Feeding the Dogs

Images by Saiman Chow. Source, without words.

Images by Saiman Chow. Source, without words.

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”)

How quickly does a deer go off?


To ensure the blog stays as eclectic as possible, I’m here to talk, again, about deer carcasses, so you may want to read Jeffrey first and never come back. I’m also here to avoid grading my first set of papers (incidentally, on Žižek’s “Bring Me My Philips Mental Jacket,” for English 2, “The Research Paper,” with a theme of “Nature,” and a set on Marie’s Lais, and a small set of Chaucer translations). Enough of that!

The fourteenth-century Diuersa Servicia comprises 92 recipes, for “blomanger,” “egerduse” (i.e., aigredouce, “sweet and sour”), and so on, and two guides for dealing with rancid venison.

57. For to kepe venisoun from restyng, tak venisoun wan yt is newe & cuuer it hastely wyþ fern þat no wynd may come þereto and wan þou hast ycuuer yt wel led yt hom & do yt in a soler þat sonne ne wynd may come þerto. & dimembre it, & do yt in a clene water & lef yt þere half a day, and after do yt vpon herdeles for to dre; & wan yt ys drye tak salt, & do after þy venisoun axit, & do yt boyle in water þat be so salt als water of þe see and moche more. & after lat þe water be cold, þat it be þynne, & þanne de do þy venisoun in þe water & lat yt be þerein þre daies & þre ny3t; & after tak yt owt of þe water & salt it wyþ dre salt ry3t wel in a barel, & wan þy barel ys ful cuuer it hastely þat sunne ne wynd come þereto.

58. For to do awey restyng of venisoun, tak þe venisoun þat ys rest & do yt in cold water & after mak an hole in þe herþe & lat yt be þereyn þre dayes & þre ny3t; & after tak yt vp & frot yt wel wyþ gret salt of poite þere were þe restyng ys. & after lat yt hange in reyn water al ny3t or more. (73)


57. To keep venison from going rancid, take venison when it is new and cover it quickly with ferns so that no wind can reach it and when you have covered it well take it home and put it in a cellar so that no sun or wind can reach it. and dismember it and put it in clean water and leave it there half a day, and afterwards put it on hurdles to dry it; and when it is dry, take salt and salt your venison as much as it needs, and then boil it in water as salty as sea water and even much more. and afterwards, let the water cool so that it thins [i.e., so that the sediment settles to the bottom], and then put your venison in the water and leave it there for three days and three nights; and afterwards, take it out of the water and salt it with dry salt very thoroughly in a barrel, and when your barrel is full, cover it hastily so that neither sun nor wind can touch it.

58. To salvage rancid venison, take the venison that is rotten and put it in cold water and afterwawrds make a hole in the earth and leave it there for three days and three nights; and afterwards take it up and rub it well with saltpeter [potassium nitrate] where it is rotting. and afterwards hang it in rain water all night or longer.

The two guides appear only in Bodleian Douce 257, dated to 1381, which includes “various mathematical and calendrical treatises, riddling verses, and practical jokes” (Hieatt and Butler 18), mostly in Latin. If the manuscript’s available online, or even just a full list of its contents, please let me know in the comments.

EDIT: grading procrastination update, several hours after first posting. Douce 257 was formally Douce 21831. Some of the Middle English appears in the DIMEV here; and contents summarized briefly here (A Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford 569-70); and summarized at more length here (Catalogue of the printed books and manuscripts bequeathed by Francis Douce, to the Bodleian Library 40-1).

It’s no great surprise that Diuersa Servicia items 57 and 58 appear only in this manuscript, as the other extant versions are missing many or most of the other recipes. It’s more surprising that none of the other cook books in EETS ss. 8 have guides for preventing or correcting putrefaction, and that neither do any of the (few) others I’ve examined (eg, these two Anglo-Norman cookbooks; or this first foray into Taillevent). I’ve vainly looked for bits about rotten meat in the cynegetic manuals of William Twiti and Edward of York, but if my search is to be anything but preliminary, ARLIMA’s list tells me I have much more hunting to do.

