Academic Absurdity of the Week: Political Indigestion

I had to miss the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA), which just wrapped up in Philadelphia. Among other things, it deprived me of taking in important advancements in political knowledge such as this:

Digestion as Political Practice in Marx, Nietzsche, and Whitman.

Tripp Rebrovick, Johns Hopkins University

In Event: The Bios: Food, Bodies, Life Itself

Sat, September 3, 2:00 to 3:30pm, PCC, 108-B


This paper compares three distinct ways that digestion has been construed as political in the works of Marx, Nietzsche, and Whitman. Doing so not only contributes to a larger project on the politics of diet but also sheds light on some of the more perplexing passages from each author. I begin by describing the new scientific accounts of digestion developed in the mid-nineteenth century. I focus Justus von Liebig, an influential chemist who was read very carefully by all three theorists. Marx’s concept of abstract labor-power was based on Liebig’s research into animal and plant nutrition; Nietzsche followed Liebig’s dietary advice but complained about it bitterly; and Whitman used Liebig’s chemical discoveries as the basis for his description of a cosmos filled with porous entities. Each theorist also uses dietary or digestive metaphors. Marx compares capitalism to a giant stomach digesting the earth’s resources; Nietzsche diagnoses German philosophy with a bad case of indigestion; and Whitman describes his poetry as nutriment for democracy. By exploring some of the critical moments where dietetics intersected with politics in the nineteenth century, this paper intervenes into a contemporary debate concerning eating’s status as a political practice. Some critics have accused both contemporary and historical food movements of abandoning politics. This paper shows, to the contrary, that concerns about diet and nutrition are longstanding within the history of political thought and that digestion is an inherently political act.

Good to know that political scientists, none of whom foresaw the rise and success of Trump or have much original to say about the electoral indigestion voters are feeling about our choices in November, are on top of crucial political questions like digestion in Nietzsche (who of course went insane, but then a constant diet of German food might drive me insane too if APSA panels didn’t do it first).

No problems with digestion here. Instead of taking in APSA panels, here’s one of my main courses out here on the Left Coast from over the weekend:

Dinner last night