Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Return of the Pig?

by KARL STEEL

I'm told that I've been away for too long. What brought me back, today, and I hope again and again, is a dispensation sealed with a promise. Various people, bless their hearts, wanted to bi- or even tri-localize at SEMA Saturday morning, and I convinced them to leave my panel alone by promising to load down the blog with my conference paper. ITM wouldn't suffer too much, after all, since chunks of what I gave at SEMA I've done in some version before.

But, my friends, by missing my paper, you also missed a very alimentary journey from eating to digestion to excretion to more excretion (yes, twice, for what is shit but excess?): Fabienne Michelet on the OE Andreas, a favorite poem around these parts; Michael Johnson, on a chain of shitty asses in Provençal lyric; and Susan Morrison, Charlotte Allen's bête noire, who, in granting us a glimpse of her fecopoetics, refused play the hoarder (a favorite piece from her paper: the 15th-century travel guide that describes the habitus of the committed shipboard shitter in a bit too much detail: remember how the reluctance to pray is overcome by habitual kneeling? How habitual kneeling itself makes prayer sincere? Now imagine unbuckling your cloak, 3 times a day, to trick your Jerusalem-bound bowels into sliding past their ironic refusal to engage).

Away from St. Louis, having given your Saturday morning to other pleasures, weep for your loss, charissimi, if you can, but not so hard you can't track what follows. Pour yourself a cup of tea, put up your fuzzy slippers, and read on.

The earthly material out of which men’s mortal bodies are created never perishes; but though it may crumble into dust and ashes, or be dissolved into vapors and exhalations, though it may be transformed into the substance of other bodies, or dispersed into the elements, though it should become food for beasts or men, and be changed into their flesh, it returns in a moment of time to that human soul which animated it at the first, and which caused it to become man, and to live and grow.
This argument for the persistence and return of the human body, taken from Augustine's Enchiridion, might have been drawn from any medieval explanation of Christian resurrection doctrine. The doctrine was well suited for alleviating concerns over catastrophic change and the total disappearance of the body. Shipwrecks and anthropophagous animals, deaths in the arena or at the stake, putrefaction, dessication, and dispersal: none of this actually destroyed the body. There could be nothing simpler than coping with catastrophic destruction, but life itself proved an almost insoluble problem. During their life, humans grew, and eating, digestion, and assimilation—apparently—caused this growth. Life means change. If the human body changed as a result of things it consumed, what could be identified as the original body? What if the inhuman substance of food supplanted rather than merely supplemented the resurrectable human body? What if, as Peter Lombard wondered (see Bynum Resurrection 124), eating and digestion gradually transformed human bodies into bread or roast pig? What of the human would remain?

Peter Lombard's anxiety about bread is unusual. Typically, resurrection doctrine focused on the problem of meat. Another twelfth-century theologian, Master Martin, offered the argument that the
meats of animals and fish that are fit for the table of humans turn into the flesh of the eater. All the flesh of humans will resurrect, therefore the flesh of these animals, having been made human, will resurrect. Also, the flesh of humans crosses over into the flesh of a wolf [that has eaten humans] and thus the flesh of the wolf will resurrect since the flesh of humans, which has crossed over into the wolf, will resurrect.
Similarly, Gilbert of Poitiers argued that if what humans ate turns into human flesh, then “pig flesh would resurrect”; and an anonymous twelfth-century Summa wondered whether “man, in eating beast flesh, turns it into his own flesh and that conversely a beast eating human flesh turns it into its own flesh, and thus the flesh of a beast having been converted into human flesh or having been made human will resurrect” (see Richard Heinzmann, Die Unsterblichkeit der Seele und die Auferstehung des Leibes 211). These questions all implied the possibility of a paradise thronged with human-animal hybrids. In a sense this was a best case scenario, as the “chain consumption” problem suggested that some unfortunate humans might not be able to resurrect at all. In a typical chain consumption scenario—such as that found in Julian of Toledo's seventh-century Prognosticon or its thirteenth-century Anglo-Norman translation—a wolf kills and eats a man, and then a lion kills and eats the wolf, and then dies shortly afterwards. I'll quote from the translation: “The carcass lay on the ground and entirely rotted and turned to earth: where could the man be found in here? Know, indeed, that I do not believe at all that this man could be recuperated from death into life, because the earth that was the man cannot be divided from that which became the beasts'!”

