Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Gluttony of Delicacy

I have been re-reading The Screwtape Letters, in which C S Lewis identifies a complexus of emotion and self-deception he calls the “gluttony of Delicacy”;  a Google search suggests he may himself have coined this trenchant term, though he is as likely to have translated from some medieval original (we invite our Latin readers to elucidate this).

A fine post on this subject can be found here:

Lewis’ tart description, obviously taken from life, evoked an image in my own mind, of a scene witnessed at work this very week. 

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            In the crowded and tumultuous cafeteria at work, one has often occasion to witness the following fascinating tableau:  beneath a little cone of silence and private light, a woman stands, as though in a trance, before the soup-tureen, for minutes on end, gently ladling up a selection of the really best bits of some dish of mixed composition,  fishing these bits from the bottom  and then tipping the ladle at a particular angle, allowing the liquid to slowly run off like swill, and be left for -- well, for whatever;  for the dogs to eat, we suppose.   Ladling and straining, filtering, sifting,  periodically inspecting the results of her labors with a critical eye, as the fops and grandees at Versailles used to examine their morning stool;  until at length and at last, she can come up with a florilegium of only the really truly just tastymost little niblets.
            One needn’t be a queen or a grandee, to feel entitled like one.  In aspect, this particular specimen in no wise resembles that sylph-like princess, who tossed and turned the night, atop a pile of feather mattresses, sensing the pea beneath the bottommost.   Nor that dandy, who, asked how he flourished, replied:  “Suhh -- I grow thinnah and thinnah…”   This particular specimen is a 4x4 (or 4 x 4 x 4):  four feet tall, four feet wide, weighing around 400 pounds.  Mais nonobstant:   Somewhere, she senses, at the bottom of this fat pot, hidden by gross shreds of lesser vegetables, there lurks a pea, so sweet, so small, so tender,  that it is destined for her puckered appreciative lips, and for none others.   And so she filters, and fishes -- like some patient angler fishing for the wise old catfish at the bottom of the pond, who has never been caught, lo these forty years…

            From a distance, this might seem but small gain for so great a labor, since an expenditure of fewer than six seconds could grab you a plain ladle or two of the steaming nourishment, and you’re off to the races.   But she does not mind nor grudge this labor, for it is a labor of love:   of love,  she fancies, for those truly most tastiful little mini-nibbles,  which the coarser sensorium of her coworkers would be too blunt to appreciate.  And yet in truth, it is not such merely perceptual or sensual gluttony that moves her (a sin, but a base one, shared with our cousins the swine, thus one that gives the Devil but little  whereon to practice his craft), but rather the gluttony of Delicacy, in Lewis’ barbed phrase:  the gluttony of self-love, self-love in abundance, great whipped-creamy sensuous swirls of it:  of love,  not ultimately for the fruits of this earth and their savor:  but for her own dainty taste-buds, each one just as pretty as a peach;  and her own cultivated capacity to thrill at the unprecedented delicacy of her own sensations.
            And so she idles, and ladles;  sighing in disappointment when the previous minutes’ labors somehow fail to have finally and consistently winnowed it all down to an acceptable selection of the nonpareil (a disappointment for which she shall have to compensate herself later  with an extra couple of chocolates) -- then dumps it all back in, slowly stirs the pot, and patiently resumes her quest;

            -- while behind her, their stomachs growling, lungs groaning, eyeballs starting from their heads,
            her fellow-workers have collected in a lengthening, but stagnant and unadvancing queue;  standing and fidgeting, tearing their hair:  gasping;  teeth gnashing;  going blind;  praying for death...

 Dr. S. Freud, late of Vienna,  imagined he had identified the root (or, as it were, rootlessness) of the Prickly Princess syndrome -- aber  Ausführung schenke ich mir.]

Für psychologisch tiefgreifende Krimis,
in pikanter amerikanischer Mundart,
und christlich gesinnt,
klicken Sie bitte hier:

[For further such delicacies, check this out:]

 [Update]  Wikipedia has an unusually fine survey here:


1 comment:

  1. Yes, and the ones who dig through the piles of tough, flavorless, cherry tomatoes in the salad bar for the three least-tough, most-tasty ones in there. Really? It's Sodexo. I mean, really.