Turning from what we can loosely call practical advice to what we can just as loosely call textual advice, Hildegard’s Physica doesn’t help me, while Albert the Great’s De Animalibus and the very similar material in Thomas of Cantimpré tantalize with “The innards of a deer are very malodorous, a condition Pliny ascribed to the bile diffused through them” (97; in Thomas, “Intestina cervi fetida valde sunt, et hoc opinatur Plinius proptera, quia fel in intestinis habet, quod abhominantur canes” [which dogs hate]; see also Vincent of Beauvais, “intestina cerni [sic, for cervi] valde foetida sunt, vnde non comeduntur a canibus, nisi sint valde famelici” [hence they won’t be eaten by dogs unless the dogs are very hungry]). Also, says Albert, and Thomas, and Vincent,  “twenty worms reside in the deer’s cervical spine.”

To me, that seems like a lot of worms.

For the time being, I’m at bay, with no clear way out. I do know that medieval cooks are a passionate lot, and hunters just as much so. If you’re one of these–or even if you’re just an interested passer-by–weigh in. You think I can take “venison” in the Diuersa Servicia as meaning just or primarily “cervids”? Is this concern about rancid venison unusual? Just practical advice any hunter would know? Where else should I look? I haven’t yet looked at Walter of Bibbesworth, but a helpful spirit on Facebook tells me I’ll come up empty. Walter of Henley‘s on his way to me. Where else?

The Wolf Child of Hesse Betrays the Human: AVMEO Preview

dlo 3The story goes like this:

Anno Domini MCCCIIII. Quidam puer in partibus Hassie est deprehensus. Hic, sicut postea cognitum est, et sicut ipse retulit, cum trium esset annorum, a lupis est captus [alternately: est raptus] et mirabiliter educatus. Nam, quamcumque predam lupi pro cibo rapuerant, semper meliorem partem sumentes et arbori circumiacientes ipsi ad vorandum tribuebant. Tempore vero hiemis et frigoris foveam facientes, folia arborum et alias herbas imponentes, puerum superponebant, et se circumponentes, sic eum a frigore defendebant; ipsum eciam manibus et pedibus repere cogebant et secum currere tamdiu, quod ex use eorum velocitatem imitabatur et saltus maximos faciebat. Hic deprehensus lignis circumligatis erectus ire ad humanam similitudinem cogebatur. Idem vero puer sepius dicebat se multo carius cum lupis, si in se esset, quam cum hominibus diligere conversari. Hic puer in curiam Heinrici principis Hassie pro spectaculo est allatus.

1304. A certain boy in the region of Hesse was seized. This boy, as was known afterwards, and just as the boy told it himself, was taken by wolves when he was three years old and raised up wondrously. For, whatever prey the wolves snatched for food, they would take the better part and allot it to him to eat while they lay around a tree. In the time of winter and cold, they made a pit, and they put the leaves of trees and other plants in it, and surrounded the boy to protect him from the cold; they also compelled him to creep on hands and feet and to run with them for a long time, from which practice he imitated their speed and was able to make the greatest leaps. When he was seized, he was bound with wood to compel him to go erect in the manner of a human (or “in a human likeness”). However, this boy often said that he much preferred to live among wolves than among men. This boy was conveyed to the court of Henry, Prince of Hesse, for a spectacle.

I have a lot to say about this, primarily, as you might gather from my talk’s title, about the postures the boy takes on and what this says about various ways of being in the world. I talk about the story’s recognition of the boy as not quite passive and not quite active, about it’s just failing to find a “middle voice.” I condemn the “happiness script,” the “straightening device” (see Sara Ahmed The Promise of Happiness, 91) the adult humans use to disorient the boy from the world and to orient him towards an unchanging heaven. I don’t, however, want simply to cheer the boy being down in the muck with the wolves and to scorn the humans for being so intent on protecting their humanity. It’s not so easy as that. Something is at stake in the boy’s time with the wolves; something is at stake in our stances. I am trying, hesitantly, to get at something that’s no doubt been discussed many, many times: the ethical stakes of horizontalist ontologies (to my mind, treated unsatisfyingly here, Vibrant Matter, 104).

