Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 5 Trans-Tasman
Log 5 Trans-Tasman

Dada Digestion: Taking the Pith
Keith Stewart


"I am going to turn over a new life and am going to be a very good girl and be obedient..., here there is planty of goosaberys which makes my teeth water."

-Marjory Fleming

Many, indeed some who should have known better, have suggested that kiwifruit were the first seriously surreal fruit, but for all their dream-like qualities, and the psychic colour of their flesh, their nihilism reveals them as nothing if not pure Dada. That acknowledged, the recent introduction of yellow-fleshed kiwifruit is a sure sign that this particular activism continues in the face of the original fruit's acceptance by the culinary status quo.

Central to kiwifruit's challenge to the culinary nationalism rampant in the Americas, Europe and the East, is its name, which cleverly hides the true origins of the fruit behind its multifarious identities, while clearly establishing its Dada credo. As with art, where the title holds so much of the artist's intentions, so the name kiwifruit conveys a sense of the confusion intended by its widespread distribution.

Kiwifruit already had a colonial name. In New Zealand, where it had been transplanted after appropriation from China, it was known, rather simplistically, as the Chinese gooseberry. Imported to the South Pacific for the purpose of providing Romantic naturalistic canopies to the many outhouses, barns and garden sheds which despoiled the otherwise idyllic scenery of the countryside, its culinary properties were unknown, other than through remembered tastes from the local tradition of childhood pilfering of fruit from neighbours. As it is expected of children that they steal unripe fruit, 'green' in the local patois, and as only apples, peaches, oranges and pears were considered appropriate raw fruit in the somewhat constricted adult New Zealand cuisine of the time, so Chinese gooseberries were classified by their colour alone to be perfectly suited to the annual child-theft ritual.

However, this name was only suitable as long as the Chinese gooseberry was a localised cultural phenomenon, with no presence in any sophisticated culinary culture. The decision to send the furry brown berries out as a challenge to the sensitivities of the world's cultural elite, however well founded in its bizarre texture, (c.f. Meret Oppenheim, Object, 1936), or in the moral challenge of its frankly tart colouring, demanded a new name. Chinese gooseberry would have undermined the determined internationalism of the project in the name of one of the great Imperialist powers, whose culinary colonialism is apparent in every corner of the globe, in Paris as much as it is in Milwaulkee. Indeed, China's ubiquitous cuisine infiltrates even the most primitive food communities, undermining classic regional dishes like rice pudding with ruthless attrition.

So Chinese gooseberry had to go, and in conjuring kiwifruit the project's success was assured. It is a name which challenges through the pure Dada of its nonsense. Throughout North America and Britain, the once and future Imperial giants of world society, Kiwi is the brown, waxy substance with which males polish their shoes. How perfect that a fruit intended to become the epitome of refined culinary fashion should be named after boot polish.

In Europe, the understanding of the word kiwi, or rather lack of it, is even closer to original Dada's reference to the meaningless child language of babies. Within the basic sounds of many languages ki wi is as likely to come from an infant as is da da. Although it does have less resonance than da da as a reference to the patronage of government, it does replicate the high pitched, senseless chatter of the cocktail party, so it could be seen as a similar phonetic emblem.

So successful has the name become that the shortened version, kiwi, is now the name of the fruit in most of the world. Prawn soufflé with kiwi is no longer a restaurant dish that terrifies unwitting conservationists in Hamburg, nor do kiwi farmers in southern Italy spend large sums on poultry food.

Given the extent to which kiwifruit was made its point, it is no surprise that the newly released version of kiwifruit has no name. Much has already been written about its favourable, red berry-like flavour and its capacity to stimulate sexual appetites, but this is mere culinary decoration to the true intent of the international activists who made the world's chefs fawn in the face of their bright green food, much as Marcel Duchamp brought galleries to their knees with Monsieur Mutt's pissoir.

That intent will be known only when the name is announced, if it ever is, for no name at all is a logical extension of the Dada non-theory. Nonsense from the mouth of a child can only be superseded by silence from the not-yet mouth of the unborn. In the age of lifestyle abortion, surely this is the perfect title for a strangely yellow fruit that is smooth where it should have been hairy?

Keith Stewart
Spring 1998



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room