Monday, July 1, 2013

Its tumescence in the throats of serpents

Near the end of Maud Ellmann's The Hunger Artists: Starving, Writing and Imprisonment, her own writing moves so sinuously -- indeed so beautifully -- through the transformations of edible substances that you can almost see how the hands of Richardson's Clarissa, Kafka's Hunger Artist, the inmates of the H-Blocks of Long Kesh and Coetzee's Michael K, would have rushed to shield their eyes and then their mouths:

What is food, that it should be so fearsome and desirable? And why are all these hunger artists so desperate to resist its captivation? Food is the prototype of all exchanges with the other, be they verbal, financial or erotic. Digestion is a kind of fleshly poetry, for metaphor begins in the body's transubstantiations of itself, while food is the thesaurus of all moods and all sensations. Its disintegration in the stomach, its assimilation in the blood, its diaphoresis in the epidermis, its metempsychosis in the large intestine; its viscosity in okra, gumba, oysters; its elasticity in jellies; its deliquescence in blancmanges; its tumescence in the throats of serpents, its slow erosion in the bellies of sharks; its odysseys through pastures, orchards, wheat fields, stockyards, supermarkets, kitchens, pig troughs, rubbish dumps, disposals; the industries of sowing, hunting, cooking, milling, processing, and canning it; the wizardry of its mutations, ballooning into bread, subsiding in soufflés; raw and cooked, solid and melting, vegetable and mineral, fish, flesh, and fowl, encompassing the whole compendium of living substance: food is the symbol of the passage, the totem of sociality, the epitome of all creative and destructive labor.

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