Starving Desire: New (Deleuzean) Readings of Anorexia in Australian Young Adult Fiction

By McInally, Kathryn | Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature, December 2006 | Go to article overview

Starving Desire: New (Deleuzean) Readings of Anorexia in Australian Young Adult Fiction


McInally, Kathryn, Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature


Anorexia nervosa is recognised as a particularly prevalent disorder among young adult women and much attention has been paid to its multifarious 'causes'. Intense media scrutiny of the issue has spilled over into the fictional representations of the disorder in Young Adult novels. What is not discussed in current theoretical investigations, cultural or literary, however, are any intersections between anorexia and girl-girl desire. While questions pertaining to femininity and feminine sexuality have been investigated and scrutinised in regards to anorexia, current theoretical understandings do not engage with the very passionate connections between girls and how these are played out within the anorexic context. Given this gap in the current scholarship, not only are new approaches to the trope of anorexia important, so too are new readings of girls' desires for each other. This paper subsequently looks to fiction to recast facets of anorexia as interrelated to the cultural insistence that girls move beyond intense and passionate desirous relationships with each other, into normative heterosexuality.

To this end, I read desire between girls in this paper in a specifically Deleuze and Guattarian sense. With the focus of this volume of Papers on 'new' readings and approaches to children's literature, Deleuze and Guattari might offer a significantly new contribution; their rigorous critique of developmental and (hetero) normative cultural systems provides a challenge to one of the most prevalent ideologies operating within children's and Young Adult fiction. This ideology concerns the role of children as subjects who must experience growth that instigates a more mature world view, and with that, a more stable and coherent sense of self; an individual identity in relation to the culture in which they reside. As Deleuze and Guattari argue, however, this specific and overriding concept of individuated identity is one formed in and through (Western) patriarchal, capitalist paradigms, and that this situated sense of identity serves to privilege lack over connection. They argue that desire itself, which is not aged, sexed or gendered, is an affirmative force and they insist on its disentanglement from lack. Thus, to think the 'new' in children's and Young Adult fiction, and more specifically in the experiences of adolescent (anorexic) girls, an examination of the forces of connective desire outside binarised adult/child terms might reveal directions hitherto relatively unexamined in this genre.

Deleuze and Guattari see desire as an affirmative mobile force that propels living things toward each other, and engenders connection. What is of particular importance, however, is that desire is so ambulatory that it travels through, and beyond sexual orientations and identities. That is, desire between girls, in the Deleuzean sense that informs this paper, is neither sexual, as expressed in 'lesbian' desire, nor non-sexual, qualified as friendship. Rather, it is between these dualisms, and it is in this privileged space of the between, the 'intermezzo' (Deleuze and Guattari 1988, p.277) that I read desire as potentially destabilizing the patriarchal order that attempts to define it.

The two Deleuze and Guattarian arguments that underpin this paper, then, are these. Firstly, that girls' desire crosses right through the 'dualism machine' (1988, p.277) of a patriarchal culture that binarises and codes not only sexes, genders and sexual identities, but also desire itself. Secondly, that in reading for an affirmation of girls' passionate desires for each other, these representations are exposed as inherently threatening, or at least destabilising, to this same culture. Deleuze argues that desire is 'an immanent revolutionary process' (1987, p.96), because 'the smallest interval is always diabolical' (1988, p.47). In terms of the texts analysed here, this smallest interval resides in that 'between' space where girls' intensities and connections interrupt the framing patriarchal narratives of the novels. …

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