The author works Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's concept of the refrain to craft an affective, material assemblage of the lactating body.
We don't make milk. A genealogical refrain that began as you don't make milk, rolling off the tongue of a 1940s medical industrial complex seeking to push mothers—struggling with lactation and latching—toward profit-making evaporated milk formulas. Swelling affects of shame and blame: a failure to buy the commercial formula because there is a Second World War and there is no money. The general store at the top of the hill supplies dry powdered milk. So sustenance becomes a homemade concoction of that mixed with sugary syrup and water: a machinic substance that interrupts a flow.
We don't make milk. A form of persuasion, a refrain that is portable and carried, with forces to create. A recitation that is a worlding, cultivating capacities to respond. It is whispered and felt, a tuning toward and in-to comfort.
We don't make milk is repeated as feeding happens in a territory of mouth-to-rubber-nipple and glass containers. A refrain to ward off shame and blame from the inside. A refrain to reach back to the mouth-to-rubber-nipple territory from the outside, giving courage and protection. We don't make milk: a point of order in a non-dimensional space of unexpected dislocations and disorientations.
It is no one's fault that the breasts refuse.
We don't make milk. A makeshift refrain with a force of orientation and direction, creating order out of chaos, as more mouths root and suck, in succession of a second, a third, and a fourth over as many years. A territory of mouths, nipples, and bodies that are composing and decomposing. Mouths that feed; stubborn breasts that refuse to empty. Chaotic forces in need of direction. With each repetition, the refrain becomes more and more mobile, going somewhere—destination unknown.
Will they work this time?
No, they won't. We don't make milk.
We don't make milk is both familiar and strange with each reaching, open mouth. The refrain repeats: creating a fragile center to hold the territory. Shame and blame want to break apart, to give way to something more-than. We don't make milk calms and comforts. As a point of stability, we don't make milk is constitutive of the breast–mouth assemblage.
We don't make milk is a process, possessing movement. As a refrain, it marks and expresses territories. It is a worlding refrain: we don't make milk—this is what we don't do. Synthetic nipples are marked by familiar properties of flesh: softness, hole diameter, cross-cut, and capacities of flow. Suction and sucking amplitude matter, despite the container. We don't make milk creates and holds the territory, becoming the motif.
And breasts adapt to the qualities of that worlding.
Or do they?
We don't make milk is rhythmic and regular, offering a semblance of livability while teetering on the verge of disorder. Its temporary expressive function is coaxing, a fluctuating pattern of pacification of guilt. The territory feels enclosed, but the ironic rhythm of the refrain makes it fragile: the fragility of being deterritorialized by something from the outside. Repetition with a difference. A change in rhythm brings back the forces of chaos. Chaos: the sum of all possibles.
We don't make milk. The second generation refrain links up with aggressive marketing and distribution of commercially produced formulas, leaking into hospitals as free food. Rubber nipples and glass bottles mutate into silicone nipples and plastic, BPA-filled bottles. The rhythm of we don't make milk assembles these materials with infant tears, maternal anxieties, aching breasts, and thirsty hunger.
Day 2 of postpartum moving about the territory. We don't make milk: a refrain that intensifies as it is lived and sensed. A conforming tune, and a tuning-toward. This is what breasts don't do. Hands wash bottles and nipples—and they caress folds of new, buttery skin.
Hands also reach up to a sudden sting of misrecognition: Breasts fill up, increase in volume, bursting with flow. Dripping everywhere. Uncontained and heavy.
An impulse follows: skin-to-skin contact is rushed for unexpected relief, enhancing and dampening the quality of the refrain. We don't make milk vibrates on the verge of new potentialities and expressions. The refrain picks up rhythm, it speeds up and slows down. It undulates. A locus of order created, a circle of control marked. But now, it changes direction. A way out anticipated.
Sometimes we have to “open our mouths [to] taste where we are.”1
We don't make milk. The third generation refrain resonates and intensifies, in its excessive portability, in its fragility:
Q: Does she plan to nurse?
A: We don't make milk…
Mouths that attach and suckle venture from home “on the thread of a tune”2—entering and exiting a territory that is beyond home but that is created by home. An improvisation that is carried to alien territory. A deviation from the customary path.
Breasts that make milk do something differently and bring continued variation to the refrain. Lactation becomes a rhythm that brings attention to spaces in-between territories, yet are connected by the refrain. As in-between worldings, the refrain is pulled inward and pushed outward—or pushed inward and pulled outward, depending on the circuitry. As it gains, it loses.
We don't make milk – a refrain that becomes an interval of refusal, a mark of difference. Rhythms are freeing. They allow escape. The mobile center of the refrain accompanies, even facilitates, lines of flight.
We can always “find… new place[s] to haunt.”3
As a third generation refrain, we don't make milk laments its own encounters. When the refrain becomes engorged, a “machinic opera” forms a landscape of song, bringing “play to what it composes.”4 What was once a comforting refrain thus poisons the territory, becoming-dangerous. We don't make milk is repeated with a difference: a resistance, a betrayal, a converter.
We don't make milk vibrates as a present-memory with decrescendos of shame, blame, and guilt—giving a different form: we don't make milk in public. Mouths that taste where they are must be covered, hidden from toxic gazes of objectification and abjection. Concealing and containing are hyper-coded motifs; exposing and gushing are rhythmic counterpoints that accelerate the distributional forces of gratification and pleasure. The intonations turned loose are patterned like overlapping shingles: we don't make milk, we might make milk, what if we make milk? we don't make milk in public. These exchanges and reactions leak into one another, contaminating each.
We don't make milk in public. The fourth generation refrain is a tasty witch's brew that simmers with tensions that are both seen and felt, straddling and traversing worldings, intermingling affects. We don't make milk in public expresses a disloyal relation to previous generational functions; it belongs to territories and breasts and mouths in different instances. The refrain makes milk, differently.
The refrain enables a force of passage, a coming and going, a route of confrontation and departure to avoid capture. We don't make milk links two territories of home: one of comfort, one of danger. The refrain forms an escape between the two on a line of flight. A line of flight deterritorializes the distinct—but passing—refrain of we don't make milk. Like stardust, we don't make milk contains within itself its own regeneration into something new.
“There's so much beauty” in dirt.5
* * *
We don't make milk. The refrain attracts beyond the grave, draws a crowd, reverberates over the grave, literally, as generations sit in mortuary folding chairs on top of the gravesite of decayed breasts that may or may not have made milk. Lowering into the ground is another body of that generation, wrapped in a five-piece suit and necktie, purchased for $250 from the persuasive undertaker-magician, who makes things conveniently appear and disappear. All the other suits hanging in the closet were stained or too large. Artificial dressing and artificial feeding: synthetics intervene on a plane of life and death.
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Alecia Youngblood Jackson is Professor of Qualitative Research in the Department of Leadership and Educational Studies at Appalachian State University, where she is also Affiliated Faculty in the Gender, Women's, and Sexuality Studies program. Correspondence to: Alecia Youngblood Jackson, College of Education, 151 College Street, Office 426D, Appalachian State University, Box 32086, Boone, NC 28608, USA. Email: (. )