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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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Part I: Eating Disorders and Maternity


Part I Eating Disorders and Maternity Siobhán McIlvanney 1 ‘Impuissance’ and ‘Culpabilité’: Reducing the Weight of Maternal Influence in Contemporary French Women’s Narratives of Anorexia abstract The following chapter examines three contemporary female-authored French narratives of anorexia which prioritise the viewpoint of the mother, whether that of mother-witness or mother-sufferer. The mother figure has often been stigmatised in French interpretations of the anorexic paradigm for her putatively nefarious influence on the mother/daughter dyad. This chapter rejects such simplistic pathologisation of the maternal and argues for a more heterogeneous, socio-historical approach to understanding the complex causative features of anorexia. It posits that the act of ‘writing the body’ represented by these texts offers an integrated resolution of the general mind/body binary which underpinned 1970s’ feminist writing and suggests that literature can provide a vital and radical counter-perspective to much of the outmoded (and potentially misogynous) medical and psychoanalytic discourse surrounding this disorder in France. In contemporary narratives of anorexia, the anorexic body can also be read as text, in that the cultural norms of an idealised feminine form psycho- logically imbibed by the protagonists are autobiographically inscribed on their physical selves. That inscription is engraved in a particularly aggressive and graphic manner which demands to be read by the Other; what cannot be expressed in the body politic finds articulation through the politicised body. Indeed, such embodiment is often so extreme that it exceeds cultural norms, thereby heightening its visibility – although not, as this chapter argues, its legibility. It...

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