A Responsorial Hymn of the Phenomenology of MD and Drunk

This is a paper I wrote on perception, MD 20/20, and the state of “drunk.” There are citations and a works cited section in case you want to know more about phenomenology. This was one of the better pieces of writing I have ever put out and I would love some comments if you have them.  It’s written in a different kind of style, which I was hoping could bring the paper together and help with flow. I don’t know if I like the form, but it seems to work a little. Enjoy I guess.


Contains sulfites. Grape wine with citrus spirits. Natural Flavors and Certified Colors. Serve cold. 750 mL. Banana Red. Bottled by the 20/20 Wine Co. Westfield, New York. The true meaning of MD on this bottle is Mogen David, but this wine has been re-branded, through American culture, as the “Mad Dog.” It is a bum wine and the shape of the bottle reflects it. The shiny glass bottle is big enough to be awkward just carrying around, but small enough to be able to hide beneath one of the many layers of coats the homeless man on the corner wears throughout the year, regardless of temperature. This is not a classy drink, but classiness has no place in the college environment like Ursinus. Thus, I have been introduced to many cruel liquids that are incredibly representative of their price and one of the more prevalent of these liquids has been the Mad Dog. Through the phenomenological re-learning of the wicked temptress I have tried to perceive the lemon that is the Banana Red variety of the cheap wine along with the honeyed aftermath of the alcoholic buzz. Perception is bound by the lemon and the honey.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s points on perception are wide-known. He states in his lectures that an “object is a system of properties which present themselves to our various senses and which are united by an act of intellectual synthesis (59).” This intellectual synthesis, he expands upon in Phenomenology of Perception, occurs within the body, making the body essential for perception (Marshall, 124). It was my purpose within this experience to fully synthesize the object that is the bottle of MD 20/20 Banana Red and then try to perceive the state of drunk like Merleau-Ponty recognizes the objects of lemon and honey. Through sight, sound, taste, touch and smell it was my duty to use them to fully understand the bottle and its contents. I had to create “the dialogue between me as an embodied subject and the external object which bears this quality (Merleau-Ponty, 61).” However, this dialogue had already begun long ago since, as Merleau-Ponty states, “they are clothed in human characteristics and converswely they dwell within us as emblems of forms of life we either love or hate (63).” Perception is bound also by the intellectual synthesis of stimuli.

My knowledge of the term “bum wine” is one of an extended history.  However, most of that history does not include any actual physical interaction with the object. I would hear people talk about it on the radio or overhear utterances of comparison of a table wine to that of Thunderbird or Wild Irish Rose. Thus, my perception of wines like Mad Dog was one of doubt and disgust, but was based on nothing more than hearsay. However, this hearsay is still a key part of my phenomenological experience of the wine bottle. On the other hand there was an actual physical history between myself and the Mad Dog, with many bottles being previously ingested in my few years of college drinking. It was this physical experience and history that created the sort of “halo” that Cezanne refers to when painting(Merleau-Ponty, 64). It had taken on human qualities that a simple bottle, if looked at non-phenomenologically, shouldn’t have. In particular, the feeling of companionship radiated from the bottle as brightly as the radioactive Kool Aid color itself. Mad Dog was never a “bum wine” in that sense for me. It was never being drunk in city back alleys alone, but in a warm college dorm with good friends. This cold bottle of bright liquid takes on a feeling of inviting warmth without even a single drop flowing down your throat. Perception is bound also by personal experience.

This is only my perception of MD 20/20, though, which was influenced by others significantly before my first corporeal experience with it. Others’ perceptions of this are generally negative, with the most obvious piece of perception being the label of “bum wine.” It is labeled as a lower class and as destitute because of its price and quality. It is a symbol of shame within American society. College students even realize that it is not something that would be acceptable in the “real world,” drinking it ironically or because of a lack of funds. Mad Dog is drunk. It is seen to have that sole purpose. Homeless people drink it to keep the pain away and college students drink it to keep inhibitions away. Perception is bound also by social class.

