A PICKLE MANIFESTO
the act of Pickling, or state of being Pickled can be defined as a transformation of a body that also serves as a method of preservation, and production of a new.
to be Pickled is to be submerged in a brine, but a Pickle is not simply the container that is subject to the penetration of a brine.
brining is temporal, can be disrupted, and controlled.
the process of Pickling is a feedback loop, and inherently collaborative.
Pickling is a renewal, reclamation, and destabilization.
I am a Pickle.
Erica Enriquez (2019)
Pickling as a Process of Thingness:
an exploration of what it means to be a Thing, described through texts of Martin Heidegger, Alice Walker, and Roland Barthes.
On earth, where multiple environments, creatures, and cultures blend and collide, objects and the living, and their categorizations as such are constantly in flux. While semiotics and semantics can be tools for deconstructing the ways in which various stages and characterizations are arranged and named, the clarity of identity becomes vague when an object or being begins as one, and enters the process of becoming, or suddenly becomes characterized as another. This essay will examine this process of becoming, or transgressing and how it relates to the concept of Thingness, using the model of the cucumber pickle as a means of navigating through texts of Martin Heidegger’s What is a Thing?, Alice Walker’s Everyday Use, and Roland Barthes’ Mythologies. To establish a concrete working model from the beginning, in the broadest sense across these texts, Thingness can be described as something momentary, or transitionary between two definite phases or sensibilities. This flicker of incongruity of fitting within a categorization is what we often label as a Thing. Within that construct of Thingness however, emerges many other facets and social constructs, which arise through a break in a dominant paradigm. Through the discussion of Thingness this paradigm will begin to define itself.
A cucumber pickle is complex such that it undergoes multiple transitions into Thingness, in different more complex stages through its process of coming to be. Martin Heidegger begins to deconstruct this process of Thingness through naming three senses of Things. The first sense that he describes is the “narrower” sense. This is what one might consider to be described as a physicality that can be touched or is within reach, or as Heidegger describes “the present at hand” to which requires an element of immediacy. The next sense is what he refers to as the “wider” sense, which is more in reference to ideas. These are ideas that contain a level of concreteness that we are able to describe and label; i.e. events, memories, or even feelings. It is important to note the necessity of human presence in the characterization of these first two senses. In other words, a person needs to experience them in order for them to be identified. Finally Heidegger describes the last sense of Thingness as the “widest”. The “widest” sense at its core can be anything that is something, and not nothing. This is pure abstraction, it is the unknown, but a significant distinction is the role of the Thing in itself, versus the Thing for us (i.e. humans). These three sensibilities can then be used as a starting point for deconstructing the Thingness of pickles.
Tracing it back to the beginning, the cucumber begins as a seed; a tangible object to which we have a solid understanding of. This is what Heidegger refers to as the “narrower sense”. A seed is not yet considered a plant, which contains the animate properties of the living, and is not yet quite considered a Thing because it can be recognized as a named, unmoving object - though it has the potential of transformation. This element of potentiality, in a way, has its own grounds for being argued as a Thing, but in this state, in relation to the journey of the pickle I will leave this as such in being characterized as an object.
This seed once planted and watered becomes a sprout, a developed plant, a flowering plant, and eventually bears the fruit to which we name the cucumber. As humans, our relationship to these fruit bearing plants is multifaceted such that we regard them as both a living organism but also in a way, a kind of product bearing machine for our consumption. This relationship to humans and how we perceive and experience the cucumber might be Heidegger’s characterization of the “wider” sense of Thingness. In this way, at its current state, the cucumber oscillates between being characterized as the fruit of its mother bearing plant, and being characterized as a vegetable of our consumption. While this on its surface seems as if it is simply a matter of semantics, two words referring to the same object, but this difference is significantly rooted in the human culture of ownership and our dominant positionality towards this subject. This oscillation between fruit as it relates to its mother bearing plant, versus our ownership to it as a vegetable, sprouts a new understanding of the cucumber as a Thing.
