The conversion of animal bodies into flesh for human consumption is a practice where relations of power between humans and nonhuman animals are reproduced in exemplary form. From the decline of (so-called) traditional animal husbandry to the emergence of intensive agriculture and, more recently, the biotechnological innovation of in vitro meat, the last hundred years have seen dramatic changes in processes of meat production, as well as equally significant shifts in associated patterns of human-animal relations. Over the same period, meat consumption has risen substantially and incited the emergence of new forms of political subjectivity, from nationalist agitation against ritual slaughter to the more radical rejection of meat production in abolitionist veganism.
Distinct disciplinary responses to meat production and consumption have occurred across the humanities and social sciences in areas including (but not limited to) food studies, gender studies, postcolonial studies, ecocriticism, and (critical) animal studies. Theoretical engagements with these upheavals have ranged from viewing meat production as a site of affective encounter and irresolvably complex ethical entanglements, to framing industrialised slaughter as a privileged practice in what Dinesh Wadiwel has recently diagnosed as a biopolitical ‘war against animals’. This edited collection solicits essays which engage with these transformations in the meanings and material practices of meat production and consumption in literature and theory since 1900. We seek contributions from scholars working on representations of meat in any area of literary studies (broadly conceived) but are particularly interested in essays that challenge dominant narratives of meat-eating and conceptions of animals as resources.
Suggested topics include, but are by no means limited to the following:
Meat and nationalism/racism
Meat and colonialism/postcolonialism
The globalisation of meat
Future meat (in vitro etc.)
Meat and ‘the natural’
Meat eating and hospitality/sociality/ritual
Meat and nostalgia
Unconventional meats: bushmeat, insects etc.
Cannibalism (human and non-human)
Food and abjection
The edible and the inedible
Meat eating and extinction
Revisiting the sexual politics of meat
Meat and ‘disordered’ eating
Meat production and climate change
Dietary orientations towards meat: veganism, pescatarianism, paleo diets
Meat substitutes/simulated meats
Spaces of meat production (slaughterhouses, farms etc.)
Meat and zoonosis
The volume will be submitted to Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature:
Please send abstracts of 300 words along with a brief biographical statement to Seán McCorry (firstname.lastname@example.org) and John Miller (email@example.com) by Monday, January 23rd 2017. Essays of approximately 7000 words in length will be commissioned for delivery in September 2017.
The following is a guest post by Sheffield Animals cofounder Dr Seán McCorry, and was initially presented as a conference paper at Academia and Affect 2016. We welcome contributors to our project blog. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
This blog article is my attempt to work through two related sources of discomfort (or, more productively, two sites of disruption) that I have encountered in my scholarly and activist work on behalf of nonhuman animals. The first of these concerns the place of animal studies in the academy, its legitimacy as an area of scholarly inquiry, and the possibility of being taken seriously (or not) as a researcher who centres violence against animals in their work. The second involves the relationship between advocacy for animal justice and existing sites of social and political struggle.
I should say from the start that my commitments in this area are those of the perennially unpopular political vegan. My doctoral research involved animals only obliquely, insofar as they were deployed as meaning-laden figures by postwar intellectuals struggling to make sense of the perceived failures of humanism in the years that followed the Second World War. While I stand by this work, I now realise that my shift away from more explicit questions of animal justice represented an unconscious concession to the anxieties that I will try to sketch in this blog article. More recently I have been working to reconnect my scholarly and activist commitments. To be clear, then, I consider the abolition of animal agriculture (and more broadly, the abolition of the status of nonhuman animals as property to be bought and sold) to be the minimum demand of any coherent politics of animal justice.
In March of this year, editors of the journal Totalitarianism and Democracy fell victim to an academic hoax which saw them publish a fraudulent article on German Shepherd dogs, Nazism, and Cold War Germany. The authors of the article claimed that they intended to satirise the “animal turn” in the humanities, identifying it as symptomatic of a dangerous “anti-humanist trend in philosophy”. As the hoax demonstrates, taking animals seriously means risking the charge of having made a poor intellectual object choice. When the intellectual project of Animal Studies is combined with a more explicitly activist orientation that seeks an end to violence against animals, further charges inevitably follow. Depending on one’s existing political investments, scholars who advocate for animals are likely to be read as bourgeois, misanthropic, Eurocentric, or as suffering from a failure of basic humanist solidarity that leads them to neglect more pressing issues of social injustice between humans (and I should point out that these charges are certainly true for at least some animal advocates; I’ll return to this shortly).
