ThinkLink: Language-Gastronomy

Topic: Candy wrapper

Author: Mikhail Epstein

Date: 6.6.1995

What is there to say about this candy wrapper bearing the sonorous title of Bylina ("Epic Song"), that somehow wound up stranded on my desk among much lengthier papers and books, full of import and intended for serious reading? Who will hear this solitary word, shouted out in haste, but promptly, abashedly cut off? This minute, shabby scrap of paper, not even of a moment's, only of an instant's usefulness, with a millenial memory: "bylina"!

Things have their own service entrance and ladder of social status, which leads them to a human being, and a candy wrapper has its place very near the bottom. Pitiful is the fate of things that serve only other things: all manner of wrappings and packing materials, boxes and sacking that don't have their own value, but merely clothe more important articles, deserving of preservation. But even in this secondary category a candy wrapper takes last place. A box or packet of some kind can always be reused in its original function, but a dock-tailed wrapper, emptied and unfolded, has reached the point of offering no further use to anyone.

Nonetheless, there's something attractive about it, something that a person can recognize as a tiny but significant part of his own fate. We see before us two bits of paper, one white and the other colorful, like under- and outer-wear, T-shirt and a dress-shirt for a piece of candy. It's as if a general law of multi-layered coverings were in effect here: the inner layer is colorless, repells dirt and is intended mainly to protect purity, while the outer one is gaudy and bright, intended to attract the eye. (It is also possible to have a middle layer, which will be the most substantial and protective; among human coverings this would be a coat of mail and among candy wrappers--a layer of foil.) It would seem that these two functions are opposed--to enclose and to attract--but together they shape the essence of a covering, through which a thing at once reaches into the depths and emerges onto the surface, abides within and also outside itself. The luxuriant double wrap--and, moreover, triple wrap--gives a piece of candy the alluring and mysterious air, both challenging and unattainable, proper to any kind of sweetness.

Thus, the many layers of the candy wrapper indicate the presence inside it of something secret and tempting, transforming the process of unwrapping into an extented, sweet anticipation of something that otherwise would just be swallowed, quickly and crudely. A candy wrapper is the sweet within the sweet, the covering of its physical nature, but also the kernel of its psychological content. "Sweet" is here removed from the class of simple sensations of taste into the realm of internal states of being, of expectation, a kind of languishing. It would seem that children sense this more sharply than adults and therefore save candy wrappers not only for the sake of their colorful appearance, but also because they are an extract of sweet expectancy that the tongue can never know. . .

But this "pure," nonphysiological sweetness simultaneously finds expression on the tongue, in the name written on the wrapper. If the paper is the material covering of sweetness, then the name of the candy is an expression of its "ideal" meaning. This one is called Bylina, but many other names--"Masque," "Muse," "Enchantress," "Kara-Kum," "Lake Ritsa," "Southern Night," "Evening Bells," "Flight," "Firebird," "Golden Cockerel"(Russian examples)--are also unusually beautiful and expressive of a fairytale quality that leads us away to distant lands, exciting our imagination. The candy's sweetness seems to be not of this world; it must be sought beyond the thrice times nine lands, in the kingdom of seductive dreams. The name on the wrapper corresponds precisely to its concealing and attracting essence, in that it seems to contain an alluring secret. It's surely not by chance that fantik (Russian "wrapper") sounds so much like "fantasy" and "phantom": there is not more than one word inscribed on this tiny bit of paper, but it almost always belongs to the world of imagination. A fantik must be the minimal page of a fantasy, and a candy is a double fairytale, known in the tongue of the dreamer and on the tongue of the eater. The "sweet" fantasy brings itself down to the immediate material reality of that tongue, whose idealizing capability is designated by the word on the fantik.

And so two properties of the tongue [in Russian, "tongue" and "language" are designated by one word "iazyk"] diverging to the far reaches of culture and nature, coincide once again, like the two sides of a piece of paper, recognizing in a candy wrapper--in this little bilingual dictionary that translates from the tongue of the speaker to the tongue of the eater--their forgotten kinship with each other. The covering for a candy is the tongue's address to itself: its flesh addresses its sign system, by way of conversing with itself and re-establishing the unity of its abilities. It's not such a small thing, this candy wrapper: in it the most abstract dream and the most sensory reality come together as nature enters into culture and teaches us to cultivate the beautiful on the tip of our tongue.

Guidelines and forms for the submission of thinklinks

Directory of thinklinks, chronological

Directory of thinklinks, thematic


The number of accesses to this page since Oct. 23, 1995