On Refusal

  • Benjamin Westwood
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature book series (PSAAL)


This essay proposes that refusal is at the centre of vegan modes of being in the world. Noting the frequency with which refusal is connected with tragedy, Westwood explores a diverse range of vegan and non-vegan examples of this association—ranging from Melville’s iconic “Bartleby, the Scrivener” through Thoreau, Christina Rossetti, Franz Kafka, and Margaret Atwood to Han Kang’s recent The Vegetarian—and proposes instead a non-tragic “grammar of refusal.” From within familiar scenes of anti-social withdrawal and heroic resistance, he recovers a less melodramatic, less combative understanding of refusal in the language used to make them. This provides, he suggests, a truer and more usable reflection of the daily negotiations and repeated declinations that shape vegan forms of life.

Works Cited

  1. Adams, Carol. 2015–1990. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. London: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  2. Agamben, Giorgio. 1999. Potentialities, ed. and trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Atwood, Margaret. 2004–1969. The Edible Woman. London: Virago.Google Scholar
  4. Bentley, D.M.R. 1987. The Meretricious and the Meritorious in Goblin Market: A Conjecture and an Analysis. In The Achievement of Christina Rossetti, ed. David Kent. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Berlant, Lauren. 2011. Cruel Optimism. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bordo, Susan. 1993. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. London/Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  7. Brain, Tracy. 1995. Figuring Anorexia: Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman. Literature Interpretation Theory 6 (3): 299–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Carpenter, Mary Wilson. 1991. ‘Eat Me, Drink Me, Love Me’: The Consumable Female Body in Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market. Victorian Poetry 29 (4): 415–434.Google Scholar
  9. Castronovo, Russ. 2014. Occupy Bartleby. J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists 2 (2): 253–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cavell, Stanley. 1999—1979. The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality, and Tragedy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar
  11. ———. 1987. Disowning Knowledge: In Six of Shakespeare’s Plays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. ———. 2013. The Senses of Walden: An Expanded Edition. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Cole, Matthew, and Karen Morgan. 2011. Vegaphobia: Derogatory Discourses of Veganism and the Reproduction of Speciesism in UK National Newspapers. The British Journal of Sociology 62 (1): 134–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gezari, Janet. 2008. Last Things: Emily Brontë’s Poems. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kafka, Franz. 2012. A Hunger Artist and Other Stories, trans. Joyce Crick and introduced by Ritchie Robertson. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Kang, Han. 2015. The Vegetarian, trans. Deborah Smith. London: Portobello Books.Google Scholar
  17. Kellman, Stephen. 2010. ‘The Only Fit Food for a Man Is Half a Lemon’: Kafka’s Plea and Other Culinary Aberrations. The Southwest Review 95 (4): 532–545.Google Scholar
  18. Kleine, Don. 1960. Civil Disobedience: The Way to Walden. Modern Language Notes 75 (4): 297–304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kristeva, Julia. 1982. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Melville, Herman. 1985. In Billy Budd, Sailor and Other Stories, ed. Harold Beaver. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  21. Phillips, Adam. 1994. On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Unexamined Life. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  22. ———. 2002. Promises, Promises: Essays on Psychoanalysis and Literature. London: Faber and Faber.Google Scholar
  23. Rossetti, Christina. 1979–1990. The Complete Poems of Christina Rossetti, ed. R.W. Crump, 3 vols. Baton Rouge/London: University of Kentucky Press.Google Scholar
  24. ———. 1997–2004. The Letters of Christina Rossetti, ed. Antony H. Harrison, 4 vols. Charlottesville/London: University of Virginia Press.Google Scholar
  25. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. 2003. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Sypher, Wylie, ed. 1956. Comedy. Baltimore/London: Johns Hopkins University Press. 1986.Google Scholar
  27. Thoreau, Henry David. 1966. In Walden and Civil Disobedience: Authoritative Texts, Backgrounds, Reviews and Essays in Criticism, ed. Owen Thomas. New York/London: Norton.Google Scholar
  28. Wright, Laura. 2015. The Vegan Studies Project: Food, Animals, and Gender in the Age of Terror. Athens: University of Georgia Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Benjamin Westwood
    • 1
  1. 1.Wadham CollegeUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations