Sunday, October 15, 2006

postmodernity on the refrigerated aisle

Addicts that we are, my mom and I were compelled to begin this afternoon at Stater Brothers supermarket in pursuit of half and half for the coffee.

There I made the acquaintance of something probably not new, but somehow previously unnoticed:

fat free half and half.

I'll say it again just for emphasis:


Ideally, you should now be about equal measures (e.g., half and half) incensed and incredulous.

The point -- the very point -- of half and half is that it is NOT fat free. That it has, in fact, more fat even than whole milk. That's what makes it so good. To think that you can have half and half without fat is . . . well, horrible.

This week I've been reading a book on Christ and the postmodern world, Above All Earthly Pow'rs, by David Wells. Wells's argument (which was new to me) is that postmodernism (the intellectual movement) and postmodernity (the lived-out practice) do not have a cause-and-effect relationship, but instead developed side by side under the influence of our modern lifestyle.

A lot of this stuff is over my head. But for some reason it always made sense to me, when I'd studied post-modernism before, that what started in the universities would "trickle down" into popular culture.

It wasn't until I went to the grocery store today that I fully understood Wells's point.

Fat free half and half is a thoroughly postmodern idea. The essence of half and half is its fattiness, its creaminess, its character as more substantial than milk. To say that you can take that away and still have half and half is to deny its very essence and to deny the meaning of the title "half and half."

[Am I going out on a limb?]

On the other hand, I'll bet that the dairy executives who approved this glaring heresy on the refrigerated aisle did not do so with Foucault and Derrida on the brain.

They did not say, "Language is meaningless. Half and half is meaningless. The age of milk is past. The age of fat is even more past. Yea, unto the end of the age of cows is at hand. Let us christen this -- this blend of plastic, this calorie-deprived concoction of liquid deception, this meaningless contradiction in terms and to tastebuds -- let us christen this 'half and half' and let postmodernity prevail!"


I think the grocery store has a different effect on me than it does on most people.


David said...

Haha, that concluding comment really hits close to home.

My question to you is: does the postmodernization of words really mean that the meaning is changing or are we just following the course of history which has repeatedly shown that language evolves and is fluid? Are your demands of language too rigid and restrictive? Will it continue to irk you when the upcoming generations abuse the absolute and sacred English language when they come home from school and say they "did good" on their test? Will you be like my mom and dad? Haha.

I'm studying Koine Greek right now and it always fascinates me that they were using an entirely different system of words to convey the same thoughts and ideas that we have now but express with entirely different symbols/phoneme patterns etc.

Anyway, I'm now very curious to read the ingredients label on a fat-free half and half (aka milk).

Good post!

~bgo said...

This is quintessential MLE, and it's wonderful! However, I'm concerned that poems about cheese in the future may never need a reference to cows.

mle said...

David - it won't be ok when the upcoming generation (Mr. Right, Jr., and siblings) say they "did good" on their tests. Then again, I'm hoping that MR, Jr., and siblings will be taking their tests from me, in which case we will dispense with grades and make sure the grammar checks out.

But I digress . . .

I haven't studied this stuff a whole awful lot, so I'm not familiar with all the arguments. I guess what I do understand is the problem where the communicator says one thing (the absolute communication), and some argue that the communicatee has the right to determine the meaning of the communication apart from its intended meaning. I can talk to you in English, Spanish, Italian, or Greek (I wish), and it can be different words/expressions. The important thing is that you understand the message.

Not sure this is on point (?).

BGO - As one of the poets has said,

When poetry's devoid of cows
That lovely art its exit bows.

We must defend our art at all costs.

Anonymous said...

What's really funny is that MLE's writing is more Derrida than she would ever imagine. Almost everything she writes here is deconstruction in one way or another...
And I'd better be quiet before she starts auto-blocking my comments.

Zoogirl said...

Long live the cows!! Down with anything fat free!