I want to engage with the anxieties that such accusations can produce in scholars who, like me, are committed to ending violence against animals. Without dismissing the charges outright, I want to read them as symptomatic of a desire to safeguard and securitise a certain definition of the human, even when the price of this is the tacit (or sometimes explicit) endorsement of industrialised killing and consequent ecological devastation. Drawing on Sara Ahmed’s work on the politics of happiness, I suggest that Critical Animal Studies scholars must embrace the political potential of grief and anger rather than accommodate themselves to the intellectual and ethical consensus which sees critiques of violence against animals as either unserious or dangerous.
Consider the question of Animal Studies’ place in the academy. Over the last fifteen years or so, Animal Studies has grown from a handful of isolated researchers to a major area of scholarly inquiry with its own organisations, international conferences, and prestigious book series. This seems to point towards at least a limited acceptance of animals as objects of intellectual analysis, though with some important limits, I would suggest. As we have seen, though, some humanities scholars view any animal-oriented research as unwelcome and dangerous symptoms of an anti-humanist political malaise.
While the police function of this sort of compulsory humanism has been weakened as Animal Studies has gained ground, the existing scholarship on animals has tended to favour a relatively narrow set of approaches to animal questions. Affectively rich encounters with charismatic animals have been foregrounded (lions, gorillas, dogs, cats), and theorisations of mutually enriching human-animal relationships (principally with ‘companion species’ – pets) have been encouraged. Attempts to critique the more nakedly violent aspects of human-animal relationships are regarded as lacking ‘nuance’ or intellectual sophistication, as though coming to terms with violence is a necessary part of maturing as a scholar. Even within Animal Studies, then, radical varieties of animal advocacy are often treated with suspicion or outright hostility.
I wonder whether Animal Studies’ focus on enriching encounters with animals might be understood as a kind of affective-political work designed to install a certain notion of happiness at the centre of human-animal relationships and scholarship. Undoubtedly, animals can be a source of great joy and delight. I worry, though, that centring Animal Studies scholarship on these experiences means (and indeed requires) the marginalisation of scholarship which takes on the thoroughly joyless task of critiquing the violence that we do to other animals, including our violence towards so-called ‘companion species’.
As the affect theorist and feminist philosopher Sara Ahmed has shown, ideals of happiness can be deeply coercive. They are often affiliated with a moral imperative to be happy, and tend to foreclose any critique of the limits of conventionalised forms of happiness. “Happiness,” Ahmed says, “is sustained by erasing the signs of not getting along.” For anyone who possesses even a passing familiarity with contemporary animal agriculture, it is abundantly clear that humans and other animals are indeed not getting along, though this is only marginally reflected in the scholarly literature. With Ahmed, I prefer to insist on the importance of political work that can only be carried out under the banner of unhappiness, whether in the form of anger, grief, or shame. To be blunt: I am unhappy. And when I attend conferences that celebrate the richness of human-animal relationships while serving animal bodies in the lunch break, I am angry. In what remains of this post I want to work through some of the political uses of unhappiness in activist as well as academic contexts.
In her truly excellent article ‘Feminist Killjoys (and Other Wilful Subjects)’, Ahmed begins with the image of the table as a space for discussion. “Around this table,” she says, “the family gathers, having polite conversations, where only certain things can be brought up.” In order to hold open this space of hospitable conviviality, certain discursive rules apply which police conversation so that at least a façade of happiness can be maintained. In scholarship – around the academic roundtable, say – this restricts the choice of possible research topics, so that scholars professing radical critiques of violence are often unseated by their would-be hosts, the intellectual gatekeepers who control the dominant positions in the disciplinary mainstream. Often we reconvene around tables of our own making, though typically in some dingy, easily overlooked corner of the academy.
In activist and social movement spaces we do similar work, building new spaces of solidarity from which to contest the dominant culture’s racism, misogyny, and the rest. Ahmed again points out, though, that “if we are unseated by the family table, it does not necessarily follow that we are seated together.” Feminist activists are not always successfully anti-racist, and vice versa. For animal advocates, gaining a seat at the table typically requires repressing the question of animal politics altogether. In some senses this is unsurprising, given the appalling racism and misogyny of many highly visible animal organisations. In another sense, though, this requirement works to reassert compulsory humanism, as though concern for social justice between humans is fundamentally incompatible with a critique of violence against animals.
