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Starvation, Food Obsession and Identity

Eating Disorders in Contemporary Women’s Writing


Edited By Petra M. Bagley, Francesca Calamita and Kathryn Robson

Anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and troubled relationships with food and bodies have been depicted by writers across a variety of languages and cultures, since before the medicalisation of eating disorders in the late nineteenth century to the present day. This cross-cultural volume explores the fictional portrayal of these self-destructive yet arguably self-empowering behaviours in contemporary French, German and Italian women’s writing. Covering autobiography, fiction and autofiction, the chapters included here outline different aspects of the cultural encodings of anorexia in Europe today. Contributors analyse how literary texts not only recount but also interrogate wider cultural representations of eating disorders, particularly with regard to concepts of (gender) identity, the body, the relationship with the mother, and the relation between food and words. This volume seeks to draw out the multiple meanings of anorexia as both a rebellion against and conformity to dominant (and gendered) socio-political structures. It explores the ways in which contemporary women’s novels and memoirs both describe and, importantly, also redefine eating disorders in present-day Europe.


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Introduction: Eating Disorders: Disordered Eating? (Petra M. Bagley / Francesca Calamita / Kathryn Robson)


Petra M. Bagley, Francesca Calamita and Kathryn Robson Introduction Eating Disorders: Disordered Eating? This cross-cultural book on the fictional depiction of eating disorders in contemporary European women’s writing came about after the success of the symposium ‘Paradoxical Languages’, which Francesca Calamita organ- ised together with Gill Rye at the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Women’s Writing (Institute of Modern Languages Research, University of London) in May 2014. The selected contributions included here represent the language areas of the three editors, Petra M. Bagley, Francesca Calamita and Kathryn Robson, namely German, Italian and French. Throughout the history of western culture, the relationship between women and food has been multifaceted, and often perceived as a metaphor for something else. From the much-debated biblical episode of Eve and the apple to present-day society, women’s eating habits have been read not only as acts of self-nourishment but also as displays of affection, sexuality and tendency to sin. This multifaceted relationship between women and food reaches its crisis point in the development of contemporary discus- sion on eating disorders which, however, have existed under numerous guises for centuries. Pathological starvation and binging are an unidiomatic and para- doxical language employed by women – and more recently by men – to communicate their deepest feelings, express their identity and protest about their socio-cultural roles. Since the 1970s, feminist scholars have highlighted the significant link between anorexia nervosa and social con- text. Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue (1978) and Hunger Strike (1986), Kim Chernin’s The Hungry...

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