Journeys of Lactic Abstraction

370bd999592e73404a3080ea01af4251Melanie Jackson and Esther Leslie at Cabinet Magazine:

Milk is versatile. One of its qualities is the capacity to separate or be separated. Milk is separated from cream, curds from whey. Its relation to separation extends in other directions. A form of physical separation is at work in the distancing or abstraction of milk from the female mammal’s body. Separation abounds in the milk industry whereby the calf is separated from the cow, and milk is extracted from animals for human consumption. Separation more broadly occurs between milk for use and milk as a commodity for exchange. Separation is also part of the process of individuation—the separation of subject and object. Humans separate from caregivers, having passed through the nexus that milk provides.

Milk extracted or abstracted is a liquid representation of an annihilation of nature over time. In order to produce cows’ milk for humans, the seasonal cycle related to gestation has been extended into the endless time of ever-increasing milk yields. This is the temporality of the market, of production and circulation. Production time is decoupled from the idea of limits and insists that what is profitable be available at all times. Milk flows across the political body, its stream an emblem of progress and the perfectibility of modern times. Situating milk as infinitely available, white, aseptic, and central to the adult Western diet was a quest of modernity. The mass industrialization of milk indicates a mode of industrial metaphysics: an abstraction from its associations with female human and non-human animal lactation and its transformation into a de-gendered industrial staple. Luce Irigaray proposed that all Western culture rests on the murder of the mother.1

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