A Vegan Form of Life

  • Robert McKay
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature book series (PSAAL)


Reflecting on a moment when a vegan meal was presented to him as “lesbian food,” McKay’s essay critiques the concept of “species,” drawing on Judith Butler’s deconstruction of the sex/gender opposition. Social life, he argues, is shaped by “compulsory humanity,” a disposition in which species functions as a regulatory ideal rather than a biological essence. McKay works this critical stance into a positive description of being vegan by turning to Wittgenstein’s concept of the “form of life,” and the way his thought has been developed in relation to animal ethics. McKay’s claim is that thinking of veganism as a form of life allows for making sense of the profound form of identification with others that it expresses, evading and challenging the very notion of being human.

Works Cited

  1. Adams, Carol J. 1990. The Sexual Politics of Meat. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  2. Adams, Carol J., and Matthew Calarco. 2016. Derrida and the Sexual Politics of Meat. In Meat Culture, ed. Annie Potts, 31–53. Leiden: Brill.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Agamben, Giorgio. 1996. Form-of-Life. In Radical Politics in Italy: A Potential Politics, ed. Paolo Virno and Michael Hardt, 151–158. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Butler, Judith. 1993. Bodies That Matter. London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  5. Calarco, Matthew. 2012. Identity, Difference, Indistinction. The Centennial Review 11 (2): 41–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cavell, Stanley. 1979. The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality, and Tragedy. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  7. Connor, Steven. 2001. The Shame of Being a Man. Textual Practice 15: 211–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Derrida, Jacques. 1995. ‘Eating Well’, or the Calculation of the Subject. Trans. Peter Conner and Avital Ronnel. In Points...: Interviews 1974–1994. By Jacques Derrida, ed. Elizabeth Weber and trans. Peggy Kamuf and others. Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp. 255–287.Google Scholar
  9. Diamond, Cora. 1978. Eating Meat and Eating People. Philosophy 53: 465–479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. ———. 1991. The Importance of Being Human. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 29: 35–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. ———. 2001. Injustice and Animals. In Slow Cures and Bad Philosophies: Essays on Wittgenstein, Medicine and Bioethics, ed. Carl Elliott, 118–148. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dollimore, Jonathan. 1991. Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault. Oxford: Clarendon.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hayward, Eva, and Jami Weinstein (eds.). 2015. Tranimalities. Transgender Studies Quarterly 2(2).Google Scholar
  14. Kim, Claire Jean. 2015. Dangerous Crossings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kishik, David. 2008. Wittgenstein’s Form of Life. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  16. MacCormack, Patricia, ed. 2014. The Animal Catalyst: Towards Ahuman Theory. London: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  17. McKay, Robert. 2005. ‘Identifying with the Animals’: Language, Subjectivity and the Animal Politics of Atwood’s Surfacing. In Figuring Animals: Essays on Animal Images in Art, Literature, Philosophy and Popular Culture, ed. Mary Pollock and Catherine Rainwater, 207–229. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. ———. 2015. James Agee’s ‘A Mother’s Tale’ and the Biopolitics of Animal Life and Death in Post-war America. In Against Life, ed. Alastair Hunt and Stephanie Youngblood, 143–160. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Pick, Anat. 2011. Creaturely Poetics: Animality and Vulnerability in Literature and Film. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Sedgwick, Eve Kosovsky. 1990. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  21. Stanescu, James. 2012. Species Trouble: Judith Butler, Mourning, and the Precarious Lives of Animals. Hypatia 27: 567–582.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Steinbock, Eliza, Marianna Szczygielska, and Anthony Wagner (eds.). 2017. Tranimacies: Intimate Links Between Animal and Trans* Studies. Angelaki. 22(2).Google Scholar
  23. Tyler, Tom. 2012. Ciferae: A Bestiary in Five Fingers. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  24. ———. 2013. New Tricks. Angelaki 18: 65–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. ———. 2014. The Exception and the Norm. presented at Reading Animals, University of Sheffield, July.Google Scholar
  26. Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 2009. Philosophical Investigations. Trans. by G. E. M. Anscombe, P. M. S. Hacker, and Joachim Schulte, Rev. 4th ed. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  27. Wolfe, Cary. 2003. Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species and Posthumanist Theory. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  28. ———. 2008. Exposures. In Philosophy and Animal Life, ed. S. Cavell et al., 1–41. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  29. ———. 2012. Cavell’s ‘Forms of Life’ and Biopolitics. Contemporary Political Theory 11: 411–416.Google Scholar
  30. ———. 2013. Before the Law: Humans and Other Animals in a Biopolitical Frame. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert McKay
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SheffieldSheffieldUK

Personalised recommendations