If activist spaces are not exactly dedicated to happiness, they remain committed to a notion of community of sorts, however fractious and provisional. When animal justice claims are made in these spaces, the possible boundaries of these communities are challenged, often in unwelcome ways. As Ahmed says:
To be unseated by the table of happiness might be to threaten not simply that table, but what gathers around it, what gathers on it. When you are unseated, you can even get in the way of those who are seated, those who want more than anything to keep their seats. To threaten the loss of the seat can be to kill the joy of the seated.
When gaining a seat at the table requires the tacit endorsement of what can only be described as human supremacism in the name of keeping the social peace, we should instead begin to embrace the disruptive potential of our politics. To quietly acquiesce to speciesism in our activist spaces means forfeiting the possibility of critiquing the conditions under which we convene around the table, as well as the violence done to those who gather on it.
With this in mind, I want to gently critique some of the political-organisational norms in activist spaces, principally the notion of ‘safety’ as it occurs in discussions of safer spaces. I am uncomfortably aware that the last two years or so have seen an unwelcome profusion of right-wing, masculinist critiques of the notion of safer spaces, particularly with reference to university settings, and it is very far from my intention to add to this oppressive chorus here. My critique, then, should be understood as coming from a desire to strengthen, rather than undermine, this project. My refusal of human supremacism again draws me back to Ahmed’s notion of the table as an (always fraught) space of hospitality and welcome, and as Jacques Derrida’s work on hospitality has shown, the space of welcome is always delimited by an often tacit exclusion of those who are emphatically not welcome. The activist context brings to mind the image of the table as a space for meeting and discussion with a view to forming communities of solidarity, where discussion is (rightly) informed by an explicit mode of discourse ethics that we have come to know as safer spaces policies. But what happens when, for instance, food is served in these spaces of political solidarity? For an animal advocate, there is something deeply jarring about political discussion taking place under the banner of safety around a table which is strewn with corpses. The question remains: safety for whom, and at what cost?
I confess that I’m not sure where to go from here. Do we once again build our own tables, or do we struggle for a seat without compromising our politics? I don’t know. Optimistically, I would like to think that we could at least get a fair hearing for our views at the existing activist and academic tables. To be comfortably seated, though, you have to accommodate yourself at least partially to the existing political frameworks in the communities you hope to join. Nobody, activists included, wants an ill-mannered guest at the table. When for the animal advocate something as almost comically benign as a cheese sandwich signifies an erased history of reproductive violence, child abduction, and industrialised killing, realistically you are not likely to make for a happy dinnertime companion. But then, maybe happiness isn’t the point.
You are warmly invited to the final Sheffield Animals Research Colloquium talk of 2015-16, which will be given by Prof. Carrie Rohman of Lafayette College. Carrie is both a semi-professional dancer and one of the foremost scholars of literary animal studies; she has published widely, including her first monograph Stalking the Subject: Modernism and the Animal and essays on Rebecca West, Rachel Rosenthal, J.M. Coetzee, Virgina Woolf and Italo Calvino. Her most recent work, a monograph titled Choreographies of the Living: Bio-aesthetics in Literature, Art, and Performance and is forthcoming with Oxford University Press.
Carrie Rohman, ‘Isadora Duncan and the Creature in the Soul’ Jessop West Seminar Room 8 Thursday 16th June, 4-6pm
The following is a guest post by Sheffield Animals cofounder Dr John Miller. We welcome contributors to our project blog. Please email email@example.com for more information.
