Sunday, October 01, 2006

Life is simply taking and not giving, or, Long Live the New Flesh

A post inspired in part by the recent enthusiasm of Americans for torture.

Humans and animals have in common bodies subject to growth, injury, bleeding, and putrefaction. I have argued that the human domination of animals is the central act in making a human. Meat-eating is surely the most overt act of human dominion over animals, but, because digestion assimilates consumed animal bodies to human bodies, the meat-eating that helps create the human has a side effect: a body, because made of flesh, much like the one consumed. Given my flesh, what can be the difference between the steak I eat and the steak I am except perhaps my (temporary) mobility? Worse yet, because mainstream medieval Christianity demanded that the entire human body be resurrected, animals, joined to us by digestion, might be resurrected too; or, if animal carnivores killed and ate us, our bodies might join theirs, at least until they died, at which point our corpses, mingled with their carcasses, might remain inert dust forever; even worse still, anthropophagous animals, transformed by their partially human diet, might be resurrected into a Paradise thronged with zooanthropomorphic hybrids, an Eternal City of Dr. Moreau.

A man was passing through a wood and a wolf came from the wild forest; the wolf was indeed large and strong, and it ate all the flesh of the man, and then it left, going on its way. A lion came searching for its prey, and found no other animal [but the wolf]. It took the wolf by the head and strangled it to death. It ate the wolf entirely, leaving nothing behind. The lion died soon afterwards. The carcass lay on the ground and entirely rotted and turned to earth: where could the man be found in here?
Bonjour, Adrien, ed. Dialogue de Saint-Julien et son disciple: poéme anglo-normand du XIIIe siècle, Anglo-Norman Texts Series 8. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1949, ll. 1768-81.
Also, the meats [carnes] of animals and fish that are fit for the table of humans turn into the flesh [in carne] 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.
Treatise by Master Martin, perhaps Martinus de Fugeriis From Richard Heinzmann, Die Unsterblichkeit der Seele und die Auferstehung des Leibe, Münster: Aschendorff, 1965, 181.

For they say that it is impossible that pig flesh will be purified on the Day of Judgment and should possess the Kingdom of God. The notion they believe is resolved: for [mainstream Christianity says] that pork even now 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.
On the Last Things (12th century), from Odon Lottin, Psychologie et morale aux XIIe et XIIIe siècles. 6 vols. Louvain: Abbaye du Mont César, 1942., Vol. V, 396.
But it is opposed that 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. I respond that neither human flesh turns into that of a wild beast or the other way around, but that 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.
An anonymous 12th-century Summa. Heinzmann, Immortality Doctrine, 211

While some theologians worried about whether or not bread would arise in the resurrection, most anxieties of food found their voice in worries, like those above, about meat. Whatever the responses to the anxiety (which were multiple, as Philip Lyndon Reynolds showed in Food and the Body: Some Peculiar Questions in High Medieval Theology (Brill, 1999)), each response declared that only what should resurrect would resurrect. Resurrection, in a way, was therefore less a reconstitution than a recognition of something that had never ceased to be, the human, the sole worldly thing destined for postmortem continuity.

Animals must suffer violence to be made meat (indeed, the penitentials proscribed the meat of animals dead from disease or accident); humans too must suffer violence to be made meat (notably, resurrection anxieties center around wolves and lions (and cannibals: more soon), not the worms of the De Contemptu tradition). In the eschatological systems of digestion and meat, animal violence must always give way to the perdurability of the human. Human violence that turns animals into food might have no long term effect whatsoever, since the pigs and oxen humans devour might simply pass through us, digested but not assimilated, leaving what is essentially us unchanged; other doctrines allowed the devoured pigs and oxen to transform into resurrectable flesh. But regardless of the scholar, they all, more or less implicitly, agreed that animal violence can never have any long-term effect: no animal can keep our flesh, or the flesh of its fellow animals, forever. The resurrection will make things right; its promise, perhaps, insured that even what happened here below was already right
. No matter how similar the bodies humans shared with animals, no matter how similar their struggles in eating, digestion, and death, the violence of human eating is the only meat-eating that might transform flesh into a substance fit for the Eternal City. Our violence, not theirs, has meaning in the long run. Our violence can also make the law that justifies or requires it; it can free us from discovery of ourselves in the slaughtered bodies of animals; our violence can free us from the futility of making nothing but bodies joined by suffering. Or so runs the hope.

