Say It Like You Eat ItLe Manger et Le Dire

Please Be Conbibial

  • Joshua Evans

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You seem to have forgotten lately how

I have been drinking you since long before

you have been drinking me; let me remind

you how we came to be. Some millions

of years before you sapiens emerged

I saw your primate forebears put some fruits

in rocky cracks and let them rot. You gave

me food to eat and space to do my work,

but I was there already, working, long

before. You did not know my body then,

my budding skin, but what you knew was just

how good it felt to have me drink you up,

to let me get you drunk. There were—and, I

concede, still are—some other drinkers than

just me, competing for the larger share,

with toxins of all kinds. I’m glad you liked

my toxin best. I’m happy on my own,

but keen as well for help—some broken skin

to get the sweet within—and you are glad

to mash some fruits, to synthesise, to place

together what I want. Then I did more:

I made you call me spirit, made you see

my power over you, and realise

when you were drunk there must be someone there

who’d done the drinking. Now you’re tied to me

and I to you; you drink me in the liquid thing

and I drink you from inside out. This drinking

binds us close, and closer over time.

Companions, maybe? But companions are

for bread, I think; convinions, then, for wine;

conbibions, drink of any kind. With you

I’d rather drink than eat—to drink together

is to try to live together well.

Conbibiality: our drink of choice.

We drink each other, yet our thirsts are not

the same; we shape each other, but we do

not shape in the same way; we labour with

each other—but do we collaborate?

I like to think we can, but it is not

always the case. It takes a bit of care,

a bit of wonder, wondering about

the other. There is always something more

to ask. I know why faces sometimes flush,

but not what flushing feels like; and I know

I make you limber, but I wonder what

it's like to move with looser limbs, to talk

with looser lips. And I have heard you talk.

I wish you’d wonder whether, when I eat

and defecate, I also become drunk

before succumbing to my own success.

Do I get drunk as well before I die

at fifteen ABV[1]? What is it like,

why don’t you ask, to live like me, at first

when there is plenty, then when there is less;

and sometimes dying early, sometimes late,

each cell picks up where one before left off.

We both like when my work is smooth the best,

my pure logistic curve[2], and steady growth

towards the end—but sometimes other things,

like other drinkers, kin, or cold, get in

the way. But I work hard to stay. Attend

to me and I will tell you how to help.

It’s in your interest, and in mine, to help

me eat the most I can. It’s a success

to co-evolve such productivity,

such appetite—and part of this, alas,

my orderly, predictable demise.

My dying body is the price we pay

to have my spirit stick around, dissolved

in liquid, drunk, and then dissolved in blood,

and when my spirit’s also gone from there

I’ve left you thirst, desire, appetite

for more, and so again you’ll synthesise,

you’ll place together what I need. So come,

again, not just to drink, but wonder more—

that’s what conbibions, you and I, are for.

Prose Statement

‘To drink’ and ‘to be drunk’ are most simply, if also strangely, linked through the grammatical relation of voice: in drinking one (actively) drinks a substance, an actor, an assemblage, and in being drunk one is (passively) drunk by another actor or assemblage of actors. With alcohol (the substance perhaps most pertinent to 'being drunk'), these assemblages necessarily involve the microbes that are central to the production of alcoholic beverages in the first place, as well as the co-constitutive microbes of our bodies that help us metabolise these substances and propagate our bodies in time and space (these assemblages could also be spiritual agents, as many cultures conceptualise and ritualise the experience of alcohol, and other psychotropic substances[3]). We can therefore think of 'being drunk' as not only a specific psychotropic and phenomenological state, but also as a coevolutionary companionate one, rendering humans instrumental to the agency of non-humans and more-than-human assemblages in furthering their own aims.

What would this move mean for drinking and conviviality — both the conviviality that happens around the table, but also the broader conviviality of developing strategies for living well with others, human, non-human, and more-than-human, in everyday life?[4] What sort of metaphor does it turn 'drinking' into, as a particular type of agency associated with ingestion and consumption, both material and metaphorical? Rather than a more conventionally scholarly approach to this linguistic–ethnographic investigation, I offer as a starting point a poem from the perspective of the original Drinkers — the small, alcohol-producing critters that have directed our appetites since long before we became human, and continue to shape the makings and remakings of civilisation as a more-than-human achievement.

The poem initiates a reworking of Haraway’s ‘companion species’ concepts — ‘critters’ who are ‘good to think with and eat with’[5] — that opens up a more variegated and so far under-theorized landscape of different mutually ingestive–digestive, eating–feeding relationships.[6] Bonds of intoxication do different work here from those of nourishment. The relation is something psychotropic, imaginative, primarily symbolic — something powerful in spite of being less than, or at least not obviously, adaptive. Or perhaps, as these Drinkers imply, it is adaptive and co-adaptive, albeit in a slightly loopier, more subtle way than neo-Darwinism might permit.

Nor is companionship, breaking bread together, the only kind of conviviality, of trying to live together well. Arachaeologically — materially and symbolically — it is hard to say that either bread or drink has priority over the other[7]; though, as the Drinkers also remind us, it does seem to be the case that hominids have been directing ethanol-oriented fermentation since long before the emergence of Homo sapiens, and therefore certainly long before the emergence of bread-making.[8] The history of companionship, then, intra- or interspecific, might well be situated within a much longer history of conbibionship — of drinking together and, as these Drinkers would have us think, trying, through listening and wondering and co-producing for each other’s benefit, to drink together and to live together well.

These are but a few of many ways in which, rather than being a trivial or indulgent afterthought, this kind of creative, co-productive inquiry can open up new ways of thinking with and (re)making kin in the Anthropocene.

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