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The Embodied Politics of Justice in Han Kang’s ‘The Vegetarian’: The Laws of Carnivore Domination and the Fulfillment of Desire as Plant Life

Conference contribution
Authors Matilda Arvidsson
Published in Critical Legal Conference book, Warwick 1-3 September 2017
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Law
Language en
Subject categories Specific Literatures, Ethics, Law


In her widely acclaimed novel ‘The Vegetarian’ Han Kang introduces us to a protagonist who overnight transforms her carnivourous life into a vegan one. The awaking from a dream in which she experience a bloodbath of meat and meat eating moves her over the course of the novel’s narrative from, in the first part, turning vegan to, in the second part of the novel, experience erotic desire and consummation as part of a conflated animal/plant life and finally, in the third part of the novel, to experience photosynthesis embodied as life fulfilled and the death from animal and carnivourous life. This paper takes Kang’s novel as its starting point and asks about the laws of human animality – of carnivore, inter- and intraspecies masculine domination (Gaard 2017) – and what it implies to leave a carnivourous life behind as a human animal (Adams, 2015). While veganism is commonly understood as a dietary choice – often a part of a ‘green turn’ for the Western urban hipster – Kang’s novel reveals the multi-facetted layers of a non-carnivore life as questioning masculine, interspecies forms of domination. What we eat – the veganism in Kang’s novel – becomes an ontological question, one of self-metamorphosis (Stanescu 2012, 39). Kang emphasizes veganism as a reminder of our (in)ability of deciding over our own bodies and lives – in particular our female bodies and female lives. While resisting the laws of carnivore domination by transforming one’s life through veganism (implying not only dietary rules, but also a commitment to the eradication of domination both intra- and interspecies) may be translated into an embodied politics of justice, how are we to conceive of our own animality as other-than-plant life?

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