This element of cultural semantics in regard to Thingness is similar to the way that Alice Walker explores the idea of a family quilt as a Thing in her piece Everyday Use. In this short piece, Walker takes the reader through two kinds of perspectives and how they relate to a family quilt. On the one side, Dee/Wangero sees the quilt as a familial cultural object which holds great significance: “these are all pieces of dresses Grandma used to wear. She did all of this stitching by hand. Imagine!” Wangero explains that because of the love and effort put into this quilt, it should be treated in a way similar to the way in which one might treat a piece of art: hanging on the wall for the purposes of display, appreciation of culture, (also resulting in a social discourse that may contribute to gained social capital). On the other side, Mama sees this quilt more so for its material and utilitarian significance as it related to person who created the object. Mama uses the argument that it was its intended purpose by its creator to be used as a device, or quilt of every day use rather than an art object. This perspective counters the opinion of Dee/Wangero certainly for reasons in practice, but also some elements of perhaps jealousy or spite. However, more importantly, these two opinions and characterizations are what render the quilt as a Thing. No longer is this quilt stored away as an item, a biologically lifeless object, but it is now the holder of multiple roles, and given two definitions by two subjects that have a dominant positionality towards it. This is a parallel to the way in which we consider a cucumber to be a vegetable, or product of our consumption, versus the fruit of its mothering plant.
It is also significant to note the subtlety of semantics in this scenario as well, most notably because of both Mama’s and Dee/Wangero’s choice of referring to the object as a quilt rather than a blanket. In this way, the word quilt functions as a container for meaning. This semantic detail makes evident that both Dee/Wangero and Mama hold the same belief that this object is in fact an important cultural item. While the quilt as an object that is a holder of definite parameters, or is rather a conditioned object (i.e. it is woven, made of thread; contains particular material properties) its Thingness stems greatly from its abstract qualities, or ideological identity, which contains multiple meanings, definitions, or sensibilities.
Returning to the journey of the pickle, once at this stage of being considered a cucumber and also a vegetable worthy of human consumption, now enters into the equation yet another transformation: the cucumber moving into its pickled state. While in the case of the cucumber being defined as either fruit or vegetable, that state of transition was purely of semantics and cultural context and not of material nature. In the case of the cucumber now being transformed into a pickle, while there might not necessarily be a drastic material change - the pickle is still recognized as being the form of the cucumber, or remains as the vessel to which its pickled nature is inserted - what was once considered purely a cucumber now contains an entirely different identity as a pickle. This notion points at what Heidegger refers to as the “widest” sense of Things. Important to note in Heidegger’s examples of these kinds of Things, is the necessity of a participant to dominate, or fill said Thing, as if it were a vessel, or bearer. Just as the two characters in Walker’s story responded to the quilt in a way that dominates its meaning, or the way that we as humans have a dominating positionality to the cucumber plant as a vegetable-product-bearing-machine, this Heideggarian conception of a bearer is simultaneously aligned with a traditional patriarchal notion of women acting as the shell or vessel, as the holder of something, but not the owner. Examples of this idea are seen throughout Heidegger’s text, but particularly on page 19 with the example of repeatedly breaking a piece of blackboard chalk as a means of seeking its interiority. In describing this scenario, Heidegger is in affect, gendering all Things as female, through this lens of masculine ontology, where Things are incomplete or nondefinite, and cannot be complete without being filled, or dominated by another (masculine) body, as a means of fulfilling particular purpose or performing a certain function.
This gender paradigm of Thingness is also seen through Roland Barthes explanation and utilization of semiotics in his book Mythologies. In this piece he deconstructs and defines terms which are then applied to objects, beings, and ideas as a way of arranging their meanings and functions. Similar to the ways in which Heidegger speaks about the “narrower” and “wider” senses, Barthes describes signifiers as being the material object, where as the signified is the idea or notion, or what is the abstract. It is when the signifier and signified become one, that they become a sign (or perhaps what we might label as a Thing). Barthes explains how signifiers move into signhood through their characterization as neither one nor the other. Signs are not only their material being or their identity in the abstract, but the combination of this material and ‘meaning’.
