Define This Word…

Death of the Author is a theoretical construct from mid-20th Century literary criticism, that holds that neither an author’s life story nor her intent, should hold any special weight in determining an interpretation of her writing…

To say the least, I am no fan of the “theoretical construct” known as Death of the Author. Granted, it is widely popular among those who can’t make heads nor tails of Hemingway’s Hills like White Elephants. But I do not see the question “why did the author write this?” as meaningless, nor intractable.

I see Death of the Author as a prime example of post-modernist mischief; a form of intellectual malware by which psuedo-intellectuals and hypocriticals advance their agenda, ignoring, dismissing, or obscuring meritorious distinctions by labeling them mere opinion and then claiming a false equivalency among all opinions.

TRUE: de gustibus non est disputandum. But I don’t want an 11 year-old, who only eats pizza and cheese burgers to be my food critic. I believe that authorship ultimately consists of making a series of choices about words, and that a reader’s first job is to try to understand what the author intended, based on her word choices.

According to Locke, who coined the term semiotic in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding “Semeiotike, or the doctrine of signs; the most usual whereof being words, it is aptly enough termed also Logike, logic: the business whereof is to consider the nature of signs, the mind makes use of for the understanding of things or conveying its knowledge to others.” (1689, Book IV, ch XXI, section 4). Note that in this remark, Locke identifies two purposes for signs: the understanding of things (logical), and the conveying of knowledge (cultural).

Your assignment: READ Define This Word, by MFK Fisher

Question: What Word ?

Raspberry-Pear Frangipane Tart



1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

4 to 6 tablespoons ice water


1 cup (4 ounces) whole blanched, raw almonds

1/2 cup granulated sugar

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 large eggs

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup (4 ounces) fresh raspberries

1 med-large Bartlett pair


Use a 9″ tart pan w/removable bottom

  1. For the pastry: Whisk flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal with a few pea-sized pieces. Add 4 tablespoons of the water and stir. Add 1 to 2 more tablespoons water if needed– dough should just hold together when squeezed. 
  2. Form dough into a ball, wrap in plastic, flatten it into a 6-inch disc. Refrigerate until cold, at least 1 hour. 
  3. For the filling: Pulse almonds in food processor until finely ground. Add sugar, butter, and salt– blend until smooth. Add the eggs and almond extract– blend until smooth. Add flour and pulse until just combined. 
  4. Heat the oven to 375 F. On a floured pastry cloth, roll dough into an 11-inch circle. Ease the dough onto 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Gently press in the edges, run and trim. Place in freezer for 15 minutes. Use parchment paper and fill with pie weights (or dried beans). Place on a baking sheet and bake until set, ~approx. 20 minutes.
  5. Reduce the oven to 350 F.  Spread filling evenly in Tart. Arrange raspberries and slices of pair on filling. Bake until puffed and golden brown, 35 to 40 mins. Cool on rack.

2 thoughts on “Define This Word…”

  1. Robert Watkins

    Two competing answers:

    1) The meal itself, is just SO !!!

    The author longing for a glass of sherry, mentally resigning herself to the fact that it is unobtainable at that time in all the village bistros, starts to place her order for an aperitif— but she is interrupted by the waitress, in an apparent act of telepathy, suggesting she have… a glass of sherry. So unexpected !!! There is a game of cat and mouse, the servant’s insistence, is met with hesitancy and tension on Mary’s part– the waitress insisting on hors d’oeuvres, our heroine thinking, ” Hell ! I loathed hors d’ oeuvres ! Yet, they appear on the table, “at least eight little dishes”, pickled herring, sizzling broiled endive, marinated lentils with herbs, little baked onions, and more– delicious. So exceptional !!! The pate (the exciting faint decadent flavor… a hint of marc), a glass of Chablis 1929, the truite au bleu (the trout, glad, truly glad, to be prepared by Monsieur Paul– “the best [Mary] had ever tasted”) accompanied by potatoes (inspite of her protests), and the sauce on the potatoes (the servant calls it “the most beautiful sauce in the world” and Mary nods her incredulous agreement), the salad with its dressing prepared tableside. So exquisite !!! And, the terrine of wild duck with spices and wine, the slice of Monsieur Paul’s special cheese, a special filter of coffee, and an apple tart (“the most beautiful apple tart [Mary] had ever seen”) She ”drank the hot coffee as a suffering man gulps ether, deeply and gratefully”, and she remembers, after sending her compliments to the chef “feeling only amusement when a vast glass of marc appeared before me” And as she is ready to walk out the door, the girl pours her yet more hot, aged marc. So excessive !!!

