Occupy Our Homes at the Department of Justice
5 minutes ago
The agony of the rat or the slaughter of a calf remains present in thought not through pity but as the zone of exchange between man and animal in which something of one passes into the other. - Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?
When built upon feminist ethics, vegan practice is not a universal obligation or a fantasy of purity but rather a “bodily imperative” (Weiss 1999, 129) to respond to another’s suffering and to reject the everyday embodied practices that make certain animate others killable.
Because it isolates ontological inquiry from ethical practice, hypo-critical animal studies constitute a response to animal suffering that is a nonresponse. These studies do not call upon us to change how we eat, dress, or entertain in the world in regard to our everyday relationships with other animals.
Freud’s notion of phobia and Kristeva’s reinterpretation of phobia as abjection go some distance toward understanding the dynamics of avowal and disavowal at the heart of our ambivalence toward animals and animality, particularly our own animality. (p. 497)Through recourse to theories and phobias and abjection, we can begin to access the particular ways that we displace our own particular psychic constructions onto nonhuman others and ourselves. Oliver points to the ambivalent role of the pit bull, and she also points out the ways this ambivalence often has particular racial codings (added in part by the research of Erin Tarver, and I suggest you go and read the whole thing). Oliver focuses on this ambivalence as foundational to our determining who is, and who is not, part of the moral community. As she writes:
Indeed, I would argue that our sense of a moral community is essentially linked to the ambivalent function that animals and animality play in our fantasies about what is cruelty, what is innocence, and what is natural. (p. 494)
What Derrida calls hyperbolic ethics demands that we never give up exploring our own fantasies, especially those in which we are the heroes, the good guys, the just and the true, fighting against the forces of evil and darkness--the fantasies in which we are humane and the others behave like animals. (p. 304)
Oliver's book begins and ends as a work of mourning for her cat Kaos: the book is dedicated to Kaos and opens with a poem to her; the conclusion to the book justifies this dedication. (p. 675)My own article in the same issue deals explicitly with this question of mourning and disavowal. One the one hand, I explore the ways that mourning is part of a reality that allows for avowal of relationships and kinships. As I wrote, "Mourning is a practice that opposes disavowal. Mourning both celebrates and grieves our precarious lives. It seeks connections, discovers secret kinships, and recognizes intersubjective relations." However, the threat of mourning often forces a type of disavowal in order to continue functioning, in order to continue existing and relating in the same world as others. Again, I wrote:
Those of us who value the lives of other animals live in a strange, parallel world to that of other people. Every day we are reminded of the fact that we care for the existence of beings whom other people manage to ignore, to unsee and unhear as if the only traces of the beings’ lives are the parts of their bodies rendered into food: flesh transformed into meat. To tear up, or to have trouble functioning, to feel that moment of utter suffocation of being in a hall of death is something rendered completely socially unintelligible. Most people's response is that we need therapy, or that we can't be sincere. So most of us work hard not to mourn. We refuse mourning in order to function, to get by. But that means most of us, even those of us who are absolutely committed to fighting for animals, regularly have to engage in disavowal. (p. 568)The ambivalence of animal others are connected to our ambivalences, our abilities to create connections and kinships. And that is why, following Oliver following Kristeva, we have to risk ourselves in the abject, if we are to have a chance for a sustainable ethics.
We can understand, too, that natural species are chosen not because they are "good to eat" [bonnes à manger] but because they are "good to think" [bonnes à penser]. (p. 89 in the English translation].Edmund Leach, who translated that work into English, had this to say in a footnote in another article [this one, .pdf]:
Several critics have rebuked me for mistranslation, but in fact I cite Lévi-Strauss' own words to avoid this imputation. Literally, bonnes à penser means "good to think," bonnes U manger "good to eat." But "good to think" is not English, and the adjectival plural of the French is untranslatable. It seems to me that here, as so often, Lévi-Strauss is playing a verbal game. Totemic species are categories of things, and it does in fact convey the meaning better to refer to them as "goods" than my critics would allow. (n. 8, np).
What bodies are edible and consumable and what lives are grievable are questions that James Stanescu takes up at the meat counter of the grocery store at the beginning of his essay “Species Trouble: Judith Butler, Mourning, and the Precarious Lives of Animals.” From the insight that both social and personal pressures are operating in the disavowal of mourning for animals, Stanescu expands Butler’s notion of precariousness as “a way of thinking connections, of claiming kinship and relations. . . . Precariousness is a place for thinking the ethical because it begins with the Other, rather than with the self.” Recognition of vulnerability and of finitude, Stanescu argues, is recognition of our precarious animal lives, lives we honor through mourning. In disavowing mourning, we are not just making such lives unintelligible but are also denying our animality and foreclosing our connections to other animals. By allowing ourselves to mourn, however, even at the grocery store, we can start making a difference for animals, humans and others.The article is viewable in early view on the Wiley Hypatia site, but for those without institutional access, I have heard a rumor that you can find it over here.