What happens if for one week we test out the proposition that "there is no limit to the extent to which we can think ourselves into the being of another"? What if we go one step further and take as our guiding hypothesis for the week that "There are no bounds to the sympathetic imagination" (Coetzee 35)? Like Coetzee and his character Elizabeth Costello, I'm not making any programmatic prescriptions or proscriptions, dietary or otherwise––though if we take Costello seriously then eating other animals who are quietly and constantly tortured in production facilities, fattening feedlots, and abattoirs across the country becomes a criminal act (as does our tacit daily acceptance that these prison and death farms operate at all). Coetzee makes sure to tell us though that Costello herself wears leather. Costello divulges the suffering provenance of her shoes and purse to one of the professors at the dinner, seemingly rejecting his attempt to praise the purity of her moral convictions. What's important here, I think, is that we are all complicit––and that a "pure" position (whatever that would be) is likely impossible––and at least in this text quite beside the point.
As often as you can remember––and keep reminding yourself––whatever you're doing and whomever you are doing it with, challenge your sympathetic imagination to think yourself into the beings around you, specifically into the lives of nonhuman animals. Please post reflections of your experiences as the week goes by, including further discussion of Coetzee's text or any of the responses, a revelation, an anecdote, a question, a difficulty, a conversation with friends, descriptions of people around you, research or links about production facilities and the lives of others animals––whatever you do, eat or don't eat, generally just narrate what happens as you take the Elizabeth Costello Challenge. You might even for a day play at being Elizabeth Costello, wear that mask, think yourself into that character. There are no right answers or posts here––a day in your sympathetic imagination will be different from a day in mine––and that's, I hope, what will make this interactive, worthwhile, and fun.