In the piece The New Citroen, Barthes uses the example of a new car as a way of navigating through signs and Things, but in doing so creates a direct parallel to the female body:
“We must not forget that an object is the best messenger of a world above that of nature: one can easily see in an object at once a perfection and an absence of origin, a closure and a brilliance, a transformation of life into matter (matter is much for magical than life) and in a word a silence which belongs to the realm of fairy-tales.”
In terms of objects as messengers, this may more broadly refer to a functionality, and additionally that function is what is considered to be of highest value. This idea of function relates to the next piece in this passage which is the emphasis on the absence of origin. With the absence of origin, ownership of one’s self is the opened, meaning that it can be claimed - and not necessarily by the material body that it inhabits but by anyone who seeks to claim it. On its most basic level this can be paralleled to marriage and the changing of a woman’s last name. In this sense, the symbolism of her name and history is lost. In the idea of “transformation of life into matter” life as expressed by both Heidegger and Barthes is related to a philosophical engagement upon the world in addition to a kind of purity and essence, or soul. This transformation of life into matter then can be interpreted as the transformation of soul into matter, or rather soul into human flesh (relating to pregnancy, the female body as a vessel, and as highlighted in the beginning of the passage, this idea of absence, objecthood, and being claimed by another). In the last bit of the excerpt, Barthes mentions the idea of silence and fairy tales, which is in the sense a reference to preservation.
In thinking about the concept of preservation, another important facet in the transformation of Thingness the element of duration, and its subjective endpoint. As a question in more plain terms arises the question: at what point does a cucumber become a pickle? In many ways, this process of pickling is very complex in that there are multiple scenarios in which the “level” of pickledness is wildly ambiguous. For example, even a cucumber salad, which in this scenario is perhaps dressed with the exact ingredients as that of a pickling brine, still is widely accepted as not a pickle, but a cucumber salad. It is important to note that in the becoming of a Thing is the element of time. A cucumber cannot be considered a pickle until it reaches a certain temporal threshold. This threshold however is very vague, which leads to a prolonged state of Thingness which is different from many other types of Things. Often a Thing, is only considered to be a Thing for a short amount of time, such that if it were not in transition it would be given a name or definition.
For example, in the scenario of a house robbery, moment in which a household item becomes a weapon of defense against a robber, that household item is considered something other than itself. But it is the process of being used as something other, that makes it a Thing, but once it is again used for its intended purpose, or this momentary transition takes place, it is no longer a Thing, and instead returns to its original characterization as a household item. But only once the material has complied with its dominating user does it enter the realm of Thingness.
It becomes clear that through the example of the pickled cucumber, Thingness is a characterization that takes on a meaning that is more than simply a stand in definition for the unknown or transitionary. Through there is certainly this emphasis on this idea of otherness, as seen with the perspective of Heidegger and Barthes, Thingness cannot be defined without the contribution of a participant who has a dominant positionality in relation to the subject of the Thing. A Thing cannot be a Thing, or more directly, bear, or carry out a function or purpose without this participant, and it is the goal of life and existence to uphold a purpose. A cucumber cannot simply be a fruit of its mothering plant, it is the vegetable of our consumption, and a pickle cannot be considered a pickle without being filled or submerged, or moreover gestating in a brine for purposes of preservation for the eventual consumption. This paradigm stems from a male patriarchal ontology which renders Things as a female body, acting as a container or vessel, which are considered functionless unless acted upon, or filled by a male body such that they can carry out their supposed intended purpose. However, though this model of Thingness through the female body as vessel is of archaic origin, as seen through Alice Walker’s piece Everyday Use, Thingness and multiple definitions, characterizations they can be reconciled and moreover reclaimed. A quilt can obtain the properties of a blanket, and an art object, as well as a cultural symbol. A cucumber can be the fruit of its mothering plant and also the vegetable of our consumption. A female body can obtain the properties of bearing children but it is not her obligation or purpose to do so. A pickle can be preserved, or eaten, but it doesn't make it any less of what it is as a Thing.
Barthes, Roland. "Mythologies". New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1972.
Translated by Annette Lavers
Heidegger, Martin, and Eugene T. Gendlin. What is a thing? Lanham, MD: Univ. Press of America, 1967.
Walker, Alice. “In Love and Trouble”. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press: 1973.