Sunday, June 6, 2010


I saw a bullfight once, in Barcelona.  I went with a group of German architecture students.  They all bought seats in the cheapest area -- I paid extra to sit down with the elderly Spanish men, and took my sketchbook.  I really wanted to see what it was like.  There were six bulls, as usual.  The first bull came out angry, charging, and took down a picador with his horse.  But he had no chance -- a bullfight is really no fight at all, just elegant slaughter, as the bull is at first bled out by picadors and banderilleros, and then finally murdered by the matador with a lights-out thrust to the neck.  There is a lot of blood as the bull is lanced; his body is drenched in red, and he's staggering and slowed by the time the matador appears.  You don't want a man to die, but it seems unfair.  This fight proceeded as expected, and ended with more blood in the ring, as the bull's body was dragged out across the sand. 

The architecture students were all green, nauseated, and heading for the exit; I grabbed a sausage, and went back down to watch the rest of the corrida, a bit unsettled because I was in a sense fascinated rather than viscerally repelled.

I don't think I have anything fundamentally new to say about the ritualized killing of bulls for pleasure.  I have my own feelings, which tend to favor the primitive and passionate, and I see the corrida as part of an essential human wildness, and I like that.  But I also have nothing but sympathy for the bloodied beast, teased into mindless rage, murdered for the pleasure of the crowd.  The corrida drags me in both directions at once, holds me suspended in pity, rage, and pleasure, with no clear exit...


von Wenk said...

I admire your capacity for registering these suspended disconnects (and also your casual sangfroid for eating a sausage at the same time). I think the important thing about bullfighting that makes it different from, say, cockfighting, is what you note as the ritualistic aspect of its tradition. The ritual celebrates the profound relationship between the human and the animal that has not yet been negated or repressed. Compare that to the sight of roadkill, which is about the only way in which we are usually disturbed by the sacrifice of animals to our notion of progress.

And, speaking of ritual and animal sacrifice: we should all acknowledge science as our contemporary religion with a new icon. I propose a dissected mouse spreadeagled on a cross, representative of the countless animals who die for our sins every day (Photoshop challenge to all you creative types out there).

mrc said...

Yes, the ritualistic aspect is really everything, indeed -- you've put a point on it. The clothing, the way in which the fighters move, the primacy on courage and elegance give the whole thing heft and solemnity: death and the animal are taken seriously. It plays out more as a requiem than a "sport."

And yes, it strikes a sharp contrast against the blood toll animals pay for our speed, or the revolting factory farms we all know about but never see. (While I have the stomach to eat through a bullfight, the industrialized dystopia we've sentenced our animals to turns my stomach -- I stopped eating red meat altogether for years after a particularly horrifying documentary. Which is, of course, nothing but the petty self-righteousnesses of the bourgeois: weak sister sentimentalism. Points for seeing our own foolishness -- surely this makes up for participating in corruption on a grand scale?)

The mousifixus should be the quintessential symbol of our age. I'm imagining something like Chaim Soutine's carcass paintings. Maybe as processed through Jeff Koons, just so nobody gets the idea that there's any kind of dignity in the process.