What follows, then, is a sneak preview of the current state of the last paragraphs of my talk before the conclusion. If you’d like to argue, argue in comments, or hold your fire till Friday:

The wolves give the child the meliorem partem, the better part of the prey. The Hesse story might be read as one among several medieval stories of children suckled by carnivores, which themselves suggest the prelapsarian (or Messianic) state of human dominion over animals in the peaceable kingdom: just as the lion will lay down with the lamb, so too will human infants lay down with wolves. In this understanding, the child’s innocence protects it, and his longing to be back among the wolves may belong to his wish to abandon his humiliated position in the corrupt world into which he’s been cast.We might decide, however, not to read the service the wolves do the boy as representing the honor they owe him as a human, but rather as representing the cherishing the wolves give the boy as a child or, for that matter, as a cub. He gets the best because he needs more. They acknowledge the different precarities between wolf and boy. We might call what they do a more responsible way of being in the world than the ways we watch the humans follow. To protect the boy, the wolves use what trees and other plants throw off; the human technocrats use wood, kill trees, treating the world as only as a set of objects made for human needs. This is a nice contrast, but I’d rather come at that meliorem partem some other way by not forgetting that it is meat. For the boy to be fed, something had to die.

What does it mean to be a companion, or more precisely, concarnian in the woods with wolves; what does it mean to be their messmate? Haraway uses this word often in When Species Meet, for example,

the ecologies of significant others involves messmates at table, with indigestion and without the comfort of teleological purpose from above, below, in front, or behind. This is not some kind of naturalistic reductionism; this is about living responsively as mortal beings where dying and killing are not optional. (74)

Wolves appear rarely in the Erfurt chronicle material, but when they do, they eat people. The chronicle twice (here and here) speaks of an attack in 1271 in which wolves eschewed sheep and instead devoured 30 men, and once mentions a legend of the emperor Nero, who, as some say, fled Rome and succumbed to hunger and thirst in a forest, after which wolves ate his corpse (here). Note too that one manuscript of the Hesse story has the child raptus, not captus, by wolves, which then rapuerant their prey: snatching this child is like snatching any meat. For whatever reasons, something about this young meat strikes them differently; but the story does not forget that when wolves grab a human, they grab it–almost always–to eat it.

This may be a stretch: but if we take melior as not describing the portion size or the cut but as the quality, we might understand the meliorem partem as better than their usual run of meat: not sheep, but perhaps human flesh, better than animal flesh because of its purported great savor and nutritiousness, per any number of medieval imaginations of anthropophagy. I’m reminded of the fifteenth-century hunting manual of Edward of York, which observes that “man’s flesh is so savory and so pleasant that when [wolves] have taken to man’s flesh they will never eat the flesh of other beasts, though they should die of hunger.” I’m reminded, too, of a story I heard on Radiolab, where Barbara Smuts tells about her time among the baboons. Abandoning the pretensions of being only an observing subject among animal objects, she learns to sit like a baboon, to sound like one, and though a vegetarian, she finds herself salivating when she witnesses the baboon troop kill and dismember a young gazelle. She feels this as an encounter with her heritage; we might call it a different way of being in the world; we might also recognize that such differences frame our world differently, remaking certain parts as grievable and others not. Choices will be made, and Smuts’ remapped salivary glands choose to betray both her vegetarianism and the gazelle.

Likewise, during his time with the wolves, how has the boy betrayed his humanity? How has he betrayed us? What has been the result of his disalignment from the noble hunters who enter the woods in their own way, imagining their own flesh to be not for eating, who kill some animals to eat, and kill others—wolves—as competitors, with the help of their own domesticated wolves?

(modified image from here, detail of New York, Columbia University, Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary UTS MS 051, f. 143, Eustace standing in the middle of the river with the lion and the wolf on either side, each with one of Eustace’s sons in his mouth.)

Briefly Noted: The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals

4161743913_ac55ece3c9There’s excitement a-cloven-foot for the Ann Vendermeer and Jeff Vandermeer’s forthcoming Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals.

