Catherine Keyser is an associate professor in the English Department at the University of South Carolina. Her new book, Artificial Color: Modern Food and Racial Fictions (Oxford University Press, 2019), explores the shaping role of race in the ingestive imaginary of interwar US literature.
Until recently, modernist food studies has been like dinner at Clarissa Dalloway’s party: apparently on offer, but mostly offstage. While scholars have counted chestnuts peeled and cocktails quaffed by Ernest Hemingway, and contemplated the savor of urine in the kidneys gobbled by Leopold Bloom, it is not until quite recently that the methodologies of food studies—rather than merely its objects of study—have vitally shaped modernist inquiry and vice versa.i Early accounts of what modernism was and did pivoted on the role of the commodity. For critics from Walter Benjamin to Fredric Jameson, the formal complexity of modernism attempted to re-enchant a world reduced to mere marketplace. From this vantage point, the individual’s sensuous encounter with food—such as the Proustian reverie on the madeleine—could restore the consumer’s evacuated subjectivity, even as aero-planes advertised toffee in sky-writing.