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Eat the Pain

A Recipe for Performance Translation


In the world of Sayaka Murata’s short story, “Life Ceremony,” anthropophagy has progressed much beyond the state of taboo into a culturally celebrated, even necessary, custom. This change occurs in the span of a few decades, between the childhood and adult life of the narrator, Maho Iketani. An event more celebratory than funereal, the life ceremony is figured as a gesture of sustainability within a dwindling human population and as a loving memorial of the deceased, who become subsumed into the life forces of those who partake of their flesh. Murata’s prose, translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori,1 transmutes the strangeness of its context into a deeply elegant empathy, juxtaposing consumption with grief and the continuity of life.

Despite these circumstances, there remain those with strong reservations to the practice of life ceremonies, due to the disorienting turning of human ethical tides or, in the case of Maho’s friend Yamamoto, because of past experiences with poorly prepared flesh which resulted in food poisoning. Striking detail—that the appeal of cannibalism should relate to how well prepared the dead flesh is. In my mind’s eye, the cannibal will appear with evidence of primal devouring, lips blood-stained; I imagine a repulsive taste of innards, skin stripped from bone, the eater’s bite-force, the sort of palate it takes to endure, or enjoy, such delicacy. In “Life Ceremony,” the flesh-eating practice has been perfected over time, overlaid with intention and hospitality. There is a normalcy in slow boiling, strong flavoring; the meat is served to guests with vegetables, mushrooms, miso soup. Maho discovers, upon the death of Yamamoto, that her friend has detailed far more complex recipes for the preparation of his flesh at his life ceremony. Meals like “Meatballs of Me in Grated Daikon Hotpot,” though challenging for the loved ones who survive him, are executed in respect of Yamamoto’s dying wishes.


To honor the original material and treat the consuming audience, a translator must devise, and keep to, certain recipes.

In graduate school, I developed a taste for the salient oeuvre of Marina Abramović’s work as a visual and performance artist. My first appetite responded to an undefined hunger: how does one go about transforming the wounds of their trauma, and into what? After writing my poem, “Rhythm 0,” in response to Abramović’s infamous 1974 performance of the same title,2 I discovered the edges of a window looking into the world of this question. Going forward, the research and writing became a form of ekphrastic translation: observing and drinking in the works of Abramović, infusing my own reflections into the photographic and textual remnants of her early works in place of the immaterial, time-based essence of the original pieces.3 This practice of performance translation grew into a form of subjective archiving in my poetry, a study of sensual-ephemeral manifestations and relation, in which I could shadow the work and biography of the artist, then project the depths of my physical and psychical experience into a framework of performance details and subtexts. Soon enough, the endeavor began to revolve around issues of boundaries between poet-spectator and artist—and between the mediums of language and the body.

The score for Abramović’s Rhythm 0 declares, in the voice of the artist, “I am the object.”4 A situation of subject-as-object is all too familiar when juxtaposed with the living document of an Afro-queer body and psyche, at home and in diaspora. What am I, within the grasp of state and culture, police and public, if not an object to be used, abused, paraded, abandoned? What power could I have, besides language, to defend my completeness as a social being? Yet, to place this experiential ache alongside the offerings of Abramović is an endeavor rife with the problems of appropriation and identity, as not all bodies are made or perceived equally. Knowing that my race, sex, gender and age can be construed in diametrical opposition to those of the world-celebrated European artist, I probe her works and stories, seeking conjunctions which might blur the borders of each identity.

My transfixion is most focused on the early period of her practice, when she worked with mortal vulnerability as an underdog in the art world. At this stage, the works placed her physical safety in question, at the mercy of the public, and her social privileges came underscored by her being a woman working in a medium of unprecedented risk. The 1974 performance saw her edge close to the victimhood of rape and murder, her skin pricked with thorns, slit with blades, her blood savored by an audience taking advantage of her vulnerability. In the violence of this piece, I heard a brash echo of my own fears of mortal danger as a queer African, my terror of existing as spectacle, as meat for the majority. Entering the echo, I approached on terms similar to the Anthropophagic Manifesto (1928) by Oswald de Andrade, which emphasizes the potential for assimilation and symbolic regeneration when marginalized or colonized subjectivities overtake the substance of European cultural artifacts.5 I found poetry in the space between the subjectivity, location and time period of the artist’s body and mine. What remained was only a question of medium and method.


Spirit Cooking, a curiously controversial 1997 performance by Abramović, is one work which particularly springs from the fusion of blood with text, as the artist spends time painting strange and shocking instructions in pigs’ blood on walls.6 The directions, at once disturbing, humorous and ritualistic, had earlier been compiled in a stylized cookbook published with a general description of “essential aphrodisiac recipes.”7 Perhaps the most famous entry in that cookbook is a directive, from Abramović, to “eat the pain” after cutting into one’s own finger with a sharp knife.

How does one eat their pain, and does this satisfy?

Marina Abramović. Untitled from Spirit Cooking, 1996
© Courtesy of the Marina Abramovic Archives / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2024.

