Pepsi Cola was not the first fizzy drink. Neither was it the first fizzy drink to be packaged as a digestive aid. In terms of deep historical lineage, fizzy drinks emerged directly out of the alchemical and iatrochemical tradition and its obsession with the secrets of gastroenterology. Put differently, Pepsi’s occult genetic history — the story of its emergence into the world — connects straight back to the lab of van Helmont and the speculations of Paracelsus: Pepsi’s genesis is thus inextricably tangled up with the ideas that percolate through Paradise Lost’s alchemical metaphysics.
Milton connected his blindness to his gastric problems. He suffered from severe gout, and, moreover, was afflicted by stomach ulcers. His eventual death seems to have been caused — as recent biographers have argued, after consulting medical specialists — by a peptic ulcer (an ulcer of the gastrointestinal tract). It is feasible, his biographers write, that, besides gout, ‘Milton’s other chronic complaints […] included abdominal discomfort and bloating, consonant with [peptic ulcer]’. (The flatulent poet lists “intestine stone and ulcer, colic pangs” on the menu of uniquely postlapsarian punishments for mankind).
Anything is only itself because it’s functionally different from everything else. This computer I’m typing at is only itself because it’s neither at the next desk, nor does it function in the manner of an apple, amongst many other things.
The degree of differentiation is not absolute. There is a gradient of order from the inside core to the outside, where others lie. There are, nonetheless, boundaries. Permeable boundaries, but boundaries nonetheless. Discontinuities where the gradient takes a leap.
In the early 1990s PepsiCo introduced a colourless form of its now infamous soft drink, which sold under the name Crystal Pepsi. Following from a contemporary marketing fad geared towards selling transparent or colourless editions of familiar products (initiated by Ivory soap), the proviso was that transparency would evoke in consumers positive notions of ‘cleanness’ or ‘clarity’. Crystal Pepsi, however, was a market failure. (The relentless juggernaut of nostalgia has recently resurrected it from limbo, however.) It seems, then, that in our fallen (capitalized) state we actually desire tartareous muck over any vitreous and crystalline elixir.
Modernity can be thought of as a process of atomization, arguably initiated by the Protestant Reformation. Today, atomization is something that almost everyone protests (on the left and right), but protest itself is an atomization dynamic, automatically reproducing the mold of Protestant schismatics. In our sincerely felt repulsion to atomization, we instantiate a distance between ourselves and this supposedly external alienating phenomenon, the cause of which is imputed to something or someone else, somewhere else. This helps to explain other puzzling phenomena such as “community-building” political activists the attitudes and behaviors of whom are maximally inhospitable to most people everywhere. No matter how hard such groups sincerely want and try to connect with “the masses,” they continue to repulse the masses more and more, because their interest in building a commons is predicated on opposition to the only, last thing that humans today generally have in common: atomization.
Early in November 2017, fisher Karissa Lindstrand dredged up a lobster off the coast of New Brunswick, Canada. The crustacean had a Pepsi logo prominently tattooed onto its propodus, or claw. Precisely how this logo came to be there remains a mystery: when the event made the news, marine biologists instantly disagreed as to the provenance and occasion of the marking. The mechanisms of imprinting are largely irrelevant, for we instead read this event in a deeper, properly world-historical light: this decapod pincer represents a mere moment in a far vaster process, one spiralling outwards in both time and space… The following (an essay split into 7 sequential parts) is, in many ways, an attempt to fill in this story, as it provides context to the unnerving singularity of recent events such as a sigil-branded lobster from the deep.