The Manticore? Not kosher. Kosher? The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary, which we all know from Mandeville:

and þare growez a maner of fruyte grete as gourdes; and, when it es rype, þai open it and fyndez þerin a beste with flesch and blude and bane, and it es lyke to a lytill lambe withouten wolle. And men of þat cuntree etez þat beste, and þe fruyt also. And þat es a grete meruaile. 3. Of þat frute I haue eten. Neuerþeles I said þam þat me thoght it na grete meruaile, for in my cuntree I said þam ware treesse berand a fruyte þat becommez briddez flyand, þe whilk men callez Bernakes, and þer es gude mete of þam; and þase þat fallez in þe water liffez and fliez furth, and þase þat fallez on þe land dyez. And, when I had talde þam þis, þai meruailed þam gretely þeroff.

And there grows a kind of fruit great as gourds, and when it is ripe, they open it and find in it a beast with flesh and blood and bone, and it is like a little lamb without wool. And the men of that country eat that beast, and the fruit also. And that is a great marvel. Of that fruit I have eaten. Nevertheless I said to them that I thought it was not a great marvel, for in my country, I said, there were trees bearing a fruit that becomes a flying bird, which men call Barnacles, and the meat is good; and those that fall into the water live and fly forth, and those that fall on the land die. And when I told them this, they marveled greatly about it.

I’m a fan of eschatological Leviathan promises, myself. Leviathan is “a delicacy to be served to the pious at the end of time, to compensate them for the privations which abstaining from the unclean fowls imposed upon them,” as the “real purpose” of Leviathan

“is to be served up as a dainty to the pious in the world to come. The female was put into brine as soon as she was killed, to be preserved against the time when her flesh will be needed. The male is destined to offer a delectable sight to all beholders before he is consumed. When his last hour arrives, God will summon the angels to enter into combat with the monster. But no sooner will leviathan cast his glance at them than they will flee in fear and dismay from the field of battle. They will return to the charge with swords, but in vain, for his scales can turn back steel like straw. They will be equally unsuccessful when they attempt to kill him by throwing darts and slinging stones; such missiles will rebound without leaving the least impression on his body. Disheartened, the angels will give up the combat, and God will command leviathan and behemot to enter into a duel with each other. The issue will be that both will drop dead, behemot slaughtered by a blow of leviathan’s fins, and leviathan killed by a lash of behemot’s tail.”

Ultimately, though, I’m a bit sad that the book has to be about eating and slaughter, and I’m reminded of nothing so much as Hildegard of Bingen’s Physica, which catalogs animals and then, like a good dietetic manual, concludes each entry by remarking on their edibility.

(thanks Marty Shichtman for the heads up on the Kosher Guide! Manticore image from here:


Delirious Melons, and Other Ancient Snark

2801381202_44dc0c1c27_bIn this several months-long absence, I’ve been plugging away at my book manuscript in hopes of an October submission. I’m ahead of schedule, but getting to that point meant much else that is important to me fell away, even as I frenzied myself in what I would have otherwise left alone.

To get back in the game, I’ll share over the next week or so some of the amusing bits I’ve run across while, uh, plugging. Here’s one: Irenaeus of Lyons’ parody of the specialized terminology of Gnostic cosmology in his Against Heresies I.11.4

There exists a certain royal Pre-principle, pre-unintelligible, pre-insubstantial and pre-prerotund, which I call Gourd. With this Goard there coexists a Power which I call Supervacuity. This Gourd and this Supervacuity, being one, emitted without emitting a Fruit visible in all its parts, edible and sweet, which language calls Cucumber. With this Cucumber there is a Power of the same substance, which I call Melon. These Powers, Gourd and Supervacuity, and Cucumber and Melon, emitted the whole multitude of Valentinus’ delirious Melons. For if one must accomodate ordinary language to the first Tetrad and if each one chooses the terms he wants, who would keep him from using these last terms, much more worthy of credence, in ordinary usage, and known by all?

I could tolerate nonacademic complaints about academic jargon much better if they were all packaged like this!

