Monday, September 7, 2009

The sense of milk bathing

1. Bathing

Bathing means three things: embracement, splash-dance and submerging.

Embracement is to be enclosed in a more dense, distinct, rather homogenous medium, the whole skin as an organ of touch, and all the various sensory organs concentrated in the face, and everything comes near and becomes more languid, intensely sluggish, and the sounds and the electric jolts and the temperature differences and the smells all move faster, and one becomes omniscient and oversensitive. An acute sense of nivellation, totalisation, as every limb, every inch of skin, I might be excused the siphonophoran analogy of saying every citizen of the body, is just as much wettened and just as much part of the waterworld. Everything is naked, feeling and tasting reaches everywhere simultaneously. And then there is the archimedean aspect; being enclosed in a denser medium has the consequence of relative weightlessness, related to flying in dreams and other distinct phenomenological states less conditioned or just less restrained by common gravity. Floating but not floating. Weighing but not weighing.

Splashdance concerns the medium as an extremely mobile and topographically complex interface, and a decrease in the effects of gravity, a wrestling, dancing and hugging which does no longer recognise up and down, which has more and simultaneously less of concealed and revealed, a perpetually changing surface of peaks, valleys, drops, slopes, coatings, connecting things temporarily and flashwise, is a frenzy and a cacophony.

Submerging focuses on the medium as a horizontal interface, a razorsharp limit, the difference in the world; and must be regarded as the central moment in the milk bath (leading for sure to embracement. In a submerging process there are three central structural elements; a) the suspension above the surface, everything is hanging, what tension, the gravity of that which rests in its restrained falling, endless waiting with aching muscles, b) the horizontal, razorsharp interface itself, and the transgression in the passage through it, c) the embracement and homogenisation of the life world beneath.

But living in this homogenous, this embraced being, what is that? Well it is living in the dream, there are all these strong images of falling when falling asleep, and of passing down beneath, or up above, a distinct surface, when moving from a hypnagogic state to a waking. Inside the medium, and thus inside the dream, everything is possible but also slower, softer, safer, more comfortable, more implacable, more necessary, without any arbitrariness. On a certain plane this is of course an intra-uterine existence (and the dream just like the bath is a womb).

And then we are already in that problematic chain of symbols in Róheim ("Gates of the dream") where all dreaming is transgression which is penetration which is longing to the womb which is regression; everything pointing forward points backward, and everything integrates conventional coitus and the crawling back into mother's tummy. The foremost problem is that it carries too far too quickly, synonymising most of what there is, risking missing the unique characteristics of anything. (I had already avoided to say "inbracement" rather than embracement, after CJL Almqvist's term for carnal as well as cosmic intercourse in his swedenborgian-erotic classic "Murnis".)

Back to our childishly stubborn concretion. The surface is a membrane to pass through. And since we don't have all that much feelings connected with this on certain levels such as that where molecules pass over membranes, we soon arrive at a more meaningladen level; that of mucus membranes. Human membranes are all water surfaces, delimitations visavis another world, warmer, more real and unreal, where that selfsufficient connectivity is abandoned, one's as it is called bourgeois body, in order to seek another equally abandoned human on that little island on the other side of the river of oblivion. But it is also obviously ambiguous: to penetrate, with a male sex which is a metaphor for the whole body or vice versa, penetrating a water surface equals being penetrated by a water surface, a body arching up against oneself stretching out into oneself, and vice versa, it is a totalising and multisexed embrace, permeates and is permeated, it is in fact something like a basal trope of the pansexual because it starts off exactly where the simplest sexual strategies becomes interchangeable and/or irrelevant.

And so what happens when we have arrived? Intrauterine existence. Yes who knows? There was a chapter about it in Breton/Eluard "The immaculate conception". And another chapter in the same book, about a walk on the bottom of the sea, where we stroll and politely greet famous serial murderers. There seems to be something unavoidably pastoral idyllic about it, a sunken little idyll, an atlantis, where everything is just a little condensed and jellyfish swim by and long hairs calmly wave and everybody move a little slower, octopuses with hats, mermaids, pennants from the towers, uncle Lenin standing waving in the aquarium. No I haven't got a clear image of intrauterine existence. It is an analogy with the dream, only without that firmness and compelling arbitrariness.