(fixed, as always, a bit after the original posting, for my usual mistakes and some vagueness: apologies)

Final Update: I wrote my post before I read this, but, as so often, Amanda Marcotte hits the points I would have wanted to make (or would have wanted myself to make) so well. Read it.


Jeffrey Cohen said...

On this Day of Atonement, I wonder about the first sentence:

A post inspired in part by the recent enthusiasm of Americans for torture.

Following your link to Pandagon has already helped (provocative post there about the work of Othering), but I wonder if you'd make more explicit the link you've set up between abjected (incorporated/pushed away) animals and humans subjected to torture.

As a side note, I naively ask: how enthusiastic are US citizens for torture? On Friday as I drove home I passed a large demonstration against torture in front of the VP's house. Sad, sad, sad placards, many of which made points similar to Amanda's at Pandagon. Americans seem to me to live in their own bubbles of noncommunication, where all the protests in the world at Dick's house don't get heard, except by those already within. There are (I think?) millions who inhabit each bubble ...

Karl Steel said...

how enthusiastic are US citizens for torture?

I wonder. Too often I've conjured up too much hope from my reading of left-wing and progressive blogs and The Nation, my newsweekly of choice, since I don't have time to read that and the New York Review of Books. More's the pity. From this hope, I've hoped that various "gates" might bring down the Cheney White House--hookergate with the CIA, Gannon/Guckert, forced abortions in the Marianas Island, burning a US spy working on WMD, the WH's complete indifference to the destruction of an American city (Katrinagate?), and, most recently, the American gulag, or even this week's pinata, the Republican House's enabling of ephebophilia and sexual harassment--but so little's come of it, I can't help but think that most Americans just can't be bothered. It's great that approval ratings for this White House will probably never crack 40% again: but why should they be so high? Perhaps I should strike enthusiasm for "indifference," since I've encountered only a few Americans that, for instance, when faced with the evidence of The Taguba Report (chiefly: rape of children at Abu Ghraib at least with the collusion of the American guards), simply declared that they didn't care: or cheered it on. But I've yet to see Red State, so we'll see whether the pendulum swings back to 'enthusiasm.'


So. Here's the beginning of being more explicit. I had written and then cut the following from the post:

It takes only a slight pivot to think of the martial elite. Lineage or the courtesy of the court may have been claimed as the font of knighthood and governance, but regardless of whatever else knights were, they were at heart professionals of violence. Other people might be violent—Jews, purportedly, might murder Christian children, women, like Henry I’s illegitimate daughter Juliana, might fire crossbows at their fathers, and peasants might revolt—but only the violence of knights produced a polity; only the violence of knights was reasonable; only the violence of knights had a legitimate, usual place in society. Remember (as JJC pointed out in MIMs) that the Knight and Squire of the Ellesmere Chaucer ride warhorses rather than the palfreys they would have used for such a journey: their capacity for war, even in static portraits, sets them apart from the other pilgrims, and their enthusiasm for hunting—evidenced by their servant, the yeoman—joins them with the monk, but for all these overt signs of violence, it is neither the clerical magnate nor the warriors who disrupt the smooth passage of the pilgrimage. The Miller, the Wife of Bath, the Host were its dangers, people whose violence lacked legitimacy, reason, and creative power, perhaps only because they lacked the power to claim violence as their right. Their violence could not be freed from the vanity of their hope for something more lasting than testicles in turds.


I'll give you a more straightforward answer tonight, promise.

Karl Steel said...

but I wonder if you'd make more explicit the link you've set up between abjected (incorporated/pushed away) animals and humans subjected to torture.

