The Erotics of Slaughterhouses: An Interview with Claire Donato

Claire Donato, from Material Studies (2016): human hair, vegan candles, orange flowers, dried catnip, matchstick, water, ink on paper

If I were to glue The Second Body to any part of my reader’s body—inside, outside, or imaginary—which part would you recommend?

Glue The Second Body to your reader-body’s thoracic spine, which protects the heart (joy) and the lungs (grief). I cannot guarantee safekeeping.

I opened up your book once to the start of its fourth section and misread the roman numeral IV as the abbreviation IV.

This is prophetic, as I have been recently channeling my melancholy into an assortment of emotional IVs, e.g. cleaning and plants. Also: what if our ages were represented using Roman numerals? On September 12, 2016, I turned XXX.

What is the “second arrow” and how does it relate or irrelate to the couple-form?

The second arrow is a Buddhist concept that refers to the ways we react to perceived emotions. Imagine I say something, e.g., “I don’t want to be your emotional IV.” Here, I shoot the first arrow. You cannot control it. When you react to this arrow—when you superimpose suffering (whether that suffering be a form of attachment, blame, criticism, or any other form of the mind’s incessant looping) atop it—you shoot the second arrow. This second arrow is optional. So says the Book on Zen (here, I’m not referring to any specific book; this is a general term I like to use), which also says there are ways to cultivate non-reactive responses in lieu of the superimposed mental detritus that leads to more suffering. The Book on Zen says we should sit with these first arrows, and with our discomfort. As a person who suffers from yearning and attachment, I am not excellent at this kind of sitting-with.

Now I am thinking about how people with romantic feelings for one another throw first and second arrows at each other. Aren’t relationship self-help books about avoiding this? I am thinking about aggression, passive-aggression, obfuscation, evasion, cruelty. Judging one’s own love feelings instead of feeling the feelings → a lack of clarity. And so too am I thinking of the couple-form as a second arrow in and of itself, wherein the couple—the second arrow, a form of clinging—is superimposed atop a first arrow: the pleasure of two people being together, which is of course a form of suffering.

When placed in sequence with your first book, Burial, the motif of this second body of work suggests reincarnation. If there was a dialogue between the two, what might it sound like to an ear pressed to the garburator?

The Second Body is a corpse and therefore cannot speak. Come back from the dead, Burial says. Still, The Second Body does not speak.

Is it an oversimplification to say that poetry, or language in general, is medication, or like what?

Language increases my dopamine release—so in a way, it’s a drug, a medication, a temporary relief akin to self-injury. The page is my second skin; the text is an incision. At first, the incision is painful. Then I feel better. Then I feel worse. This feedback loop often forms a dramatic circle. Maybe this feeling of my writing looping is the superimposition of a second arrow? I stopped regularly consuming alcohol, and my mind feels clearer, less inclined toward masochistic loops. I think what I am trying to say is that, as of late, I am most interested in writing from a space akin to my namesake (Claire = clear). I no longer want my relationship to language to be something that merely (and temporarily) suppresses something else.

This may be unrelated, but lately I’ve also been thinking that writing is an insincere medium. Yet I can’t think of an alternative to it! And it feels like the moment I make this statement (writing is an insincere medium), it is no longer truthful (because it has been written). In response to this thought, I have been making these videos.

One of the two epigraphs at the start of the book come from Gins and Arakawa. How does there work on Reversible Destiny inform your inks/skin?

Arakawa and Gins believed in reversible destiny, or what they referred to as architecture against death. “We have decided not to die,” they said. “We can probably change the concept or commonsense of death because it’s regarded as a destiny already decided which we never can change” (←this is Arakawa speaking). Maybe I’m architecturally rendering writing in lieu of dying, even if writing is a form of death. Maybe regarding writing as a form of death is a way to change the commonsense of death! Maybe writing (my, others’) functions as a space where people can go to not-die—to ask questions, to be reminded they are alive.

Your currently electron-flowing poems called “Materials Studies” as videos of the interactions of real objects and words and things. Are there any thematic or spiritual or protoplasmic continuities between The Second Body and these newnesses?

The Second Body is gagged, and Material Studies makes me gag. I desire both forms of gagging.

Both The Second Body and Material Studies are concerned with violence against non-human animals, and how this violence is entangled with violence against human animals.

Both projects are engaged with the architecture and erotics of slaughterhouses.

Both projects rely on dark magic.

Both projects think through the phrase vegan poetics.

The Second Body employs political ethnographer Timothy Pachirat’s Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight as a source.

Material Studies are also influenced by this book, and by Pratt Institute B. Arch students.

All of the materials in the videos are plant-based.

Last summer, Melissa Buzzeo told me smear raspberries on my conceptual boulders.

This was during a palm reading!

According to WikiHow, you can define love in 15 steps (with pictures).

Today on the treadmill, I thought about smearing blueberry jam on my lips.

Material Studies = a form of alchemy.

Or, as I recently typed into the social network where users send and to read messages up to 140 characters long:


Claire Donato ( writes across genres and is the author of Burial (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2013), a not-novel novel, and The Second Body (Poor Claudia, 2016), a collection of poems. Recent work has been published or is forthcoming in Encyclopedia L-Z, BOAAT, BOMB, Fanzine, and Ninth Letter. Currently, she is working on a collection of interconnected short stories about love, death, vegetarian cooking and the cloud called Gravity and Grace, The Chicken and the Egg, or: How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, along with an accompanying series of vegan new media (in)edible language sculptures called Material Studies. She is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Architecture & BFA Writing Programs at Pratt Institute and a 2016-17 Digital Studies Fellow at Rutgers University, where she researches, creates, and teaches digital language art.


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