Resurrection doctrine focused particularly on animal flesh because of the essential role played by the resurrection in distinguishing human from merely animal life. The Christian tradition almost universally asserted that the afterlife would be without plants and animals. Irenaeus's Against Heresies argues that immortal, resurrected humans would spend eternity with animals—including straw-eating, vegetarian lions; there is also the common medieval story about Judas's rooster [e.g., Cursor Mundi, Horrall ed., III.15985-93], which springs back to life to mock Judas's declaration that Jesus could no more resurrect than the rooster in his pot; but, to the best of my knowledge, Irenaeus's conception of heaven as an exact restoration of the Edenic paradise did not take root in medieval Christianity, and Judas's rooster, after all, was presumably resurrected only to end its existence, once again, in the soup. The main literary tradition on the resurrection, The Fifteen Signs of the Last Judgment, shows humans entering into eternity and animals, if it acknowledges them at all, as only mourning as their complete destruction approaches. Christian scholars generally insisted that the souls of animals did not outlast animal life. And Aquinas explained that since “in that final renewal of the universe...the body will rise not natural but spiritual...animals and plants will...cease to exist then.” Both humans and animals had bodies that were born, that grew and ate, and that underwent pain and putrefaction, but resurrection did away with these resemblances by breaking human life entirely from any shared bodily existence with animals. Furthermore, since humans would resurrect, only animals could really die; humans experienced what might better be called a temporary setback, or a preparatory stage for a more perfect existence. Resurrection would fail as an ultimate guarantee of difference, however, if the doctrinal worries about digestion proved justified. If animals that were eaten by or ate humans could enter into eternal life, if humans might enter eternal life as hybrid human-animals, and if humans eaten by animals might, through digestion, become animal flesh and thus be unable to resurrect, then to quote once more the question from the Dialogue of St. Julian, “where could the man be found in here?” With every bite, the human would gradually meld with the animal and be given over to death.

There is at least one additional complication to the utility of the resurrection for separating humans from animals: the resurrection is the promised, eternal demonstration of the distinction between humans and animals, while the worldly, present-day guarantee of difference is the human subjugation of animals. In a process that Derrida termed carnophallogocentrism, humans establish themselves retroactively, through this subjugation, as uniquely possessing “speech or reason, the logos, history, laughing, mourning, burial, the gift, and so on”: had Derrida extended his analysis to the Christian Middle Ages, his “and so on” would have included the immortal soul. The human consumption of animal flesh is the central act of domination by which animal life is denigrated and human life exalted and thereby created as human life. In this system, no human can be slaughtered and eaten, at least not legitimately, whereas no form of Christianity could deny the legitimacy of eating animals without incurring the suspicion of heresy. A human death might be murder, but an animal death at the most would be only a property crime. With a few notable exceptions, any claim that an animal might possess more than merely instrumental life was self-evidently absurd: this explains, in part, the humor of the Testamentum porcelli and the Stultus Stultorum, and the scorn of the Apostle Paul and Guibert of Nogent for the Deuteronomic verses that call for kindness towards animals.

If the human establishes itself as human by dominating animals, then, in another instance of the key insight of any number of postmodern philosophies, there is no essential human identity; there is only a fundamental conflict. The human is both a structural position and an ongoing event that seeks to produce both the human and the animal by elevating one and denigrating the other. It might be expected that this conflict could end once humans resurrected into an afterlife populated only by God, angels—or demons—and by other humans, where humans will have assumed their perfected bodies, freed from all flux. By passing through death, humans finally realize their distinction from nonhuman earthly life, and, in an afterlife lacking any lifeforms that can be dominated, they should be freed from the necessity of conflict. This peaceful end might be understood as the point when the human at long last comes into its own. But if the meat-eating by which the human struggles to be human contaminates the human body, if the pork we eat resurrects with us, then that struggle will be marked on the human body for eternity. Rather than finally arriving at an identity, the human will permanently display a corporeal reminder of its systemic antagonism; rather than transcending flux, flux would be fixed in the human forever. The truth of human nature—its contingency, its inessential relationality—will be irrepressible.

Christian thinkers countered this truth of human nature by proposing another truth. Only what belonged to what they called the veritas humanae naturae, “the truth of our human nature” would resurrect. In effect, this clarification set aside a portion of the human body as essentially human, rendering the rest of the body a kind of inhuman supplement unfit for resurrection, associated rather than joined with the truth of body. Philip Lydon Reynolds's Food and the Body: Some Peculiar Questions in High Medieval Theology tracks the doctrinal debates over whether food could contribute to the truth of human nature. Theologians like Peter Lombard and Master Martin answered no. Proof texts for this position included God's creation of Eve from Adam's rib, the feeding of the 5,000 from the 5 loaves, the resurrection of infants into adult bodies, and Matthew 15:17, “Do you not understand, that whatsoever entereth into the mouth, goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the privy?” Thus, the human would be preserved from its own eating; pig flesh, as Gilbert of Poitiers wrote, would not resurrect ["Die Sententie Magistri Gisleberti Pictavensis Episcopi (II). Die Version der Florentiner Handschrift." Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen âge (AHDLMA) 46 (1979): 45-105]. While this solution required that human growth take place miraculously rather than naturally, while it cut off the human from any alimentary interaction with the world, it had the advantage of simplicity on other points: nothing essential in the human body was subject to change.

