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Reading, as part of Breakfast B reading series #3, organised by Julia Dahee Hong

Becoming the croissant: an experiment of phenomenology 🥐

Initially, for Breakfast B reading series, I wanted to prepare an overview of breakfasts throughout art history, but instead of showing more examples of breakfast-still-life-paintings I would like to try something new and change my position towards my subjects and rather take on the breakfast as posture.

In the following presentation I will try to explain and demonstrate the consequences of a shift in relational position and I do so by means of a little thought experiment, an exercise of phenomenology.

In particular I will focus on the croissant as 'character', because I found out this functions as a particularly telling example.

A Croissant = a puff pastry with a French name. Throughout this reading I will attempt a french pronunciation [ French krwah-sahn; English kruh-sahnt ] 🥐

First I want to highlight a bit of the historical background of the croissant, starting from its pre-history, because we find the croissant at the beginning of civilization in the Fertile Crescent.

The Fertile Crescent is a croissant-minus-two-bites-shaped region of West Asia, a lively region since the Neolithic and home to some of the earliest human settlements. It is also known as one of the “Cradles of Civilization” and we think of this area as the birthplace of a number of technological innovations including writing, the wheel, agriculture, and the use of irrigation. The Fertile Crescent includes ancient Mesopotamia and Babylonia and today the area includes parts of Iraq, Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Turkey.

I want to underline here that this is one of many stories on the start of civilization and I'm sure there are more breakfast items that brought about civilizations and technological innovations…

Then, moving on to the origin stories of the croissant as pastry:

Urban myth has it that a group of Vienna bakers invented the prototype for the croissant in 1683, during an Ottoman siege on the Austrian capital Vienna, when Ottoman troops dug a tunnel to enter the then-walled city from underground.

Now there are two sides of the story...

One says that the invaders were heard & reported to the authorities by one of the city’s bakers, who typically worked very early in the morning and thus heard the approaching attack in his cellar.

As a result of the warning the Viennese military managed to collapse the tunnel on the Ottoman troops, saving the city from the invasion.

The baker baked a crescent shaped pastry in the shape of the Ottomans flag’s symbol, the crescent moon, so that when his fellow Austrians bit into the croissant, they would be symbolically eating their enemy.

This story suggests a sort of anthropophagical position of the origin of the croissant: as a pastry that represents the enemy. To eat your enemy, is to confront oneself INSIDE oneself with the other. The croissant in this case is not symbolic of the other’s substance, but of the other’s position.

The other story, alternatively, says that the Ottoman empire finished their tunnel and reached the city, upon which the Viennese population escaped. The bakers ran from their bakeries and left their bread unfinished. The Ottoman soldiers then formed the fresh dough into little tunnel shapes, to celebrate their winning strategy.

This tunnel story made me consider that croissants are perfect structures to go across and their shape not only relates to tunnel infrastructures but also to bridges.

Croissants or Cross-ants help us to go a-cross

Here things become a bit more complex as we start an inquiry into croissant worldview’s

Becoming the croissant as going a-cross, a-croiss

We will start our inquiry with a little tête-à-tête with Charles Baudelaire, who wrote the poem À une Passante (translated in English ‘to a passer-by’ but I prefer to keep it un-translated). The poem describes a beautiful woman, passing by, in the crowds of Paris. The poet, Baudelaire, is “the flaneur”: a bohemien, an observer-of-the-crowd-in-the-crowd, seeking refuge. The city he portrays, and the city of the passante, is phantasmagoric: a constantly shifting succession of things seen or imagined, a scene that constantly changes, a sequence of symbols, illusions, goods, contradictions. Halfway between waking and sleeping. He loses himself at the mercy of the commodity. Wandering.

The woman in the poem here is just a passante... in the same way as she appears, she quickly vanishes from sight, leaving the poet paralysed in the chaos.

Not only the woman is a passante, the poet is a passante himself too. We are all passante to each other, in the crowd.

Through Baudelaire's verses we come across the passante-flaneur. Next, the philosophy of Édouard Glissant can help us to subvert the passante into the figure of the errant, which slowly is going to get us closer to the approach of the Croissant and its metaphysical space and worldview.

