In praise of the bland: an antidote to a world loaded with stimuli | EL PAÍS Weekly: Psychology and well-being
The way we see, hear, taste, touch and smell will never be the same again. “We are experiencing a sensory revolution,” Mark Smith, a sensory history specialist at the University of South Carolina, tells me, “all the senses have been affected by the pandemic, not because they have changed, but because the context and environment in which we feel have been profoundly altered.” According to him, “in the past, sensory changes and perceptions, the ways in which people used their senses to navigate and understand their world, tended to occur slowly, measured in decades and centuries, not mere weeks and months—the The very idea that there are five senses took centuries to mature.” While the change now occurring is unprecedented and being deprived of our sensory stimulation so suddenly is a sure trigger for us to seek stimulation, however, could it also be an opportunity to familiarize ourselves with the virtues of blandness?
There is the fact that the virus, at least early in the pandemic, resulted in people generally losing their sense of smell and their sense of taste. The masks impaired or impeded our visual abilities, and in any case, who could see the disease? His fear factor was based in part on his invisibility—invisible terrors are more threatening than those we can identify. “We are still in the echo of the pandemic,” emphasizes Smith, and believes that “touch is the obvious sensory victim in all this, centuries of handshake habits have evaporated, the high five, high five, gone. Instead of manifesting as a public form of expression, it became a highly domesticated sense. There is no sensory past that can guide us here.
Despite the deprivations our senses have incurred with the pandemic—and many other dire upheavals the disease brings—blandness has come to take its own place in our sensory landscapes and could be embraced in a way contrary to thought. “western” as an opportunity to reconsider who we are and to question what we might hope to value. The philosopher and sinologist François Jullien, author of the praise of the tasteless (Siruela, 1998), offers us a convincing argument. In many ways, now is the best time to reflect on what he says, as we navigate the Scylla of postmodern sensory overload and the Charybdis of pandemic-era sensory blockage.
“In the Chinese tradition, blandness is the taste of the virtual, it is not taste deprivation, it is the power to evolve and transform, as such, it is inexhaustible. Therefore, this absence of taste or interest should not be taken as a sign of deprivation”, comments Jullien —in a talk mediated by a friend who translated from French—, and clarifies that, in Chinese, the word give, tasteless, at the same time means inner detachment. “Simpleness and insipidity allow us not to exclude contrary qualities. Thus, they favor a simultaneous individual availability, which moves in harmony with the fluctuations of the world and makes it possible for us to associate them with more freedom”. The philosopher invites us to rethink our assumptions that blandness is an undesirable quality: “We could understand it as a silent transformation, which occurs without noise, and does not unfold in space, but in time.” He illustrates this, by association, with the fact that “in nature we do not hear the rivers digging their beds or the winds wearing down the peaks, but they are the ones that, little by little, have been drawing the relief that we have before us.” eyes and form the landscape.
“I think that one will never be too sensitive to the originality of this Chinese psychology of blandness, it is a virtue that opposes the forces that claim our attention and try to monopolize our experience”, Jullien proposes. “Blandness, with its central component of enjoyment, is not a pseudoscience that is distributed in the burgeoning market for self-help books and seven steps to happiness, and certainly not a cookbook full of recipes to follow, but an intelligence that operates continuously. Nor is it a form of religious withdrawal or isolation, but rather a way of life, of living —of entering the itinerary of life—, which requires patience to mature and develop”, he adds. And, putting the accent on the prefix desemphasizes that “it is definitely a countercurrent that, in its deployment, is torn, unleashed, disrupted and overflows from these contexts.”
In these late moments of the pandemic, we could well avail ourselves of the virtues of blandness, of its spirit of “fullness”, as Jullien characterizes it. It might be interesting to consider not thinking of blandness as laziness, idleness, or boredom—all of which we are programmed to feel, guiltily, in a world where the barrage of capitalism and social media inundates our senses and challenges us to act on it. —and instead try to capitalize on blandness as a legitimate and useful way to interact with our world in a less stressful and more authentic way.
Subscribe to continue reading
Read without limits