I'll try. I might have used "inspired by" as a dodge for "a bit too inchoate to figure out: hope my readers are up to it," but here goes:

Item A:
* Human bodies are like animal bodies: subject to death, always in flux, etc.
* How to combat this?
* Engage in violence against other(ed) animal bodies
* Seems just to produce more bodies: so not much of a solution at all.
* How past this? Add something: our violence, unlike theirs, helps produce bodies that last forever. like Item B

* Our polity, community, what have you, like any other: subject to chaos, dictatorship, or at least dissolution
* How to combat this?
* Engage in violence against the other(ed)
* Seems just to produce more nastiness: so not much of a solution at all.
* How past this? Add something: our violence, unlike theirs, helps produce something eternal: a purified polity, freedom, safety, what have you.

In part, all this was inspired by (hah!) my thinking on both the psychosomatic self tracked by C. W. Bynum and EJ's strong claims for an embodied ethics. Although Bynum makes, iirc, strong claims that medieval Christianity was not dualistic, in fact, it strikes me that the eternal unchanging body medieval Christianity promised humans is not much of a body at all. What is a body freed from flux? It's a body freed from everything that makes it a body.

Unless there's a doctrine, philosophy, politics, what have you, that includes bodies in all their flux, it's a fundamentally transcendent, disembodied approach and therefore fantastic and far more prone to frustration--with all attendant ill effects--than an embodied philosophy.

With all that in mind, I'm inclined at my grouchier moments to see a rather neat homology between the 'meat eating' subsection of Christian Resurrection doctrine and the justifications for torture or violence to support or create a regime. We see efforts, probably uglier the vainer they are, to free bodies and politics from the flux and transience from which it is impossible to extract them. Both are efforts to deny our inextricable immersement in flux even when our methods just make more of what it is we aim to be getting past.

Does that make more sense? I feel a bit lost here: perhaps out of my depth.

Eileen Joy said...

Karl--you're not out of your depth, but you may be pushing some assumptions a bit too hard. For example, is our killing/eating of other[ed] "animals" [that we have determined to be "not human"] really only predicated on our desire to combat our sneaking [and often suppressed] suspicion that we, too, are animal bodies in decaying, stinking flux? It seems to me that this is a philosophical step that would be taken after we had reached a point, culture-wise, where we could recognize that eating meat was unnecessary from a biological/nutritional point of view and need a different set of justifications than just . . . hunger. In other words, is the origin of eating meat in our culture *only* cultural, or does it *become* cultural? Now, within the context of medieval Christianity, I suppose it is a wholly different theological-philosophical matter if one believes, as some of the writers you have quoted obviously did, that eating meat, along with the temporary proscriptions against it, were somehow religious duties [in which case the reasoning behind the supposed *necessity* of eating meat might have something to do with the perceived importance of maintaining those hsupposed uman & non-human borders, by violence if necessary]. But the bottom line is: there is never just one reason behind any one action, although I think your most general statement thus far, "human domination of animals is the central act in making a human," is certainly compelling to me. But let's not ignore evolutionary biology [or even anthropology] altogether and claim that what you term "human dominion over animals" has only cultural underpinnings. Sometimes biology really is destiny, and I suspect that if a cow could figure out a way to catch, kill, butcher, and cook me, and get away with it, he would. In other words, if he was biologically engineered in such a way that made the thought, desire, and means line up at just the right moment, it would simply happen. Afterwards, as civilization progressed, he could integrate the eating of me into his religion and then his philosophy, and ultimately fashion me as a counterpoint to thinking about his own biological, spiritual, and cultural constitution. And all the while the cow never has to ask if I am in any way like him if he doesn't want to, and if I don't have the power of language to turn his line of sight and thinking and feeling in a different direction, I'm ultimately the voiceless victim. In other words, *design* of bodies, animal and otherwise, is also pertinent to this discussion [I think, but then again, maybe now *I'm* out of my depth].

And of course a body freed from flux is not really a body, so I really admire what you are doing in all of your thinking on embodiness and embodiments, human, animal, and everything inbetween. We certainly need new ways to define the contours, not just of human and animal bodies, but of living entities and even living systems. We have to ask ourselves--what is other there, beside myself, that can feel, that is aware, that *knows* something, and how can I protect that from harm?

