A little over a year ago, in a small building at the corner of East 103rd Street and Anzac Avenue in South Los Angeles, chef Daniel Patterson zigzagged among trainees in the bright clean kitchen of what was about to become Locol, the fast-food restaurant with a mission. Patterson was 47 years old, bone-pale and wiry, and among the most creative American chefs of his generation. He owned five restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area and had another on the way. He was also one of the cool kids of international fine dining, invited to speak at the most prestigious culinary conferences and part of a circle of friends that includes the Italian chef Massimo Bottura, the Danish chef René Redzepi, and the Australian chef Ben Shewry, owners of, respectively, the restaurants currently ranked first, fifth, and 33rd in the world.
Patterson’s trainees were almost entirely from Jordan Downs, the 714-unit public housing project in Watts. Many had never been employed before, and those with prior cooking experience had worked mostly in conventional fast food or prison cafeterias. They paid rapt attention as Patterson showed them how to weigh out patty-size balls of Locol’s signature burger blend, a pale pink combination of ground beef, tofu, barley, quinoa, and seaweed.
In an attempt to view its treasures in less than nine minutes and 43 seconds, three youths run recklessly through the Louvre, laughing breathlessly. The scene, from Jean-Luc Godard’s 1964 Bande à part, is one of French cinema’s most famous. Invoked in the conclusion to Michelle Boulous Walker’s Slow Philosophy: Reading Against the Institution, it is made to capture the malaise that grips contemporary philosophy in its institutional context, where the demands of speed and efficiency dominate at the expense of considered contemplation, and where the rapid production and consumption of knowledge have almost completely displaced the pleasures of the text. As Boulous Walker bluntly asserts, “this is not how we look at art.”
Godard’s image is striking for its visual poetry. By contrast, the dominant if somewhat covert image of Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber’s The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy is striking for its banality. Teenagers working casualized jobs on a minimum wage serve homogenized products devoid of nutritional or aesthetical value to obese, diabetic, and utterly docile consumers. Fluorescent lights accentuate garish plastic furniture and everybody smiles, although nobody knows why. Welcome to McUniversity.
In Albrecht Dürer's famous — and famously inaccurate — engraving of a rhinoceros from 1515, there is a caption above the animal that reads, in part, Das ist hie mit aller seiner gestalt Abcondertfet. The phrase is often translated as “Here is an accurate representation,” or “It is here shown in its full stature,” but the German word Abcondertfet is more properly translated as “counterfeit,” and a more literal, if less idiomatic, translation might read “It is here counterfeited.” As with its English counterpart, Abcondertfet has a dual meaning: it denotes both a faithful, exact reproduction and a forgery or fraud.
There is perhaps no better word than “counterfeit” to describe cultural representations of the natural world. This is the duality that the Spanish historian Juan Pimentel explores in his 2010 book, The Rhinoceros and the Megatherium: An Essay in Natural History, now translated into English for the first time by Peter Mason. The book follows the lives of its two titular animals: the first rhinoceros brought to Europe in captivity and the first discovered bones of the Megatherium, a massive sloth-like beast that went extinct around 8,000 years ago.
In 2010, violinist and erstwhile child prodigy, 31-year-old Min Kym was with her partner in a Pret A Manger at Euston station, when her 1696 Stradivarius was stolen from under the table. Kym was so devastated at the loss of “her” instrument, that she descended into a depression and, for a while, couldn’t bear to play. Three years later, the story hit the headlines again, when the Stradivarius was recovered. Seemingly, it was a wonderful fairy tale ending, though, as Kym details in this powerful bruising memoir, the reality was far more complex.