    The meal— is a gastronomic tour de force, quintessentially French. It rivals, nay surpasses, even the 1801 day-long meal (** footnote ) described in Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s – The Physiology of Taste – Meditation 14 – On the Pleasures of the Table (English trans. by MFK Fisher).

    This word is:
    REPAST: late 14c., from Old French, based on late Latin repascere, Spanish repasto, noun use of past participle of repascere “to feed again,” from Latin re- “repeatedly” (expressing intensive force) + pascere ‘to feed’

    The word is definitely REPAST.


    2) Oh, that waitress, she’s a “funny” one !!!

    The story starts with: “THAT early spring I met a young servant in northern Burgundy who was almost fanatical about food, like a medieval woman possessed by the devil. Her obsession engulfed even my appreciation.”

    Throughout the story, there is a sense that the author has somehow been taken captive by this waitress, who seems able to sense every gastronomic notion Mary has. The “mad servant” engages in a psychic banter, seemingly with Mary’s stream of consciousness— interrupting her as she is ordering, countermanding her, scolding her with her eyes, ignoring her protests— she is able to sense Mary’s true tastes, like a mind reader, giving the whole story a surreal quality. At one point after disagreeing with the waitress’ suggestion,
    ~~~“she looked reproachfully at me, her mouth tender and sad, “I am sure that Madame would be very much pleased.” I smiled weakly at her, and she left. A little cloud of hurt gentleness seemed to hang in the air where she had last stood.”
    That time, the waitress got her way. Actually, the waitress always has it her way.

    When Mary orders the Chablis 1929, not the Chablis Villages 1929. The waitress is noticeably pleased that she is serving Monsieur Paul’s creations to someone with a palate that can appreciate them.
    ~~~“For a second her whole face blazed with joy, and then subsided into a trained mask. I knew that I had chosen well, had somehow satisfied her in a secret and incomprehensible way.
    When she first tastes the Pickled Herring (as direct to do by the waitress), Mary notes,

    ~~~“I realized the maid had stopped breathing, and looked up at her. She was watching me, or rather a gastronomic X-ray of the herring inside me, with a hypnotized glaze in her eyes.” “Madame is pleased?” she whispered softly. I said I was. She sighed, and pushed a sizzling plate of broiled endive toward me, and disappeared.”

    As Mary is finishing the hors d’oeuvres, the maid appears with the live trout and…
    ~~~”But first a good slice of Monsieur Paul’s pate. Oh yes, oh yes, you will be very sorry if you miss this. It is rich, but appetizing, and not at all too heavy. Just this one morsel!”

    ~~~And willy-nilly I accepted the large gouge she dug from a terrine… I forgot everything but the exciting faint decadent flavor in my mouth.

    ~~~beamed up at the girl. She nodded, but from habit asked if I was satisfied. I beamed again, and asked, simply to please her, “is there not a faint hint of marc, or perhaps cognac?”

