Wednesday, October 12, 2011

hungry selves and dfw's "stomach-level sadness"

There's something particularly sad about [being a human being in America at the turn of the millennium], something that doesn't have very much to do with physical circumstances, or the economy, or any of the stuff that gets talked about in the news. It's more like a stomach-level sadness. I see it in myself and my friends in different ways. It manifests itself as a kind of lostness.1

These words of David Foster Wallace as quoted in All Things Shining resounded tonight as I read Kim Chernin's borderline whackadoo neo-Freudian The Hungry Self. Certainly interesting--if a bit extreme; in the end, worth the handful of hours spent reading it. With the aid of some considerable (and at times disturbing) matricidal overtones, Chernin argues that prevalence--one might say, epidemic--of disordered eating in our contemporary world is a proliferation of the "problem with no name." An emptiness incapable of articulation; a transmigratory frustration. Transferred from mothers to daughters, the suffering and indeed deferred dreams of the second wave function as a hollow void to be filled with preoccupations about food.

So often I have thought about the specifically American relationship to food: we are body obsessed over-eaters, under-eaters, fad-dieters, constantly occupied by caloric ruminations. Reading Chernin, I had to ask, do our obsessions stem from a fundamental inadequacy? A (literal) "stomach-level sadness"? Is the promise of the American Dream (and the inability to achieve it) our ultimate undoing?

1. Dreyfus, Hubert L., and Sean Kelly. All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age. New York: Free Press, 2011.

1 comment:

  1. I would rephrase that last question. More disturbing would be; what if, far from being a remote, unachievable ideal, it is precisely because we have achieved the American Dream that we are left with the "stomach-level sadness"?

    Because as David says, it has nothing to do with economic or physical circumstances, which is definitely a sadness specific to material prosperity.

    It seems to me that every society and culture has it's own neurosis; and as such and by comparison, the "stomach-level sickness" is unpleasant but certainly preferable to the alternatives!