As an attempt to realize the ideal, the feast is a kind of boast, hence its vulnerability to humiliation. Both big and little things can ruin a feast, but whether the ruin is caused by catastrophe or trifle our inclination is to interpret the ruined feast as having symbolic or perhaps karmic significance. Drawing on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Dickens’s Great Expectations, William Dean Howell’s Rise of Silas Lapham, Michel de Montaigne, and a few personal anecdotes, I map the variable meanings of the ruined feast. In conclusion, I take inspiration from Adolf Menzel’s masterpiece Supper at the Ball (in the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin), which suggests a shift to the comic register in our response to the feast’s inevitable imperfections.
Annalise Acorn is Thomas W. Lawlor Professor of Law and Ethics in the Faculty of Law at the University of Alberta, Canada. She was H.L.A. Hart Fellow at the Oxford Center for Ethics and Legal Philosophy in 2009 and was Visiting Professor at the University of Michigan Law School in 2000. Her main research interest is the philosophy of the emotions of conflict and justice. She has recently published extensively on the theory of the insanity defense as well as on various issues of legal ethics, including the relation between procrastination, legal education, and lawyer misconduct. She is co-editor of Passions in Context: International Journal of the History and Theory of the Emotions. Recent publications include Compulsory Compassion: A Critique of Restorative Justice (2004) and Eine verbogene Meßlatte? Über Mitleid in der Rechtsprechung (2006).