Albrecht Dürer’s 1514 engraving Melencolia 1 has attracted renewed attention in recent years for the significance of the animal at the feet of the brooding eponymous figure. This is commonly thought of as Melancholia’s Dog, in the title of Alice Kuzniar’s book. As John Ruskin wrote of the image as a whole, ‘What it means—no one knows’; its ambiguity runs parallel to Kuzniar’s memorable, exasperated confession in her broader study of humans and dogs that ‘I have spent hours trying to penetrate the minds of my whippets’. But for the Victorian poet James Thomson—the drunk, depressive, blasphemous, iconoclastic author of The City of Dreadful Night—Melencolia’s dog was no dog at all. As he explained in a letter to W. M. Rossetti, ‘I have been used to consider it probably a sheep, and as dead, not sleeping; in fact, a creature awaiting dissection, and suggesting anatomy as among the pursuits of the labouring and studious Titaness’. He can be forgiven for the mistake. Despite the canine position of the curled creature, it does have a sheepish look about the face. The realisation that critical orthodoxy was against him, however, prompted Thomson to include what he called a ‘villainous makeshift’ in the published version of The City. While the original draft shows Melencolia with ‘instruments of carpentry and science/ Scattered about her feet, in strange alliance/ With the poor creature for dissection brought’, the final form substitutes the ‘poor creature’ for a ‘keen wolf-hound sleeping undistraught’.
Thomson’s preference for a dead sheep over a living wolf-hound in what he called his ‘animal stanza’ connects with a wider fixation with victimhood in the work of this remarkable but undeniably gloomy poet. Henry Stephens Salt, the prominent Victorian animal advocate and biographer of Thomson, claimed that ‘pessimist though he may be, his sympathies are entirely human’ (166), but this is only part of the story. There is little evidence of Thomson engaging directly with animals and animal causes in his life (although Salt mentions Thomson’s diary entries on a ‘poor strange cat’ resident in his coal-cellar). Nonetheless, his poetry (and also his neglected prose phantasies) express a distinctive evolutionary philosophy that makes a significant contribution to Victorian ideas about animals and particularly to questions of ethical responsibility beyond the human.
Thomson was certainly no sentimentalist when it came to beasts. At times, his sense of cosmic despair extends to a horror at the violence he associates (in reality, much too readily) with nonhuman lives. As he contends at the outset of the essay ‘Proposals for the Speedy Extinction of Evil and Misery’, nature ‘has no moral character at all’ and the ‘animals she brings forth (not to speak of the plants and the minerals) are in many cases ugly, unamiable, ferocious, and tormented with monstrous appetites, which can only be satisfied by devouring their fellow-creatures’. At the same time, more productively for animal studies, Thomson is also interested in the capacities of certain creatures and on the privations of ‘man’ in a way that unravels Victorian anthropocentrism. In ‘A Lady of Sorrow’, for example (another prose work), Thomson compares the relative achievements of humans and coral: ‘The ancient Egyptians have left a few tombs, columns, pyramids; these insects leave behind them hundreds of leagues of reef well-founded from the floors of the deep sea: which, Egyptians or insects, are more serviceable to the after-world?’
Most importantly, the erosion of the human/animal distinction that Thomson foregrounds in much of his writing has a strong ethical dimension. The City of Dreadful Night insists on the entanglement, to use a favourite term of Darwin’s, of all creatures: ‘all substance lives and struggles evermore/ Through countless shapes continually at war, /By countless actions interknit’. This mutual involvement of lifeforms results in ‘A Lady of Sorrow’, Thomson’s most Darwinian piece of prose, in a remarkably inclusive attention to suffering and unfulfilled potential. ‘And what of the roses that are blighted in the bud, the lambs that are never sheep, the little unfledged things that never have their bird life, the saplings, the acorns that never grow into trees, the number-confounding spawn-germs that never attain definite individual existence?’ If this seems extensive to the point of absurdity, Thomson’s speaker anticipates such objections by countering ‘Of what use to sneer: This is not, this shall not be my brother! when you both issued from the same womb?’ Kindred – ‘fellowship and affiance and mysterious identity with all the being of the universe’’ – necessitates the acknowledgment of every form of life; it would be irrational in this schema to favour one kind of being and to neglect another. Thomson’s melancholy vision facilitates a mode of attention to the world and its denizens in which species is seldom a limiting factor.
This post was produced by Dr Robert McKay as part of the Think About Bees project, a creative collaboration between academics from the University of Sheffield and the artists Anthony Bennett, Paul Evans, and Hondartza Fraga. Work informed by this workshop, and by the artists’ own thoughts and research, will be on display in the The Winter Garden, next to the Millennium Galleries, Sheffield from 27th March until 4th April 2016.
