can also be an educational programme, the tomato-bashologist shall submit to the Ministry of Education a workshop project entitled “Tiny operas, miniature sopranoes and cherry tomatoes”. Carried out in collaboration with the Ircam, these playful experiments involving a young audience will be the opportunity to discuss the classic issues underlying the field in a miniature form: are there, for instance, micro-yellings? And if there are, how can they be detected, quantified and understood?

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Titre Figure 1: screen shots from the game “Lancer de Tomates !”24
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Crédits Appel H.M., Cocroft R.B. Plants respond to leaf vibrations caused by insect herbivore chewing. Oecologia 175, 1257-1266 (2014). https://doi.org/​10.1007/​s00442-014-2995-6.
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Contre-culture psychique, « Tomato bashing »Transposition [En ligne], 10 | 2022, mis en ligne le 07 juin 2022, consulté le 29 septembre 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/transposition/6874 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/transposition.6874

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Contre-culture psychique

Psychic counterculture provides theoretical and practical tools that could one day allow it to define its tendency to dispense with models of wellness, personal development and optimization schemes. To this end, David Christoffel and Maël Guesdon have, among other things, participated in journals such as Multitudes, Faire, Ouste, Espace(s), Fracas, tapin² and have performed in festivals (Livraisons, FAIM, Seconda), on radios (O, BAL), and at the University of Tours, Dijon's École nationale supérieure d’art and Marseille's Centre International de Poésie.

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Fanny Quément

Fanny Quément, co-founder of the Foundation for a Beneviolent Practice of Translation and Writing (FBPTW), has worked as hand double for firebrands as diverse as Jack London, Cosey Fanni Tutti and Mark Fisher. She translates contemporary Irish poetry (Leontia Flynn, Billy Ramsell…), essays (Ellen Willis, David Toop…) and fiction (Luc Sante, Mark Twain…). Her writings – sketches she refuses to call her own – have been published in journals and magazines such as Audimat, Musique Journal and Panthère Première. She is currently working on an anthology of tall stories trawled from the depths of the Mississippi. She is waiting for the day when a publisher proves discerning and suicidal enough to fund a translation of Miss MacIntosh, My Darling, a forgotten masterpiece by the forgotten writer Marguerite Young, and she believes classified adverts constitute a literary genre in its own right.

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