Taste as Category, or Make What I Like Its Own Thing

I had a fantastic time yesterday at this impeccable purveyor of spirits: Cask, it calls itself. I bought four bottles of booze, each its own species: a rye, a scotch, a tequila, a gin.

But as I discussed each item with one or two of the shop keepers, it became obvious that I wanted the same experience, in a sense, from each: clean, heady, dry, spicy, complex. I used identical words to describe what I wanted but I used different differentiators to make clear what I did not want: no caramel in the rye, little peat in the scotch, not too floral in the gin, no dirt in my repasado.

What I was doing was creating a horizontal species — not a genus of any one species of booze but a palate, a flavor profile, that runs across the different verticals.

Music and film, of course, use this horizontal mood mapping: if you like this music, you’ll like this other music that’s dark, drone, and contemplative.

But even in those realms, especially in music, the mapping tends to stay within its vertical — if you like The Smiths, you might like The Cure. Of course you might.

What’s more complex is making the jump to a different vertical. People do this all the time. It’s called their taste. Algorithms have more trouble.

Taste is a predilection that can become a piece of code, a meme. It is an operation, a metabolism, that can become separated from the body that tastes (albeit it in a different form, necessarily).

A vertical category enjoys a certain kind of code, less operational than material: a bourbon uses corn, rye; tequila, agave; gin, fuck if I know. But within each vertical, within each prescription, there is necessarily a horizontal trajectory, a mode of putting those things together.

And this horizontal trajectory transcends the material — it is the operation, the invisible action, of putting things together.

These tastes, these metabolic styles, can become categories. But because we live in a vertical culture, we tend towards vertical categories. Horizontal categories are left to fashion and the arts (curation) but even more to the individual.

As de Certeau argues in The Practice of Everyday Life, the individual is not just a distinctive node, but a productive node within the strategies of power and capital. But he doesn’t focus on the kinds of species such nodes can produce and what such a knowledge might look like. TC mark

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  • http://twitter.com/rislynsey christopher lynsey

    Taste vs. algorithm is a great chasm. Coat it differently: Metaphysics vs. mathematics, art vs. science,
    becoming vs. being, lyrics vs. essays; I could go on forever.

    • L. Christof Dunesberry

      Did you mean chasm, or chiasm?f

    • Daniel Coffeen

      Yeah yeah. Except algorithm and taste are related, intimately. And with the computational, algorithms can become quite interesting, quite complex. And yet an infinite gap between algorithm and taste remains. But it's not the same as the gap between being and becoming, stasis and motion.

  • Tsubaki

    Gin has a million ingredients, but always starts with a base of neutral grain alcohol, juniper berries, and some kind of citrus peel. And then come the gazillion spices! Love this article.

  • Madison Moore


    • Daniel Coffeen

      Thank you, thank you. Too kind. I'm used to the opposite reaction: You, still?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1473030364 facebook-1473030364

    The vertical/horizontal analysis is interesting, but you missed the major point of what observably unifies cultural (books, music) tastes in people: being *known* to have those tastes. In other words, taste as social performance and cultural capital. This is re: Pierre Bourdieu's whole schtick & Douglas Holt's pretty interesting research on cultural capital and taste in the U.S.

    • Daniel Coffeen

      But my point was this: what would it look to turn a horizontal category into a vertical category, into something repeatable, into something that can become cultural capital.

  • http://twitter.com/JosephErnest Joseph Ernest Harper

    Thank you thought catalog. Like this content.



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