Like all of you, I hope, I’m a fan of ancient snark, although perhaps I ought not to be: it’s probably immoral for me, for example, to admire the snark of an anti-Catharist, if only for what the Cathars (or so-called Cathars?) suffered. I offer this to you (again, as I did in Sept 2006), then, in the hopes of inviting attacks from your good consciences: from Eckbert of Schönau’s (yes, they were related) Sermon 6, “Contra secundam haeresim de esu carnium,” of his Sermones contra Catharos:

Miror si Dominus creator omnium rerum, quando hominibus concessit ut ederent carnes, ignorabat hanc vestram sanctam rationem, videlicet immundos fieri omnes qui ederent carnes, pro eo quod omnis caro ex concubitu nasceretur. Heu! quod non habebat catharum unum, qui ei hanc sapientiam in aurem susurrasset, in illa hora quando dedit potestatem edendi carnes Noe et filiis ejus! (PL 195:37A)

It is quite extraordinary that when the Lord, the creator of all things, allowed men to eat flesh, he ignored your “sacred reason,” namely that because all meat is born from coitus, everyone who eats meat becomes unclean. Alas! that he didn’t have any Cathar about who could have whispered this wisdom to him in his ear in that hour when he gave Noah and his sons the power to eat flesh!

Image via

I Would Hurt a Fly

HC3x0By now, you’ve probably all seen Obama’s fly-killing prowess. You may have also heard about PETA’s much-mocked response:

But now People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, calling it an “execution,” wants the commander-in-chief to show a little more compassion to even “the least sympathetic animals.”

“Believe it or not, we’ve actually been contacted by multiple media outlets wanting to know PETA’s official response to the executive insect execution,” a blog on the group’s website explained. “In a nutshell, our position is this: He isn’t the Buddha, he’s a human being, and human beings have a long way to go before they think before they act.”

The group has sent Obama a device that traps a fly so it can then be released outside.

“We believe that people, where they can be compassionate, should be, for all animals,” PETA spokesman Bruce Freidrich explained.

With all the necessary statements about my dubiousness about PETA’s methods, I wonder what structures of power this mockery of consideration for the fly serves to sustain? What if Obama hadn’t killed it, but had, rather, contained the fly and set it outside? What would he have been giving up? Would he have endured mockery for his compassion? And what has he gained by killing such a contemptible animal so skillfully in so public a way?

I’ve assembled a kind of florilegia to answer the question.

Wido of Spoleto is denied the Frankish throne in 888 because of his frugal eating:

And as [Wido of Spoleto] wanted to enter that part of France they call Roman, crossing the kingdom of the Burgundians, there met him messengers of the Franks telling him to go back because, worn out by the long wait, as they could not be without a king for a long time, they had elected Odo with all assenting. It is said, however, that the Franks actually did not take Wido as their king on account of this. For when he was coming to the city of Metz, which shines most powerful in the kingdom of Lothar, Wido sent ahead his servant who was to prepare food for him in the royal style. And the bishop of Metz received an answer like this from the servant, when he served him much food according to the custom of the Franks: “If you give me at least a horse, I will arrange things in such a way that King Wido will be satisfied with a third of all this after he has feasted.” When the bishop heard this, “it is not proper,” he said,” for such a king to rule over us, who prepares himself a cheap ten-coin meal.” And so it happened that they abandoned Wido and instead elected Odo. (Liudprand of Cremona, Historia Gestorum Regum et Imperatorum sive Antapodosis, I.16; in PL 136:0801A-B; translation from 58-59)

Guiborc in the Chanson de Guillaume encourages her husband to return to battle after watching him eat:

‘Par Deu de glorie, qui convertir me fist,
a qui renderai l’alme de ceste pecceriz,
quant ert le terme al jur de grant juis,
qui mangue un grant pain a tamis
et pur ço ne laisse les dous gasteals rostiz
et tut mangue un grant braun porcin
et en aproef un grant poun rosti
et a dous traiz beit un sester de vin,
ben dure guere deit rendre a sun veisin!
Ja trop vilment ne deit de champ fuir,
ne sun lignage par lui estre plus vil!” (1422-32)

‘By the God of Glory, who caused my conversion, to whom I shall deliver my sinner’s soul, anyone who can eat a great, fine white-loaf, and not leave because of that his two roast pasties and eats up a whole great pork brawn, and after that a great roast peacock, and drinks a gallon of wine at two draughts, will wage harsh war on his neighbor! He’ll not flee cravenly from the field, or bring shame on his family!”