Speaking of firmness, if we now know that the water body is an intrauterine pansexual dream world which is out to get you, isn't it bizarre that the bathtub itself is made of china or enamelled tin; it is indeed a strangely hard uterus. Hence the blankets, the fat, the honey, with which it is robed or greased like a shock absorber. And such shock absorbers are potentially encompassing mediums themselves.

Blankets are a soft wrapping, tender grave shroud, the pupal chamber of a mummy, a bridal gown wanting to encompass in an insurveyable way which is directly comforting in the way it wrappingly embraces. Now we need to introduce the concept of thigmotaxy, which is the way earwigs, cows and often people cannot settle down to rest until such a large part as possible of the body is pressed against something, one puts oneself away in crevices, tunnels, somebodys arms, simple booths or coffins. A couple of days after the morning when I woke up at PJ Harvey's shouting I actually dreamt, depressedly, that I had a new apartment and preferred to lay wrapped in blankets in the bathtub, the dry and hard bathtub, in the firm conviction that it could possibly be warmer there, but I knew it wasn't, it was only the logical possibility itself that it could be that was enough, was something at all to grasp at in my existence devoid of happiness.

Fat is more homogenous than blankets, but it sticks everywhere, holds together, and repells water, it is itself a mucus membrane, but specifically a mucus membrane which suffocates. The sticky yellowness of fat is the evil water, which drug hallucinations and other fantasies of suffocation focuses on. Mountain ranges of fat tissue, where scolopenders rush around with their fifty poisonous legs, and all one's relatives stand lined up in a row for a photograph.

Honey, must be the good cousin of fat, just as sticky, adherent, alive, mucusmembranish, but so sweet and good, so beautiful and fragrant, it doesn't suffocate but gilds and embellishes, so wittily and playful, so luxurious and bizarre. And nevertheless so burningly sweet and stalkingly sticky.

We will have to introduce the third relative, mustard, still just as yellow and sticky, fresh and breathable like honey but without its flattering and mild character, yes well actually almost corrosively acrid, keeps the mildly flowing honey at bay with stabs and the maliciously flowing fat with counterfire, mustard is a miracle potion and nobody's friend. Maybe I'm on the track of something here, maybe fat, honey and mustard are actually the three tissue types of gold?

Because there has to take place at least some miracle, it's expected as the culmination of a stay in the uterus. Here the controversial rebirth comes in. (Controversial, as it was polemics over the meaning of rebirth in the interpretation of a dream that triggered writing this essay.) What is rebirth? I don't know. I thought it was nothing more than being awoken in the morning, the last swimming strokes up to the insistently light and noisy world where one keeps one's identity and lifestyle, where one stands naked since paradoxically outheld in an embracing clarity, embracing light. But why would it be rebirth if it does not lead to anything new? One tends to think it is new every single time.

2. Milk

The honey covering the inside of the tub as a protecting and softening fat layer is expected to interact with the milk. Milk and honey together, milk and honey are the two animal substances which don't seem animal, animal labor for the early schlaraffenland days of their offspring, the highest serum of offspring care in each of the two dominant animal lineages, in mammals among the deuterostomes and in bees among the protostomes. Joined, can they make anything else but simply more body? Isn't milk and honey together, after all, blood? Aren't they a metaphor for blood (like wine in christianity) already when you're supposed to bathe in it to stay young? Isn't that a vampiric act, resting on the same mythological, magical and infantile theory that the lifeforce rests in the blood, and bathing in it makes that lifeforce percolate through the membrane of the skin? And for that reason it is only logical that some would like to return the metaphorical praxis to its pure form, and prefer to bath in real blood instead of the symbolical milk of the blood. Blood gives life. Even medical science claims that today, in their campaigns for enlisting blood donors. Blood gives youth? Perhaps that rests on the calculation that the more life accumulated the younger once becomes. That's what vampires found their ideology and their mythological life on. If only one succeeds to collect incredibly much life perhaps it's even possible to transcend to being unborn? The sea lies still, without oneself to bathe in it.

