Wednesday 20 September 2017

Undue Influence: a Hunger Artist

I could sell you anything in the shop, since I am so familiar with the stock. But I prefer the living flesh and its ambiguity. I am in my element there, a hunger artist whose hunger is rarely satisfied.
Anita Brookner, Undue Influence, ch. 2

Kafka's hunger artist is a man who performs and showcases his fasting, his abnegation, his sadness. But his life involves endless indignities: he is suspected of cheating; his public loses interest. It is suggested his unhappiness may simply be caused by his self-denial.

Brookner's protagonists are hunger artists in that there's a degree of complacency in their austere self-presentation. But there's also, as here, a sense of insatiable and perhaps unsuitable appetites - appetites that must be controlled and circumscribed and to an extent suppressed. And the true Brooknerian wouldn't want it any other way.

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