Later theologians promoted a naturalistic explanation for human growth. The aforementioned anonymous twelfth-century Summa, which, after wondering whether animals might resurrect, provides several options, the first two miraculous, and the latter at least tending towards a naturalistic explanation of growth:
Neither human flesh turns into that of a wild beast or the other way around, but...one nourishes the other and makes it grow . . . Or, if it is allowed that one is converted into another, it is not however converted into the truth of human nature or the other way around. Or, however, if they are converted the Lord will know one from another and in the resurrection will separate them.
Another anonymous treatise, De novissimus, argues that pork eaten by people
is not pork but is transformed into human substance to be resurrected, and so will not be unsuitable, just as the mud of the earth is not simply mud, but, having been transfigured into the human form, will arise with Adam. [Edited in Odon Lottin, Psychologie et morale aux XIIe et XIIIe siècles, 6 vols. (Louvain,: Abbaye du Mont César, 1942), Vol. V, 396.]
Chain consumption arguments, like that in the Prognosticon, always ended by asserting that God would sort things out. The Elucidarium explains:
What was the flesh of the man will resurrect; what is of beasts will stay behind. For He knows well how to separate these, who knew how to make everything from nothing. Therefore, whether they are devoured limb by limb by beasts or by fishes or by birds, all will be reformed in the resurrection so much so that not one of their hairs will perish.
Finally, Aquinas, like De novissimus, asserts that “although that part of matter which at one time was under the form of bovine flesh rises again in man under the form of human flesh, it does not follow that the flesh of an ox rises again, but the flesh of a man: else one might conclude that the clay from which Adam's body was fashioned shall rise again.”

The double argument that food contributed to human growth and that only the human body could resurrect granted humans a monopoly on constructive earthly violence. Animals' own meat-eating could have no long-term effect: animal flesh consumed by other animals might assimilate to the carnivore's body, or it might pass out of its body, but both eater and eaten were destined for the same end to which all nonhuman animals were subject. Human flesh consumed by animals might become part of their bodies, for a time, but God will separate human from animal flesh for the resurrection, so ordering animals and humans into their own proper destinies.

Barring the cannibal consumption of unensouled fetuses—which I won't get into today—the violence of the human consumption of animals is the only violence that might transform flesh into a substance fit for the Eternal City. No pig or cow could become immortal, but by suffering the violence of humans, either might contribute to an immortal substance. What could be put to use would be, and the rest would be discarded. The life of an animal was only a means, never an end.

Yet even while belittling animals, theologians nonetheless commemorated animal life and death, as the peculiar attention to meat in these debates itself attests to the value of animal life. It is that moment prior to the final belittlement, the moment the life of the pig enters the theologian's consciousness, the moment prior to the declaration that the pig will not resurrect, the moment before the theologian announces that God cannot think the life of a pig worth preserving, on which I want to linger as I continue to think about these matters.

9 comments:

letty said...

That makes one think: if you are a vegetarian, you might be denying animals an afterlife. Vegetarianism as cruelty to animals :)

Nicola Masciandaro said...

Thank you Karl! Sorry to have missed the live, fleshy version.

I think you may find Jean-Luc Marion's "Mihi magna quaestio factus sum: The Privilege of Unknowing" Journal of Religion 85 (2005):1-24 as a creative counterpoint/interlocutor for your argument.

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

Wow. I blame Eileen for having made me miss the in-the-flesh performance of this piece, since she put a GW grad student up against you. Evil, evil Eileen.

Your paper maps the complicated ratiocinations over animal and human flesh so well that I'm not sure what to ask ... other than about those hybrids, through which animals are enabled to survive death and endure into the afterlife. You write that according to some thinkers "humans might enter eternal life as hybrid human-animals" because the animal flesh they have ingested stays forever part of their substance. Do these thinkers ever speculate on what fleshly form this hybridity would assume? Are we talking about human-appearing bodies that carry within them some invisible remnant of perduring animal substance ... or is there a separateness to this animality, as well as a potential monstrosity?

I like the question with which you close, and look forward to your ruminations on possible answers. I'd identify that as being the most Karl Steel portion of the essay -- meaning, it is in the answer to such a question that you will make your own enduring mark on medieval studies.

