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Hunger and thirst are mindful as well as embodied states, and they come trailing their own metaphorical meanings and symbolic associations. —Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Aspects of hunger in the physical, embodied sense of a desire for food have been explored in this study of famine. Discursive practices constitute famine in modernity in particular ways and these technologize and depoliticize questions of famine relief. Practices of food aid, as disciplinary practices, impose a techno-disciplinary framework that naturalizes certain political relationships. Some forms of response to famines challenge this technologization, but these are retechnologized in developmentalism, humanitarianism, and other ways. Nancy Scheper-Hughes, in her book Death without Weeping, makes a similar argument following a study of the medicalization of hunger in Brazil. There, people who are starving are given medical treatment (dietary supplements, tranquilizers, and so on) for a nervous complaint, nervos (what Scheper-Hughes calls “the madness of hunger”), instead of the food they need. Many die as a result, but the political consequences to the government of admitting to a problem of hunger and starvation among the population are averted. The people themselves do not quarrel with the description of their suffering as nervos, and Scheper-Hughes asks why. Hunger has been depoliticized and tamed by medicalization: “Through the idiom of nervos, Death without Weeping 153 Conclusion the terror and violence of hunger are socialised and domesticated, their social origins concealed.”1 There are two routes for the sufferers . One contains the possibility of protest, of criticism. The other, which is the path they have taken, is to silence the pain, “surrendering more and more . . . to the technical domain of medicine, where [the symptoms] will be transformed into a ‘disease’ to be treated with an injection, a nerve pill, a soporific. Once safely medicated, however , the scream of protest is silenced, and the desperate message in the bottle is lost.”2 Scheper-Hughes’s suggestion is that we should repoliticize medicine; she concludes by asking “what medicine might become if, beyond the humanitarian goals that it espouses, it could see in the suffering that enters the clinic an expression of the tragic experience of the world.” Her response is: “We might have the basis for a liberation medicine, a new medicine, like a new theology, fashioned out of hope.”3 I want to consider this response. Ironically, is it not precisely this hope, this desire, that got us into the predicament in the first place? Scheper-Hughes has pointed out the parallel between bodily hunger and starvation, an embodied state, and the hunger for knowledge or redemption associated with modernity and Western metaphysics. The hunger for certainty or completeness that drives modernity is an impossible desire: “Man as such is ‘nature sick unto death,’ derailed.”4 It is through this social fantasy that the symptom appears as some disturbing intrusion, something that we can overcome, and liberation appears possible.5 Derrida argues that justice is impossible, we can only ever have justice to come. I argue with Derrida that in accepting this as a promise, not as a project, an alternative, one that does not technologize, might be found. The hunger for certainty that drives the discursive and social practices surrounding famine relief and food aid is a peculiarly modern condition, one that produces a specific modern response to famine. Modernity’s hunger is based on the view of certainty to be found in Plato. There, it is universal laws in their abstraction that are real and the world of change that is illusory. Plato equates belief with the changing, indefinite objects of everyday life, which may appear either beautiful or ugly, depending on one’s point of view. Knowledge, on the other hand, is limited to the unchanging reality of absolutes, Beauty, and so on. It is philosophers who have access to truth: “those 154 · conclusion who are not philosophers are lost in multiplicity and change.”6 In modernity, the natural and social scientists have replaced Plato’s philosophers . It is they who claim to have access to, and be the guarantors of, certainty and truth. According to Friedrich Nietzsche, in this search for certainty modern Western philosophy has engaged in a process of dehistoricization and disembodiment. This entails depoliticization and technologization . Philosophers believe in what is, that is, in what is fixed or immutable .7 However, they cannot find anything of the sort in the world, and they locate the reason for their failure in the deception of the senses. The escape from this illusion of...


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