The Middle English translation of the Alphabet of Tales describes the character and appearance of Charlemagne:

And he ete bod littyl brede, bod at ans he wolde ete a quarter of a weddur, or ij hennys, or a guse, or a swyne shulder, or a pacok, or a crane, or a hale hare.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt addresses Farm Groups, May 14, 1935:

I have always supposed, ever since I was able to play around, that the acknowledged destiny of a pig is sausage, or ham, or bacon or pork.

Derrida, “Eating Well, Or, The Calculation of the Subject”

The subject does not want just to master and possess nature actively. In our cultures, he accepts sacrifice and eats flesh. Since we haven’t much time or space here, and at the risk of provoking some kind of loud protests (we pretty much know from which quarter), I would ask you: in our countries, who would stand any chance of becoming a chef d’Etat (a head of State), and of thereby acceding ‘to the head,’ by publically, and therefore exemplarily, declaring him- or herself to be a vegetarian? The chef must be an eater of flesh….To say nothing of celibacy, of homosexuality, and even of femininity (which for the moment, and so rarely, is only admitted to the head of whatever it might be, especially the State, if it lets itself be translated into a virile and heroic schema. (281)


“The Hunger,” or Precarious Self

3172529153_98325ef2c2How does the cliché go? “Being a blogger means never having to say you’re sorry”? Brooklyn College begins its semester today (and before your jealous hackles rise, know that it ends on May 20th), and I imagine many of my colleagues will complain about how quickly the break went, wondering what they could have done to make it better. These wistful words have been mine, too, but not this time. In the midst of various obligatory visits, I managed to exceed my own expectations, generating about 100 pages of [what I think of as] good solid bookdraft. What suffered? The blog, and, even if I don’t have to, I apologize.

What follows below is the conclusion to a chapter. It relies heavily on Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence, a book whose title promised productive interchange with my own (titled, at this point, How to Make a Human: Violence and Animals in the Middle Ages). I’ve not been disappointed, but I’ve also experienced a sense of relief in reading it. G. W. Bush had not yet finished his first term when Butler published many of the pieces that comprise Precarious Life, and the conditions she analyzed and decried only worsened in the four years following the book’s first edition. She wrote against the conditions of Guantanamo, where the US held prisoners in a place outside the law [baring in mind edit, haha bearing in mind the complex relation to the outside Agamben analyzes in Homo Sacer and State of Exception], where the US held prisoners, we now know, for the sake of being held, held with no expectation of their ever being prosecuted of anything, held them, it seems, only to be tortured (see here: “the Bush administration’s focus on detention and interrogation made preparation of viable prosecutions a far lower priority”). With so much changing in the last week, not least of all, the condition of being of the Guantanamo prisoners, much of Butler’s book has become obsolete. Perhaps “obsolete” is not quite the right word, but it is certain that its relation to the present has changed utterly.

At the same time, Butler’s analysis will, for better or worse, be of continued utility. Its applicability–despite Butler’s persistent [albeit complicated] humanism–to critical animal theorists has already been insisted upon by Chloë Taylor when she writes, inter alia,

When exposed to the fragility of human bodies, to our own mortality, we say that we are sick like dogs, that we die like dogs, that, in the worst cases, we are slaughtered like sheep. Contra Butler, it would seem that vulnerability makes us animal, rather than specifically human. It is insofar as we are animal, embodied, that we are vulnerable. (66)

Inspired by Butler, in league with Taylor, and animated by more hope than I have felt in years, I wrote the following words, which I expect you to read, if at all, only in your leisure.

“Frank fed us human meat, and we got the hunger. That’s how you become a cannibal, Dee. You get one taste of delicious, delicious human meat, none of this stuff ever satisfies you ever again for the rest of your life.”

