cover image Bite Your Friends: Stories of the Body Militant

Bite Your Friends: Stories of the Body Militant

Fernanda Eberstadt. Europa, $28 (288p) ISBN 979-8-88966-006-4

This studious meditation from novelist Eberstadt (Rat) “tells the lives of certain saints, artists, and philosophers whose bodies became sites of resistance to the world as-it-is.” She explores how philosopher Michel Foucault’s homosexuality made him the target of state violence (he was once beaten by Tunisian police who found him driving with a male sexual partner) and how while teaching at UC Berkeley in the 1970s he embraced San Francisco’s sadomasochistic subculture, believing its anonymity provided freedom from identity, which he viewed as “a reflection of the state’s... control over the individual.” Eberstadt commends the “self-mastery” of Russian performance artist Piotr Pavlensky (whose work protests the Russian state through public self-mutilation; he once nailed his scrotum to the ground in Moscow’s Red Square), but wonders whether the “huge fun” had by Pussy Riot during their protests offers a more enticing strategy for engaging civilians in collective action. Elsewhere, she discusses how fourth-century Greek philosopher Diogenes lived on the street to assert that “the only path to freedom [is] in self-degradation” and how Perpetua, a third-century North African Christian martyr, remained defiant in her faith even as she faced execution for refusing to “sacrifice to the Roman gods.” The diverse stories of Eberstadt’s subjects illuminate the complex ways in which bodies can constitute contested political terrain. Incisive and philosophical, this intrigues. (Mar.)