Thursday, November 24, 2005

There's a special sound people make when they speak with their mouths full of steak. A honking, adenoidal sound. Almost choking. Drowning in meat.

In France the premise is that human desires can and should be satisfied, day after day. Desire itself is never extravagant, nor viewed as indulgent or vain, but rather rational and manageable. Not so in the U.S. "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" was written by a Briton but it's a distinctly American sentiment, inspired by similarly titled American blues. In fact it is a reaction to America: In the midst of this bounty, this ludicrous and hideous embarrassment of riches, I am lost, paralyzed, frustrated. A man comes on the radio, and he's telling me more and more. But the French would answer that song with: Of course you can be satisfied. Have a good meal - three courses. Not too much. Enough. Have wine, just enough to begin to get drunk - the happiest period in the span of intoxication. Plus you get a coffee at the end. Then go home and fuck your wife. Or your mistress. We know, and it's OK. Buy her some lingerie from one of those hundred shops on the boulevard. Satisfied? Of course you are. And tomorrow you get to do it all over again. To reenact and ritually refute the myth of desire.

But America is the land of the all-you-can-eat. Implicit in that very proposition is the idea that satisfaction is elusive, distant, perhaps nonexistent. Satisfaction? Who knows. Keep eating. And of course when we follow the American program we cannot be satisfied. The all-you-can-eat leads you directly from hunger to nauseous, uncomfortable fullness without a pause. There is no satisfaction. You are left with a vague sense that you should eat more to really get your money's worth, trumped by the fact of your strained, distended stomach.

Where does this insatiable American hunger come from? There was perhaps a backlash against hyper-abstemious Puritanism. And then the credo of eminent domain - all-you-can-eat writ huge, territorial. But it mostly comes from the very model of the so-called American Dream. You can do anything. How much can you do? More. How far can you go? Further. How much is enough? Nothing is ever enough. Satisfaction is anathema.

French society is calculated to satisfy desire, where American society is calculated to inflame desire. In America the carrot is on the stick; in France the carrot is in the hand.