Interview with Carol J. Adams

Today’s post is a bit of a change for our regular blog content, although not our journal.  You likely already know that the minnesota review features both creative and critical writing, but you may not have known that we often feature interviews with leading scholars.

Today, we’re featuring part of an interview that Heather Steffen conducted with Carol J. Adams for the journal’s “Feral Issue” (Fall 2009/Spring 2010, # 73/74). The full interview, which explores the evolution of her work, is available at the link above. (Note: You will need an individual or institutional subscription to access back issues of the journal.)

Heather Steffen: You’re most well known for The Sexual Politics of Meat book and slideshow. The book came out in 1990, and you’ve been doing the slideshow since 1996. How did you come to the project in the first place?

Carol J. Adams: Its roots go back to 1974. As a feminist I already had this critically-aware consciousness, and once I became a vegetarian it was like these two tracks suddenly converged, because I was seeing feminism and vegetarianism overlapping everywhere, historically and in literature and in antiwar activism. I was involved in one of the first shelters for homeless women in Boston, and so many of the activists were vegetarian. In the Boston-Cambridge community at that time there were socialist vegetarians, antiwar vegetarians, radical feminist vegetarians, goddess vegetarians, spirituality vegetarians. I’ve always likened it to being in Paris in the twenties—for a feminist, being in Cambridge during this time was just so supportive and revolutionary in terms of thought. Within two months of arriving and becoming a vegetarian I had this realization that there was a connection between feminism and vegetarianism, and everybody supported me and gave me ideas and references.

After I wrote “The Sexual Politics of Meat” as a paper for a class on feminist ethics taught by Mary Daly, I sent it off to Amazon Quarterly, which was a great radical feminist-lesbian quarterly, and the editors put it in the collection of articles that they published as The Lesbian Reader in 1975. Then I tried to figure out how to do it as a book. But at first all I could do was say, “Male dominance is being expressed in these ways, and look at these connections,” but I don’t think I had a critical theory. Having been a reader of theory and literary criticism and political tracts, I knew I only had one chance to make the argument, so I wanted to do it right. I kept feeling I was not done. So in 1977, I stopped working on it as a book. I was an activist for about twelve years, and I kept reading and collecting things. We were very involved in antiracist work in upstate New York, and this sent me to reading memoirs of the Civil Rights Movement. We started a hotline for battered women, and reading domestic violence stories made me recognize the connection between batterers killing animals and threatening their partners. I collected it all and kept running it through my mind, and revising my ideas. Then in 1987, I read Bearing the Word, where Margaret Homans introduces the concept of the absent referent. I read it as we drove through Arkansas when we moved from upstate New York to Dallas. I put the book down and thought, “That’s what animals are.” I must have worked on this idea in my sleep too, because the next morning I woke up and thought, “That’s what women are too. That’s what the connection is: women and animals are interchangeable absent referents.” Then the book just wrote itself—after false starts and six different drafts. It took sixteen years and, in 1989, when I finished I thought, “I can write about something else now.”

I don’t think the book was out two weeks before I started getting things in the mail.

For more of this interview with Carol J. Adams, visit the minnesota review online at Duke University Press.

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