The recursive nature of baking powder

“But neither the contingency of the universe nor a certain concept of original sin it implied did as much to make me whatever I am as another idea which burst upon me on the day when I first really saw a Royal Baking Powder can — or rather, to be perfectly exact, the picture of such a can which used to appear regularly in a colored advertisement on the back cover of the old Cosmopolitan. A little later I was to read Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion in Everybody’s Magazine, and that was important too. But not so important as the powder can. Perhaps I should be ashamed to mention… that the effect of that particular advertisement may have done more than McGuffey’s Readers to mold the American intellectual. Some, to be sure, missed the baking powder and were stopped in their tracks by Quaker Oats instead. But the difference is unimportant, and I have sometimes met ready comprehension when I asked without preliminaries: “Were you a Baking Powder man or a Quaker Oats man?” For the benefit of those who were blind to these advertisements, I had better explain. The can and the package were both adorned with pictures of the container itself. Therefore, the advertisements included a picture of a picture. And that picture must of necessity include a picture, of a picture, of a picture. In practice, of course, the series finally ended with a dot. But it shouldn’t have. And thus I became simultaneously aware of two stupendous facts. Infinity can be neither represented nor imagined, but logically it must exist. The brain reels, and it is a painful experience. But here at least is a trauma which must be suffered before any human being can become fully human.”

Joseph Wood Krutch
If you don’t mind my saying so…
The American Scholar, 1958


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