Pizza Napoletanismo

June 16, 2012

A Philosophy of Pizza Napoletanismo (Part 10: A Philosophy of Art)

Craft, Art, & Philosophy!
Neapolitan Oven at Pizzeria Kesté, New York (Photo: Hannah Whitaker, New York Magazine)

So far, we have succinctly and phenomenologically explored the “ontogenic”, “ontological”, “culinary”, and “artistic” manifestations of traditional Neapolitan pizza. let us have a brief review, with emphasis on the culinary and artistic dimensions. As I previously stated in Part 1:

“From a phenomenological standpoint, the Neapolitan pizza manifests itself as a (1) historical and cultural ontogeny, (2) culinary tradition, (3) artand (4) ontology or a way of being:

1) As an ‘ontogeny’, it involves the historical and cultural circumstances that have shaped this phenomenon into its present form, which has evolved throughout its saga.

2) As a ‘culinary tradition’ (which is an oral tradition), it involves specific methodologies, techniques, rituals, ingredients, and tools in preparing and baking pizzas in accordance with the gastronomical sensibility of the Neapolitan people.

3) As an ‘art’, it involves a creative process, which entails, in a cyclical fashion, (1) experimenting with the spatiotemporal mediums of this art (2) examining their objectifications or end results, and (3) evaluating the creative process used in this endeavor. Also, above all, it imperatively involves self-reflection and self-direction in order to recreate oneself (to build ‘character’), besides creating the edible artwork! The interplay and interdependence between the creator and that which she or he creates is of vital importance in this art. In short, it is a process of creative and reflective thinking, and evaluation of the thinking, that finds practical and aesthetic expressions in this art.

4) As an ‘ontology’ or ‘way of being’, the Neapolitan pizza, in a very subtle manner, serves as a symbol or metaphor which profoundly expresses a sentiment that is not even immediately or consciously fathomed by average Neapolitans, yet they participate in it whether they know it or not! . . . Indeed, when we engage in the ritual of making Neapolitan pizza, we are engaged in something more than a culinary tradition that needs to be approached with reverence and care! . . . [The pizza is symbolic of the cultural and historical identity of people of Naples.] La maschera di napoli (‘The mask of Naples’)—i.e., ‘Pulcinella’—is also another integral aspect of the Neapolitan culture and identity. . . .”

Further, in respect to the culinary aspect of the traditional Neapolitan pizza, I asserted, in Part 7, that it entails specific:

1) “Logistics (employment of specific ingredients and tools)”,
2) “Orchestration (the way of production)”, and
3) “Gastronomy (physical and gustatory/organoleptic attributes of the end product)”

In this regard, I also maintained in Part 1:

“A Neapolitan pizzeria can possess all the right ingredients and culinary tools, yet if the dough they produce is not properly prepared and diligently cared for—the pizzas produced by the pizzeria will be gastronomically unmerited (by the conservative estimation) of the title “Neapolitan pizza”, does not matter how mouthwatering, flavorful, scrumptious, and good-looking they are, and does not matter how people rave about them! Conversely, it does not matter how negatively people may feel about them! What seems to matter, per the conservatives, are the types of ingredients, tools (specifically the mixer and oven), methodology, techniques, the way they are executed in making pizzas, and the traditional gastronomical qualities of the end products in terms of texture, flavor, representation, size, and the quantitative balance between the toppings and the pizza base.”

Moreover, I stipulated in Part 1:

“In the context of dough production, the terms ‘methodology’ and ‘technique’ are defined as follows:

●Methodology: The systematic organization of knowledge of the principles and processes which cause and regulate dough formation, fermentation, and maturation.

●Technique: The term (derived from the ancient Greek word tekhnē, meaning ‘skill’ or ‘art’) denotes a systematic procedure by which dough formation, fermentation, and maturation are accomplished by deliberation, skill, and command—not chance—in handling the fundamentals of dough production. Hence, this requires practical knowledge and special skills arising from extensive experience. It is the accumulation and organization of such knowledge and skills over a long period of time by the Neapolitan pizzaiuoli that eventually crystalized into an art as part of the culinary tradition of the Neapolitan pizza.”

