In July 2021 I'll be co-directing a seminar at the World Shakespeare Congress in Singapore with my colleague David Goldstein (York University, Canada), It's called "Renaissance Prehistories of Taste." Here's our description:
“Taste” denotes both a sensory response and a capacity for aesthetic discernment. The first use of the term has been with us for as long as humans have possessed tongues. The second is commonly thought to have emerged in the eighteenth century, as a signature element of enlightenment philosophy developed by Kant, Hume, Rousseau, and others. The point at which the two notions of taste meet constitutes the boundary, porous and shifting, where the body encounters culture. To discriminate among molecular compositions or artistic ones is to negotiate within a larger environment charged with risk. The English Renaissance has not typically been viewed as an important era in the history of taste, but this seminar starts from the basic premise that not only is early modernity a watershed moment in the development of ideas about taste, but also that the theater of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, in particular, constituted a crucial point of overlap for taste’s sensory, moral, culinary, and aesthetic strands. In "Neptune’s Triumph over the Return of Albion," for example, Ben Jonson stages a debate between cook and poet in which the cook contends, “I am by my place to know how to please the palates of the guests; so, you are to know the palate of the times.” Such language is axiomatic in the period, bringing together discourses from a range of cultural fields with a practice exercised in the collective and transactional environment of the theater. Taste functions throughout Renaissance culture as a “circuit” in both conceptual and practical terms, connecting material histories of sensation, commensality, and consumption with intellectual histories of invention and judgment. The seminar organizers invite a range of approaches to taste in early modern contexts, including, but not limited to, theater and judgment; food and eating; ecological and social networks; performances of the table; the history of sensation; audiences and readers; theater and early literary criticism; realms of high and low culture; poetry, recipe collections, and other genres involved in taste; medicine and physiology; the ways evaluative rhetoric shapes notions of gender, class, and race; language and the body; and how analyses of early modern taste can disrupt received narratives about the term in contemporary scholarly and public discourses.