Killing 2

“Remember, Cridle, those oxen,
blonde giants, dumb, looking upwards to heaven
whilst receiving the lash: it seemed to me
like I was feeling it too – Oh, Cridle, our business is bloody.”

Such are the words of meat goods king, Pierpont Mauler, in Brecht’s 1930 play, St. Johanna of the Stockyards. Meanwhile, in Lyons, the mayor was welcoming a new invention in the municipality abattoir: a “pistolet de l’assomage”. The inventors of this instrument, Jean Duchenet and Karl Schermer, wrote a summary of the benefits of it for the patent office: “The present invention has for its object a system of using a downing pistol (pistolet d’abatage) of which the automatic function and enhanced security renders the usage very practical and completely inoffensive. The manipulation of this tool is completely harmless. Its maneuvering capability is easy, rapid, and its automatic functioning is protected from all accidental deterioriation. With this machine, the slaughter of animals becomes instantaneous. It gains precious time for the butcher, who can proceed immediately, conveniently, and without danger, to stripping the animals.”

Catherine Remy, from whose article I am quoting, explains: if one pushes the idea a little, it is the idea of a combat, or at least of a dangerousness of the animal, that is here evoked and is at the same time combated. … Eduard Herriot, the mayor of Lyons, went and was the first to introduce the pistol, all in underlining explicitly its humanitarian character. For example, in response to a letter sent by one of his co-mayors, E. Herriot qualified the pistol as the “least barbarous means of slaughter.” (60)

If Kant saw the collapse of the human limit, his response was certainly not to rethink the animal. In fact, the animal is – because it is without self consciousness – always and universally a means for Kant. A means for the one who holds the place delimited by the rational existence: the person.

Kant probably did not go down to see the livestock brought into the old slaugherhouse on the Pregel in Konigsberg. It was a very old site. Konigsberg had a lively butcher’s guild. They used to parade gigantic sausages on New Years day. In 1601, they carried a sausage that was almost 1000 ells long and weighed almost 900 pounds, according to Johann Hübner (1762).

But because there was a municpal abattoir, it wasn’t necessarily up to date. The ones in Berlin were notoriously noxious, polluting, and filthy. The floorboards rotted with the perpetual rain of blood from the slaughtered beasts, and sometimes the butcher, arm upraised and ready to strike, would be as surprised as the beef cow when the floor boards gave way, tumbling them both into the stifling darkness below the slaughterhouse. Who knows what was down there. In 1810, the city closed them, so that once again, butchers would slaughter animals on the street. On that same date, however, Napoleon famously ordered an abattoir reform, setting municipal slaughterhouses out in the suburbs, and hiding the killing and stripping of the beasts.
This was a much admired move. In London, beasts were run up Oxford street to the Smithfield Market until 1850. Britain was the home of the first organized anti-cruelty effort, but Londoners could see, every day, how the cattle and sheep and pigs were run. They had to be beaten into making their pilgrimage. However, with trains and with cooling equipment, things started to change. In Dresden, by the 1890s, the municipal slaughterhouse was so clean and sweet that tours were made of it, and the tourist could, after seeing sausages being made, take refreshment in a garden restaurant. Apparently, none of the smells carried. Of course, these slaughterhouses became famous for another reason in 1945, when Kurt Vonnegut and a bunch of POWs sheltered in one from the U.S. bombing attack.

The beast and the rational being, then, were much more shoulder to shoulder in 1781, when the Critique of Practical Reason was written, then they were even fifty years later. As the meat market grew, the meat making disappeared.

Amie has turned me on to Franju’s Sang des betes, a movie about abattoirs. It is on YouTube. I’m watching it tonight.


utopia or bust said…
Limited inc.,

In lieu of May Day 2009, I'm inviting bloggers to participate in an online blog event on the topic of revolution to share our ideas and each others’ blogs.

Take the time to answer the question, “When/if there is a revolution in the United States, what will it look like?”

See my blog for more details.

- uob
roger said…
Utopia - I've looked at your blog. I thought about what revolution would - will - look like. I'll be checking with you soon.
Alex Greenberg said…
I was wondering if you'd be willing to post some of your sources. I want to do some reading on this topic.