Friday 3 June 2011

Cucumbers, Metaphors and Death

The news about the e-coli outbreak that may or may not be attributable to cucumbers broke while I was reading Nature and Language: A semiotic study of cucurbits in literature.

Nature and Language: A Semiotic Study of Cucurbits in Literature is a strange book. Published in 1980, it is an entertaining and insightful exploration of the use of members of the curcurbit family (melons, squashes, calabashes, courgettes and cucumbers) as metaphors in literature. It takes a very academic approach to the topic and is full of quotes from literature, in several languages (and not all of them with any type of translation!). The various metaphorical uses of the cucurbits are examined, fecundity, stupidity, fast growth and wider life and death symbolism. It is clear that the authors see the use of cucurbits as metaphors as a special case of nature as metaphor and they explore the bigger picture. They refer repeatedly to the intrinsic humour of cucurbits, due to their size and shape, and the reader can't help but feel that they had their tongues in their cheeks as they wrote much of this book. I have to admit, I've never particularly liked cucumbers and can't eat melons, so my appreciation of some of the metaphors around deliciousness was probably less than the average person's. However it is a fascinating book.

There seems to be considerable uncertainty over whether Spanish cucumbers are actually the source of the e-coli outbreak, which is mostly affecting people in and connected with northern Germany. (It would be encouraging if this episode could stimulate questions over the sustainability of shipping large amounts of food from one country to another, but that's probably unlikely to happen). One thing that can be certain, is that for the forseeable future, cucumbers now have an added metaphorical significance for many people in Europe and I won't be the only person avoiding eating cucumbers over the next few months.

Nature and Language: A semiotic study of cucurbits in literature by Rolf Norrman and Jon Haarberg published by Routledge and Kegan Paul.

You can read my poem, Death and the Cucumber on Poetry 24 (just click on the link!).


The Weaver of Grass said...

I feel the same Juliet - not that I like them very much anyway. I always try to look for food grown in the UK and I always wash it. But it is easy to get paranoid about these things as the media always whip everything up into a frenzy.

Christina said...

I love cucumber fried like green tomatos. Most of them come from my neighbors garden so I dont worry. It is easy to get paranoid.

Love the title on this entry.

RG said...

Got dangt Spainards ... worse than rabbits ... I think our cukes come from England - long, wrapped, English cucumbers - delicious!

Melons come from Texas or California .. wash them good first!

That book sounds odd!

Anonymous said...

What a strange topic for a book - haha! I hope the humble cucumber is not the real source of the disease (love them).

Hootin Anni said...

that e-coli is deadly, we've had it in the states many times, but if they can find the source, things will improve. scary tho.

Baby Herons and a Tern Chick is my Saturday post.

Thanks for visiting with me this week....much appreciated!!!

CMDoran said...

Very interesting post, and I agree with you! We will grow our own cukes this summer; the leaves are beginning to poke out of the ground--I'll think of the book you read and weep [not really, but it sounds good, eh?].