Publication Date

April 2015

Advisor(s)

Catherine Poisson

Major

College of Letters, French Studies

Language

English (United States)

Abstract

Western culture has a schizophrenic (conflicted) relationship with food “ we cannot decide whether it delights or disgusts us, whether it is sacred or abject, magical or biological, so we treat it as all of these and more. An attempt to explain these schizophrenic attitudes towards the act of eating in western culture, this project examines representations of eating in five works of contemporary French literature by Am’lie Nothomb, Muriel Barbery, and Joy Sorman. It specifically examines the individual’s experience of the act of eating within these works: how do we conceptualize the function this act fulfills in our singular being, in our own subjectivity? And furthermore, why do we conceptualize eating in this way ’ that is, schizophrenically? The how is addressed by demonstrating the abundance of conflicting sentiments present in these authors’ representations of eating. The why is treated through recourse to the philosophical underpinnings of western thought, demonstrating how these ideas actually structure our discussion of and attitude towards food and embodied subjectivity ” how we understand ourselves as eating subjects. In short, this is an attempt at a conceptual architecture of the act of eating in western culture. The argument consists in demonstrating how conflicting theories of materiality in the western philosophical tradition undergird our understanding of eating. On the one hand, the legacy of philosophers like Plato, Plotinus and religious belief systems like Christianity, advance a notion of transcendence, where we distance ourselves from materiality and corporeality and aspire towards a superior immaterial dimension. On the contrary, philosophies of material immanence reflecting the ideas of modern science teach us that we are wholly material beings, prompting us to embrace materiality and corporeality. This project concludes that in contemporary discussions of eating, we are forced to grapple with both of these conflicting philosophical frameworks at once “ we must reconcile our simultaneous impulse to transcend materiality with our impulse to locate ourselves within it. We resolve this conflict by synthesizing a new framework ’ immanent transcendence ” where we relocate transcendence to matter itself. Food matter thus becomes mystified, endowed with creative powers and divine qualities.

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