Whether that mark will survive into the resurrection I don't know.

Karl Steel said...

Do these thinkers ever speculate on what fleshly form this hybridity would assume?
So far as I know, no. I doubt I've discovered anywhere close to all the instances where resurrection doctrine focuses on the problem of meat, so perhaps someone does, somewhere. I like to imagine, however, that it's NOT invisible. After all, the pork might resurrect. That means not pork, but pigs. Now this either means pigs WITH people in the afterlife, or pigs IN people, i.e., monstrous hybrids. The former, pigs with people, is probably what the scholars meant, but the monstrous hybrids is what I push at in my idea of the systemic conflict of the human being written onto the body for eternity. I'm probably pushing at things a bit too hard, though.

Something else is really grabbing me about this research. It's the veritas humanae naturae problem, which leads to us not being able to know what of our body is its truth. This doctrinal trick, which preserves us from change, loads us down with a stranger in our own bodies and refuses to, or is unable to (I think: I haven't checked into this deeply), identify where that stranger is. How strange is that! How unsettling? Given the corps morcelé reference for SEMA this year, how appropriate!

Anonymous said...

Great piece, Karl. I look forward to reading or hearing more of your thoughts on the issue of animals and resurrection theology. I had a quick citation question. At one you talk about how St. Paul and Guibert of Nogent scorn the Deuteronomic verses that call for kindness towards animals. I've never heard of Guibert of Nogent, but I would like to read what he says about kindness to animals. Can you give me a citation to that? Thanks.

Karl Steel said...

Anon.

Guibert of Nogent was an early 12th-century Benedictine monk known for a crusade history, his apparent suspicion about the cult of relics, and, now, especially, for his strange autobiographical writing. [now I grab material from the diss., all of which will find space in the book the diss is becoming] For more on Guibert, see Jay Rubenstein, Guibert of Nogent: Portrait of a Medieval Mind (New York: Routledge, 2002), which concentrates on the Moralia in Genesin, and Steven F. Kruger, The Spectral Jew: Conversion and Embodiment in Medieval Europe, Medieval Cultures 40 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), 39-60, who focuses on Guibert’s attitude towards Jews and other non-Christians.

So, here's the graph from the diss on these matters:

The standard teaching often went so far as to exonerate humans from any blame for causing animals to suffer. An exegetical tradition beginning as early as Paul argues that verses in Proverbs and the Mosaic law that seem to urge compassion for animals should either be ignored because of their self-evident absurdity or, because of their absurdity, be interpreted as moral precepts benefiting only humans. Paul cites the Mosaic law against muzzling oxen while they tread corn (Deuteronomy 25:4) and adds incredulously, “Doth God take care for oxen?” (1 Corinthians 9:9). Of course Paul answers no, but he still honors the law by converting it into a maxim for the human community: “Or doth he say this indeed for our sakes? For these things are written for our sakes: that he that plougheth, should plough in hope; and he that thrasheth, in hope to receive fruit” (1 Corinthians 9:10). In his anti-Jewish treatise, Guibert of Nogent appropriates, to a degree, this Pauline mode when he examines Deuteronomy 22:6-7:

If thou find as thou walkest by the way, a bird’s nest in a tree, or on the ground, and the dam sitting upon the young or upon the eggs: thou shalt not take her with her young: But shalt let her go, keeping the young which thou hast caught: that it may be well with thee, and thou mayst live a long time.

Regardless of this law’s original purpose—perhaps for game management or ritual purity—and even despite what it might have meant to exegetes among the Jewish communities Guibert himself encountered, Guibert interprets the verse as concerned with solicitude for animals. His purpose in constraining the verse in this manner is to make it easy to refute in a work that aims at refuting, or rather, taunting, Jews and Judaism. This ease derives, first, from Guibert’s bluntly literal interpretation, which in fact exemplifies the ham-fisted interpretative modes that Christian polemicists impute to Judaism; and second, from the sympathy for animals Guibert finds in the verse, a quality whose self-evident mawkishness makes for effortless contempt against the Jews, whom Guibert claims embrace it. Having set up the easiest of targets, Guibert trumps his own exegesis by citing God’s granting of flesh to Noah (Genesis 9:2-4) and then by adding, “Ut modo bene nobis et longam vitam spondeat, si manus nostra pullorum matribus parcat?” (Tractatus de incarnatione contra Iudeos III.8, PL 156: 524B; in what way could He promise us long life if He spared mother hens from our hands?). Although Guibert follows Paul in scorning any implication that God could care for animals, he parts from the Pauline technique by dismissing the Deuteronomic text out of hand, refusing even to preserve it in a symbolic moral register. By countering it with a Genesiac law predating the Mosaic code, Guibert goes still further by implying that the Mosaic injunction—at least in the constrained interpretation Guibert gives it—never had any validity. Previously in the same treatise, Guibert had jeered at Jews for avoiding pork (Tractatus III.8, PL 156: 523D-524A); here he mocks them for avoiding the flesh of mother birds, so characterizing, in each instance, human/animal relationships as a zero-sum game in which any sparing of animal life would inevitably result in the deterioration of human existence.

