My Aunt Florrie died of chocolate. This is a family story that I have grown up with. She was my grandmother’s sister and so worried was my grannie about Florrie’s health that she brought her to stay, fed her real food and kept her away from chocolate. This intervention of love didn’t work, because the minute Florrie was released from her sister’s care, she was back on the chocolate and died. What she died from was malnutrition and yearning. In fact, to be dramatic (always my favourite modus operandi), she died from the desire for chocolate. This was long before chocolate was mythologised by our culture.
As you’ve gathered, I’ve been without chocolate for nearly 40 days. Since Shrove Tuesday in fact, to prove to myself that I do not have a dependency relationship with it. I haven’t thought about it much in that time but then blogging has probably kept the obsessive part of my brain engaged. Now that Lent is almost over and I am soon released from my vow, I have been pondering just why chocolate has such a grip, not just on me but on most of the women in the Western world . It seems that men like chocolate but women crave it in their hearts. Chocolate, as Florrie would have been able to vouch, is to die for.
It seems to me that chocolate, smooth, silky and seductive, is more of an experience than a product. A visceral experience perhaps, like ghosts or visions of angels. Like all drugs the effect it has on the brain is illusory. It belongs more to myth than to reality.
Roland Barthes in Mythologies tells us that myth is not defined by the object of its message but by the way in which it utters this message. The utterings of chocolate include, I want you(sticky) & I am dark and forbidden(so can take you) It seems that chocolate is a secret vice; a solitary pleasure, like masturbation.
In fact it is the ultimate myth, in that it passes from a closed, silent existence in the wrapper/box where it is dormant, into an oral state, given over or sacrificed even to a certain type of consumption; self-indulgent and rebellious. It is pure matter adorned with a specific kind of social usage that has grown to fill its mythological space in the self- indulgent post-war 20th century. In that time time it became a source of suggestiveness; a mystery, like woman herself. Thus it is chosen in a way that has nothing to do with the original object itself (coco solids,sugar, fat and whatnot).
In truth it works on the brain cells like alcohol and cocaine. But its power lies in the image. Barthes believed that myth belongs in the province of semiotics. It is in the science of signs that image takes on form or concept, growing until it reaches signification and makes us understand something. It is through pictures like this that chocolate imposes upon women the suggestion that it is desirable and by association so are they.
Myth takes E=mc2 and makes it the pure signifier of mathematics, in a way that corrupts meaning, for it reaches virus-like into that meaning and alters it in its own image. In modern day life, it maps and distorts the divine, in the process becoming more than the thing itself. As I reach for my chocolate Easter egg on Easter Sunday, I remember that it is a complex product. Stolen and then restored, it fits the space like a chemical key in a neurotransmitter. It satisfies emotionally, but it is a hi jacking. It takes me hostage with a sensory coshing. There is no resistance. I am taken. But not until after lunch.