Glissant theorises the figure of the errant when he sketches relation as the ground for identity. Errantry is a state of being-in-the-world in which identity is shaped through a relationship with the other.

The errant strives to know the totality of the world, yet, already knows he will never accomplish this.

Another interesting characteristic of the errant is multilingualism, for the errant lacks a fixed root.

Now I'll extend the errant-thought further to come closer to the crossing Croissant:

As we have seen the Croissant is able to cross physical borders such as water (by bridges) and walls (through tunnels) but additionally the Croissant is able to cross non-physical borders or non-physical territories such as the ones theorized by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in their concept of de-territorialization.

De-territorialization is the abandonment of the territory. Territory here is intended as the space of relations. De-territorialization corresponds to a crisis, the disappearance of limits & borders. Every crisis translates into a cancellation of limits, rhythms & cycles. These components then constitute another new relation, and become re-territorialized. When the space is re-territorialized, the bodies find a new ordering.

Croissants enable re-territorialization.

Now, in conclusion of this brief philosophical excursion, we see a shift


from the passant/flaneur to the croissant/errant.

The first is passive and gets stuck in the infinite loop of the Wiki click, scrolling infinitely in the dimension of the opinions. Drugged by the shocks of the city, sucked into the latte-art-maelstrom...

The second, the croissant, on the contrary, decides to be an activist and is well aware of the tight system of interdependence that holds the world and of the effect of the boomerang that he himself represents.

The archetype persona of the croissant is the jester.

The jester was perhaps the most multifaceted figure of the Middle Ages, he/she knew jokes, games, how to dance, sing, play instruments and act. We could say the Jester was a sort of “cultural medium” of the time. When the jester appeared in the Commedia dell’Arte in 16th century italy, he/she moved from village to village much like the errant without root.

Also much like the errant, the jester is multilingual, as the language used in the Commedia is grammelot: an imitation of language, a sort of gibberish. A language which is not based on the articulation of words, but reproduces some properties of the phonetic system of a specific language such as intonation, rhythm, cadences, and reassembles them in a continuous flow.

Moreover jesters have the ability to accompany one's words with movements, which is something Croissants have too. Parallel to the sound, the jester carries out a gestures, made up of widely recognizable expressions for example, when grammelot refers to French, mimicry is marked by traditional “french” gestures such as those of French flaneurs like Baudelaire...

The jester and his/her grammelot therefore perfectly fits with the theory of our Croissant - a french sounding word which takes its meaning from the english to cross.

Now, to fully enact what is means to be croissant I would like to finish this discourse with the reading of a piece of grammelot out loud (in Italo-grammelot which is a language I use often). Please join me:

Oggi traneguale per indotto-ne consebase al tresico imparte per altro non sparetico gorgio, pur se-ministri e cognando, insto allegò sigrede, non manifolo di sesto, dissesto si può intervento e lo stava intemario anche nale perdipiù albato – senza stipuò lagno en sogno-la-prima di il suo masso nato per illuco saltrusio ma non sempre. Si sa, albatro spertico, rimo sa medesimo non vechianante e, anche, sortomane del pontefilo in diverica lonibata visito croissante, grazie! (+- Fo 1997: 108-109)

Watch the recording of Breakfast B's reading series here

Text sources:

Anti Oedipus, Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari
Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin about Charles Baudelaire
À une Passante, Charles Baudelaire
Grammelot, Treccani Enciclopedia, visited 5/3/2022 https://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/grammelot_%28Enciclopedia-dell%27Italiano%29/
Manuale Minomo dell’Attore, Dario Fo, Einaudi, 1997
Poetics of Relation, Édouard Glissant, translated by Betsy Wing

& in conversation with philosopher Giovanni Pietracaprina

Image credits:

1 Willem Claesz Heda 1646 Ontbijttafel met Ham https://rkd.nl/nl/explore/images/270137
3 Magere Brug Amsterdam picture by Zairon https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magere_Brug#/media/File:Amsterdam_Magere_Brug_3.jpg
4-5 images by Evi Olde Rikkert