In his foreword to Margaret Visser's The Way We Are, John Fraser offers definitions for a new coinage. "Visserism: A concise anthropological insight; an entertainment in which points are made by identifying and skewering absurdities; the doctrine that all scholarship exists to prove that life is rich, funny and meaningful." Fraser edits Saturday Night magazine, which hired Visser in 1988 to write a column called "The Way We Are." The book of the same name collects 60 of these pithy essays, teeming with Visserisms, that explore the cultural significance of everyday objects and phenomena such as jelly, offal, high heels, beards, baked beans, the colour red, tap-dancing, sour tastes, wigs, and the Easter bunny.
Visser traces her interest in "the anthropology of everyday life" to a plastic packet of mustard she encountered when she first arrived in North America from Britain in 1964. She and her companion "sat and looked at the mustard missile, and knew that we had reached a foreign place, an unpredictable and infinitely weird environment." Since then, Visser has produced a string of best-selling, award-winning books including Much Depends on Dinner, The Rituals of Dinner, and The Geometry of Love, "focusing on small humble objects" to "tease out of them philosophies, choices, prejudices, causes, contradictions, tragedies, absurdities." Thus, in The Way We Are Visser re-envisions the heart--"a terrifying, bloody, pumping muscle that throbs and shudders inside us"--as a "multivalent metaphor": seat of courage for the ancient Greeks, of compassion for the modern North American, something that can be, depending on circumstances, "in the right place," "broken," "eaten out" or "worn on the sleeve." She exposes Santa Claus as a phallic symbol: "dressed in red, coming down the chimney, and leaving a present in the stocking." And in chewing gum she sees "an arresting symbol of modernity": "gum is cud-like and primitive, yet it is now impeccably technological." --Russell Prather [via]