With respect to the artistic facet of the traditional Neapolitan pizza, I posited in Part 1:

“Making Neapolitan pizza is an ‘art’, perhaps in the fullest sense of the term: creatively sculpting from raw materials a symbolic artifact (arte factum, ‘something made with skill’) that aesthetically feeds the eyes and the soul, besides feeding the stomach. This process is akin to a sculptor transforming a pure piece of marble into a beatific work of art that seduces her or him to life! (Yes, art has the power to ‘seduce one to life’.) A pizzaiolo’s marble is the dough, and her or his hands are the chisels! By imposing form upon the formless mass of dough, a pizzaiolo creates a work of art that, unlike a sculpture or painting, can be intimately felt through the senses of smell, taste, and oral tactility.

. . . My philosophy is that recipes do not create pizzas, that what are more fundamental in making Neapolitan pizzas are the underlying principles and, above all, the character of the pizza-artisan. Consider Michelangelo’s statue ‘David’, which is a masterpiece of Renaissance art. Was it a recipe (a set of instructions) that essentially breathed life into the block of marble out of which ‘David’ was born, or was it Michelangelo’s artistic ‘character’ and following a set of ‘principles’—in accordance with the sensitivity, temperament, temperance, style, and virtues of his cultivated character—that begot this magnificent work of art? It is said that when Michelangelo carved ‘David’, he simply chiseled away whatever that was not human in the block of marble, and at last the creator set “David” free from the mass of marble! In his own words, ‘I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.’ Our task is to do the same with our marble—which is both our ‘characters’ and the ‘dough’!

Whatever pizza recipe a pizzaiolo devises and the way he executes the recipe in crafting pizzas will directly correlate with his character and the principles he apprehends and follows. In essence, it is one’s cultivated artistic character and the way one employs the principles of dough production that should dictate and animate a dough recipe.

Often I envisage that the quality and worth of a pizza is principally contingent upon the ethos or character of the pizzaiolo who gave birth to the pizza. Perhaps what is more decisive in preparing pizza is character (derived from the Greek word kharaktēr, meaning literally ‘a stamping tool’) rather than technical skills of a pizzaiolo. Besides, the right attitude fosters the right aptitude. According to Friedrich Nietzsche,

‘Giving style to one’s character—a great and rare art! It is exercised by those who see all the strengths and weaknesses of their own nature and then comprehend them in an artistic plan until everything appears as art and reason . . . under a law of their own.’ (Gay Science, book 4: 290)

The pizza you make reflects your character!

As an art, learning how to create Neapolitan pizza fundamentally appears to be an inside-out process, involving psychological transformation, meaning that one needs to overcome internal (psychological) obstacles in order to overcome external (physical) obstacles in this artistic pursuit. One learns to create an artwork by recreating oneself, bringing one’s own impulses under control and sublimating them into new channels of activity. This carries the implication that, again, recipes and techniques do not make pizzas; they are merely instrumental in the act of creating. Something deeper or primordial seems to be at work here. Handcrafting pizza napoletana, as an artistic expression, involves self-actualization and self-expression, not devoid of devotion for the rich Neapolitan tradition—which is, figuratively speaking, the shoulders of a giant upon which a devotee stands!

As evident above, the culinary aspect of the Neapolitan pizza is more than a mere craft; it is an art. Just as other fine arts, the artifacts created by the art of traditional Neapolitan pizza are of symbolic and aesthetic values. And, unlike the fine arts, such artifacts are also of utilitarian (i.e., nourishment) value. These artworks are intended for both beauty and utility, besides their symbolism (i.e., the historical and cultural identity of the Neapolitan people).

What transpires here is that, one way to fundamentally commit oneself to becoming a pizzaiolo is, at an initial stage, to ideologically equip oneself: to understand the underlying principles, ideology, phenomenon, Napoletanità. This is not “idealism v. materialism”, but materialism sublimated or refined ideologically—it is a sublime symphony! It is important and decisive to foster a right frame of mind from the outset when one aspires to excel oneself in this culinary tradition as an artistic pursuit.

As implied above, the artistic pursuit of the culinary tradition of Neapolitan pizza involves a philosophy of art. In this regard, I would like to relate an illuminating, yet baffling, pizza dream I had on Jan. 13, 2012! In doing so, I need to somewhat rephrase the account in order to make it intelligible without falsifying it. In the dream, I encountered four philosophers: Patrick Pidgeon (a philosophy professor under whom I studied for a number of years), Martin Heidegger (known for his ontological studies on “being” and “time”), Friedrich Nietzsche (who wrote extensively on the theme of “art” and the psychological “transformations” associated with it), and Søren Kierkegaard (for whom lack of “passion” in the modern age was a central theme in his writings). As I was in a dark room sitting before the philosophers, the first one began to speak:

The Philosophers (from left to right): Patrick Pidgeon, Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche, & Søren Kierkegaard

1. Patrick Pidgeon:
“Since the role of language is tremendous, you need better formulation of the concepts ‘point of pasta’, ‘fermentation’, ‘levitation’, ‘maturation’, and ‘time’. They need to be precisely articulated without losing the ground on which they stand. Without them, you are not making pizzas, but accidents. Keep asking yourself what are the questions or problems to which these concepts are the answers. Formulate your questions carefully, as wrong questions will beg for wrong answers!”

