Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Death Food

It's odd how correct Freud was ninety years ago, bless my soul. The aim of life is death (Beyond the Pleasure Principle). So here's the thing: if you eat a little bit of what seems poisonous, you live longer. If you try to avoid it, and eat comfort, you die. Literally.

Weird. Your body reacts to the taste of bitter. Food classes at UCD (a very food oriented university where we have the Mondavi Institute for Food Science) show infants of all cultures making the “bitter” face when introduced to some vitamin C rich lemon juice. Bitter = poison = tannins = antioxidants = live longer in small doses. Your body reacts to the presence of sugar and cholesterol. Comfort = cholesterol and sugar = diabetes, heart condition, stroke, death.

“Super tasters” (I am one, the food sci guys tested me) react especially to the “bitter” taste and seek sweet, fatty stuff to soothe their high-stimulation selves. Death approaches faster. It's funny how attracted we are to fatal food. I love the very food (cheese) that pushes me quickest towards death. I mean I really, really love it. Slightly evilly love it.

Your body wants to eat death food. There's part of you that wants to hasten death, to achieve the equilibrium state, the “quiescence of the inorganic world” (thank you James Strachey for that beautiful translation of Freud). There are large swathes of your physical being that not only don't care if you live or die, but seem keen to accelerate your death: my jaw, for instance, is irritated by its irregularity and spends nights grinding the teeth down to powder. My windpipe seems to enjoy the feeling of sinking into itself so I stop breathing every three minutes while asleep. I speak of these as independent organs without bodies—why not? That's just one congruence between Darwinism and OOO. The more you study this, the more you realize we really are kluge-like assemblages, including our brains.

Freud goes to a cellular level but an essay I'm writing for Eugene Thacker and Nicola Masciandaro breaks it down to the DNA level. Sorry Hägglund, but “living on” is predicated on “living” which is predicated on DNA which is a viral Henkin sentence in chemical form trying to erase itself, and accidentally reproducing itself in the process. So caring about living on is predicated on trying to die as efficiently as possible...

This is mirrored at other levels of our being. Your cell walls require cholesterol. (Freud's example of how lifeforms internalize death is the wall of a single celled organism.) You need this wall to shield you from the outside. You need a little bit of death to protect you from too much life (stimulation). You need cholesterol, which eventually kills you, to go on coping with being alive. The more you try to cope, the more McDonalds you eat and the swifter you die. Of course your DNA doesn't really care. It just wants to solve its own conundrum, which involves reproducing. Once you've done that your DNA doesn't really give a toss.

If you can bear it then, you have to eat a little bit of death and avoid the softening comfort of the Big Mac. A pinch of bitter cheats the reaper.

Another thing: maybe eating vegan or vegetarian really does affect your perception, heightening it as Shelley said of vegetarianism, and maybe this is because you have less of a “wall.” Really. For sure it's happening to me, just like when I stopped smoking. My visual field is about 20% crisper than it was a few weeks ago. I hear and smell more clearly. There's more stimulation.

I've heard doctors describe smoking as a “smoke screen” to reduce stimulation. Maybe that's what my eating cholesterol was doing. Funny because that's a mental–affective repetition of some cellular process.

Freud figured all this out thinking about shell-shocked (PTSD) victims of WW1! We still have to catch up with the discoveries of that period—Husserl, Planck, Einstein, Freud. In their own ways, four great humiliators of the human. (Though perhaps we had to wait for Harman to figure out that Husserl was in their number.)


Zachary Price said...

I think a black metal theory piece entitled "Only Death Is Real" exploring these themes is in order.

Hank Stolte said...

Reminds me of a great quote by Stanislaw Lec: "Death resists us, but it gives in in the end."

Duff said...

Notably, we produce our own (good) cholesterol and don't actually need any dietary cholesterol at all, hence why vegetarians don't fall apart at the cellular level.

I think the story about human beings not having access historically to fats and sweets is why we crave them today. It's more a story about how convenience kills IMHO than a death seeking drive.