Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hannibal Lecter and subverting speciesism

Vegan Feminist Agitator recently posted “Serve With Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti: The Hannibal Lecterism of Happy Meat.” (You need to read through to the end to get the full picture.)

It was interesting timing, as I’d just previously read the chapter “Subject to Sacrifice: Ideology, Psychoanalysis, and the Discourse of Species in Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs” in Cary Wolfe’s book Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory.

Wolfe and Elmer analyze what they consider “the most far-reaching and powerful discourse in the film: the discourse of species” (KL 1506-1507), arguing that the film, particularly through the character of Hannibal Lecter, upsets speciesist categories. They describe what’s at “the heart of Lecter's threat”:

In embodying a kind of unavowable "presymbolic other," Lecter exposes symbolicity as such (the assignations of otherness and sameness identified by Derrida) as the core mechanism of Enlightenment and humanist modernity. But in this exposure, it is made clear that Lecter does not respect the principle of the symbolic substitute, the sacrificial victim, the object of exchange, the metaphoric equivalent. Lecter's strategy in the face of these endless substitutions will be to deny their efficacy, to demetaphorize, to literalize, to substantialize. Most momentously, of course, Lecter's cannibalism flouts the originary substitution behind speciesist practice-the killing and eating of animals rather than humans.

…It is important to recognize that Lecter's exposure of the hypocrisy of humanist symbolic economies arises not from any kind of resistance to them but rather from his radicalization of those very economies, his relentless pursuit of them to their quite logical conclusions (KL 1714-1720).

As you can no doubt glean from the chapter and book title and what’s quoted here, the writing is very typical of lit crit. I’ve mentioned in the past that I have a pretty high tolerance for this sort of thing. If there are enough good points on offer and the questionable passages aren’t deeply offensive, I’ll just leave snotty remarks in the margins and keep going. In this case, there are enough insights to be found to make wading through the rest – even the “technoscience” references - worthwhile for me. I can’t say I’d recommend it in a general way, but if you have a similarly high tolerance and are interested in the subject you might find it of value. In any case, I’ll be writing more about the arguments.

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