Blood and milk are also similar on a concrete phenomenological level. These two traditionally lifegiving liquids are both vividly colored and sticky, very nutrious, rich and strangely thick tasting. Their analogous character is probably as distinctly exploited as possible, in a polarising form, in the wellknown division among the east african massai, into female food which is milkbased and male food which is bloodbased and never will the two meet.

So what is milk, perhaps we need to ask. Well milk is the primary offspring food in mammals. Milk is mothers milk. Our Ur-economy, as sketched by freudians-lacanians but not marxists. Then it is a different thing that milk secondarily, in certain cultures, has come to be associated with locally or commercially available cow's milk.

And we have several competing abstractions of the word, illuminating its concretion. Some would say that milk is anything milky, that is cloudy water (water with precipitated minerals), phenomenologically a water without clarity, without transparence, without merciless truth, a less watery water. Others would start talking about latex as milk sap, which is specific wound liquids in certain plants (blood again); you remember the taste of the bleeding white in dandelions, you know the rubber tree bleeding latex which is industrially used (the phenomenology of rubber probably has very little to do with milk though). Some would start talking about generalising milk on a consumistic level and pull in all kinds of milk substitutes (artificial dilutions of denaturalised protein from vegetabilic sources; soy milk, oat milk, almond milk) where it obviously parades as a commercial name for any white drink for meals whatsoever. Still others would get stuck in the dynamism of sexual metaphors and start nagging about, eventually confounding, milk and sperm, that isn't a very striking similarity, and probably not a very interesting path, but still probably contributes to increasing the expressivity of milk drops in certain locations in certain situations.

But, in elucidating the milk bath we must naturally give the primary conceptions the first place: milk is mothers milk, and everything else is one or another theory or metaphor for whatever ought to be sorted into the same category as mothers milk.

And nevertheless it remains cow milk, prepared as a commodity, homogenised, pasteurised, packed, sold and bought, which dominates the determination of the sensory concretion of milk for most people, or perhaps rather a projection of many of the original promises of mothers milk onto the commercially available perverse representation. But what characterises milk? Milk is fat and sweet, fresh and nourishing, selfcontained and contradictory, it is like a mixture of forest creek and whipped cream cake. And at the same time, through its rich content of enzymes, selfdestructive, bad smelling in itself, quickly putrid, gives extraneous mucus production and bad breath. (In the US there are still campaigns going on to make youth drink milk. The arguments that it contributes to skeletal construction, strength and health are not true; the argument that it makes young people less fat than drinking cocacola all day long may perhaps be true.)

So, there are actually certain cultures where it actually isn't a taboo to drink other animals' milk, where it has even been turned into culturally significant common social praxis, even for grownups, even commercially organised. Such a perverted society is Sweden where we live. The conspiracy theorists keep talking about the lactoconspiracy, about how the authorities forcefeed grownup men with cow milk in order to keep them dependent women-dominated easily-manipulated children. Forcefeed must here be taken in a non-literal sense, via internalised customs, for it's obviously not like among whales, where the mother simply tries to aim into the child's mouth whenever it is nearby, with a huge spray, almost like a high-pressure nozzle of uniquely fat milk. Well, milkdrinking in Sweden is as well known uniquely common. Thus, there is always a possibility to appear experienced, sophisticated, widely-travelled and cultivated by making faces at the provincially barbarian milkdrinkers with an supercilious shuddering. The population in Sweden does have one of the world's greatest frequencies of a genetic disease, the particular defect that makes childhood's ability to digest lactose NOT develop away in adolescence. All humans have those genes which switches off that temporary capacity to digest lactose, but some people, like the swedes, have a genetic reading error which keeps those genes from being expressed (the switching off is cancelled, double negation for the logician). Since locally most people have the disease, it's the opposite state which is defined as a disease: lactose intolerance. Do we here have a simple demonstration of the relativity of healthy/sick?

For it is not arbitrary to insist on association milkdrinking with its single universal form: suckling. No bottle-feds can deny the universal in this, not the least since their own neurotic insistence mythologises it even stronger via its biographical lack. And here we return to an adventurous regression of semi-Róheimian cut, and I, as a phenomenologist rather than a judging psychologist, would prefer to describe it as a non-static (flowing in all directions) and constantly ambiguous field being stretched out between pure regressional fantasies, conventional sexual forms, and pansexuality. On the other hand, I am not going to continue discussing it here. For it wasn't breasts that was the subject, it was bathing in milk.