2. Next, Heidegger took the floor:
“‘time’ is not merely a quantity of something, but a quality that is begot through its passage. A burden of the Western societies has been their misconception of time . . . always finding something to count . . . the number of wrinkles on one’s face, the number of calories one consumes, one’s weight, the number of hours to ferment dough, the maximum number of pizzas prepared in minimum amount of time . . . never thinking that time is expressive of ‘significations’, of ‘potentials’, of ‘possibilities’ [posse (“to exist”) + habilitās (“being capable”) = “capable of existing”] of being-in-the-world. [Heidegger often viewed “being” as a modality, as opposed to a corporeal entity or thing.]

3. Next, Nietzsche made himself heard by reading a well-known passage, which I quote verbatim below, from one of his books:
“What? Do we really want to permit existence to be degraded for us like this—reduced to a mere exercise for a calculator and an indoor diversion for mathematicians? Above all, one should not wish to divest existence of its rich ambiguity. . . . That the only justifiable interpretation of the world should be one in which you are justified because one can continue to work and do research scientifically in your sense (you really mean, mechanistically?)—an interpretation that permits counting, calculating, weighing, seeing, and touching, and nothing more—that is a crudity and naïveté. . . . A ‘scientific’ interpretation of the world, as you understand it, might therefore still be one of the most stupid of all possible interpretations of the world, meaning that it would be one of the poorest in meaning. . . . An essentially mechanical world would be an essentially meaningless world. [Suppose] that one estimated the value of a piece of music according to how much of it could be counted, calculated, and expressed in formulas: how absurd would such a ‘scientific’ estimation of music be! What would one have comprehended, understood, grasped of it? Nothing, really nothing of what is ‘music’ in it!” (Gay Science, book 5: 373)

Nietzsche continued, “Creation of a work of art, such as the Neapolitan pizza, fundamentally involves re-creating your self and co-evolving with that which you create. That which you create re-creates you as much as you create it! After all, what is the meaning of art? What is it good for? To what purpose? What is the problem to which art offers to be a solution? What is the human impulse which turns against itself, against life, without art?

Consider artists such as Michelangelo, Mozart, Goethe, even Einstein who was a scientist, and ask yourself what all these great souls had in common in their acts of creating? They were able to overcome—not depreciate—their impulses. They were able to harmonize their passions and reason; they were able to organize the disarray of their impulses, giving style to their own characters; they were masters of their impulses; they were able to overcome—not kill—their animal nature; they were able to sacrifice [make sacred], spiritualize, and sublimate their own impulses to new heights where they could see the world from new perspectives. They knew that mastering their passions was pertinent to a suffering that breeds strength and depth of soul. They were able to be tolerant not out of weakness, but out of self-cultivated strength. They gave to others not out of pity or impoverished needs, but out of the richness of their characters. Where they found their well-being, others often find their own ruination! They suffered from the overfullness, not impoverishment, of their lives so much that they had to redeem themselves by recreating themselves and the world in which they found themselves. They were creators. A recipe does not make pizza; human character does!”

4. At last, Kierkegaard voiced himself:
“Any artistic creation, such as making a Neapolitan pizza, is at roots a matter of ‘ethics’ [i.e., being able] and ‘morals’ [i.e., ‘how’ and ‘what’ you do with your ‘ability’]. Your ‘ethics’ and ‘morals’ determine what you can create.”

Next, Kierkegaard pulled out one of his works, from which he read aloud (and I am quoting it, below, right from the book): “Our age is essentially one of understanding and reflection, without passion. . . . In fact, one is tempted to ask whether there is a single man left ready, for once, to commit an outrageous folly. Nowadays not even a suicide kills himself in desperation. Before taking the step he deliberates so long and so carefully that he literally chokes with thought. It is even questionable whether he ought to be called a suicide, since it is really thought which takes his life. He does not die with deliberation but from deliberation.” (The Present Age)

Next article: Part 11: Art and Passion

Previous article: Part 9: Being and Time


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