When I arrived at Columbia, the first thing I did was drop my bags in my new dorm room. The second thing I did was stand in line at Absolute Bagel for twenty minutes. 9:38 a.m. and it was time for breakfast, a meal that reasserts its persistent necessity every morning hour. Since I eat breakfast three or four times a day, I like to try novel dishes. A serving of Pride and Prejudice, a scoop of cheesy grits, and a generous helping of The Red and the Black, green figs, yogurt, coffee, very black. Enough for first breakfastses. There's a new item on the Absolute menu, a whole wheat everything bagel. I ordered it out of psychotic compulsion. Waiting to fork over my greasy creased $1 bill, I palmed the brown paper bag: baby's breath hot, an auspicious sign for crusty bagel skin and steaming doughy meat. After a three month stretch of sobriety, a New York bagel fix felt so wrong, felt so right-on the sidewalk, I dragged the bagel from its bag and took an eyes-closed bite. Grunting in pleasure, I weaved between pedestrians oblivious to my Absolute high. I liked it. My dendrites untied their own knots; my fingers flexed off onion garlic and sesame scent like a ballerina unlacing pointe shoes from ankle to metatarsal, unwinding pink ribbons in little curls around the thumb.
Bill Livant, author of untidy Marxist monologues like The Dialectics of Walking on Two Legs, published a piece in Science & Society titled The Hole in Hegel's Bagel. A ten point dialogue with the self: is the bagel's hole a part of the whole? Marx: yes, we must penetrate appearances and discover their secret essences. Something is hidden in a bagel hole! At point 10, Livant asserts that wholes without holes are actually in drag masquerading as everything, which is ideology. Right. So a bagel without a hole isn't a bagel? If you eat around or ignore the bagel's hole, you're an ideologue? I think Livant is trying to articulate, in a needlessly circuitous manner, that a whole which rejects its hole (or space of hiding) evacuates its essence and becomes appearance. Then, the holeless whole appropriates the essences of others as appearances, functioning as ideology. Right. I'm more interested in point 8, where Livant asks, How does one get to the hole in the center of the bagel? Obviously, one starts at the bagel's outer rim, circular as a rubber tire shaped around a barrel drum, takes a Snow White poisoned apple bite, examines the dental mold left in whole wheat dough, and then tears the bagel apart with teeth and fingers, wrestling with the elastic bread between fractious crown fillings and picking poppy seeds from incisor gaps, before hitting the gasp of diver's oxygen sealed within the pneumatic ring; it is a breathing space; and onto the other side, punctured and perforated with many lover's bites, severing the torus into two halves. Livant describes this process as eating your way through, moving. The mind must possess enough flexibility to traverse the bagel's tricky topologies, to finally find the extreme something hidden in all that nothingness.
If, as Livant claims, Hegel's great insight is that the truth is the whole (point 1), then we necessarily come to question whether the hole is part of the whole (point 2). Grand metaphors be damned, this raises a crucial question for the phenomenology of bagels. Is the hole part of the bagel? Here's how Livant figures the answer: a hole is a place where something is hidden, Marx believes the hidden parts of the whole reveal its systemic and dynamic character, the essence of a thing is that which is hidden-so the essence of a bagel, not its appearance, lies in the hole. Livant extrapolates this deduction into a bizarre geometry of ideology-an ideology fills in holes and evacuates essence. Point: a bagel has a hole. Point: a bagel is not an ideology. This is, of course, not true at all and totally inconsequential for the experience of a whole wheat everything bagel on a 79 degree New York Saturday.
Jason Bell is the founder and editor of The College Critic. He has written for Food Republic, Alimentum, and the Columbia Review.