Abandon Every Hope: Essays for the dead
Upswell, $29.99 pb, 165 pp
There is a slaughterhouse-like logic to the way humanity’s mistreatment of animals tends to be written about. Repetitive. Relentless. Atrocity piles upon atrocity, with no hope of remedy. Readers, probably appalled by the abattoir to begin with, likely vegetarians or vegans or animal fosterers, discomfort themselves yet again in the name of … what exactly? Duty? Academic interest? A renewed sense of the righteousness of animal liberation? We read on grimly, plumbing the depths of a despair that would feel commonplace if it didn’t remain, always, so excruciatingly raw.
Abandon Every Hope, the first book by Hayley Singer (no relation to Peter, doyen of animal rights in this country), is a short, experimental collection of fragmentary essays. It both deploys well-worn tropes of slaughterhouse literature and attempts to nudge the form forwards or, perhaps more accurately, sideways. Ellipses and caesuras dot the mostly brief paragraphs, bespeaking the absences that define Singer’s subject.
Primarily, Abandon Every Hope is a book concerned with the idea of disappearance, how the plight of animals raised for human consumption is elided by obfuscation and euphemism (while reading, I was periodically reminded of David Brooks’s writings on how language shapes and distorts animal–human relations). It is a sort of thanatological diary, an accounting of the unaccounted for – a lament for the unlamented.
‘That was my first experience of disappearance,’ Singer writes about when her grandmother would feed her corned tongue sandwiches, ‘old-world Jewish comfort food’, about which she felt not revulsion but curiosity. ‘It had,’ she reflects, ‘been neatened’, utterly divorced from its origins, a process Singer describes as ‘banal magic’.