You Eat What You Are: Identity Via Cannibalistic Food Ethics In Ying Chen’s Le Mangeur

Julie Lynn Robert


Shanghai-born Québécoise Ying Chen focuses her 2006 novel, Le Mangeur, on the ethics of nurturing, locating this key term at the etymological nexus of filiation and nourishment, two recurrent themes in her oeuvre. This instalment in her series of novels about an ambiguously defined female narrator revolves around what proves to be a morbid but still nurturing link between father and daughter. Through the act of the narrator’s becoming food via dysfunctional nurturing—an endogamous, even incestuous, cannibalism—Chen calls to mind debates about modern food politics and situates them on the knife-edge of binaries of self and other, living and dead, human and animal, edible and inedible implicit in questions of food in general, cannibalism in particular, and of the cultural questions of identity inherent to both. By subverting expectations, challenging them by pushing accepted binaries to their illogical extremes and thereby collapsing them Chen succeeds in questioning Brillat-Savarin’s maxim, you are what you eat.


cannibalism; Ying Chen; nurturing; Quebec literature; food ethics

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