“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

the killers and the non-killers: the animal underground


“Let’s remember the implicit code: in the abattoir, everybody does not kill, and this brings it about that there are a set of categorial disjunctions and tacit spatial ones. This code distinguishes the first two groups, the “killers” and the “non-killers” (the administrative personnel and the cleaners), and, at the heart of the group of killers, three sub-groups: the “true killers”, the “occasional killers”, and the “non-killers”. This is divided into different norms or implicit rules: the killers and the non-killers have each their own space; they enter the building by different doors; they never mix in the course of morning breaks; there can be mixed spaces, but the dirty section is forbidden to non-killers: the non-killers are not supposed to look at the slaughter; the killers are not supposed to penetrate into the working areaof the non-killers, etc.”
- From Catherine Remy, When the Implicit Norm is the motor of Normal Activity: deviance and social reactions in an abattoir

Catherine Remy’s article, taken from her fieldwork in a slaughterhouse, is explicitly a study of deviance, taken not in the sense of criminal action, but of non-normal action within a ‘occulted’ space: the slaughterhouse. The slaughterhouse is a sort of condensed sign, a dream image of the two removes that structure modernization: the remove from nature, and the remove from production.

We have had enough, for the moment, of our first underground, the one inhabited by Dostoevsky’s underground man, who in himself incorporates that ‘broadness’ Dostoevsky took to be the special Russian trait, the trait of the unformed that repulsed Europeans. Wave after wave of degenerates and deviants flow from his underground, existing, the sociologists and cops assure us, in parallel to respectable society and not within it – although the deviants and degenerates, along with Dostoevsky himself, would disagree. In a passage in his notebooks for The Raw Youth, from which I have already quoted, Dostoevsky wrote:

All the cries of the critics to the effect that I do not depict real life have not disenchanted me. There are no bases to our society … One colossal quake and the whole lot will come to an end, collapse and be negated as though it had never existed. And this is not just outwardly true, in the West, but inwardly, morally so. Our talented writers, people like Tolstoy and Goncharov, who with great artistry depict family life in upper-middle-class circles, think that they are depicting the life of the majority. In my view they have depicted only the life of the exceptions, but the life which I portray is the life that is the general rule. I pride myself that I've been the first to portray the real man of the Russian majority, and have for the first time revealed his distorted and tragic side. I alone brought out the tragedy of the underground which consists of suffering and self-immolation, of the awareness of that which is better and of the inability to attain it… The underground, the underground, the poet of the underground — the feuilletonists have repeated this refrain as though it were something I should be ashamed of. The little fools. It is my glory…”


The second underground is inhabited by an animal it, which identifies that underground not with the sewer, ultimately, but with the tunnel, or the burrow. It identifies it with an activity – burrowing. Burrowing is a frantic activity, or a stealthy one. And it puts the burrowing creature in relation to light, sunlight.

Such is the structure of the symbols I want to follow in Nietzsche’s preface to Dawn, one of the great texts of the second sort of underground.

In order to follow the social logic – the collective dream logic - of the animal underground, a note here on one of the way nature was ‘removed’ under the auspices of modernization. I have given a mini-history of the removal of the slaughter house and animal cruelty in a previous couple of posts, and so for the rest of this post, I will splice them together and copy them.

“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.

In 1800, a bill was proposed in the House of Commons to ban bull-baiting. In bull-baiting, a bull was tied to a stake and dogs, often bull dogs, were set upon it. Sometimes, the dogs succeeded in killing the bull, sometimes the bull succeeded in killing the dogs, and most often, the bull and the dogs came off wounded.

The bill was defeated. Even so, it produced enough of a stir that a French academy asked a prize question about whether animals had a right to not being treated barbarously.

Another animal cruelty bill was introduced in the Parliament seven years later by Erksine, the well known defender of Tom Paine. It too was defeated.

Both defeats were mainly due to the eloquence of William Windham. Windham was one of Burke’s Whigs. He served as a minister in Pitt’s war government. He was, evidently, out of sympathy with the French Revolution. Yet the speech he made against banning bull-baiting is a document that defends the pleasures of the rural poor in explicitly class conscious terms; in almost the same terms, Paul Lafargue, Marx’s son in law, denounced the anti-vivisection movement in Britain in the 1890s.

Windham begins by dismissing the argument that bull-baiting has a corrupting influence on the character of the spectators by using himself as an instance: he saw two bull-baitings in his youth, he claims, and has not, since, seen any signs of cruelty or corruption. He then gets to the heart of what he thinks is wrong with the legislation by making it an issue of the culture of the common people:

“A great deal has lately been said respecting the state of the poor, and the hardships which they are suffering. But if they are really in the condition which is described, why should we set about to deprive them of the few enjoyments which are left to them? If we look back to the state of the common people in those countries with which our youthful studies make us acquainted, we find, that what with games, shews, festivals and the institutions of their religion, their sources of amusement and relaxation were so numerous as to make them appear to have enjoyed a perpetual holiday… “ Then he imagines what the poor in the country might say to the reformers: “Why interfere with the few sports we have, while you leave yourself and the rich so great a variety? You have your carriage, and your country houses; your balls, your plays, your operas, your masquerades, your card-parties, your books, your dogs, and your horses to amuse you – On yourselves you lay no restraint. – But from us you wish to take the little we have?”

