Fasting Women, Living Skeletons and Hunger Artists: Spectacles of Body and Miracles at the Turn of a Century

  • Gooldin S
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This article examines the historically embedded relations of three 19th-century phenomena in which the non-consuming body is constituted as a spectacle of admiration. These three phenomena, known as Fasting Women, Living Skeletons and Hunger Artists, all emerged and disappeared in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. Viewing the emergence and disappearance of the three phenomena as embedded in the historical crossroads of pre-modern and modern ethics, the article argues that each of these phenomena corresponds differently to the clash between modern `rationality' and the pre-modern celebration of `miracles'. The article maintains that while Fasting Women epitomized that clash by becoming (a highly contested) spectacle of `the miraculous', the Living Skeletons transcended the clash by portraying a spectacle of liminal corporeality (the `living dead') and the Hunger Artists announced the dissolution of that very clash by performing a spectacle of `the controlled self'. Through a focus on the spectacle of fasting (i.e. the appeared, performed, `gazed at' act of fasting), a phenomenological typology of the three phenomena is outlined. I suggest that while Fasting Women and Living Skeletons embodied a spectacle of a lean body, which does not require suffering, the Hunger Artists embodied a spectacle of hunger centred on suffering and pain. The phenomenological `mapping' of these phenomena is then considered in the context of `performativity theory' and proposed as a frame of reference for a sociological study of anorexia nervosa.

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  • Sigal Gooldin

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