Eileen Joy said...

Forgive me, Karl, if this has come up before, but have you been reading Kristeva at all in relation to your thinking on humans, animals, and meat? It strikes me that her book "Strangers to Ourselves" as well as "The Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection," are very apropos to a lot of what you are "working through" [this is in no way an endorsement on my part of Kristevan theorizing--I don't agree with all of her thinking, but I think you are touching upon areas that she speaks to very compellingly--the way Western Christianity, for example, posits certain symbolic structures through which "the individual" emerges against undifferntiated pre-Symbolic Others, such as Nature, animals, etc. Just some food for thought [incidentally, Jane Bennett's book "The Enchantment of Modern Life" has a whole chapter on trans-species encounters you might want to look at].

Continuing, also, my post from last night, while I concur with your thesis that the domination of animals is "the central act" in making a human, if we are to, say, protect and guard the welfare [and even, soul, or "inner person"] of "other animals," how can we do that *except* from a position of domination? If I want to ensure that cattle won't be slaughtered for steaks, for example, I have to use *force*--force de loi--to make that happen. I have to use my strength to *coerce* that outcome, and I have to do it *for* the animal, who cannot do it for himself. Does that make sense? Just a question . . . .

Karl Steel said...

Quickly. Kristeva: funny, that. I know her through osmosis, mainly, and through her use in a very good essay on Henryson's Cresseid by Felicity Riddy and no doubt, iirc, through that bestselling giants book. Also read The Kristeva Reader--a struggle--in a theory class in which the instructor (for whom I have nothing but sympathy, now: I'm sure it wasn't a class he wanted) scorned Kristeva all through the seminar and he blazed a path onto his interest, which I remember was some blend of CS Peirce and ecocriticism. So not a good introduction (and then there was the elegiacs penned by JJC and Emile in comments about their dusty stacks of Kristeva, unopened in more than a decade: hardly a ringing endorsement). So, got the Reader off the shelf. Index? Nothing about abjection: more a political/linguistic selection? Also read the Kristeva in the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, which has a short piece on the chora, which, then as now, struck me as a nice, nostalgic fantasy: which probably isn't fair.

So, yeah. Thanks for the suggestion(s). I'll buy the Kristeva today, read as much as can this weekend, while I'm trapped at a silly wedding.


In other words, is the origin of eating meat in our culture *only* cultural, or does it *become* cultural?

Oh, haha, it's always already cultural, which of course never obviates materiality. For me, "origin" is not a temporal word but rather justificatory: how do we lay claim to an identity that we inhabit here and now. Genealogy is the chief originary mode of laying claim to the present, for example. So is discovering the point at which the human dislodges itself from the animal. Backing off a bit from the "the central act" (a central act? important to? you know the way the thing you're arguing comes to seem to be the resolution of everything? Well, that happens to me a lot), let's say that subjugation of animals is very (slipped that in) important to humans justifying themselves as human. By the point they're justifying themselves, meat's already on the table to be appropriated culturally. And they do that appropriation, a lot: which is what propelled my diss in the first place.

In a way this approach, I think, gets me past 'design of bodies.' If carnivorous cows took over the world (La Planète des vaches with a screenplay by Rod Serling and Gary Larson), they would, if my approach held true, look at humans, ruminate on the similarities, and use those similarities to demand policing of the boundaries to ensure their bovinity remained intact with all its privileges. They would repeatedly call attention to the similarities to simulate a threat to the boundary to ensure that they could continue to rest assured, sort of, in their superiority. Real bodies matter, of course, but my interest is cultural: how various texts so often at least gesture towards the similarities between humans and animals and then deny the similarities to prove the existence of the human and then, even, deny the importance of the denial even at the very moment when they're claiming subjugation of animals as critical to (that okay?) the human.


Your final question, on the force of law, makes a lot of sense. On the one hand, thank the FTM that it's finally not my job to come up with an ethical program; on the other hand, that's a serious cop out. Promise to get back to think when I have a moment.