Friday, January 8, 2010

Carol J. Adams's 'An Animal Manifesto'

Excerpts from an interview with Carol J. Adams by Tom Tyler, "An Animal Manifesto: Gender, Identity, and Vegan-Feminism in the Twenty-First Century", on topics such as Haraway's companion animals, and the question of animals rights in a postmodern age:

'TT: Donna Haraway has, of course, written two manifestos already: for cyborgs and for companion animals. I know you have reservations about the latter: what are its limitations from the perspective of a vegan-feminist manifesto?

CJA: I think she is attempting something more profoundly personal here. But I found the final product, her small pamphlet, extremely disturbing. It feels uneven, as though it were cobbled together. And her voice is not so much ambiguous as inconsistent. Sometimes it feels downright petulant. It’s the lacunae in Haraway that disturb. Reading it against and with Derrida make what is left unsaid so damning. Derrida’s feels to be a manifesto in all but name; Haraway’s a manifesto only in name, more an apologia. Discussing circuses, Derrida paints a picture of ‘an animal trainer having his sad subjects, bent low, file past.’ Haraway, through a reference to Vicki Hearne’s beliefs, defends ‘circus trainers,’ referring to animals in the circus as ‘the animals they work with’. At this point, with all the information about circuses, why would someone alert to how words work, choose the euphemism ‘work with’? Derrida, as you point out, does not shy away from engaging the issue of the Holocaust and genocide when talking about what is happening to animals, while Haraway pauses to condemn ‘the outrageous equating of the killing of the Jews in Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, with the butcheries of the animal-industrial complex’.

Regarding animal rights, Haraway is dismissive, calling us the ‘rights besotted’. Derrida, more generously, acknowledges ‘In response to the irresistible but unacknowledged unleashing and the organized disavowal of this torture, voices are raised – minority, weak, marginal voices, little assured of their discourse, of their right to discourse and the enchantment of their discourse within the law, as a declaration of rights – in order to protect, in order to appeal (we’ll return to this) to what is still presented in such a problematic way as animal rights, in order to awaken us to our responsibilities and our obligations with respect to the living in general, and precisely to this fundamental compassion that, were we to take it seriously, would have to change even the very basis (and the basis is what I wish to discuss today) of the philosophical problematic of the animal’.

Haraway’s embrace of Vicki Hearne’s position, a position left fixed by her death, results in an impatient, and I would argue, dated, dismissal of ‘animal rights’. Haraway’s aversion to animal rights doesn’t seem to have mutated or adapted since Hearne’s 1991 article against animal rights. I wish I could understand the categorical disparagement of animal rights that, with a broad sweep, includes even those animal advocates who challenge ‘rights language’, a large majority of whom are women. For which companion species can we safely advocate if we wish to avoid her derision? Only dogs? I do not comprehend why a feminist concerned with relations between species decidedly ignores the many feminist scholars who have been writing and talking about this issue, some for at least twenty years. Haraway is interested in finding the ‘relational model of training’, making her disinterestedness in a relational model for veganism and other relationships with animals more shocking. Derrida says ‘no one can deny the unprecedented proportions of this subjection of the animal […] No one can deny seriously, or for very long, that men do all they can in order to dissimulate this cruelty or to hide it from themselves, in order to organize on a global scale the forgetting or misunderstanding of this violence that some would compare to the worst cases of genocide (there are also animal genocides: the number of species endangered because of man takes one’s breath away)’. Yet Haraway seems to.

And what of dogs? She is interested in ‘naturecultures’ - the naturecultures of humans and canines, for instance, and ‘ethical relating, within or between species’. She condemns ‘impulse buyers’ of special breeds of dogs who then dump their dogs, but the breeders for whom the ‘whole dog’ is both a kind and an individual (perhaps the beginning of the problem), and who continue to produce these ‘purebreds,’ escape her critique in this part of the manifesto. Where do the impulse buyers get their dogs?

Can a manifesto compromise? Shouldn’t a manifesto leap to the place where compromise, or half responses, are seen as what they are, a bargain with the established order against which your manifesto is standing? Like a manifesto for companion animals that uses purebreds as the referents? Why breed animals? Why claim for history more value than contemporary situations?

While Haraway acknowledges the ‘scandal of the meat-producing “animal industrial complex”’, she only finds historical irony in the introduction of ‘Basque Pyrenean mountain dogs, who were nurtured in the purebred dog fancy, onto the ranches of the US west to protect Anglo ranchers’ xenobiological cattle and sheep’. Surely there is more than irony here. She seems so hesitant to address herself to the species with whom humans have the least ethical relation - the animals that people eat - indeed, referring to a stop at Burger King to get ‘burgers, coke, and fries’. Her book was published after Burger King started selling veggie burgers, but she fails to tell us what sort of burger she bought.