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia [thanks Mike Smith for turning me on to this clip]

Judith Butler has written about the exclusions that mark certain lives as “grievable” and exclude others from the community of concern. “Each of us,” she writes, “is constituted politically in part by virtue of the social vulnerability of our bodies.” Those not recognized as belonging to the community have no social vulnerability. They are not recognized as vulnerable insofar as they are not recognized as belonging to the community of those whose lives matter and thus who are understood as being fully alive. They, who “cannot be mourned because they are always already lost, or, rather, never ‘were,’” who possess only what Agamben terms “bare life,” a life outside the boundaries of a meaningful life or death, cannot be recognized as suffering violence, since no one feels any outrage or sense of shared suffering for what they suffer. Thus, “if violence is done against those who are unreal…from the perspective of violence, it fails [from the perspective of the dominant community] to injure or negate those lives since those lives are already negated.” This exclusion, which is, to cite Derrida’s phrase again, a “denegation of murder,” helps constitute the human, for, as Butler writes, “I am as much constituted by those I do grieve for as by those whose deaths I disavow.” She writes that therefore the obituary should be understood “as an act of nation-building,” but, as Chloë Taylor insisted in a recent reading of Butler, the obituary should also be understood as an act by which animals lives become forgotten. After all, no casualty list ever records massacres of beasts.

It bears repeating that in the dominant medieval intellectual and social traditions, animals do not belong to the community of the grievable; to recall Augustine, animals “are dissociated from us by their want of reason, and are therefore by the just appointment of the Creator subjected to us to kill or keep alive for our own uses.” Being that animals are given over to humans to be used, it would be absurd to mourn their deaths, to grant them some manner of obituary, to pray for the horse, as Bevis asks we do for Arondel (4613-19) In a popular medieval story, a greyhound overturns a cradle and bloodies itself defending its master’s infant son from a poisonous serpent. When its master is summoned home by news of his son’s death, he kills the greyhound, but, quickly realizing his error, he abandons himself entirely to grief. In one Middle English version, he “brake his sper in thre partiis, & put his wyf in preson, and yede him self to the holy londe”; in another, he enters his orchard “and for dule of hys hounde / he lepe in and sanke to gronde” (884-85), drowning himself; in another, he strips off all his armor:

And al barfote forth gan he ga,
Withowten leue of wife or childe.
He went into þe woddes wild,
And to þe forest fra al men,
þat nane sold of his sorow ken. (918-22)

In all three versions, he surrenders his entire social existence. He breaks his spear, forsakes his family, and leaves for the Holy Land; he drowns himself; he disappears into the woods, where no one would know of his sorrow. Each version has in common contempt for the advice of women, for the initial mistake of either his nurses or wife guides the knight to catastrophe. The misogyny, however, is not what the story is really about, but rather a screen around its incognizable content; as in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, misogyny protects readers from a story that would have otherwise taken them into an abyss. Each of these stories of the knight and the greyhound is also a story in which choosing to grieve for a dog means abandoning the community of humans; each story is therefore one of realizing the structures of violence by which the human inessentially sustains itself. Once astonished by his recognition of his shared vulnerability with what should be recognized as a mere dog, the knight must exclude himself from a community that constitutes itself by knowing that humans should not die like animals. Humans who mourn dogs no longer have any place to be. For the knight to remain himself, animals must die like animals: unmourned, eaten or used up in labor, discarded and unmemorialized.

It would not do, for example, to wonder what became of the lions that ate Ignatius, or to wonder too much about what Ignatius himself ate before he met his grisly end. Since Ignatius disdains the Jewish law and sects that prohibit certain foods, it seems that his alimentary codes at least anticipate those of Augustine. Without objections to eating meat—or, perhaps better said, objecting to objections to eating meat—Ignatius likely broke bones and tore limbs, inflicting on animal bodies what he expects the lions will inflict on him. To be sure, this is a speculative reading. But because the lives of animals are so far outside the considerations of the Christianity exemplified by Ignatius, the disdain they suffered at the hands of the saint can be reconstructed only by compelling the silences in Ignatius’s ouevre to speak. The community his writing helps constitute constitutes itself in part by excluding from consideration the significance of all violence except what humans suffer. The silence on all deaths but those of Ignatius and their co-believers is therefore a kind of evidence. Even as Ignatius harnessed the horror of his coming death for rhetorical force, he never considered that the deaths he silently countenanced, that he himself likely encouraged through his appetites, were just as horrific. Lions and other, less mighty animals, never having had life in the way that humans do, cannot be grieved unless humans recognize their shared vulnerability with them. But had Ignatius given voice to this shared vulnerability, he would have lost himself, for the indifference of Ignatius’s ouevre to violence against animals, his almost complete silence about the food he ate before he himself was eaten, inscribes the boundaries by which Ignatius knows himself and his fellows as human.

