Staff Picks

Bite Your Friends: Stories of the Body Militant

Liam Dooley

March 14, 2024


Fernanda Eberstadt sheds light on the lives of academics, artists, and activists throughout history, inspiring readers to learn from their stories of love, loss, and resistance.

Bite Your Friends: Stories of the Body Militant by Fernanda Eberstadt, Europa Editions

Fernanda Eberstadt begins Bite Your Friends with an “Invocation of the Muse” and humbly asks Diogenes the Cynic, a Greek philosopher, to guide her writing. It’s an interesting choice of muse—Diogenes was a controversial figure, to say the least, known for his complete irreverence of social customs and authority, living out of a barrel and masturbating in public. To invoke Diogenes as a muse is first and foremost a bold move, indicating to the reader that what they are about to read will be anything but ordinary. 

Bite Your Friends lies somewhere in between biography, essay, and scrapbook, incredibly well-researched and cited, yet often as personal as a diary entry. Eberstadt is obsessed with life lived at extremes and fills the pages with a reflection on her own life, along with the biographies of many others who, for various reasons, brought themselves to the brink of human experience. Drag queens, saints, academics, artists, musicians, filmmakers, and activists, from over the globe and across thousands of years, are Eberstadt’s heroes, whom she studies with complete sincerity. Even when her subjects are sensitive, controversial, or otherwise off-putting, Eberstadt takes their experiences seriously. In doing so, she has created stunning portraits of people that have been sensationalized and misunderstood.  

Eberstadt bookends her work with a reminiscence on her mother, her scars, and their relationship. This personal touch bleeds through to every anecdote and story she details, creating a new lens through which to view the lives of mythic figures. Eberstadt often addresses her subjects directly as she writes, telling these figures their stories and giving them meaning. In her discussion of the Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, for example, she recounts his life and career to him, explains his complicated relationship with his mother, and explores various influences, unhindered by objectivity or detachment that could be expected of a more formal analysis.  

In a book with such immense shock value, the part I feel will stick with me the longest is the account of Michel Foucault dropping acid for the first and only time. Instantly, Foucault was both humanized and further mythologized. Foucault was someone I’d cited once in a Queer Studies course at UWM without fully understanding his ideas on politics and human sexuality. Now, Foucault is someone who trusted two strangers to introduce him to hallucinogens and considered the experience one of the best of his life. This stuffy, enigmatic academic became human but is still equally unknowable.  

This book is wildly ambitious, made possible through Eberstadt’s prose, which is nothing short of addicting. I devoured Bite Your Friends in about two sittings, broken only by the need to sleep. Her style is captivating, her perspective is personal and unique, and her subjects are beyond remarkable. Eberstadt has created a work of art that’s both timely and timeless; she reflects on her life starting with her childhood in 1960s and 70s New York City, continuing to the recent pandemic, where she lived in the French countryside with her family. 

At the same time, investigating the lives of others allows her to explore universal themes of love, loss, attraction, dedication, and resistance. Eberstadt is able to link Foucault to Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina, members of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot, then connect them to Nimeño II, a French bullfighter who got too close to the bulls, among numerous others. Bite Your Friends is an intricate web woven across centuries, connecting the lives and works of people who took life by the horns, determined to take advantage of every single part.


About the Author

Liam Dooley is a former intern at Porchlight Book Company and an alum of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. With knowledge of creative writing craft and style, he’s eager to see the lifecycle of books once they’re actually written. He can be found in DIY concert spaces, trying to make sure his earplugs don’t fall out. In his spare time, he delights in taking up various hobbies with no regard for his lack of experience.

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