Transfiguration is a primary field of appeal in my translation of Abramović’s works, offering an avenue into these new interpretations of traumatic experience. Further undertones of savoring and enjoyment reify my conversation with her extreme era of relational performances. In pieces like Rhythm 0, a provocative vulnerability arises in the artist’s masochistic submission to the public’s power and will. A key aspect in my translation draws on an erotic tension found in the artist’s role of author to the conditions under which her sufferings ensue. As the scholar Jaime Brunton explicates in a survey of masochism in Abramović’s performance work, “it is the victim who has constructed the situation in the first place, having selected a torturer and designed specific forms of torture for the victim’s ultimate satisfaction.”8  Similar dynamics may present in the marginalized queer subject’s imagination of liberation through transgressive sexual practices like sadomasochism. Is there room for an Afro-queer subject to redefine the terms of their own suffering, taking the body as a wellspring of societal pain and subversive pleasure all at once? In my translation, I have taken this erotic perspective as a powerful medium or recipe for release from social traps and constraints, imagining a perverse satisfaction which claims, this is my body, this pain my feast, a meal of my own making.

Marina Abramović, Spirit Cooking (1997)


In Sayaka Murata’s story, the shame of sexual practices is broadly annulled, as the ceremonial eating of flesh commonly precedes the also-sacred custom of insemination. As a remedy to the human population’s shrinkage, the young and virile are entreated to engage freely in intercourse, with the hope that they will procreate. The occasion of the life ceremony is regarded as an utmost opportunity to find one’s partner for insemination—the flesh of the recently deceased having been joyously consumed, their life energy generates auspicious potential for conception. Even public intercourse, at the end of such ceremonies, is normalized, both shockingly and beautifully. “It really is a good custom, isn’t it? We partake of life, we create life …”

The offspring born into this society are sometimes raised in children’s centers, where they are cared for as a social resource beyond the responsibility of specific parentage, since the primary objective is to arrive at an abundant population. Maho, the narrator, voices her aversion to this practice as well as that of the life ceremonies: “I had the feeling that humans were becoming more and more like animals.” In one conversation with Yamamoto, the norms of civilization, and the nature of normalcy itself, are debated. How are things to be seen in absolutes if the world is recognized as an illusory and “brilliant mirage” where morals may be taken as “just fake sensibilities that [come] from a world that [is] constantly transforming”?9

Kink Piece (3): Lips of Thomas, 1975 (after Marina Abramović)” (2022)
© Logan February

Oliver Precht, in “Anthropophagy and Hospitality” also raises questions of cultural customs and how the ethics of translation are to be conceived in anti-colonial interrelations, “for the possibility of entering into a binding contract always presupposes the social contract, which it is supposed to establish in the first place.”10

If the laws of engagement are so unconsciously sly, so precariously founded as to be constantly refigured, how far can the translator go with their seduction? How much can the contract—in  intermedia dynamics, but also between culture and queer, torturer and tortured, eater and  eaten—be customized? And where do they go, our surpluses of experience in body, identity, language or aesthetic medium? Like the children born out of inseminations following life ceremonies, the outlook of my translation, though cannibalistic, considers a recipe for “all belonging to all,” a carefully prepared feast of new cultural life operating under a subversive self-constitution.


The aphrodisiac recipes in Abramović’s Spirit Cooking, similar to the practices conceived in Murata’s fiction, feature many bodily fluids as ingredients: breast milk, saliva, sperm. The contract of such absurd recipes is aimed at a satisfaction, both personal and public, but may also mimic the erotic contract between life and death. In listening and conversing with the original materials, my performance ekphrases imagine a transgressive potential for rejuvenation—in which an Afro-queer translator finds nourishment within cultural negativities and makes their pain palatable. To devour and be devoured: the first language of anger and fear, grief and longing.

© Logan February

In my first summer of graduate school, before delving into formal translations of Abramović, before perfecting my recipes, I wrote a story in verse, uncanny in its own unconscious inclination to anthropophagy in language and identity. Set in my hometown of Ibadan, Nigeria, my story featured an interracial affair between the narrator and a French translator, ending in ravenous consumption. To conclude my memoir of cannibalism, here is a raw excerpt:

grinding down with obstinate
teeth, I was already eating the erotic quality inherent to this
transformation. There was another life for you in it, coursing through me
all alive, I started to feel it. I pondered our convergence as I grew
drowsier, falling deeper into the blood-warmed bed, blissfully
gorged on you, fast becoming



© privat

Logan February is a multidisciplinary Nigerian poet living in Berlin. Author of In the Nude (Ouida Poetry, 2019) and three chapbooks of poetry, their writing appears in Berlin Quarterly, jubilat, Washington Square Review, The Poetry Project’s The Recluse, and elsewhere, including collected editions in Spanish and German. They have worked as Editor-in-Chief at Purdue University’s Sycamore Review, and also edited Queering the Nigerian Divine (ANMLY, 2023). A 2024 Literature Fellow of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program, February has received other fellowships from the Cave Canem Foundation and Literarisches Colloquium Berlin, as well as the 2020 Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature. Their latest book, Mental Voodoo (Engeler Verlag/Poesie Dekolonie, 2024), is a collection of poems translated into German by Christian Filips.

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