The Hungers Of The Modern World: Debora Kuan’s Lunch Portraits

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“May you always return with an appetite,” writes Debora Kuan in “Automat Prayer” a poem from her new book Lunch Portraits (Brooklyn Arts Press).

With writing as funny, moving and poignant as Kuan’s, it’s hard to imagine anyone’s appetite for her work ever dimming.

A playful and incisive collection that trains its eye on cultural consumption, Kuan isn’t so much interested in what we devour, but why. Lunch Portraits suggests that our appetites for macaroni salad, The Super Bowl, lava lamps and love will never cease, but what fuels our desires in the first place is worth looking into. And that exercise may or may not yield the answers that we want, but it will most certainly make us take a long look at what our many appetites actually yield.

In other words, when we consume what we want, what does that leave us with?

In many cases, it leaves us with nothing but an hourglass flipped right back over.

At one point Kuan writes: “How long will love last?”

And the answer she provides?

“18-24 months.”

Human beings are the only animals on this earth burdened with the novelty re-set syndrome–the frustrating curse of the lack of satisfaction even when we think we’re satisfying our deepest desires. We always want a bigger house, a faster car, a prettier vacation, a newer iPhone, and a better birthday than the last one. But Kuan cautions all that supposed satisfaction does is strand us in a quenchless desert of existential desire, no matter how much we’re determined to gobble up on this planet.

“Popular culture is a place where pity is called compassion, flattery is called love, propaganda is called knowledge, tension is called peace, gossip is called news, and auto-tune is called singing,” Criss Jami wrote in Killosophy. Kuan knows the false satisfaction that a satisfied appetite offers, but she’s interested in why we settle for momentary happiness yet blithely ignore the long-term.

Perhaps our hearts are sprinters and not distance runners, but Kuan leaves the judging of that misleading organ to someone else. Instead she offers a tender, dark and decidedly funny glimpse into our daily desires and suggests along the way that, “…The only remedy for living/Is more life.”

Written with sophistication, wild invention and tremendous heart, Lunch Portraits is a sympathetic and decidedly moving look at the hungers of the modern world.