Alimentary monstrosities:genetic modification and ethical ambiguities in contemporary fiction

Christou, Maria (2018) Alimentary monstrosities:genetic modification and ethical ambiguities in contemporary fiction. In: Routledge Companion to Literature and Food. Routledge Literature Companions . Routledge, London. ISBN 9781138048430

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In a series of lectures delivered in the 1970s, Michel Foucault argued that the figure of the ‘abnormal’ individual originates in the concept of the ‘monster’, which, he claims, broadly assumed two forms – namely, the sexual and the alimentary. Foucault traces the transformation of the ‘sexual monster’ into the nineteenth-century figure of the ‘sexually abnormal’ individual but, as Chloe Taylor has observed, forgets all about the ‘alimentary monster’. This contribution will look closely at Foucault’s definition of the monster – as that which abides by neither natural nor societal norms – in exploring alimentary ‘monstrosities’ in contemporary fiction. In Ruth Ozeki’s fictional worlds, we encounter various food-related abnormalities, including cervical deformities, unnatural rates of breast and pubic hair growth in young children, and monstrous foodstuffs or ‘Frankenfoods’. Margaret Atwood’s fictional worlds also confront us with a whole series of unnatural beings, including the ‘wolvogs’, animals with mixed wolf and dog genes, the ‘pigoons’, pigs in whose brains human genes are incorporated, and, of course, the ‘ChickieNobs’, laboratory-created chicken breasts for human consumption, which evoke the real-life ‘shmeat’. At first glance, such representations would seem to advocate the rejection of the unnatural or abnormal; as one character puts it in reference to GMO food, ‘a flounder ... cannot fuck a tomato’. At the same time, though, siding with the natural is by no means presented as uncontroversial either, and it is here that the Foucauldian monster, with its questioning and suspicion of the ‘natural’ or ‘normal’, proves illuminating in uncovering the ethically ambiguous implications of the construction of the ‘natural’ and the ‘unnatural’ or ‘monstrous’. Looking at food-related ‘monstrous’ bodies and identities, then, this contribution will interrogate the position of selected contemporary fictions on whether a flounder should, after all, be allowed to ‘fuck a tomato’.

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28 Apr 2016 13:26
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12 Sep 2023 02:07