Humans: Eating and Thinking Animals? Structuralism’s Leftovers

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Food is necessary to human and animal life. But for humans food always carries a surcharge of meaning and examining thought that engages with food can reveal unthought remainders bespeaking trauma and cultural change. Eating is key to Barthes’ and Lévi-Strauss’ quests to identify how human life is structured. Yet these thinkers create new myths around food which articulate nostalgia for certainty whilst also betraying leftovers of barbarism, ambivalence and co-implication. Poststructuralism offers ways to re-think these leftovers. Derrida’s notion of the trace invites the idea of the leftover as a critical figure supplementing the auto-critique intrinsic in language. Deconstructive readings identify how binary oppositions leave things out and invite considerations of textual consumption as akin to the processes of digestion and incorporation, to the impossibility of identifying what is incorporated and what slips away. For Lacan the symptom is an inescapable leftover that comes back as an imperfectly expressed symptom. So if structuralists unintentionally elide historical, cultural, psychological and physiological traces always, already attached to food, the analysis of their work and that of Lacan and Derrida demonstrates how - by design or by omission - intellectual and aesthetic developments articulate leftovers which offer insight into representational practices, desire and the modern world of consumption.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)543-551
Number of pages9
JournalContemporary French and Francophone Studies
VolumeVolume 16
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2012


  • Food
  • Structuralism
  • Postructuralism
  • Leftovers
  • Barthes
  • Derrida
  • Levi-Strauss

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