Notes Toward a Politico-Sexual Psychology of Consuming Animals


Notes Toward a Politico-Sexual Psychology of Consuming Animals

by A. Marie Houser

[The following is part one of a two-part essay that begins to articulate, in halting and preliminary ways, a psychology that underpins the consumption of nonhuman animal bodies. Part one articulates that psychology. Part two turns to the ramifications of our efforts as activists and advocates to undo it.]


“The crypt itself is built by violence.”

—Derrida, in the foreword to The Wolf Man’s Magic Word, by Nicholas Abraham and Maria Torok


  1. Black sites & crypts

The black-site pastoral of the farm. Waves of veal stalls, and calves lying on forelegs in segregated patches of grass. There is a specific scene of violence: the farm, its pasture, the slaughterhouse. There are bodies rendered, the vomiting, defecating bodies of sentient chickens hung upside-down, throats slit. These are the physical spaces of the known unknown, where scenes of interrogation play out. Who am I that I am human? On the bodies of animals[1], the question[2] is hammered, filleted, the double question: Who am I that I am human doing this? Who am I that I am not animal?

Follow the question back: a cloud floating inside the cranium of every carnist and former carnist. There is another, closed pasture there. It is a crypt. This crypt precedes consumption of bodies; it exceeds consumption; it accompanies consumption. In the parlance of psychoanalysis, the crypt denotes a space within the ego in which repression buries its desire. The pastoral is a sunshattered crypt.

The crypt is the repository of incorporation. In The Shell and the Kernel and The Wolf Man’s Magic Word, Abraham and Torok, following Ferenczi, define incorporation as a pathological inability to mourn; more, an inability to acknowledge that a loss has occurred in the first place. Incorporation happens when cathexis, of which the loss serves as a reminder, feels so shameful that the only alternative is to secret away the “objective correlative”: the effigy of the beloved. Rather than synthesize aspects of the beloved into the self, the beloved is ejected from consciousness and entombed within the unconscious self.

We are all ghost ships.

The dead cling like confection.

Experiencing other beings is a pleasure—the pleasure of love, care, vulnerability, precarity—the carnist turns from, ashamed, only to resurrect that pleasure in the mutated phantom of cooked flesh. But the suggestion of the libidinal that accompanies any psychoanalytic concept references other pleasures, pleasures with which even advocates and activists are sometimes uncomfortable: aggression, sex. To be animal is to experience both, as Freud said, articulating a human psychology that is at home with and in tension with its animality. The aggression of carnism is itself a phantom form of aggression, distributed through the political and the economic, erecting politico-economic crypts outside the self: the very pastures and sheds and chutes that articulate a vast geometry of suffering, the very rostrums and halls from which flow the laws and economic subsidies that underwrite and perpetuate the shit-and-ammonia-tinged crypts.

There can be no repatriation of cows and other farmed animals. There is only removal to other pastures; safer, we hope, kinder. But there can be no repatriation. That is the saddest fact of all our efforts at activism—a fact known and unknown, both; we keep that fact both known and unknown, removed and at a distance, as we must. Removal is from a space within the human to another space within the human, itself more domestic, itself more pastoral than the pastoralism of the strawbale lie and tractor entendre.

Their homeland is yet human.

Spindles of animals we wind around and around as thread.


[1] Shorthand for “nonhuman animals.”

[2] We might say, keeping in mind that the laborers working in slaughterhouses often do so as a last resort, enduring abominable conditions, that the question was placed at the end of the hammer and the knife for them, though undoubtedly, such questions emerge in the course of having to kill and dismember, often with sorrow and regret if not with dissociation and denial, lives and bodies so anatomically close to our own.

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