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.




Writing Literature to Benefit Nonhumans


Gabriel Gudding


This is the first post in a monthly column about animal rights and critical animal studies.

Because I’m a poet and essayist some of my posts will move beyond the strict scope of animal rights philosophy and will concern literature specifically as it relates to nonhumans, veganism, and zoopoetics.

Zoopoetics is a new movement in literary theory and practice that treats nonhumans as individuals with agency, as conscious world-having individuals worthy of moral consideration.[1] Think Kafka, Coetzee, D. H. Lawrence. Think Oni Buchanan and Aracelis Girmay, Les Murray and John Kinsella, Gretchen Primack and Ashley Capps, among countless other innovative writers and editors actively helping to reconceive our relationships with nonhumans.

Zoopoetics is markedly different from ecocriticism, ecopoetics, ecopoetry, and ecological literature in general. Such movements are not concerned with nonhumans as individuals; rather, they are concerned with animals as populations. When they do concern themselves with nonhumans, the essays and anthologies in these genres typically express disquiet about threatened favored populations of animals in the wild — wolves, eagles, bison, monarch butterflies — and rarely if ever mention the plight of farmed animals or question the practice of enslaving, killing and eating the bodies and secretions of nonhumans. The animal in these works is aestheticized and collective. Terry Tempest Williams, for instance, might protest the killing of prairie dogs and owls in the Utah desert, as a part of the general “subjugation of women and nature” in her book Refuge, but think nothing of lauding the hunting of rabbits by her family only a few pages later as a practice integral to her family’s sacred (her word) relationship with nature. Dozens of poets in a collection of essays on ecopoetics will rail against damage to the environment and the loss of connection to the animal world and nature caused by human hubris but never once mention a slaughterhouse, the practice of meat eating, or the fact that animal farming is not only predicated on human supremacism but is also the single greatest driver of climate change and the chief ecological threat to rivers and aquifers worldwide. Forewords, prefaces, and introductions to recent anthologies of ecopoetry and the postmodern pastoral won’t mention the slaughterhouse at all, though the bodies of dead nonhumans are universally eaten and worn, and CAFOs are scattered across countrysides everywhere.[2]

The idea that literature should be written to benefit nonhumans is new. We see no hint of this in western letters prior to now. Book X of The Republic maintains that the only permissible literature is that which praises gods and famous men. Aristotle remarks in Book IV of The Poetics that literature’s purview is the imitation of the actions of men and gods. Sidney’s Defence holds that literature’s purpose is to improve the character of a gentleman. Shelley, Lessing, Schiller all declared that the intent of literature should be to improve humanity. In fact it’s been a broadscale and sustained note since the advent of humanism: the project of literature is humanity’s improvement. Full stop.

Writing literature for the improvement and benefit of nonhumans isn’t some boutique issue, especially when we consider how animal farming is altering our climate and damaging our health and environment. Even for those who cannot intrinsically value nonhumans as ends in themselves, they should recognize that our fate is bound up firmly with their well-being.

A human future that does not acknowledge the injustices done to nonhumans cannot be rosy. Thankfully, a growing body of thinkers, literary and non-literary alike, is increasingly in agreement with political theorist John Sanbonmatsu who writes,

“A Left or socialist politics which does not place our enslavement of other beings at its center, conceptually and politically, cannot possibly succeed: ‘speciesism’ is not merely one more ‘ism,’ but in fact lies at the root of every form of social domination.”

Indeed, Giorgio Agamben goes so far as to insist that the ways we conceive of nonhumans has for centuries been at the heart of all political oppression.

As with the rest of mainstream culture, there is in this eco-centric literature a general disavowal of the suffering of nonhumans despite the seventy billion who are killed each year (trillions if we consider the annual slaughter of sea creatures) for meat, jackets, fur collars, handbags, watchbands, hats, shoes – all commodities unnecessary for, and in fact detrimental to, our health and mental well-being. The rare animal who rises to the status of an individual by such authors is generally a domestic pet or a rescued farm animal.

Rather than coldly expressing concern over animals as populations, we should, in the words of philosopher David Sztybel be “’hot’ for the individual animal.”[3] This new literature does this. And none too soon. Now that we are living through the sixth mass extinction since multicellular life rose on the earth a billion years ago, an extinction caused in great part by animal farming, an extinction, what’s more, that is nearly invisible to us, it’s time we begin to think of literature as a force that can benefit nonhumans too. A zoopoetic literature, which is sometimes straightforwardly veganic, is being written for the benefit of all sentient beings, not just as populations but as individuals, as individuals with bodily and mental sovereignty.

Such a literature will correct our received notions about what it means to share a lived sense of mutual vulnerability with nonhumans, to be one among many, not first among a few, of sovereign and suffering beings, each of whom, like us, is surrounded by the causes of death. Such a literature will also help us understand that humans need no longer be one of those causes.

(photo by Elige Veganismo of cow in restraining device for slaughter)

[1] The term zoopoetics was introduced by Jacques Derrida in his 1997 The Animal that Therefore I Am, but it has recently been more carefully inflected by Aaron Moe in his book Zoopoetics: Animals and the Making of Poetry (Lexington 2013) as a counter to, and a clarification of, ecocriticism and ecopoetics.

[2] This broadscale disavowal of animal farming and slaughter by a discipline that one would think would try to look this issue squarely in the face isn’t a problem intrinsic only to ecology-centric literature; it can also be seen even in the field of new materialist thought about biopower. See my essay, “Ecopoetry, Speculative Ontology, and the Disavowal of the Slaughterhouse: Some Notes on Ethics and Biopower” in Matter.

[3] Personal correspondence.