Michael: Throughout Meatless Days, Suleri tries to understand the passage of time and its effects on individuals and their relationships by reducing that vast concept, which almost defies comprehension, to smaller, more easily appreciable units.

Christina: This system of chronology also provides something of a structure in which to organize her profusion of stories revolving around food and taste and the body. In that, it perhaps gestures toward one way to answer her question: for her, food can place the body in time, not just within its traditions but within history.

Vince: Suleri, in admitting that truths are more easily consumed when placed in "the sweet realm of nomenclature", hints at the power of words and their ability to mask the body, to distort a history. Thus what begins as a memory about kapura becomes a reflection on Suleri's nativity, calling into question her place in Pakistani culture and history, and essentially bringing Suleri, "as naked meat", face to face with who, and what, she is.

Marguerite: From early on in the book, Suleri’s unusual way of structuring her stories and discussion is apparent. She does not follow a single, linear narrative, but instead weaves stories in with one another. She will leap back and forth through time, often mentioning events or stories without actually explaining them until pages later. For example, Suleri recounts the summer that “Dadi went up in a little ball of flames,” but does not actually tell us what this means or what exactly happens for another four pages. The whole book works this way, so that it reads as something clearly constructed out of pieces of memories, with one thought, story, or image triggering another, often from a very different time or place. Perhaps the structure of Suleri’s writing reflects the structure of her life, or the structure of her understanding of her life. Both the book and Suleri’s life seem to swirl around certain events and characters, like her mother, her grandmother, her sister. She radiates out from them and then returns, so that time for her is not a matter of one long thread, but rather a matter of pieces. If the passage of hours is “a cipher for thinking about unquantifiable loss,” then the passage of hours must be as broken and scattered as the loss itself.

What is it, after all between food and the body?" I asked one day in an exasperation of pain, and never got an answer in reply. [p. 37]

Sitting in the American Midwest, I thought of all my brothers and sisters, who watched my mother die in the jaunty dawn of a March day and who — fatigued and uncaring of the delicious respite of the dateline — gave me eight hours when Mamma was still historically alive. In a Lahore dawn on the ninth of March my mother’s body failed to register on the hospital’s gray screen; I in America was informed on the eighth, so technically I had a few more hours of my mother’s life to savor before I needed to consign her into the ground. It made me secretly angry that such a reticent woman could choose to do something so rash and declarative as to die in a double-handed way.

And then, when I was trying to move away from the raw irritability of grief, I dreamed a dream that left me reeling. It put me in London, on the pavement of some unlovely street, an attempted crescent of vagrant houses. A blue van drove up: I noticed it was a refrigerated car and my father was inside it. He came to tell me that we must put my mother in her coffin, and he opened the blue hatch of the van to make me reach inside, where it was very cold. What I found were hunks of meat wrapped in cellophane, and each of them felt like Mamma, in some odd way. It was my task to carry those flanks across the street and to fit them into the coffin at the other side of the road, like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. Although my dream will not let me recall how many trips I made, I know my hands felt cold. Then, when my father's back was turned, I found myself engaged in rapid theft -- for the sake of Ifat and Shahid and Tillat and all of us, I stole away a portion of that body. It was a piece of her foot I found, a small bone like a knuckle, which I quickly hid inside my mouth, under my tongue. Then I and the dream dissolved, into an extremity of tenderness.

It is hard to believe today that I thought the dream too harsh a thing. As parable, the kapura does not dare to look much further. It wished to take the taste of my imagination only quite so far and, like my mother, makes me trebly entranced; had I really been perplexed at such a simple thing? Or perhaps my mind had designed me to feel rudely tender. I had eaten, that was all, and woken to a world of meatless days. [pp. 43-44]

Questions

1. Suleri describes the way she experienced her mother’s death as inflected by the time difference between Lahore and the American Southwest, a system over which she has no real control. Why then does she place the blame on her deceased mother? “It made me secretly angry that such a reticent woman could choose to do something so rash and declarative as to die in a double-handed way.” Why does she state that her mother chose to die in this way when we the reader know Suleri’s mother did not?

2. If we take Philip Thomson’s definition of the grotesque (another view) as “ambivalently abnormal,” (27) how do we read the dream that Suleri describes? How does the small bone she places in her mouth from her motherŐs dismembered corpse differ from the children Swift asks society to eat in “A Modest Proposal”? Is what Suleri does in her dream Ibalism?

3. McPhee traveles with his family to the land of his ancestors and writes about his rediscovery of the McPhee roots. Suleri travels away from the land of her family and then writes. Are the results of their processes similar or different?

4. Both Chatwin and Suleri use people as the main structural element in forming their chapters. What are their motives for using this particular structure?


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Last modified 21 April 2011