    ~~~”Marc, Madame!” And she awarded me the proud look of a teacher whose pupil has showed unexpected intelligence. “Monsieur Paul, after he has taken equal parts of goose breast and the finest pork, and broken a certain number of egg yolks into them, and ground them very, very fine, cooks all with seasoning for some three hours. But,” she pushed her face nearer, and looked with ferocious gloating at the pate inside me, her eyes like X-rays, “he never stops stirring it! Figure to yourself the work of it-stir, stir, never stopping!
    “Then he grinds in a suspicion of nutmeg, and then adds, very thoroughly, a glass of marc for each hundred grams of pate. And is Madame not pleased?”
    Again I agreed, rather timidly, that Madame was much pleased, that Madame had never, indeed, tasted such an unctuous and exciting pate. The girl wet her lips delicately, and then started as if she had been pin-struck.

    ~~~”But the trout! My God, the trout!” She grabbed the bucket, and her voice grew higher and more rushed. s

    The waitress offers detailed commentary of Monsieur Paul’s faultless technique, and the silky speed of the swipe that guts the trout. When she finishes her description, Mary writes
    ~~~“She panted triumph at me, and hurried out with the bucket.”

    ~~~“She is a funny one, I thought, and for not more than two or three minutes I drank wine and mused over her.”

    Look at these words, what is going on here ?

    ~~~“cut off her anxious breathings with an assurance that the fish was the best I had ever tasted, she peered again at me

    ~~~Ah!” she sighed at last. “I knew Madame would feel thus!

    ~~~I asked softly, watching her lighted eyes and the tender lustful lines of her strange mouth.

    ~~~I was relieved to see her go; such avid interest in my eating wore on me. I felt released when the door closed behind her, free for a minute or so from her victimization. What would she have done, I wondered, if I had been ignorant or unconscious of any fine flavors?

    ~~~She asked me again, in a respectful but gossipy manner, how I had liked this and that

    ~~~now Madame is going to taste Monsieur Paul’s special terrine,

    ~~~Madame will be pleased.”

    ~~~[she] stood over me while I ate it, telling me with almost hysterical pleasure of the wild ducks…

    And then, here the story explicitly states it:

    ~~~I was beginning, though, to feel almost frightened, realizing myself an accidental victim of these stranded gourmets, Monsieur Paul and his handmaiden. I began to feel that, they were using me for a safety valve…

    ~~~I protested only to myself when one of Monsieur Paul’s special cheeses was cut for me, and ate it doggedly, like a slave.

    ~~~I smiled servile acceptance

    ~~~Not a wince or a murmur showed the waitress my distressed fearfulness.

    ~~~With a stuffed careful smile on my face, and a clear nightmare in my head of trussed
    wanderers prepared for his altar by this hermit-priest of gastronomy, I listened to the girl’s passionate plea for fresh pastry dough. “You cannot, you cannot, Madame, serve old pastry!”

    ~~~You may feel that you have eaten too much.” (I nodded idiotic agreement.)

    ~~~I felt surprise to be alive still, and suddenly very grateful to the wild-lipped waitress, as
    if her presence had sustained me through duress. We discussed food and wine. I wondered bemusedly why I had been frightened.

    ~~~I drank to Monsieur Paul while she watched me intently, her pale eyes bulging in the dimness and her lips pressed inward as if she too tasted the hot, aged marc.

    ~~~Suddenly the girl began to laugh, in a soft shy breathless way, and came close to me. “Permit me!” she said, and I thought she was going to kiss me. But instead she pinned a tiny bunch of snowdrops and dark bruised cyclamens against my stiff jacket, very quickly and deftly, and then ran from the room with her head down.

    ~~~She’s a funny one, I thought.

    It could be REPAST,
    It could be VICARIOUSLY.

    1630s, “taking the place of another,” from Latin vicarius “substituted, delegated,” from vicis “a change, exchange, interchange; succession, alternation, substitution”
    from 1929 as “experienced imaginatively through another.”


    Footnote ** the breakfast of oysters, kidney pie, eggs, and fondue, etc.… that lasted until dinner, into tea time and that marvelous hot punch with toast, the short nap by the hearth, and the stroll to his Aunt’s house, leaving just enough time in the day for an evening meal of lettuce, as described by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

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