When reading You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine, there are very few moments when you feel wholly comfortable, or indeed at ease with the characters and their situations. Kleeman gives us only a series of letters, keeping the main characters’ names a mystery – the anonymity standing as a testimony to commonality within a modern society so obsessed with the cult of consumption. Alexandra Kleeman’s debut novel is reminiscent of the uncanny, as we are placed inside a world familiar to us, and yet completely out of sync with what we know. Dads are disappearing, advertising is becoming increasingly violent, and strange cults are urging people to eat ‘brighter.’ The novel is an indictment of consumerism and consumption, and places the features of our perceived ‘normality’ under a very critical microscope. The discourses that are present in the novel are increasingly relevant in our contemporary sphere, especially concerning consumerism, the body and, in turn, affect.
“At a routine everyday level, people simply do not feel the need to question the validity of consumerism as a way of life. The dreams that people engender in consumerism give meaning to people’s lives.” (Miles, 156)
There is a distinct focus throughout the novel on food, consuming, and its affecting qualities on the human body. The narrator, ‘A’, seems to constantly struggle with food, living mostly on a diet of popsicles and oranges. Her diet in itself is interesting, as it alludes to the artificial and the natural being brought together inside her increasingly frail body. The function of the body is thrown into question by Kleeman; there are evident struggles between the inner and the outer, the self and the other. Nowhere is this more potent than when A is inducted into the Church of the Conjoined Eaters, as they urge her to dispel all ‘dark’ chemicals, memories, and thoughts from her body, “Inside a body there is no Light, so the Eaters teach you that you must shine through Righteous Eating.” (Kleeman, 217) The body and mind become interconnected, as the memories of ‘A”s previous life must begin to be ‘unremembered’ through the control of her diet. Food and thought become inextricably linked within the Church of the Conjoined Eaters. There is an element of Cartesian dualism throughout the novel, forcing us to recognise that, although the body and mind are inherently separate entities, they continuously interact with one other. ‘A’’s behaviour and habits are influenced and controlled by those around her, and so external affect is also critical to our understanding of You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine. Lisa Blackman in Immaterial Bodies explains that, “Affect refers to those registers of experience which cannot be easily seen and which might variously be described as non-cognitive, trans-subjective, non-conscious, non-representational, incorporeal and immaterial.” (Blackman, 2) The Conjoined Eaters are therefore bound to one another, and although they are ultimately attempting to be free of their bodies by ‘ghosting’ themselves, it is their bodies which essentially form the affective collective.
Another interesting aspect of the novel is its focus on the Kandy Kakes product; how it is advertised, desired and eventually consumed. The product, despite its severe lack of nutritional value, is fetishised by ‘A’, and she becomes consumed with finding her Kakes and eating them. The product is advertised repeatedly throughout, and ‘A’ watches as Kandy Kat spends his life chasing these Kandy Kakes, only to be bitterly disappointed each time he fails to obtain them. As the novel progresses, we see ‘A’ essentially transforming into this animated character in her desperate search for the highly desired snack, “I saw my bony arms sticking out in front of me as I manoeuvred them over to the shelf and picked up the nearest box, which was suspiciously light, because it was empty. I picked up the next box and tilted it right to left, listening for the Kakes sliding back and forth within. All the other boxes were empty too.” (Kleeman, 124) ‘A’ seems to embody the idea that a person’s relationship to production is the fundamental determinant of their life experience; in essence, consumerism is a way of life. Lauren Berlant’s theory of “cruel optimism,” is crucial when considering ‘A’’s desire throughout the novel. “Cruel optimism”, as Berlant defines it, is “the condition of maintaining an attachment to a problematic object in advance of its loss.” (Berlant, 94) ‘A’ certainly creates a psychological attachment to the Kakes, which only enhances the disappointment when she cannot have them. Eventually, when she is able to overindulge in these Kandy Kakes, she is repulsed by the taste of them. It is cruel optimism indeed, as the product she so badly craved has fallen far below her initial fantasies and high expectations.
After having read You Too Can Have a Body Like Me, I found it quite difficult to imagine myself ever eating an orange again. It is interesting to experience affect itself, in the aftermath of Kleeman’s wonderfully strange existentialist tale. While ‘A’ never reaches the ‘good life’ that consumerism seems to promise us, we are able to learn some valuable lessons from her albeit bizarre experiences. Desiring, purchasing, consuming and eating is something that we do each day, almost without thinking about it. Kleeman forces us to take a step back and realise how disordered and chaotic these simple tasks can be. Daily existence is thrown into disarray, and unfortunately for our protagonist, the body becomes a vehicle for personal destruction.
Blackman, Lisa. Immaterial Bodies :Affect, Embodiment, Mediation. Thousand Oaks, Calif.; 4: Sage, 2012. Theory, Culture & Society. Print.
Gregg, Melissa, and Gregory J. Seigworth. The Affect Theory Reader. Durham; 4: Duke University Press, 2010. Print.
Kleeman, A. You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine. London: 4th Estate, 2017. Print.
Miles, Steven. Consumerism :As a Way of Life. London; Thousand Oaks, Cal: Sage, 1998. Print.
Petersen, Alan R. The Body in Question :A Socio-Cultural Approach. London: Routledge, 2007. Print.
Image 1. I Shop Therefore I am. Found on: https://www.tes.com/lessons/rcPL-tTttk_AIA/consumerism
Image 2. Kandy Kakes. Found on: http://intl.target.com/p/tastykake-peanut-butter-kandy-kakes-12-ct/-/A-14986850