H is for Hypocrite

Lockwood, Alex (2017) H is for Hypocrite. In: Anthology of Vegan Studies. University of Nevada Press, Nevada. (Submitted)

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Abstract

I’m interested in asking what nature writing feels like when we read it through the lens of vegan theory. I argue there is a lack of attention given to the ways in which contemporary creative non-fiction nature writing fails the nonhuman body; and that this failure (in the text, and our criticism) undermines the often explicit pro-environmental messages of the texts. Such a failure can be identified by reading/writing environmental or nature texts through a vegan lens. This essay will then explore how vegan studies furthers ecocritical studies, as well as be of use to ‘nature writers’ in deepening the impact of their work.

My essay provides readings of two contemporary nature narratives: Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk and Charles Foster’s Being a Beast. Both have been praised for their quality of writing and embodied engagement with the nonhuman; both pronounce a need to steward our environmental commons better. And yet both fail to address the structural causes of the devastation to nonhuman bodies that they argue pro-environmental behaviours will protect.

H is for Hawk retells the story of Macdonald’s training of a Goshawk, Mabel, intermingled with the death of her father. Being a Beast is Foster’s attempt to ‘live like’ five different nonhuman animals. Both books advocate a nostalgic conservancy ethic of intimately ‘knowing nature’ as a means to protect it. However, both Macdonald and Foster fail to engage with contemporary understandings of the role of speciesism in contributing to the damage inflicted on nonhuman nature through, for example, industrial animal agriculture.

Macdonald’s book reinforces an outdated paradigm of relating, based on speciesist valuations, and reinforcing systems of exploitation. In perpetuating a logic in which humans express love for some animals but exploit others, she forecloses an opportunity for a radical episteme of affective knowledge, gained though an embodied engagement with other species’ bodies that her writing, on the surface, seems to advocate. I explore this question through the book’s other birds: the dead one-day-old chicks, by-products of broiler production that Macdonald feeds to Mabel; and the pheasants that the pair hunts. These different relations to less charismatic birds help us see the gap in knowledge between the model Macdonald offers, based on speciesist hierarchies implicit in the worst degradations of nature, and a more entangled, vegan ethic.

Similarly, Foster’s attempts at garnering embodied knowledges of the nonhuman other are grounded in his anthroponormative view of them as other, often as victims, falling into the fallacy of human exceptionalism. His nature writing remains rooted in a historical relation to knowledge of nature that is blind to the systems of exploitation that such knowledge shores up and sustains.

My essay argues that Ecocriticism must begin to explore ‘nature writing’ through the lens of vegan studies if it is to avoid the trap of failing to ethically engage with the environmental crises of our 21st century; similarly, this essay implores ‘nature writers’ to attend to a vegan ethic in their contributions to bearing witness to the nonhuman world.

Item Type: Book Section
Subjects: Culture > Creative Writing
Culture > English Language and Literature
Media > Media and Cultural Studies
Divisions: Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries
Depositing User: Alex Lockwood
Date Deposited: 05 Apr 2017 10:04
Last Modified: 05 Apr 2017 10:04
URI: http://sure.sunderland.ac.uk/id/eprint/7075

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