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  • Feasts and Fasts:Towards a Modernist Food Studies
  • Rebecca Bowler
Artificial Color: Modern Food and Racial Fictions. Catherine Keyser. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019. Pp. 232. $74.00 (cloth).
The Art of Hunger: Aesthetic Autonomy and the Afterlives of Modernism. Alys Moody. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. Pp. 240. $74.00 (cloth).
Gastro-Modernism: Food, Literature, Culture. Ed. Derek Gladwin. Clemson, SC: Clemson University Press, 2019. Pp. 256. $120.00 (cloth).

Modernist food studies is an emerging field, and it is thriving. It is a significant new subfield because, as these three volumes demonstrate, food is richly significant for material, cultural, and political examinations of formal modernism. The books under review here contribute to a rapidly growing site of inquiry; they join, most notably, the special issue of Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities, "Tasting Modernism" (2014), the "Modernist Food Studies" special issue of Modernism/modernity on the Print Plus platform (May 2019), and the edited collection Modernism and Food Studies: Politics, Aesthetics, and the Avant-Garde (2019).1 Like Modernism and Food Studies, Gastro-Modernism: Food, Literature, Culture (2019) is a collection of critical essays. Each volume groups its essays in thematic clusters, addressing the cultural, the aesthetic, the affective and the social elements of diet. Artificial Color: Modern Food and Racial Fictions (2019) examines the intersection of food studies and race in American modernisms. And The Art of Hunger: Aesthetic Autonomy and the Afterlives of Modernism (2018) provides a retrospective on modernism via some postmodern authors who acknowledged themselves indebted to a certain mythology of what modernism was or could have been. In this version of modernism, hunger is an aesthetic and food is vulgar because material. In the [End Page 399] modernisms of the other two volumes, hunger and food are both political and inextricable from modernist aesthetics. The tension between these two positions is a significant and a productive one.

Catherine Keyser, author of Artificial Color, emphasizes the newness of modernist food studies in her introduction to the "Modernist Food Studies" cluster on Modernism/modernity's Print Plus platform:

Until recently, modernist food studies has been like dinner at Clarissa Dalloway's party: apparently on offer, but mostly offstage. While scholars have counted chestnuts peeled and cocktails quaffed by Ernest Hemingway, and contemplated the savor of urine in the kidneys gobbled by Leopold Bloom, it is not until quite recently that the methodologies of food studies—rather than merely its objects of study—have vitally shaped modernist inquiry and vice versa.

One of these methodologies is a material and interrelational examination of formal modernism. Here aesthetics are shaped by encounters with the messy or authoritative structures of modernity: economic, social, and cultural. Artificial Color takes a three-pronged approach to "alimentary representation," a "critical eating studies" methodology which Keyser has adopted from Kyla Wazana Tompkins's Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century (Keyser, 3). These three areas are "direct allusions to food technologies and systems; embodied tropes of incorporation, abjection, and expulsion that structure these texts; and ambivalent cultural fantasies about racial difference mobilized by these meditations on ingestion" (3). Food is everything here. Keyser's authors write about food in their nonfiction and in their fiction. They develop dietetic metaphors for bodies and those bodies' relations with other bodies. They construct further metaphors for race, culture, and society from the base matter of food and eating.

Typical of this wide-reaching alimentary cultural production is Jean Toomer, from whom Keyser takes her title. Toomer's unpublished 1935 memoir describes his time working at a soda fountain. In her analysis, Keyser connects that experience to the effervescent, bubbling, fizzing, and fluid-mixing metaphors in Cane (17). In the memoir, Toomer writes of the segregated soda fountain and the excitement and wonder of artificially colored and flavored sodas. In Cane, he allegorizes soda and its qualities, as well as drawing attention to the complex intersection of exoticized black bodies and exotic tropical fruits and flavors. We have here direct allusions to food (or drink) technologies, embodiment as metaphor, and sophisticated "cultural fantasies about racial difference":

[T]hese tropes shed light on Toomer's liminal aesthetic, the racialized discourses infusing soft drink production and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6601
Print ISSN
1071-6068
Pages
pp. 399-405
Launched on MUSE
2020-06-24
Open Access
No
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