THE VEGAN DEJECT
"The one by whom the abject exists is thus a deject who places (himself), separates (himself), situates (himself), and therefore strays instead of getting his bearings, desiring, belonging, or refusing."
-Julia Kristeva, "Approaching Abjection"
"It's through third-rate meat,
dirty third-rate meat,
that we express
-Antonin Artaud, "Insult to the Unconditioned"
Slavoj Žižek called me a degenerate once. What is a boy to do? Lynne Tillman told me I should just be an activist rather than a writer. Seriously. She was spreading dijon mustard onto a scotch egg. To my face. What is a boy to do? Am I supposed to say something about queering consumption? Something about how I want my consumption to stand outside the orbit of meat and dairy production? Something about seeing systemic abjection in the slaughter and confinement of animals? I replay the slobbering with a click. Degenerates, degenerates, he says, shaking his head. His finger turns to a tool, a screwdriver, turns into his temple. You'll turn into monkeys he says. The you is a they. They are vegetarians. Vegetarians will turn into monkeys. I realize I am turning into something. I am always turning. She offers me some mustard for my parody of ground beef, mushroom and barley. Here, she says, this is much better. Trust me, she says, wiping yolk from her chin.
I am turning into something but I don't know what. A political artist? An androgyne?
I am always turning.
There is the sense in Kristeva's writings on the abject that the abject is more than the dirty or the icky. The abject is something that brings the subject into a space that constantly risks contamination, thereby decentralizing subjectivity and, for Kristeva, meaning. The abject draws one "toward the place where meaning collapses" (2). Abjection tickles identity, never affirming identity's authority nor denying, always keeping it fragile.
This is perhaps what a boy is to do.
Captivity is, at first, incredibly freeing. You lose a lot. Of weight. Of having nothing to talk about. Of sullenness. When you jail yourself with a new moral code, you actually give yourself permission to do whatever the hell you want, only in a confined space. You can masturbate all you want. It's not killing anyone. There is none of the wallowing in absolute moral abandon, absolute responsibility. You have a perspective, a lookout tower, where you stay so you can have your vantage on everything and everything can see you. You renew yourself this way, saying you know what you're about. This is politics. It's swell and fine and dandy.
Man is by nature a political animal.
A synthetic proposition is one in which the predicate concept is not contained in the subject concept. For example, "meat is murder" is a kind of synthetic proposition. It's a posteriori synthetic. Kristeva utilizes an a posteriori description of experiencing milk skin to support her initial definition of the abject: "Food loathing is perhaps the most elementary and most archaic form of abjection" (2).
September 11, 2014. Sue Coe comes to Notre Dame to give an artist lecture. I've never heard of her. I go on a whim. I go because Valerie Sayers says it would be good for those of you who are interested in political art. I go because I think I may be something like a poet. I do not know this at the time. Something like Bataille's poet. A rubber ball, nipple pink, attached by a string to a wooden paddle, bouncing from an extreme of contact, of connection, of Trust me, with or against the stiffness of say, something like society, which repels me, spits me out to the extreme of empty space, of political wretchedness, of reprobation, of solipsism, of frequent masturbation. I want very much to be accepted. I want very much to be unacceptable. I go because I think political art may allow me to be both/and.
This is perhaps what a boy is to do: rub himself till an essay comes out.
"Contemporary literature," writes Kristeva, "seems to be written out of the untenable aspects of perverse or superego positions. It acknowledges the impossibility of Religion, Morality, and Law" (16). Veganism does seem untenable. It would, of course, have to rely on a kind of totalitarianism for it to become truly effective--even 10 million vegans couldn't outweigh billions of satisfied meat and dairy consumers stuffed with cheaply priced low-grade meat bought at hyper-efficient fast food restaurants. Yet it's not an impossible personal position, as long as one builds the walls of one's moral captivity far enough apart. This is what held me captive, the possibility of inhabiting a moral space. Though, of course, these walls can't be completely solid. Through the magical convolutions of late capitalism, a vegan equivalent to the butterfly effect holds. Something you do probably connects to an animal's suffering.
What if my art were more like my cum in a toilet bowl? And what if my veganism were more like the jizz in my pubes sticking me to my briefs? What would it look like to combine veganism with abjection? Is such a combination possible? What kind of argument am I working for here?
Look at my vegan body. My hips naked and hairy and thrust at the eye, my eye in the mirror. A resultant loss of muscle mass. When I bend at the scrawny hips, stretching my chicken legs, I have tits that sag. Something they say about meat consumption and proportionate production of testosterone. Consumption of soy correlates to estrogen production in the body that tit-sags when it bends at the flat belly. Political art may allow me to be a kind of both/and. I like my fingernails. I like that my fingernails be painted. I like that my chin juts out like a covergirl's. I like that in the mirror I become the realization of a small joke, a play on words amongst friends. Dev-as-woman leaks into Dev-ass woman. My-my, that sure is a Dev-ass woman. I wonder what Hitler would say were he to see me on the street, strutting in my women's jeans. Faggot, he'd probably say. Degenerate. He'd probably slobber, too.
Hitler was a vegetarian.
Sue Coe comes to Notre Dame to lecture about the horrific things human beings do to animals. She has a slide show of her drawings—gaunt animals hung by their legs, humanesque grimaces of pain and horror on their faces. She clicks on her MacBook Pro and a picture holds me captive and I'm not sure why. I'm not sure why because I have yet to read Julia Kristeva. I have read Kristeva now. The picture is called Meat Flies, named for the insects swarming around the hanging carcasses (or corpses, for Coe) of cows, swarms of insects flowing into the foreground, a semen of defilement confronting the viewer's sense of detachment and, thus, hygiene. Yes, this is a kind of cum shot. The swarming insects sketch a sense of unlocalized, non-solid defilement. A fluid defilement of the cows' bodies. Fluid abounds in the picture. The argument is in the fluid. The most visible effects of the violence in the drawing flow from the center background into the foreground as well. There is a cow bleeding from a puncture to her head. Milk spills from her engorged utters. Her eyes are milk white and without pupils. This communicates ghastliness. This cow is a specter meant to instill fear. She is the zombie ghost of the meat and dairy industry. The milk and the blood form two separate streams flowing side by side into a grate, always running the risk of mixing with each other. The cow here becomes a site of devastation and of birth or maternity. Looking through Kristeva, we fear the cow not just for her ghostly eyes, but for her symbolic generative power (77). But the argument is in the fluids. The cow's milk, which would naturally feed her young, transforms symbolically into waste and excrement. It may as well be flushed down the toilet. The argument seems to warp Kristeva's understanding of defilement, an act which creates the binary statuses of edible (assimilable) and abject (78). The flies surrounding the cow corpses and the blood that threatens to contaminate and mix with the milk make the beef and the milk unpalatable and abject. This is a vegan argument via abjection.
I want very much to do me, whatever that means.
I write this thought from Bataille on my right hand, my dominate hand: "The poet frequently can only use words for his own loss; he is often forced to choose between the destiny of a reprobate, who is as profoundly separated from society as dejecta are from apparent life, and a renunciation whose price is a mediocre activity, subordinated to vulgar and superficial needs" (120). I rub myself with this hand till I expel myself. I do not wash my hand but the thought has smudged anyway.
I have heard that what separates humans from animals is the use of tools. Humans use tools. Monkeys don't. This is the classic thinking on the subject of species difference. This is hearsay.
I had meat marinating in the fridge when I made the decision. I had bacon, too. I had no idea why I was so moved. I didn't have Kristeva. I gave the meat to Jace. I was held captive by a newfound politics. I was held captive by veganism.
What is the vegan argument? Synthetic a posteriori. "Masturbation is pleasing," what is that? Synthetic a posteriori.
Man is by nature a political animal. Politics feels like such a mediocre activity.
Sometimes I close my eyes in the bathroom and I rub myself squeezing one of my tits and I eek a bit of myself out, dying a little bit. Living a little bit. And I rub the eek in my fascinated fingers and I sniff this new territory of me. I want each time to taste it, but I don't. What would it mean to close that border? To dissolve that horizon? Is this new territory excrement if it sits in my fingers like this, inert? This territory is too salty, too disgusting, for reinsertion. Do animals know this about their own ejaculation? Do they know it without having to say they know it? So I rub this new territory into my pubes and I put my clothes back on and I go out in public, smiling at everyone I see, because I'm wearing this inside joke. Because I'm something like a poet. Sometimes I flick it into the toilet and push the lever that swirls my territory into the realm of poetry.
