Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Emelia Quinn's "Reading Veganism"

Emelia Quinn is Assistant Professor of World Literatures & Environmental Humanities. Prior to this post she completed her DPhil at the University of Oxford. Her work establishes the emergent field of vegan theory and considers its intersections with queer theory, animal studies, ecocriticism, and postcolonial studies. She is co-editor of Thinking Veganism in Literature and Culture: Towards a Vegan Theory (2018).

Quinn applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Reading Veganism: The Monstrous Vegan, 1818 to Present, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Reading Veganism: The Monstrous Vegan, 1818 to Present comes midway through Chapter 3, entitled Margaret Atwood and Monstrous Vegan Words. The chapter as a whole positions Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy (2003-2013) as the culmination of a literary trajectory of monstrous vegan figures, constructed from Mary Shelley’s 1818 Frankenstein (the focus of Chapter 1) through H. G. Wells’s 1896 The Island of Doctor Moreau (the focus of Chapter 2). Atwood’s re-writing of both Shelley’s and Wells’s vegan monsters in her works of speculative fiction is read as dismissive of veganism, which is presented as a monstrous projection of innocence that fails to recognise its implication in exploitative systems. Page 99 works to establish the vegetarian and vegan elements engaged with by the MaddAddam novels, detailing the various elements of vegetarian and vegan history which are found embedded in Atwood’s texts: from allusions to the Ancient Greek Orphics to iterations of the writing of radical vegetarianism from the Romantic period.

This page represents surprisingly well the key themes of the book as a whole. Firstly, it makes clear that veganism is not just a dietary fad or passing trend, positioning Atwood’s contemporary novels in relation to much longer textual histories of veganism. Secondly, in its attention to the incorporation of past literary traces of veganism into the narrative, this page hints at the book’s broader interest in veganism as textual assemblage. Throughout Reading Veganism I am wary of essentialist claims about the biologically vegan body. The textuality of the monstrous vegan is one way of thinking about the discursively constructed nature of our ethical identities.

However, page 99 does not provide any clear definition of the “monstrous vegan” figure. Throughout Reading Veganism, I defined the monstrous vegan in relation to four key traits: monstrous vegans do not eat meat; are hybrid compositions of human and nonhuman animals parts; are sired outside of heterosexual reproduction; and are intimately related to acts of writing. Without this overarching framework, there is little sense for the reader of the contradictions and complications that cohere in monstrous vegan literary figures. This sense of contradiction and complication is vital to the argument made by Reading Veganism as a whole: that the monstrous vegan provides a helpful way of re-conceiving of vegan identity as a site of continual striving, a monstrous assemblage of contradictions, failings, and utopian imaginings. In this sense, page 99 is also at risk of misrepresenting the book as a whole, which is certainly not a comprehensive historicist study, but a theoretical consideration of what veganism is and does. Indeed the book argues that vegan reading practices, and vegan theory, are much more than simply mining texts for references to vegetarians or vegans.

Finally, page 99 offers no clues as to the reparative reading strategies that emerge in chapters 4 and 5 of the book. Whereas chapters 1-3 build a historical trajectory of monstrous vegan figures as they recur across literary history, chapters 4 and 5 make clear the possible benefits to be gained from reading for the monstrous vegan, acknowledging the possibility of performing the monstrous vegan. The reparative strategies proposed in these final two chapters turn away from Atwood’s disparagement of veganism to offer new ways of vegan being in the world, and seek to reclaim vegan joys and pleasures from the overwhelming focus in vegan-oriented work on sincerity and despair.
Learn more about Reading Veganism at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue