Sunday, September 09, 2012

Feeding the Dogs

Images by Saiman ChowSource, without words.
by KARL STEEL

In comments in the post below, Ryan Judkins reminds me that:
during the curee, the dogs were usually fed on the innards of the deer, including the stomach, lungs (if they be hot) and the intestines, after they'd been washed, usually chopped up and all mixed together with blood and bread.
How to Make a Human talks about this too:

Humans’ mastery over their hunting animals is even more apparent in techniques that prevented dogs from killing or freely eating the prey. Dogs were allowed to slow, harry, and corner prey, while humans were meant to deliver the killing blow. Hunting rules required that the field butchery reserve a portion of the prey for the dogs, but they also required that the dogs eat only at their master’s command. In practical terms, the restrictions preserved the bulk of the carcass for the human hunters while ensuring that the dogs received the positive reinforcement of a reward. At the same time, to restrict dogs’ actions in hunting, restrain them from the kill, and permit them to eat only with human permission ensured that neither the dogs’ violence nor their necessity to human hunting might call human mastery into question. The ritual protection of human mastery encompassed even carrion birds, which were left the scraps from the carcass; as the Middle English Tristrem puts it, “þe rauen he 3aue his Ʒiftes, / Sat on þe fourched tre” (to the raven he gave his gifts, and set them on the forked branch; 502–3). The ravens now became beneficiaries of the hunters’ largesse, their appetite appropriated by a ritual that indicates that the control not only of violence but also of meat-eating concerned humans (64-65).
Judkins' forthcoming JEGP article on the royal hunt stresses the community around the breaking of the deer carcass, in which servants and colleagues, whether human or animal, receive their due. More and more, I'm slipping away from my strong paranoid reading of human mastery (see above!) and sliding towards readings like Judkins', which consider affects other than anxiety and cruelty. Love, familiarity, conscientious attention to particular appetites, shared joy: these matter too. 

This isn't something as simple as a switch from negative to positive affect. Things are more complicated. Think of this brief encounter in Temple Grandin's Animals in Translation:
Each boar had his own little perversion the man had to do to get the boar turned on so he could collect the semen. Some of them were just things like the boar wanted to have his dandruff scratched while they were collecting him. (Pigs have big flaky dandruff all over their backs.) The other things the man had to do were a lot more intimate. He might have to hold the boar's penis in exactly the right way. There was one boar, he hold me, who wanted to have his butt hole played with. "I have to stick my finger in his butt, he just really loves that," he told me. Then he got all red in the face (103).

Grandin aptly calls this section "How to Make a Pig Fall in Love." Like all love, things can go awry. Our face might go red, maybe because the pig doesn't love us anymore, or maybe because we're a bit embarrassed. When intimacies that can hardly be named find their way into the public eye, things can be a bit disgusting or embarrassing for the guardians of human exclusivity. For more on love's weirdness, see my post below, and also see Dominic Pettman's Human Error77-101, which discusses the films Zoo and Tierische Liebe (Animal Love) as well as Haraway's dog love in When Species Meet and J. A. Baker's The Peregine to track love's strangeness, how it can entail, don't forget, "monomania, projective narcissism, and so on," a "familiar libidinal economy, involving the kind of struggles around difference and recognition that can lead to passive-aggressive sulking because of perceived miscommunication" (95).

I have this in mind because I've just read Kathy Rudy's Loving Animals: Towards a New Animal Advocacy. Rudy, a dog lover, says that "the task of coming out as gay was a piece of cake compared to coming out as--what?" She observes "there is not an adequate name for the kind of life I lead, the way my desires organize themselves around animals, especially dogs" (35), that "it's not so much that I am no longer a lesbian...it's that the binary of gay and straight no longer has anything to do with me. My preference these days is canine" (41). For more on this kind of love, we might look to "Michael Field" and their love for and through Whym Chow: perhaps start here and here.

Rudy cooks for her dogs. One loves any kind of meat, another needs a lot more food than you'd think to look at her, and another, Duncan, a yellow lab mix, goes nuts for oatmeal and scrambled eggs (when I told my wife, Alison, about this, she cried "he's a breakfast dog!"). Rudy's learned a lot more about her dogs by feeding them; it's another way to "talk" to the dogs, to build affection and knowledge, another way to render "their subjectivity more visible" (184). She's made a better love between them, which is to say, this queer animal lover is making love to them in a new, better way.

Feeding animals, eating with them--as Cuthbert did with his horse, you remember--makes us companions, a word Haraway often uses in When Species Meet. And companionship can be very intimate indeed. The scholar of How to Make a Human would claim that this is just bad faith: after all, look at Chaucer's Prioress, so deeply sad about her dogs and mice, but still happy to feed her dogs roast meat. Charity begins and ends at home, says the old me. The scholar I am now isn't so sure, and Rudy's partially to thank for that. Because becoming companions (or concarnians, as I say in AVMEO) with animals might mean something's not quite clicked with your human relations. It isn't just hypocritical humanism. To be sure, animal companionship isn't necessarily a better love; it's just, perhaps, a love that disorients you from the community of humans. It's a weird love, like any love, but weirder than most because it lacks the veneer of (human) normalcy.

After all, isn't the Prioress a bit camp, what with her silly romance name, her (arguably) bad French accent, her fancy wimple, by which I mean, aren't the Prioress and her dogs a bit queer?

I have in mind dog-feedings, like the one Judkins describes above. Or Yvain and his lion sharing meals when the lion may be the only one who knows who Yvain really is. Or even the willingness among the philosophers (of all people, generally the most obstinately human)--Albert the Great, Thomas of Cantimpré, Vincent of Beauvais--to repeat Pliny's observation that certain cuts of deer meat disgust dogs, unless (as Vincent says), they're especially hungry. Or Richard Wyche's fifteenth-century account of his religious persecution, where amid his tortures, he "asked the bishop to have my horse taken to his stable, and I gave what I had in my purse to the man leading it there" (trans. Christopher G. Bradley, PMLA 127.3 (2012): 630 [626-42]). Yes, Richard asks this because the horse, a special kind of transportation machine, needs sustenance, but I have to think he asks also because he likes his horse, and he, a religious man (of all people &c.), remembers it, even with execution looming, with nothing mattering for eternity, we would think, but his imperiled soul.

So the shared affect of a meals draws my attention. The love the hunters and the dogs share matters, even as we must not forget the dismembered carcass of the deer around which this affect clusters.

One more thought on the queer love of dogs: if this particular project continues (and it could, if someone's looking for a Kalamazoo paper to fill a slot?), think of the stories of knights who love hunting and disdain the love of women...until they're forced to grow up. Guigemar, for example, but we could come up with dozens more. Think of how queer that love is, particularly when read with the compulsory erotics whose force draws the knight out of his pleasures with his horses, hounds, and hawks, and into his human, only human maturity.

(for more stuff on zoophilia, see James Goebel's excellent musings over at "A Geology of Borders")

14 comments:

Tobias Morgan said...

Okay, I'm sorry for the language, but ... what the hell?

This is a blog about medieval life. You start off with a nice lovely story about the masters feeding their animals from the hunt, then bang, cross-species sex? Non sequitur much?

I would really, really rather not read anything of this nature on a history blog. Ever. And I doubt I'm alone in this.

Karl Steel said...

Tobias, this isn't a "history" blog. It's a literature blog. And, anyways, we've written about this kind of stuff for a long time. Here's a post on animal erotics from 2006, and here's a post on Rabbinic commentary about Adam schtupping all the animals in Eden, from 2008. And here's a post on the anthology Queering the Non/Human. So, if you think this is something new here, you'll want to dig in our archives, if you can stomach it.

Tobias Morgan said...

Ah, my apologies for misunderstanding. I'll be unsubscribing from this now. Thanks.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

It's interesting, isn't it, that even the stones copulate on this blog. Must be some fairly perverse writers ... I mean, medieval texts can be fairly perverse sometimes and they are definitely rated M for mature language and themes.

Ryan Judkins said...

I'm sure you're familiar with Crane's "Ritual Aspects of the Hunt a Force" article. Her comments on the similarity between how humans talk to hunting dogs and to babies really jumped out at me reading this post. If hunting evinces a queer desire that stands at odds with normative human desire (assuming that marriage and male-female love is the norm), then there's perhaps a displacement, even a fetishization, of parental love onto hunting dogs -- and of course, that's one major way pets are conceived of today, as children.

And I appreciate the article mention. Thanks very much.

Alex said...

I've been reading a lot of Umayyad hunting poetry lately, and I'm struck by the way that animals are transformed by metaphors into tools of their hunters. For example, a hawk with sharp claws is described as being "like the blades of a butcher." Animals may be cognitively closer to the category of things than they are to people, for all the reasons you outlined in How to Make a Human, but something about this way of speaking of animals as objects makes me wonder if these poems are really about the the strange relationship we have to technology. Do we love our hunting dogs the way we love a new sharp knife, the way we love our smartphones -- for the way they elegantly solve the problems that we prioritize? Affect is certainly important here as well, to the disadvantage of things - we don't we love the stone walls of our game parks the way we love our hunting dogs.

Karl Steel said...

Seriously, Tobias, if you're still around, I think you should read that Rabbinic commentary post (link above). I'm not saying that to troll you. I just honestly can't imagine it not being interesting to people, but maybe that's just me.

Ryan Judkins said...

@Alex: You know, there are certainly loads of examples of animals being viewed instrumentally by medieval people, of a horse as a conveyance with no real agency and so forth. Yet, I do not recall that happening with hunting animals at all. The Duke of Milan weeps and composes poetry when his favorite falcon dies (Cummins, p. 2), and hunters tell stories of their favorite dogs and their feats around the fire (see Les dits du bon chien Souillard, for example). In the The Book of the Duchess, the animal-human moment that immediately follows, and breaks, an instrumental view of animals when the Dreamer mounts and then abandons his horse with very few words, is the connection between the Dreamer and the whelp, where the whelp shows him where to go. (I wrote on this moment as part of a chapter in Rethinking Chaucerian Beasts due out this January and with loads of good stuff, including an article by Karl.)

Perhaps even more compelling, I think animalizations of the human are more common than instrumental depictions of the animal. In Yvain, Yvain rides as swift as a falcon and fights as ferociously as a lion. Hunting-related animals seem to have a special place in medieval hearts and imaginations.

I wonder if there's a cultural difference here in views of animals between the Umayyad poetry and late medieval examples?

Ryan Judkins said...

This November for Rethinking Chaucerian Beasts, sorry! (Perhaps Karl can edit that.)

Karl Steel said...

Ryan, in re: the article. You're welcome! Not sure what else I can say before it's out, since I don't want to tread on JEGP's toes. But, folks, it'll be out in January, and it'll be a very good resource. I definitely learned from it. In re Rethinking Chaucerian Beasts: November! Forgotten it was so soon. Well, that'll be fun.

I know the Crane article well (I reviewed Engaging with Nature for JEGP, in fact), but I hadn't made that connection between my beginnings here and the 'baby talk' aspect of her article. Worth following up on.

Alex, very cool. While I think Ryan's right that the material we work with doesn't often instrumentalize hunting animals (and great example, Ryan: thanks for those), it CAN, at least in one instance that I talk about in my book. Namely, there's that 9th-century letter to some Ottonian lord that says, basically, yes, you can eat animals your hunting dogs killed, despite the prohibitions against eating morticina (carrion), because your dog is doing it under your command. As the letter explains, when we scratch letters, we don't ascribe agency to the pen, but to the human who writes; likewise with dogs.

Now, I doubt the hunting lord thought of his dogs as objects without agency. But I'm sure he appreciated the way out the churchman offered him. I'm reminded of some stories in Rudy's book about people who run private animal sanctuaries. In the ones Rudy's allowed to visit, there's palpable love, but when the state threatens to shut down the sanctuaries, the, er, sanctuarians start talking about property rights! This language of objects, in other words, can be strategic rather than a representation of some deeply held belief.

Ryan Judkins said...

"This language of objects, in other words, can be strategic rather than a representation of some deeply held belief."

That's both brilliant and convincing, Karl, and it brings me back to your non-human assemblages. Might we see the sanctuarians using property laws or medieval hunting lords working through canon law as examples of humans trying to suborn non-human assemblages in order to bring them into line with human emotion?

Lara Farina said...

Just tried to post and lost it. Having a hard time proving I'm not a robot.
Anyway... was just saying that I like the way this is going, Karl. Just reread the Mabinogi for teaching, so I'm reminded of the scene in the first branch where the exchange of bodies between Pwyll and Arawn is preceded by the mingling of their hunting dogs. Of course this happens in the forest, which always reads for me as the Ovidian space of anti-marital same-sex affiliations.

Alex said...

The fact that a whole genre of ekphrastic poetry devoted to hunting dogs and hawks developed in the Umayyad period and continued into the Abbasid period suggests that people loved and wished to memorialize these animals. The "Blades of the butcher" metaphor is only one of many strange metaphors that are used to extoll their virtue.

If anything I'm trying to suggest that the idea we (sort of) have that instruments (animate or inanimate) are not viable objects of genuine affection would have been alien to these writers. That is, loving and "using" are deeply interconnected, and the one doesn't somehow contaminate the other.

Or that there is a love that is not anthropomorphizing.

I'm not sure that there's any way to know if this is a strategic use of the language of instrumentality or not, and maybe it's actually more interesting if it's not strategic?

The Qur'an itself makes the same exception for eating animals killed by hunting dogs with a variation on the Ottonian loophole, that is that because people have trained the dogs, when a dog kills an animals it's as though a person killed it. I think this implicitly depends on a model of distributed will in which animals participate in the will of their human hunting partners. Then again I might be reading that in a willfully anachronistic way.

Ryan Judkins said...

I'm reminded of the named swords in Beowulf, objects/instruments imbued with names and history and even a sort of limited agency. One might say they're loved. They might even "return" that love by not breaking in battle. This is all a delusion, though, a meaningful one, but still a pathetic fallacy.

I can't get past a categorical difference between the inanimate and animate. Animals actually can return affection, or at least we interpret it that way, which amounts to the same thing, which makes them much better sites for investing that emotion. So, while inanimate objects are definitely viable sites of investment, animals inhabit a different category.

Hunting animals (dogs and hawks, but not horses, I think?) in a way are like the swords in Beowulf in that humans build up whole imaginative constructs about them (usually but not always based on their actual qualities, esp. loyalty), but unlike those swords, the animals (seem) to reciprocate. I don't think you find hunting weapons praised at all, really.

For medieval English hunters, the general reluctance to instrumentalize hunting probably had much to do with how closely they identified with them. Do you find a close identification between Umayyad and Abbasid hunters and their hunting animals? European ones with some frequency transform into hawks and bears and harts.

Of course, my whole post here is very anthropocentric, all caught up in the mind of the hunter. There may be better ways to look at things.