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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 II: Eating Disorders as Socio-political Bodily Protest


Part II Eating Disorders as Socio-political Bodily Protest Francesca Calamita 3 On the Verge of Emotional Hunger: Anorexia, Bulimia and Interpersonal Relationships in Present-Day Italian Women’s Writing abstract According to feminist scholars of the 1970s to 1990s, anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and other atypical relationships with body and food are complex tools of communica- tion employed by women in order to say what they cannot express in words (Chernin, Lawrence, Orbach, MacSween). This contribution seeks to decode the multifaceted meaning of anorexia in two well-known narrative works by Italian women writers: Alessandra Arachi’s Briciole [Crumbs] (1994) and Michela Marzano’s Volevo essere una farfalla [I Wanted to Be a Butterfly] (2011). Attention will be given to the multifaceted relationship the protagonists experience with their families and their absent men as a reflection of the way these young women address the cultural expectations placed on them by contemporary society. Women, food and eating disorders The multifaceted relationship between women and food in western cul- ture begins with the Christian Myth of the Fall narrated in Genesis and in particular with the episode of Eve and the apple. Eve’s sinful bite repre- sents the first symbolic meeting between women and food and it is only the first example in a long list of metaphorical meanings associated with the act of eating and ideas of femininity in the collective imaginary. In western culture, food and eating-related activities, such as cooking and serving meals for the family, have often been a symbol for something 68...

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