medieval art history, navel gazing, horizon scanning
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
This will be just a short pause to revel in contrasts. I don't expect to hear from Mac as his itinerary is absolutely full (art historians are utterly brutal and heartless travel companions and want to see absolutely every stash of visual culture and mass of architecture so, really, there's no use thinking he'll ever be sitting still) (seriously, think twice before traveling with an art historian), so this blog becomes as much a place for him to check in on the different planet that is Indiana from India as much as anything else. What a difference a "-na" makes. After we dropped off Mac at the airport, we went to the Costco in what is clearly a hoarding response I had to being apart from him for three weeks. Iris insisted we get a 10kg bag of basmati rice, as the letters "Product of India" were prominently emblazoned upon the burlap and "I'll be using it in a play that needs three weeks of rehearsals." Promising. We then left the city again to plunge back into our countryside, this time to go to the farm for to pick up our meat of lamb. There should be more trepidation and hand-wringing about this whole endeavor, and I feel ideological taking the children to meet their meat, but not only is this another post (how to teach ecocritical medieval art without being preachy about environmentalism - although what's wrong with that, it has to be done, although does this work? etc. etc. you see where the hand-wringing could go), but it was also such a gorgeous outing and there were pigs to pet, and cattle of a Swiss breed, and a loving dog, and radishes freshly dug from the earth, that it was much preferable to just enjoy ourselves and quietly censor my newly gained academic knowledge of uses of animal carcasses in medieval London (Yeomans, 2007). Eleanor did give me great pause when she turned her little summery face up to mine and, squeezing on my hand just a little but betraying no emotion in her face, asked "Are we here to kill it, Mommy?" Oliver and Iris recoiled, already old enough to know that that's an impossibility in our meat-consumer world, that though you may see the place of origin of the meat you don't actually see it being killed. But Eleanor was young enough to be honestly curious. No, the lambs are killed elsewhere and processed there. We were just at the farm where they are raised and live, as we saw, happy free range social lives. Which, yes, is the knowledge with which I prefer that my family eat their meat. There is much soul-searching to be done here, I know, between the sensual pleasure of preparing a dinner featuring lamb for my family, and the difficulty of writing about the pastoral disconnect between farm visit and slaughter-house. I don't quite know where to start. All I have to honor the animal with is my deep pleasure in eating it. Is that any kind of ethics? And why is aesthetic pleasure so often understood in opposition to good ethical behavior? I suspect a prim Protestantism at play there, but don't know how to undo it. Does my family's pleasure at eating lamb warrant its slaughter? Aesthetics (the appreciation of the beauty of the experience) says yes, ethics (in which one would never cause another creature harm for one's pleasure) says no. And so what do I do with the honesty that aesthetics wins out hands down for me on this one? Maybe Mac will have answers upon his return from India's generally (but dwindling, I hear) vegetarian culture. Meanwhile, I will keep on hesitating to conclude anything about pleasure and slaughter (although don't you want to invite Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to the table and talk about the slaughter-pleasure principles of the hunts and the kisses?).