Actual, Possible, Edible: Metabolic Description in Aminatta Forna's Happiness
- ariel: A Review of International English Literature
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 52, Numbers 3-4, July-October 2021
- pp. 1-27
- Additional Information
- Purchase/rental options available:
This essay responds to critical skepticism about the politics of description and suggests that careful, empirical description does not necessarily endorse the status quo. Against theoretical approaches that see descriptions of everyday life as static "filler" (Moretti 72), this essay reads quotidian details—particularly details about food and eating—as dynamic narrative motors. Taking up Aminatta Forna's 2018 novel, Happiness, alongside debates in the energy humanities, it seeks to illustrate the way Forna's descriptive investment in metabolic cycles serves as a counterdiscourse to her novel's overt valorization of cosmopolitan resilience. In Happiness, what I call "metabolic description" both expands the novel's scale and troubles the ontological boundaries between the eaters and the eaten. It also offers a method of engaging with the energy humanities that moves beyond the thematic to examine the formal. The essay concludes that attention to food descriptions in realist fiction can reveal three things: a literary energy imaginary beyond oil, a dynamic continuity between organism and environment, and an attendant destabilization of the globalized liberal subject.