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Volume 39, Number 2 (2014)

Hunger, Consumption, and “Contaminated” Aesthetics in Rawi Hage’s Cockroach

June 25, 2015
October 1, 2014


This essay reads Rawi Hage’s Cockroach as a novel that goes beyond revealing the alienation and personal difficulties faced by ethnic outsiders attempting to make a living in Canada’s ‘multicultural mosaic.’ Although the text undeniably exposes the material and psychological challenges faced by immigrants, it also situates this human struggle in the context of a plurality of biological beings fighting for survival within the urban ecosystem of downtown Montreal. The text draws on romanticized notions of idyllic, natural beauty and subverts them to reveal the ideological shortcomings present in dominant discourses surrounding the representation of the environment and of human relationships with urban space. Instead of focusing on the aesthetic appeal of landscapes that appear wild and uncompromised by human disturbance, Hage forces the reader to gaze upon the city, its garbage and sewage, disrupting seemingly obvious divisions between food and waste in the narrative. Advancing a new mode of aesthetic appreciation for “contaminated” environments and their “edible” potential in the modern urban setting, the novel’s poetic language and its aesthetic sensibility function as rhetorical devices to envision a restructuring of common conceptions of human-nonhuman relations and a more ethical approach to consumption in an already compromised global ecosystem.