Alice Wheeler

Here is an L.A. couple and what they had for breakfast. The images are part of a series, Breakfast, that places head shots of Angelenos above the things they consumed—coffee, cigarettes, a slice of fruit, a piece of toast, a single biscotti. This couple, David and Angie, like the rest in this portrait series, are in a class above the middle and below the rich. They are the masters of the city, the technocrats. And they look at us with the same sense of mastery as the burghers in 17th-century Dutch paintings. But the burghers show us their empire of things ("bunch of vegetables, a brace of game, milk pans, oyster shells, lemon pulp, goblets full of dark wine..." —Roland Barthes), whereas the technocrats of the 21st century display their empire of nothing. They hardly need to eat (one plain hum bow, a small bowl of yogurt), and they are proud of the near nothingness of their needs. In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche writes of how "the mightiest men have hitherto always bowed reverently before the saint, as the enigma of self-subjugation and utter voluntary privation." Why did the mighty admire the ascetic? Because "they divined a new power, a strange, still unconquered enemy." In David and Angie, that enemy is conquered, and the gaze of the technocrats expresses the victory of having at once the power of wealth (the mighty) and the power of nothing (the ascetic).

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