« Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es. » Brillat-Savarin, Aphorism IV, Physiologie du gout (1825)
Since the awkward outburst of Aristophanes’s hiccups into the discourse of Plato’s ‘Symposium’, our innards have been linked to a sense of perplexity and anti-rationalism in the Western literary and philosophical canon. Heartburn, burping, vomiting, indigestion, IBS, diarrhoea, constipation, flatulence and fatness are considered shameful signs of bodily, moral and social failure. Yet consumption is also one of life’s greatest pleasures, food is an indispensable part of our cultural identity, and our guts are primed as the locus of our true feelings and instincts: when in doubt, follow your gut. What to make of these contradictions?
The gut has an impressive lineage in French literature: the hedonistic feasting of Arthurian legend, late medieval farce’s fascination with the comic potential of digestion, Brillat-Savarin’s Physiologie du gout (1825), Baudelaire’s spleen, stuffing down food (or poison) in Madame Bovary (1857), Sartre’s La Nausée (1938), and Bataille’s gleeful celebrations of excretion and waste, to name but a few. What is it about this bodily site that makes it so ripe for literary allegory? Why does it constitute such a powerful emotional, philosophical and moral metaphor?
And what of gendered understandings of the gut: Kristeva’s theory of how corporeal materiality is not accepted by society; Amélie Nothomb’s representations of women eating, and self-starving; and more recently, Julia Ducournau’s cannibalistic horror film Raw (2016), or Gabrielle Deydier’s autobiographical On ne naît pas grosse (2017), which offer new ways of skewering normative societal understandings of women’s appetites, and bodies.
Our guts can be highly uncontrollable and unpredictable. They share a powerful and intimate link to our brains, as testified by emerging scientific research on the gut-brain axis. Anxiety, phobia and trauma are all in dialogue with our guts. Why do we attempt to control them? What is the political and moral significance of the lengths we go to keep the gut suppressed? Can we demystify the gut as both the subject and instrument of shame and discipline?
It’s time for some digestive tact. We are looking for 20-minute papers in relation to the following themes, and beyond:
- Tummy trouble – shame, pain and disgust
- Gut feelings and instincts
- Sensuality and taste
- Food and culture
- Appetite and desire
- Disorderly eating
- Bowels, indigestion and defecation
- Guts and gumption
- Toilet humour
- Consumption as metaphor: digesting the text
- Mental illness and gut soma
- Viscera and the visceral
Keynote speaker: Dr Manon Mathias, Lecturer in French, University of Glasgow
We invite postgraduates to submit abstracts of 250-300 words for 20-minute papers in English or in French at email@example.com by 15 September 2018. We particularly welcome interdisciplinary papers drawing from the fields of Francophone literature, philosophy, film, visual art, comics, history, sociology, critical theory, and the medical humanities.
Organisers: Sophie Eager (KCL), Joey Hornsby (KCL), and Rebecca Rosenberg (KCL).