Windham is objecting, as becomes apparent, not just to interference with bull baiting, but to the tendency to regulate the amusements of the poor for their own good. And in so opposing the bill, he speaks up for that countryside culture:

“In the exercise of those sports they may, indeed, sometimes hurt themselves, but could never hurt the nation. If a set of poor men, for vigorous recreation, prefer a game of cudgels, instead of interrupting them, it should be more our business to let them have fair play.”

This is the note of Hazlitt and Cobbett – and not what one might expect from a reactionary. Nor this: ‘The advocates of this bill, Sir, proposed to abolish bull-baiting on the score of cruelty. It is strange enough that such an argument should be employed by a set of persons who have a most vexatious code of laws for the protection of their own amusements. I do not mean at present to condemn the game laws; but when Gentlemen talk of cruelty, I must remind them, that it belongs as much to shooting, as to the sport of bull-baiting; nay more so, as it frequently happens, that where one bird is shot, a great many others go off much wounded. When, therefore, I hear humane Gentlemen even make a boast of having wounded a number of birds in this way, it only affords me a further proof that savage sports do not make savage people. Has not the butcher as much right to demand the exercise of his sport, as the man of fortune to demand that of hunting?”

Move forward, now, to Lafargue, who begins: “The bourgeois have the tenderness of angels in regard to animals: they feel a closer relationship to the animals than they do to the workers.”

Lafargue is not only following, unconsciously, in the path of the Burkian Windham, but in the path of Marx, who, in his list of the paragons of bourgeois humanism in the Communist Manifesto, includes societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals. Lafargue finds it infuriating that an English law allows the police to interfere with a scientist experimenting on an animal, and while allowing companies to experiment on their human clients with products mixed dangerous impurities or the like, all to save a bit of money in production:

“John Simon is an English factory inspector. He has studied the tortures to which the tender hearted bourgeois submits children, women and proletarian men in the capitalist prisons, in order to steal the fruits of their labor. He denounced them with a courage never known to the radicals. In his discourse [to a recent congress], he established that there exists two categories of experiment. One practiced by the physiologist on certain animals. The other practiced on thousands of men by speculators. For an example, he cites the classic experiments of Professor Tiersch on mice in order to discover the mode by which Asiatic cholera propagates, and the popular and well known experiment which was practiced during two cholera epidemics, of 1848-49 and 1853-54 on a half million inhabitants of South London by a certain commercial company who supplied these districts with polluted water.”

However, Lafargue is not only concerned with science – although it is interesting that the a defense of the amusements of the common people has transformed, in the course of the century, into a defense of science. He also uses Windham’s example of bird shooting to indict the bourgeoisie for committing acts of cruelty for their own amusement whilst banning acts that repulsed them among the lower orders.

Only by seeing that the dispute over animals and their treatment has deep roots in the common life, a life that was being transformed all over Europe, can one make one’s way, here. There is a delusion that we can get a clear political guide from understanding the pattern of our semantic binaries. They seem to group themselves before our eyes. We look at the history of the word, person, we see a sort of semiotic equivalent of the theodicy here, we think that we can make sense of the civil wars hidden in the word. We say, look at these oppositions deriving from this word that is originally a simulacra of the face, the face as an exchangeable object. Look at the number of semiotic transformations we can touch upon: of the relationship between the face and the body, the clothed and the naked, the man and the woman,, the elite and the common, the man and the beast. But when we look at how these things are imminently constituted and experienced, we find that things are not as we imagined them to be.

Maurice Angulhon, in “Le sang des bêtes. Le problème de la protection des animaux en France au XIXème siècle”, claimed that, unlike the 20th century, the entire onus of the movement to protect animals from cruelty, especially domestic animals, was aimed at preventing human cruelty. Windham, in fact, is responding to a similar claim in England – the spectacle or practice of cruelty to animals among the working classes will lead to either crime or a dangerous propensity to political rebellion. Surely this is true, to some extent, that the chief organizers for the protection of animals were animated by a “curious mixture of profound humanism and social fear.” For instance, under Napoleon, the traditional way of butchering an animal, which was done in the full view of whoever wanted to watch in Paris, was regulated so that it occurred in special abbatoirs. Just as the ladies wore red sewn into their necklines as a memorial of the guillotine, so, too, this prohibition could be seen as another, more fearful homage to the guillotine: “in dissimulating the blade of the butcher one contributed perhaps to avoiding the blade of the street jury.” (85) Industry and animal husbandry were much more visible, nonetheless, in cities where the flow of traffic was measured by the horse, and where the knacker’s trade in sick and dying horses, which were often sold off and starved to death, flourished.


Here is the famous report from an acquaintance of Nietzsche’s about the events of January 3, 1889 (although whether this happened on January 3 or December 27, 1888 is under some dispute)

“But the high point was the episode of that day on which Davide Fino saw the professor on the Via Po between two policemen, followed by a crowd of circling people. Friederich Nietzsche had, a few minutes before, put his arms about the neck of a taxi-driver’s beaten horse and refused to let him go. He had seen how the coachmen had beat the four legged creature, and had felt such enormous pain, that he had seen himself obliged to offer the beast his dedication.”

No comments: