Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Penne alla Vodka Philosophy of Life

Taste the generic.
At some point within my lifetime, Penne alla Vodka worked its way from culinary obscurity into the dining mainstay. This is not to observe that the dish is by nature a poor order, but rather there exists something about the combination of ingredients and expectations of foodies that always makes the plate a hit. Regardless of the freshness of ingredients, the quality of the preparation, and the details of the recipe, everyone seems to feel treated well when served a plate of Penne alla Vodka. Invariably it seems like something, and for that reason it seems seldom well prepared. Why fuss over a stellar preparation? Forget it Jake, it's Penne alla Vodka.

This policy or tendency or what have you, of accepting and praising something just for being, just for vaguely, barely taking the form it ought, offends good taste and decency in every walk of life. Government officials demand credit for activity instead of success, employees pay for showing up at work on time, and students good grades for turning in work of any quality at any time. Even in the world of the sacred this thinking runs rampant: it doesn't matter what kind of music is played at mass as long as music is played.

Underlying this philosophy is the desire to fulfill a need or appetite instead of an ideal. It might be an ideal that the specific task by its nature must be done well, i.e. the celebration of a liturgy, or it might be a general appeal to excellence. The idea sounds old fashioned: anything that's worth doing. . . but it's older still and wedded to Western Civilization. Aristos. Excelsior.

It's not hard to see the result of abandoning such aspirations, a poverty of excellence, but a worse effect pervades in a stultifying effect on the spirit. It does a terrible, quiet hurt to the soul every day to see a thousand things done well enough. The world shrinks as the symmetries of beauty fade and nothing beside remains but the tyranny of utility.

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