In this interview Deborah Madsen, in her role as Principal Investigator, gives an overview of the origins and development of the project, Vegan Literary Studies: An American Textual History, 1776-1900, funded by the Fonds National Suisse. This account is followed by a short, related article in which Aïcha Bouchelaghem, a research assistant on the project, describes the development during the late nineteenth-century of "fake meat" or "vegetable meat" like Nuttose, Nuttolene, and Protose by John and Ella Kellogg at the Battle Creek Sanitorium in Michigan. An advertisement for Nuttose and one of Ella Kellogg's menus featuring Protose illustrate the long history of vegan experimentation with meat substitutes.
Deborah Madsen, “Of Bison Bones and Fine Bone China: A Vegan Approach to Genocide on the Plains.” Paper presented at the BAAS (British Association for American Studies) conference, University of Keele, April 2023. PDF
The digital prose-poem, “Bone China” (2015), by Canadian First Nations writer Paul Seesequasis responds to three historical photographs from the Saskatoon Public Library Archives (dated 1878, 1890, 1891) that depict towering stacks of bison bones, waiting to be shipped for industrial processing into products that included fine bone chinaware. Reading Seesequasis' poetic chinaware intersectionally, from an ethical vegan perspective, exposes the multiple metonymic significances of the late nineteenth-century bison Holocaust or “animal genocide” described by Anishinaabe theorist Gerald Vizenor. The mass slaughter of the bison not only brought Plains nations into submission to the US settler-colonial state but the physical elimination of Native presence (both human and other-than-human) worked to legitimize westward territorial expansion. Not even bones remained as the literal sign of prior occupation; settler pioneers, following the hunters and skinners, collected bison bones to sell for industrial purposes such as the production of bone china in the Potteries of Staffordshire and elsewhere. This presentation contextualizes the intersectionality of Paul Seesequasis' poem via the human-animal discourses of films such as Dances with Wolves (1990) and Avatar (2009), and the video game Red Dead Redemption (2010), to uncover the speciesist "human exceptionalism” that grounds the ideology of Manifest Destiny, the ongoing processes of settler colonization, and the commercial interests it continues to serve.
Deborah Madsen, “Carnophallogocentrism and Vegan Narration: From Emotional to Moral Deixis in Alice Walker's 'Am I Blue?' ” Paper presented at the SANAS (Swiss Association for North American Studies) conference, University of Fribourg, November 2022. PDF
Alice Walker's very short autobiographical narrative “Am I Blue?” (1986) creates a parallel between the historic enslavement of people and the contemporary enslavement of animals by exploring the discursive mechanics by which subjectivity is denied. The norm for full subject status, against which the narrative stages its critique, is described by Jacques Derrida's concept of carnophallogocentrism according to which full subjectivity is continually and performatively created by the act of consumption: paradigmatically, the consumption of meat. Indeed, in Walker's story the narrator's final words describe spitting out a mouthful of steak which, in her mouth that was earlier full of “talk of freedom and justice,” is transformed into “eating misery.” How the narration orients the implied reader so that the normativity of carnism is judged negatively as being identical with the historic normalization of chattel slavery, in contrast to the narrative's seeming endorsement of a vegan paradigm of freedom and justice, is the question I investigate through the functions of narrative deixis. Alice Walker's short narrative creates two scales of moral values, and two sets of judgment by using a lexicon of emotional and moral deictic expressions, which orients the reader in relation to the apparent vegan values of the narrator's discourse and the carnophallogocentric story world.
Deborah Madsen, “Ethical Veganism and Intersectional Justice at Bronson Alcott's Fruitlands (1843-1844).” Paper presented at the BAAS (British Association for American Studies) conference, University of Hull, April 2022. PDF
Bronson Alcott's Fruitlands, the short-lived Transcendentalist New England community, practiced a utopian lifeway that was organized around the principles of self-sufficiency and the avoidance of exploitation – with the consumption of animals as the central paradigm. This presentation highlights the intersectional relations that Alcott explores among social justice issues such as food, animal rights, women's rights, dress reform, environmentalism, socialism, and the abolition of slavery. At Fruitlands, no animal products were consumed; sugar and cotton were not used due to their connection with slave labor; leather and wool were rejected because of their animal origin; animal labor and even animal manure were rejected; no hired labor was used, the notion of personal property was rejected, and economic trade was replaced with a subsistence lifestyle. The utopian community failed, due largely to the difficulties of growing enough food amid the extremities of the New England winter, and the Fruitlands experiment was gently satirized by Alcott's daughter, Louisa May, in “Transcendental Wild Oats” (1873). It is ironic that the fame of Louisa May Alcott continues to eclipse that of her father because, while the strong female characters of her novels spoke clearly to a Second Wave feminist agenda, it is his concern with social justice and the intersectionality of systems of oppression that lends Bronson Alcott's philosophical theorizing – in his Journals, The Doctrine and Discipline of Human Culture (1836), Concord Days (1872), and his short writings – a powerful relevance to contemporary social justice movements.
Deborah Madsen, “Eco-feminism: Deconstructing the Intersectional Dominations of Carnophallogocentrism.” Lecture presented as part of the course in Gender Studies (Etudes genre) at the University of Geneva, Autumn 2021.
This lecture begins with a review of the components of eco-feminist theory, to highlight the primary differences – and conflicts – among a range of approaches to women and nature, before elaborating these differences in relation to Carol Adams's work with the concept of carnophallogocentrism. The prefix “carn” (flesh), added by Jacques Derrida to his concept of phallogocentrism, which refers to the organizing function of masculinity (symbolized by the phallus) in the construction of discursive meaning (logos), stresses the sacrificial consumption of the other-than-human, animal or woman, to which Carol Adams gestures in the title of her book Neither Man Nor Beast (1994). The second part of the lecture is devoted to the analysis of specific advertising images using Adams's method.
Deborah Madsen, “Human Exceptionalism: Vizenor's Autogrammatological Critique of Ecologocentrism.” Ecology and Life Writing. Ed. Alfred Hornung & Z. Baisheng. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2013. 123-142.
Gerald Vizenor's life-writing engages the consequences of “monotheism”: a western ethnocentric network of ontological distinctions that promote the ideology of “human exceptionalism,” based on categorical difference between humans and non-human “Nature” and a regime of human rights over nature. However, in Vizenor's work “we” is a pronoun that is not restricted to humans but performs the work of ontological transformation. In the pronoun “me,” Vizenor writes, “the narrator becomes the animal” (Fugitive Poses 142). In “the metaphors of bears, cranes, wolves,” he continues, are to be found the traces of the pronouns “me” and “you.” The interconnectivity of all life forms is central to Vizenor's work; here, I focus upon human-animal relationships to explore Vizenor's critique of human-centered narratives of nature, the tension he develops between settler-colonial and tribal epistemologies, and his deconstructive “autogrammatological” writing of the self: his writing against both the ideology of human exceptionalism and also the epistemology of what Timothy Morton calls “ecologocentrism.”
Last updated on April 19th, 2023
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