Haraway protects the dominance that ontologises animals as edible just as the sheepdogs she celebrates protect the ontologised ‘livestock’. She renders unto the renderers the bodies of animals. ‘Livestock’ become the untouchable natureculture intersection and not because of the prions from rendered ‘mad’ cows that cannot be destroyed, but because she cannot or will not acknowledge the possibility that livestock might also be companion species.

I know Haraway is not alone in viewing ‘animal rights’ discourse as proscriptive and ideological, that some people believe a certain possibility of becoming is denied when one tells another what not to do, that we deprive another when we speak or make demands, that activists are dictating to others. But in any evolving natureculture, we should stipulate that flesh eating, unlike debates about it, involves more than human beings. Humans consume animal beings. In human-oriented arguments, the fact that others are dictating to animals by eating them disappears. If we agree to one of the points I propose in the vegan-feminist manifesto, that at least three beings are involved in a discourse about flesh eating (the speaker, the hearer and the animal being eaten), then we see that there is an a priori deprivation within these critiques that needs to be acknowledged: the death of the animal.

TT: Your most recent paper, ‘Post-meateating’, considers animal rights as a modern movement in a postmodern age.

CJA: This may offer another explanation for the dismissal of animal rights discourses. In The Sexual Politics of Meat, I proposed that nonhumans used for meat were absent referents. In ‘Post-meateating’ I explore the implications of Frederic Jameson’s insight that in general we have passed from the modern period with nature still a referent, to a postmodern period with culture as the referent. His insight suggests that in a postmodern time the animals have been loosed completely from their status as absent referent — instead the referent will have a cultural context only.

When postmodernism supplanted the idea of the individual, autonomous subject with the idea of multiple selves and a fluid subject, Tom Regan’s scholarly attempt to claim consciousness and biography for animals, The Case for Animal Rights,27 seemed to lose its relevance. (But why not attribute such multiple selves to other animals too?) The animal rights movement that traces itself to Regan or Peter Singer has the misfortune of articulating a modernist claim just as postmodernism absorbs and displaces modernist thinking. It appears dated, announcing in its activism (boycotts/placards/lobbying) its own supposed anachronism. It appears absolutist and serious in a time when irony and self-deprecation prevail. It is seen as too literal, too preachy. Trying to get culture to get back to the referent ‘animal’ is seen as too boring, not playful.

This appears to be what People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) knows. They often deploy visual images but with cultural referents. They use supermodels. They use actors. They take any cultural idea that is circulating and appropriate it. Rather than producing for general consumption the ‘bleeding Jesus’ pictures, as one Catholic friend calls them, of damaged, injured animals, PETA puts on Mickey Mouse masks to protest animal experimentation. They’re ironic.

PETA seems to acknowledge that for many people the referent, animals, is gone. And they are trying to work with what is there, cultural consumption, by manipulating cultural images/issues. They are trying to get people to talk about veganism without having to address what has disappeared. It doesn’t matter who they piss off. In fact the more the better. Tastelessness is newsworthy; nonhuman farmed animals aren’t. The strongest reminder for me of this is that people continue to eat ‘beef’ after the news about mad cows.

One of the results when the cultural becomes the referent, is not only that we forget we are animal beings, but we are allowed to forget that other animals are animal beings, too! Karen Davis says the human hand is the cruelest thing a chicken will know. The non-ambivalent action the activist wants is to stop that hand.I think I still cling to words like ‘integrity’. What sort of referents are animals in scholarly discourse? Are they allowed to be embodied animal beings?'

[References at <>. First published in Parallax 38 (Jan-Mar 2006), p120-28. ]

Related books by Carol J. Adams:
The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory.
The Feminist Care Tradition in Animal Ethics: A Reader, edited with Josephine Donovan. Columbia University Press.
Living Among Meat Eaters: The Vegetarian’s Survival Handbook. Continuum, 2003. Chinese edition, 2005
How to Eat Like a Vegetarian More than 250 Shortcuts, Strategies, and Simple Solutions, Carol J. Adams, Patti Breitman
The Pornography of Meat. New York: Continuum International, 2003.
Ecofeminism and the Sacred, editor. New York: Continuum International, 1993.
Neither Man nor Beast: Feminism and the Defense of Animals. New York: Continuum International. 1994. (Pictured above)
Animals and Women: Feminist Theoretical Explorations, an anthology edited with Josephine Donovan. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995.

No comments:

Post a Comment