Interrogating “Feeling Politics”: Animal and Vegetal Empathy in Han Kang’s The Vegetarian

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Drawing on Han Kang’s novel The Vegetarian, this article responds to the polarisation in current critical responses to empathy, which is framed either as key to intersubjective understanding and social cohesion, or as distracting and narcissistic. Examining the vegetal metamorphosis of the novel’s protagonist Yeong-hye, the article argues two things: first, that the text’s exploration of animality facilitates an evaluation of intra- and inter-species relationships which leads to a more nuanced account of empathy within a broader context of “feeling politics” (Berlant 2002, 111); and secondly, that an irresolvable tension between animality and vegetality persists throughout the novel, which tempers the claim (both within and beyond the text) that we can redeem our humanimality through an escape into vegetal subjectivity.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCritique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction
Early online date4 Apr 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Apr 2023

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