Reorienting Vulnerability: An Analysis of Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk

Keywords: Vulnerability, Potentiality, Deborah Levy, Giorgio Agamben, Hot Milk


This article seeks to challenge the traditionally negative connotations of the notion of vulnerability. I propose to approach the concept in dialogue with Giorgio Agamben’s idea of potentiality to demonstrate that both potential and vulnerability can be regarded as transforming and empowering characteristics for the subject. I analyse the protagonist of Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk (2016) under this light to show how a subject can use vulnerability as the fulcrum of freedom and agency, particularly in the context of a problematic mother-daughter relationship. I suggest that understanding vulnerability as potentiality allows a reorientation of our conception of the victim or the vulnerable as subjects in potential power.


Download data is not yet available.


Agamben, Giorgio. “On Potentiality.” Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy, edited by Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford UP, 1999, pp. 177–84.

Bajada, Jasmine. Mapping Female Mediterranean: Tracing a Fluid Cartography of the Mediterranean in the Female Literary Imaginary. MA Thesis, University of Malta, 2020, 123456789/67587/.

Bajada, Jasmine. “Mothers, Daughters, and Damaged Legs: Mother-Daughter Relationships in Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan Novels and Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk.” Antae, vol. 7, no. 1, 2020, pp. 12–26.

Balskus, Elizabeth. “Examining Potentiality in the Philosophy of Giorgio Agamben.” Macalester Journal of Philosophy, vol. 19, no. 1, 2010, pp. 158–80.

Bruk, Anna, et al. “Beautiful Mess Effect: Self–Other Differences in Evaluation of Showing Vulnerability.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 115, no. 2, 2018, pp. 192–205, doi:10.1037/pspa0000120.

Butler, Judith. Frames of War: When Is a Life Grievable? Verso, 2009.

Butler, Judith. “Rethinking Vulnerability in Resistance.” Butler, et al., editors, pp. 12–27.

Butler, Judith. Undoing Gender. Routledge, 2004.

Butler, Judith, et al., editors. Vulnerability in Resistance. Duke UP, 2016.
Diski, Jenny. “The Future of Publishing.” The London Review of Books, vol. 34, no. 1, 2012, p. 20.

“Deborah Levy Would Like to Drink with Virginia Woolf.” The New York Times, 12 Dec. 2019, The New York Times, 2019/12/12/books/review/deborah-levy-by-the-book-interview.html/.

Elkin, Lauren, host. “Hot Milk: Deborah Levy and Lauren Elkin.” London Review Bookshop Podcast, 25 June 2020, Acast, londonreviewbookshoppodcasts/hotmilk-deborahlevyandlaurenelkin/.

Flores-Quesada, Magdalena. “The Ethical Encounter as Translation of Otherness in Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk (2016).” Estudios interdisciplinares en traducción literaria y literatura comparada, edited by Giovanni Caprara and Victoria García Alarcón, Comares, 2020, pp. 85–94.

Ganteau, Jean-Michel. The Ethics and Aesthetics of Vulnerability in Contemporary British Fiction. Routledge, 2015.

Ganteau, Jean-Michel, and Susana Onega, editors. Victimhood and Vulnerability in 21st Century Fiction. Routledge, 2017.

Gibson, Lindsay Gail. “My Ghostly Mother: Deborah Levy’s Supple, Uncanny Novel of the Psyche and Soma.” Times Literary Supplement, 20 May 2016,

Gilson, Erinn. The Ethics of Vulnerability: A Feminist Analysis of Social Life and Practice. Routledge, 2014.

Gilson, Erinn. “Vulnerability, Ignorance and Oppression.” Hypatia, vol. 26, no. 2, 2011, pp. 308–32, doi:10.1111/j.1527-2001.2010.01158.x.

Gray, Madeleine. “Making Her Time (and Time Again): Feminist Phenomenology and Form in Recent British and Irish Fiction Written by Women.” Contemporary Women’s Writing, vol. 14, no. 1, 2020, pp. 66–83.

Le Blanc, Guillaume. Que faire de notre vulnérabilité? Bayard, 2011.

Levy, Deborah. Hot Milk. Penguin, 2016.

Levy, Deborah. “The Milky Way.” Subtropics, vol. 25, 2018, pp. 141–42, Project MUSE,
MacIntyre, Alasdair. Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need Virtues. Open Court, 1999.

Onega, Susana, and Jean-Michel Ganteau, editors. Contemporary Trauma Narratives: Liminality and the Ethics of Form. Routledge, 2014.

Onega, Susana, and Jean-Michel Ganteau, editors. Ethics and Trauma in Contemporary British Fiction. Brill, 2011.

Smith, Wendy. “Strangers in a Strange Land: Deborah Levy.” Publishers Weekly, 13 May 2016, profiles/article/70347-strangers-in-a-strange-land-deborah-levy.html/.

Turner, Bryan Stanley. “The Rights of Age: On Human Vulnerability.” Sociology and Human Rights: A Bill of Rights for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Judith Blau and Mark Frezzo, SAGE Publications, 2006, pp. 201–22.

Wagner, Erica. “Hot Milk by Deborah Levy review—powerful novel of interior life.” The Guardian, 27 Mar. 2016, mar/27/hot-milk-deborah-levy-review/.
How to Cite
Flores-Quesada, M. “Reorienting Vulnerability: An Analysis of Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk”. ES Review. Spanish Journal of English Studies, no. 42, Nov. 2021, pp. 105-2, doi:10.24197/ersjes.42.2021.105-125.