The first thing that one can notice about this bottle is the color of its contents. Sight is often the first sense that establishes an object as being a particular thing. In this case it is the bright fire truck red color, almost giving the perceiver a warning to not drink like a poisonous frog has bright colors to warm against eating. However, the color is alluring and reminiscent of childhood drinks, with its resemblance to Mondo Punch. Is this why I am so attracted to the flavor Banana Red as opposed to the dull Orange Jubilee or the eerie Peaches and Cream? Possibly, but I’ll never be sure. It’s loud too. Much like Merleau-Ponty’s carpet-choosing, the color is able to hint at several other feelings. The first thought is that the taste will be like the Kool Aid or Twister juice of your youth, but that fades to the thought of Fire Engine Red and a giant truck bearing down on you with sirens blaring. It is cute, but dangerous. Youthful and at the same time skeptical. Perception is bound also by color’s touch.

The eye is first attracted to the color of the Devil’s juice inside, but on the outside, the pristine bottle requires a closer investigation by the eye. The glass is shiny and pristine, the product of being left on a bottom shelf where there is little activity, but surprising because of a lack of the close floor’s dust. Four dollars never has looked so immaculate and may never look like this again. The little aluminum cap is polished and shiny, with perforations and twists in order to ease the opening process. It’s most important to make it easy on college students and drunkards to be able to open and experience your alcohol. The cap is sleazy. The bottle cap is a prostitute, with its clean shine a total act like a merkin on a 18th Century whore. It will open up for anyone. You know exactly where it has been, unlike what your parents often told you, but you still want it. Perception is bound also by association.

The words on the bottle are an entirely different part of perception. I cannot re-learn words like I can re-learn the bottle and its contents. Those letters and their combinations have inherent meaning in my brain and will be perceived with said preconception. However, many of the words do not have significant meaning to me yet. “Sulfites” and “Certified Colors” have absolutely no meaning at all and in this case, only cause my opinion of the wine to plummet because of their seeming relationship to artificial additives. The letters MD appear in big, golden font, but at no point on the bottle are we told of what these stand for, possibly lending some explanation to the creation of the spirit’s nickname. However, I don’t really care what they really stand for. That is Mad Dog and it is from the MD that I know it. Perception is bound also by language.

My notebook and face reflect within the bottle, adding space into the solution of perception that Merleau-Ponty had equated. He states that “we have a world in which objects cannot be considered to be entirely self-identical,” meaning that this bottle of Mad Dog has a different identity in every different space that it occupies. In this space, the notebook gives the bottle a different feel. It isn’t one of authority or importance, but possibly some validation. It is alright for me to be drinking this tonight; it’s for a paper. Right? Probably not. It is possible to even say that a part of space is the state of mind one is in when they are in the act of perception. Drinking and perceiving for a paper on a Tuesday night is much different than drinking passively on a Friday night in order to get a buzz after which you go out and hit a party or two. Is there a difference between space and state of mind? Merleau-Ponty may argue so, but I would definitely say that space and state of mind must be considered conjoined, as they seem to change together. Perception is bound also by space.

The sound of a bottle filled with liquid is eerie. It can change with the amount of liquid held within, how full the container it, the liquid’s viscosity and what the container is made of. In this case, the sound of a shaken, full bottle of Mad Dog sounds like the last air bubbles returning to the surface of the sea from a drowned sailor. I don’t mean to be a downer with that, but it is that slow gurgle sound which is deep and dark. There aren’t happy splashes heard emitting from the bottle, but slow bubbles of doom. Moving the glass around on a composite wooden desk creates this deep scratch and dropping the full bottle on the ground only emits a dull thud that is replaced with dead sailor bubbles. Another interesting sound that the bottle emits is when the cap is twisted and the seal broken. The loud snaps of the cap tearing from the ring keeping it grounded came two by two, until there was only one. The snaps were, somewhat obviously, metallic, but also plastic in a way. However, the sound of the cap slowly moving off of the bottle was one that was almost chilling. Aluminum rubbing up against glass unprotected was much like hearing steel rub against steel. Perception is bound also by sound.

And then it poured out. The scent moved out of the bottle quickly and diffused into the surrounding air, penetrating my nostrils. The fruit was highly apparent, but it was not fresh. It was a stagnant smell. This was one of the first true hints that you actually get what you pay for in the case of fortified wine. The scent burns, telling of the elixir’s power. It smells like a bucket of maraschino cherries that have been boiled down into some awful devil syrup and then was generously added to rubbing alcohol. Perception is bound also by scent.