Karl Steel said...

Nicola, thanks very much for the Marion suggestion. Just read it. I'm hesitant about it on a number of points that you could have predicted: his linking of the infinite to God, first of all, since I think that continuing to use the God-concept, even if only a kind of placeholder for the infinite, tethers us to theology and its many many problems; and thus Marion's inability to conceive of an apophatic atheism just annoys: I realize he's a professor of theology, but, whatevs! what of a skeptical atheism, like mine, that refuses to believe that all can be offered to knowledge without remainder? what of an atheism, like mine, that is secular only if the saeculum is thought to be infinite, never given to us without remainder?; finally, the way he just shies away from considering the question of the animal, which is, for him as much for any traditionalist, the perfect example of the reified thought object.

With all those caveats, I love what Marion does here, and can't help but hear Levinas in it, which means I think Marion can be rescued from his crypto-humanism as readily as Levinas can be rescued from his.

""A frightening consequence thus imposes itself: to claim to define what a man is leads to or at least opens the possibility of leading to the elimination of that which does not correspond to this definition. Every political proscription, every racial extermination, every ethnic cleansing, every determination of that which does not merit life--all of these rest upon a claim to define (scientifically or ideologically) the humanity of man; without this claimed guarantee, no one could put such political programs into motion. Even the worst of modern tyrants needs reasons and concepts. Here we find a new experientia crucis : in order to kill a human being, it is necessary to have the permission to kill. But in order to have that, it is first necessary to be able to deny to such and such a human being (the well-named "So and So") his or her face and thus his or her humanity; and one gets there by defining and comprehending humanity through concepts, by fixing its limits and, in this way, discovering the one who cannot claim humanity, and thus can or ought to die. Here a metaphysical proposition in appearance perfectly neutral takes on the aspect of a silent threat: every determination is a negation, or more exactly (because in the event the issue is extension alone), "figura non aliud quam determinatio, et determinatio negatio est" ("figure is nothing but limitation, and limitation is negation"). Determining amounts to denying (and not the inverse, for if determination is sufficient for denial, a negation does not always suffice to determine). Determining the humanity of man thus amounts to making an end of him.

Moreover, this experientia crucis can be confirmed by inverting it: I can only love (the contrary of killing) another that, precisely, I do not know, at least in the sense of being able to comprehend him or her as an object and define him or her by a concept. I can only love him who remains for me without definition, and only for as long as he thus remains, which is to say as long as I will not have finished with him."

Nicola Masciandaro said...

Karl, thanks for the quick digestion of Marion, on the limitations of which I completely agree.

As usual, my first response on reading it was why doesn't this --

"The weakness of humanism’s claim consists in dogmatically imagining
not only that man can hold himself up as his own measure and end
(so that man is enough for man), but above all that he can do this
because he comprehends what man is, when on the contrary nothing
threatens man more than any such alleged comprehension of his humanity. For every de-finition imposes on the human being a finite essence, following from which it always becomes possible to delimit what deserves to remain human from what no longer does."--

lead to recognition of *every/all being* as occupying the "privilege" of unknowing, not necessarily as mental state (talking to oneself about being a question) but as a structure of the movement of being itself in direction of Derrida's "It is, in some way, a structural non-knowing, which is heterogeneous, foreign to knowledge. It's not just the unknown that could be known and that I give up trying to know. It is something in relation to which knowledge is out of the question."? I.e. new ontology of the question embracing the whole "chain" of being?

Want to read: Skrbina's Panpsychism in the West.

Karl Steel said...

Skrbina looks really cool, NM.

And, yeah, I like your approach to Marion matters in your comment. I've been thinking a bit more about Marion's divergence from what I understand about Levinas. Levinas is concerned with what happens in external relations (although given that we're talking a kind of ethical phenomenology, the relationship with the other is not a WHOLLY external relation), whereas Marion--perhaps influenced by psychoanalysis?--also thinks about the problem of the self as other to the I. What becomes fascinating, then, is that the preserved mystery of the I/me relation becomes a way to think ethics in the I/you field. Exciting stuff!