Impure thoughts


Alan Jacobs points to a wonderful passage in Claude Levi-Strauss’s Triste Tropiques:

In Martinique, I had visited rustic and neglected rum-distilleries where the equipment and the methods used had not changed since the eighteenth century. In Puerto Rico, on the other hand, in the factories of the company which enjoys a virtual monopoly over the whole of the sugar production, I was faced by a display of white enamel tanks and chromium piping. Yet the various kinds of Martinique rum, as I tasted them in front of ancient wooden vats thickly encrusted with waste matter, were mellow and scented, whereas those of Puerto Rico are coarse and harsh. We may suppose, then, that the subtlety of the Martinique rums is dependent on impurities the continuance of which is encouraged by the archaic method of production. To me, this contrast illustrates the paradox of civilization: its charms are due essentially to the various residues it carries along with it, although this does not absolve us of the obligation to purify the stream. By being doubly in the right, we are admitting our mistake. We are right to be rational and to try to increase our production and so keep manufacturing costs down. But we are also right to cherish those very imperfections we are endeavouring to eliminate. Social life consists in destroying that which gives it its savour.

Comments Alan: “The underlying philosophy of liberalism, and the consumer culture it generates, condensed into nine sentences.” I love the fact that he gave in to the urge to count the sentences. That seems so . . . Bacardian.

Image: Christina Hsu.

5 thoughts on “Impure thoughts

  1. Deborah

    A brilliant paragraph, if ever I read one.

    I have recently been privileged to meet a Jersey cow. Her owner sells me raw milk. The stuff is ambrosia. Not touched by stainless steel nor heated to within a micron of its death as a food.

    I imagine there are ‘residues’.

    Oh! how I love them!

  2. Nick Post author

    Microsoft Word tells me that there are 215 (though it views two of them – “endeavouring” and “savour” – with a great deal of suspicion).

  3. Richard

    Deborah: The great thing is that the residues love you, too!

    For example, raw milk contains lactase, which is an enzyme that helps you digest the lactose in the milk. This enzyme is one of the many ‘residues’ that are destroyed by pasteurization.

    Does anybody wonder whether there might be a connection to pasteurization and lactose intolerance? Ahh, modern life!

  4. Deborah


    There you have it in a nutshell.

    Mess with the food, and cause a new problem.

    Now we must be honest and say that raw milk CAN carry some things that may harm. My landlord got one such disease when he was a child. (I forget the name.)

    I actually had to sign a paper saying I was aware of this before I could start picking up my milk.

    Speaking of which… it’s time for breakfast!


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