More hearsay: humans are the only animals that drink other species' milk. Also, chimpanzees have been known to use rudimentary tools for simple tasks, like backscratching. None of our walls are solid.
Defilement, for Kristeva, effectuates the taboo against cannibalism. From this we can interpolate the basic vegan argument--an expansion of our notion of the human. The flies in our face buzz a very conventional plea. Animals are like us. They are like us in that they can be defiled. And they can be defiled because we anthropomorphize. Animals are like us because we make them like us. Here, the abject is not a "fragile state where man strays on the territories of animal" (12). Here, the animal is ensnared into the human. And there is fluid everywhere--the fluid of the abject hybrid-space, "humanimal," flooded with desecrating violence.
Does this argument beg the question?
The arguments are in the fluid. The fluid that flows can also ebb. Will ebb. There is a grey man in the picture. PVC slush boots. Mucked up apron. Hair net. He is prepared for the fluid. He pushes an industrial push broom through the grey slush only slightly darker than himself. It must be some mélange of excrements--the cows', the machinery's, the dirty rinse-water. This deeply grey excrement is the indelible foundation of meat and dairy production. We can try like this man, keeping our heads down, to erase, to make clean, but such cleanliness--superegotistical--seems impossible to maintain. It seems he has been working for quite some time. He's made almost no progress.
What is a boy to do? Meat repels me and attracts me. When I eat it I should want to spit it out. It should disgust me.
People call my work masturbatory. Perhaps this causes political art's appeal to me. Perhaps I think I can escape feeling guilt and shame for what I expel. I am stepping down from my lookout tower which was a cell.
I believe now that abjection isn't something that literature or art does but is instead something that literature and art use to do themselves, like a dildo. We abject to get off in a sense. Even if that's not the case there is something incommensurable about the anti-superego agenda of contemporary literature (a cell that seems cozy to me) and political art, which is obsessed with cementing superegotistical structures. But the abject is not for building monuments. It is not a political, economic, environmental agenda. It presents a truth, in this case, that animals suffer brutally at the hands of hungry human animals. Within the thinking of the abject, this does not have a moral quality to it. It’s simply the case, a matter of fact.
Perhaps all a boy has to do is choose.
I click and this affords me two moo-patties instead of one. I click again and there is now crisp-fried oink. Click, jalapeños. Click, grilled mushrooms. Click, mayonnaise. Click, extra mayonnaise. This is perhaps the most abject-vegan thing a vegan boy can do. Transgression transgression transgression. I enter credit card information and get in my car to pick it up.
Really, she says, you should be an activist rather than a writer.
Degenerates, he says. Degenerates degenerates.
Abjection seems to imply ephemerality in some sense. Short-livedness. Morality, politics, they’re all about spanning large swathes of time. In this way, abjection is humble. When I masturbate and leave it there in the toilet bowl, I expose my humility.
What else can a boy do?
I unwrap it and I start to slobber. Grease stains my fingers. I lick them without thinking twice. Mushrooms eek out from the buttery buns. They are eyeballs in my mouth. I stroke the massive thing with my right hand. I toy with it. I grab it, allow its heft to impress me. Deep breathes. Fries are foreplay. I close my eyes and lean my head down. My mouth opens and I feel fragile and exposed once again.
Artaud, Antonin. The Momo. Trans. Clayton Eshleman.
Bataille, George. “The Notion of Expenditure.” Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939. Trans. Allan Stoekl et al. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1985. Print.
Coe, Sue. Meat Flies. 1991. Dead Meat. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1995.104. Print.
Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982. Print.
Krivokuca, Vedran. “Slavoj Žižek on Vegetarians.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 2 Aug. 2008. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.
 My nipples are not the color of uncooked beef (mooo) or cold cut ham (oink). If anything, they are the color of well-done gristle, the color of shit.