One of the most enduring melittological manuals–still available in a number of reprint editions–is How to Keep Bees, first published in 1911, by Arthur C. Miller, inspector of apiaries in the Entomological Department of the Rhode Island State Board of Agriculture. However, the subject also interested his more illustrious namesake and compatriot, the playwright of Death of a Salesman, who published a short story titled ‘The Bees’ in the Michigan Quarterly 1990. A kind of modern fable, it revisits a theme that occurs often in Miller’s work: the destruction of someone or something that is apparently valueless in order to preserve the interests of the system or of the people in the ascendancy. This someone or something often takes an animal form for Miller, an interest that was certainly inspired by Marilyn Monroe, his wife for a few years in the late 1950s. Monroe’s fierce commitment to saving animal life was the inspiration for a number of his stories, and the story ‘Please Don’t Kill Anything’.
‘The Bees’ is set in the late 1940s, ominously described as ‘the new post-war world where with a squirt you were suddenly able to kill anything that crawled’. It begins when the unnamed narrator’s child is stung by a bee; this presages his discovery that his house is infested by a colony that is nesting behind ‘a section of tongue and groove pine wall’ in the living room. This is a perfect detail of kitschy décor; it transpires that the narrator is in fact the first non-farmer to move into the area, and so is himself (seen from a demographic perspective) the first of an invasive species of suburbanites that will progressively colonise this rural scene.
This is all part of Miller’s sharp irony as we encounter a simple enough domestic scene – the narrator enlists various strategies of violence to dispose of an infestation of insects; and it is at first natural enough to sympathise with him when he is protecting his child. But we quickly see the simple act of defence turning into a darker and more obsessive assault as multiple cans of toxic DDT spray fail to destroy the bees.
It seems that for Miller, a veteran of the inquisitorial politics of America’s communist witch hunts in the 1950s, the violent policing of perceived threats to domestic order is no simple matter. Our distaste for modes of life that make life difficult and our will to improve or perfect our world appear in seemingly innocuous ways, but they harbour something more sinister: the always potentially destructive spreading of ‘our’ values.
Miller’s narrator notices this truth after several vain attempts to block the bees access to the nest: ‘by the nature of our contest I saw that the candid violence of their determination was something I could never equal and that if I were to continue living here I would have to use deceptions and subterfuges and it was all getting slightly ignoble’. Nevertheless, he doesn’t let this get in the way of pursuing his project against the bees for the time being – part of the power of the story, indeed, is that it quietly diagnoses the way that critical responses to the destruction of animals and of natural or social environments rest so easily at sentimental or hand-wringing concern without motivating us to do anything that would impact badly on us.
Eventually, the narrator destroys the bees by poisoning them with sulphur dioxide burned from a candle. But Miller ends the story with several ironic pirouettes, quietly reminding us that both the resilience of the world’s otherness, and our power coupled with our insatiable desire to find ways to win out over that otherness, know no bounds. Before long the narrator enacts a solution most proper to the post-war suburban male: he divorces his wife (who presumably takes care of bee-stings from now on anyway) and buys another house. But of course, just as he moves on to make his new nest, new bees appear to accommodate the house for the new owner: ‘if he wanted my advice he would be better selling the house. Whether he should divorce his wife too was something I couldn’t advise him about but the house, I thought, definitely had to go because it belonged, quite obviously, to the bees’.
Sheffield Animals Research Colloquium warmly invites you to attend our research seminar, which takes place in Jessop West Seminar Room 7 from 5-6pm on Thursday 3rd March.
Liz Tyson (Palestinian Animal League) will be presenting a paper (co-written with Ahmad Safi) on animal advocacy in Palestine.
Activism under occupation: the unique challenges in seeking social justice in Palestine
This lecture will outline the unique challenges, dangers, obstacles and opportunities faced by social justice campaigners in Palestine. Using the work of the Palestinian Animal League and the ongoing human rights struggle against the occupation of Palestinian land as key examples of how the social justice movement manifests itself in the occupied territories, the discussion will explore how campaigning and advocacy in Palestine necessarily differs from work on similar issues internationally. The paper is co-authored by Liz Tyson, PhD candidate at the University of Essex and International Director of Palestinian Animal League Solidarity and Ahmad Safi, Founder and Executive Director of the Palestinian Animal League and long-term human rights advocate from Jalazoun refugee camp in the West Bank. Liz will present on behalf of both authors.