3. Bathing as life environment and erotic future

But whoever bathes in a nourishing medium need not grope for teats, need not have an ombilic cord, is able to swim freely and metabolise through the skin; again the intrauterine in a certain (negative) utopian shape, how beautiful it would be to not need to bother, to universally not need to bother, a world where nothing is complication; dead boring, nirvana, intrauterine without all picturesque components. Usually I get upset by all these fantasies about not needing to bother to eat, because I spontaneously interpret them as rationalist-technologist-antisensory, but they are of course to an equal degree simply nirvana-directed, eating is after all an obviously very limited and insufficient way of assimilating reality (though one of the most sensorily concrete and beautiful we have).

Therefore it seems contradictory and hardly attractive to eat in the bath. In the bath, you live in a perfect world where no practical worries have a right to advance and reach you. But that's not the way it works after all. And all these small wishes start all over again. Drinking liquor in the bath is considered cosy by many. Smoking in the bath is pretty cool too. Cowboy fantasies. But what about sex in the bath? Is that an attractive thought? And now I am not speaking about the bad or good biographical experiences of individuals, I am talking about whether the thought is attractive. What does imagination say, is it possible to have sex in the bath? I cannot rid myself of demanding an answer to the question: with whom? Who would fit in the bath, who would appear sexually in that environment? There are a few classical bathers in iconography-mythology, often with one or another attractive attribute. I remember. There is Ofelia, there is Erszébeth Báthory, there is Marat, there is the biblical Susannah, there is the ghost Dana, there is Namor and Namorita, there are sirens in general, Jacqueline Lamba l'Ondine, the siren of Warszawa, but not all the true sirens, which are marine creatures, just like dugons and manatees, dolphins and large whales, Venus emerging from the sea, and many other bathers who demand vast space, large bodies of water, no confining tub walls. The ones that fit in a bathtub are a special category, gracefully relaxed in that vessel.

But all coplayers bring complications. It is difficult to imagine a shared exploration of intrauterine life. What do the naïads actually have to bring compared with the body of water itself, which is a crueler lover because more definitive and more totalising, because it is itself another world and a dream, regardless of whether it is seasoned with milk, honey or blood?

Back to the splashdance aspect, which is the collectivisable moment. A bathtub is small and hard for two people (even worse for more than two) and squeezing ones bodies into it is absurd and leads to the most elaborate difficulties of movement, it is incredibly funny how difficult everything is but it often seems more comfortable to sit by the side and investigate how the two bodies in the bath, the water body and the human body, separate and reunite, unite and glide apart, give each other meaning.

But sinking oneself into milk, so it is something ritual, sacral, it is the very sinking into the very milkness, it is a magnificent delusion, it is the proceeding with raw courage and elaborate slowness to shut the waking world out with its monumental, yes pettily monumental, worries, crouching in the soft embankment in the bark in the huge tree in the night when the owls are calling and the tigers roaring, it is quite simply a vantage point, a vantage point in the very beginning of eternity, and just like in a glacial landscape, everything is white.

Mattias Forshage


I. typographus said...

(leaving the milk aside for the moment) The blankets ... these days they will too often emit a synthetic pheromone, revealing your position, your vulnerable presence, to parasitoids (the nature of which I will not try to capture here). Any blankets used for this purpose will have to be untouched by potentially fatal scent innovations, their smell only reminiscent of the sheep which once grew them; possibly with the addition of pine soap (resin being a vegetable substance which doesn't seem vegetable).

merdarius said...

Thanks, that was an unexpected but somehow very relevant comment. The involuntary spreading of synthetic pheromones (and hormones and other signal substances) is indeed a huge field delivering strange effects, from the way the ethylene gas emitted from the plastic bag interacts with the fruits, all the way to more complex compounds in other products signalling copulation chances to some and simultaneously victim presence (as you refer to) to others. There has been a lot of suggestions of using commercially available moth pheromones for artistic or commercial purposes. Far from the sheepy resting symbolically suggested by that blanket. /MF