The imagined deliciousness of human flesh functions in a manner akin to the human recognition of their social vulnerability amidst other humans, for it sets human life apart as special. The death of another human demands mourning, and also demands that each human remember that he or she will someday die as well: each recognized death is a memento mori. The remembrance is therefore also a remembrance of weakness. The fantasy of the deliciousness of one’s own flesh, by contrast, is not a reaction to someone else’s death but a fantasy of one’s own death and one’s own flesh that transforms human death from an occasion of grief into an occasion of triumph. The anthropophage commits violence against the human, and thus, by inspiring mourning in the human community, reminds humans of the vulnerability of their lives; yet its unshakeable fixation on human flesh simultaneously attests to the supremacy of human life. This is a violence akin to that suffered by the martyrs in hagiography, where every torment inflicted on them by some insatiable, compulsive tyrant bears witness not to the power of the tyrant but to the power of Christianity.

It is therefore to the advantage of humans that the taste of their flesh encourages anthropophagy. In the widespread story of Nicholas and the Three Clerks, Nicholas, dissatisfied with the meat the butcher tries to sell him, demands the three clerks the butcher has slaughtered, butchered, and salted like pigs. One manuscript of The South English Legendary records Nicholas’s words before the counter:

ich wold ther of bigge. wel swythe gret won
of bacon that were fair and clene. fain ich wolden habbe
sel me so wel as thou wost.
I would buy from you a great deal of fair and clean bacon. I would gladly have this. Sell me as good meat as you know of.

In describing the clerks as “so wel as thou wost,” Nicholas elevates the dead clerks above the common run of meat. By coming to their assistance, as he would for no pig, he has mourned them or at least, through his actions, memorialized their deaths; when he resurrects them, he at once witnesses to and rectifies his grief over the violence they suffered. But even while the clerks are dead, even before the resurrection, Nicholas knows their flesh as human, because he knows it as far more desirable than the flesh of any pig. In that regard, the clerks have not been reduced to utter weakness by being slaughtered, for, inasmuch as they demand special attention, they still have an effect on this world greater than that of any animal.

The identification of readers with the clerks of the Nicholas story also allows them to identify with the clerks as the best meat and thus to identify with the clerks as not pigs. To the degree that they expect that Nicholas would have described them too as the best meat, they experience what Žižek terms interpassivity, “believing or enjoying through the other.” In this case, the belief is akin to the self-satisfaction felt in imagining being present at one’s own funeral. The fantasy is not one of grieving for one’s own self, but one of imagining the power that one will continue to have over others. The human imagines itself dead, and imagines its corpse an object of great alimentary delight; by inspiring delight greater than that caused by any other food, it knows itself to be the superior kind of life and therefore human. This fantasy is not, then, simply a passive experience, nor is it a fantasy of vulnerability. Although the corpse seems inert, it still acts by and through itself by driving others either to grief or delight. Even in death, the human retains its structural position of power; while in life, the human enjoys a similar kind of passive power by imagining that its living flesh would, if dead, be cause for celebration—and obsession—among anyone lucky enough to eat it. Whatever doubts humans may have about the specialness of their being, doubts that perhaps inhere most deeply in the apparent indistinguishability between human and animal flesh, the overwhelming desire of others for human flesh convinces them that humans matter more than any other living thing. In this dynamic, grievable and desirable lives are inextricable.

The fifteenth-century moral treatise Dives and Pauper proves that the verb “occidit” of the Sixth Commandment does not apply “boþyn to man & of beste,” but it still places limitations on the slaughter of animals: anyone who butchers an animal “for cruelte & vanite,” that is, anyone who enjoys killing the animal, has sinned. Humans, however, must possess something more than mere life; they must be creatures who cannot simply be put to use; the supremacy of human life requires the supremacy of human death. The slaughter of humans should not be simply a job, but a sin, an object of desire, a pleasure, a pleasure that coerces, a pleasure that infects eaters with “the hunger.”

[photo from a few weeks ago, at a diner that any Twin Peaks fan knows serves “damn good coffee, and hot”]