Tuesday, February 27, 2007

101 Uses for a Dead Dog

A while back, I discussed a case of necrobestiality. The hope for exoneration of a fellow caught in flagrante delicto with a deer's carcass hinged on the definition of an animal: was a carcass still an animal? When does a carcass cease to be an animal? What if it's dismembered?

One time is a surprise; twice is a pattern; three times, if we should get there, suggests a zeitgeist and will demand an article. We're at two now:
Bay County Circuit Judge Joseph K. Sheeran ruled Friday that even though Michigan law does not explicitly define sex with a dead dog as a crime, charges against a Saginaw man [Ronald E. Kuch, 45] will stand....

[DA Katheryn] Fehrman asked Sheeran to overrule District Judge Craig D. Alston, who found probable cause that a crime had been committed and that Kuch was the perpetrator.

But Sheeran said Fehrman's interpretation of the sodomy law, which outlaws ''crimes against nature'' and bestiality as well, was off base. He said she ''attempts to use textualization to read the meaning out of the statute and argue that morality has no place in the law.''

Fehrman had said in previous written and oral arguments that a dead dog is not an animal and therefore cannot be violated against its will.

Sheeran said the purpose of the sodomy law is not to protect a specific victim, necessarily, but ''to prevent people from debasing and dehumanizing themselves.'' Such laws also protect society, Sheeran said, and ''prevents people from acting like animals themselves.''

Sheeran also upheld the indecent exposure charge. He said it was irrelevant whether the patch of woods where the alleged crime committed was public or private property.

''There was a substantial risk that someone might be offended.''

''If he didn't want to be observed, why did he commit it during the day near a daycare center?'' Sheeran said, saying that Kuch didn't commit the act ''accidentally or inadvertently.''

The definition of an animal for a DA seems to depend on whether or not it has a will that can be violated, which seems to bring the animal in line with the status of a human. In other words, bestiality is, so far as the DA is concerned, a sub-species of rape; either that, or the DA is erasing the line altogether between bestiality and rape. Her interpretation concerns the victim. For the judge, bestiality seems to be more in line with medieval conceptions of it: a loss of human status. His interpretation concerns the perpetrator. Oddly, the judge implies that acting like an animal includes having sex with dead animals. Maybe he has access to ethologies that I don't.

The article practically writes itself. I just need to get hold of the court papers for both cases and hope for a third. No doubt I'd draw in Paul Morrissey's extraordinary film Flesh for Frankenstein (you'll see why I've linked to the quotation page) as well as the (no doubt spurious) reports of necrophilia/anthropophagy of the Fore in New Guinea: the incident I'm remembering I have in my notes, but, believe me, it's far too disgusting to quote here. I wouldn't say no to more suggestions, particularly for bibliography (will I finally have to read a lot of Bataille?).

(image of Lefty Frizzell, who famously sang about a man "ashamed to show his face in Saginaw, Michigan." I am in no way suggesting that Frizzell had anything to do with necrobestiality. Sheesh.)


Michael O'Rourke said...

Hi Karl,

Can I recommend Patricia MacCormack's article "Necrosexuality" which discusses Flesh for Frankenstein: www.rhizomes.net/issue11/maccormack/index.html

There's a great (although anthropocentric) moment at the beginning of Slavoj Zizek, Eric Santner and Kenneth Reinhard's The Neighbor: Three Inquiries in Political Theology which your post reminded me of:

"Is this love of the dead neighbor really just Kierkegaard's theological idiosyncrasy? In some "radical" circles in the United States, there came recently a proposal to "rethink" the rights of necrophiliacs (those who desire to have sex with dead bodies). So the idea was formulated that, in the same way people give permission for their organs to be used for medical purposes in the case of their sudden death, people should also be allowed to grant permission for their bodies to be given to necrophiliacs to play with. Is this proposal not the perfect examplification of how a particular politically correct stance realizes Kierkegaard's insight into how the only good neighbor is a dead neighbor? A dead neighbor-a corpse-is the ideal sexual partner of a "tolerant" subject trying to avoid either harassing or being harassed: by definition, a corpse cannot be harassed; at the same time, a dead body does not enjoy, so the disturbing threat of the partner's excessive enjoyment is also eliminated" (3)

I wonder what effects substituting dead pet(s)/animal(s), good pet/animal, and necrobestiophiliacs in the above quotation might bring about? (If we are in any doubt that it is the voice of Zizek the tellaway phrase is " Is this...not").

Any thoughts. Karl?

Karl Steel said...

Any thoughts. Karl?

None yet.

But, yes, thanks: what a marvelous, fun passage! Not apposite for the Middle Ages--where sex, if it damages, seems to damage the agent rather than the object (at least in moral rather than legal discourses, at least so far as I know)--but the article I'm conceiving (to be written, oh, let's say a year from now), doesn't necessarily have to be medieval.

More to come later? A busy time.

Michael O'Rourke said...

Do the penitentials have anything in them on necrobestial sex?

Karl Steel said...

Do the penitentials have anything in them on necrobestial sex?

Not that I've seen. Bestiality, yes, and eating carrion, yes. But some combination of the two? No.

I don't know of a single recorded case of this from the MA: but then again, I haven't looked (apart from the Penitentials, but that was a carrion hunt). Can't think of any incidences offhand of normative necrophilia either.

Just reading Doris Sommer's article on the political utility of the humanities in the Oct 2006 PMLA. She refers to 'necrophilia' as a 'popular cultural studies topic' (along with the more expected topics of 'violence...consumerism, [and] abuse of human rights'). News to me! And rather stands out! At any rate, I know just where to look (a quick keyword of necrophilia on the MLA DB gets me nearly 50 hits, mostly on Jacobean tragedy and trash cinema).

Michael O'Rourke said...

Yes, I could't recall any instances either but its ten years since i looked at the penitentials. I know Lisa Downing's excellent Desiring the Dead on French literature and readings of Lynn Stopkewich's film Kissed but I wouldn't have thought necrophilia was a hot topic in Cultural studies either!