Then came the first sip, my mouth to the bottle’s cold glass mouth just as a homeless counterpart would. When it sits on the tongue, the surprisingly thin liquid makes no impression upon my taste buds, but when it moves down through my throat there is a rush of saccharine fruit sensation. Then comes the burning from deep within my esophagus, moving quickly upwards to my mouth. The alcohol that was used to fortify the wine is causing the sharp feeling of fire and a more subtle warmth is beginning to develop. My perception is influenced by the opinions of a friend when I was told it tastes like something that should be poured into a tank and used as fuel. Perception is bound also by the tastes of others.

Let us now flash forward an hour into the experience where I am left with an empty bottle, which has caused my own perception to change significantly. The room, or space if you will, has increased its temperature immensely, causing me to sweat slightly. The feeling definitely has a certain color to it. This color has to be hot and lively, while keeping the haziness of drunkenness alive. A darker orange would describe it well, with the heat and energy represented, but toned down by the haze. Things move slower within the vision of the perceiver. There isn’t a true blur yet, but it’s a point where things will stay within the range of sight longer. I am dulled like a well-spent blade. The body has become truly and fully honeyed through consumption. Perception is bound also by state.

However, I do not feel as I were honey. I do not feel sweet or sugary and thus I do not feel like honey. I feel drunk. Drunk is warm, hot, sweaty. Drunk is slowed, viscous, slothful. Drunk is energetic, happy, laughing. Merleau-Ponty argues that “the unity of the object does not lie behind its qualities, but is reaffirmed by each one of them: each of its qualities is the whole (62).” Does this apply to a feeling as well as to the object? If Merleau-Ponty were to argue that this does apply to a state of mind as well as an object, then I cannot agree. Warm and happy are not what drunk is, but drunk is warm and happy. The qualities of the state of mind still do show through and are active, as Merleau-Ponty would agree. Feelings and states of mind, just as objects, bring forth a set of experiences, societal norms, and ideals when they are experienced. Perception is bound also by definition.

Drunk, as by my standards, has been perceived in a very positive light, with the words warm and happy used and the dark orange hue given. However, I am sure that many do not see drunk in the same light. Drunk is dark and alone and embarrassing to many, the opposite of my experiences with this state of being. Society does not actually embrace the spectacle of drunk and instead frowns upon this one. Drunk is blue and sad. Drunk is a thing of corruption and immorality. American society associates it with the lawlessness of the prohibition days and the bad decisions of contemporary college students. Drunk is the man in Tennessee who downs a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and beats his wife and children. Drunk is drunk driving and car accidents. Drunk is addiction, despair, and mistakes. Maybe someday I will look back on drunk and realize that it is these things, but right now, in this space and time, drunk is a thing of happiness and companionship. Drunk is energy. Drunk is just as phenomenological as the objects it requires to be obtained. Perception is bound also by consequences.

Here we are on a college campus and just looking at the phenomenology of a little bottle has inspired within me that the concept of phenomenology is something real and true. Here it is acceptable, almost encouraged, to drink every weekend night without consequence and it is even sometimes alright on weekdays too. However, when we leave this space, drunk and Mad Dog are no longer accepted things. Drunk turns into a negative connotation and is filled with all of the preconceived notions of many other addictive substances. As Merleau-Ponty states:

The lazy viewer will see ‘errors of perspective’ here, while those who look closely will get the feel of a world in which no two objects are seen simultaneously, a world in which regions of space are separated by the time it takes to move our gaze from one to the other, a world in which being is not given but rather emerges over time (54).

The perceptions of drunk, and even on Mad Dog, are already changed, whether we realize it or not, with the human interaction experience different in every autonomous individual. This individual can control their own perception instead of passively accepting the conclusions and inferences that have been passed on by society. The individual has the power to change itself and its own perception of objects and states instead of following in the constant flow of tradition. The human has the ability to break free from cliché and gather its own perception of objects and feelings. Perception is bound by the body and the mind.

Works Cited:

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Exploring the World of Perception (Sensory Objects, Art and the World of Perception, and Space)

Marshall, George J. A Guide to Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception. Milwaukee: Marquette UP, 2008. Print.


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