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Ewes In The Late Afternoon
I visit the sheep twice a day. They are talkative and if they need something they'll tell you, but you'll have to guess what they're talking about.
The ewes were quiet this afternoon; one must assume they had everything they needed, even the visit.
And the very perfection of such poetry often appears to depend, in part, on a certain suppression or vagueness of mere subject, so that the meaning reaches us through ways not distinctly traceable by the understanding, as in some of the most imaginative compositions of William Blake, and often in Shakespeare’s songs, as preeminently in that song of Mariana’s page in Measure for Measure, in which the kindling force and poetry of the whole play seems to pass for a moment into an actual strain of music.
And this principle holds good of all things that partake in any degree of artistic qualities, of the furniture of our houses, and of dress, for instance, of life itself, of gesture and speech, and the details of daily intercourse; these also, for the wise, being susceptible of a suavity and charm, caught from the way in which they are done, which gives them a worth in themselves.
Herein, again, lies what is valuable and justly attractive, in what is called the fashion of a time, which elevates the trivialities of speech, and manner, and dress, into “ends in themselves,” and gives them a mysterious grace and attractiveness in the doing of them.
The School of Giorgione, 1877 from The Renaissance, Studies in Art and Poetry. Walter Pater
The art historian Rosalind Krauss has often risked a collaged succession of interpretive methods in order to achieve what she considers an appropriate theoretical density. When the approach works, it makes the art that much more difficult to discuss: it raises the level of discourse and puts an end to easier approaches. When it fails, the approach seems to be more a matter of finding erudite connections, and playing with the poetry of unexpected allusions, than of illuminating the artwork. I put it this way because academic art criticism is not necessarily leftist or obscurantist. There are good reasons to doubt the straight-ahead logic of some earlier critical practices, but there are also compelling reasons to be wary of tapestries woven of recondite allusions. They may seem brilliant at the time, but their bright colors fade.
What Happened To Art Criticism by James Elkins, 2003
The utility of beauty as a legitimate recourse resides in its ability to locate us as physical creatures in a live, ethical relationship with other human beings in the physical world. Natural and man-made objects reside at the heart of this discourse. The intentions and values that inform these objects bear no relation to any meanings they might acquire. These physical things provide us with a correlative, an interstice or pause, if you will, upon which the past and future may pivot. The past may create an object and that object create the future if we read the physical world as ancient oracles read the entrails of goats and the flight of eagles—if we are sensitive to the past, alive to present, and alert to the possibilities of the future.
The condition of existence I am describing is nothing more or less than ethical, cosmopolitan paganism—the gorgeous inheritance bestowed upon us by the pre-Christian societies of the Mediterranean whose idolatrous proclivities have never been obliterated or even subordinated in the Christian West. Nor are they likely to be. The vernacular of beauty is a part of that pagan inheritance. The whole rhetoric of commerce and practical science is a part of it too, as are the foundational premises of this republic, whose framers embraced Cicero's insistence that the virtue of any politics is confirmed in the body of the citizen—in the corporeal safety and happiness of that single and collective body.
Talking about beauty involves us in a physical world bereft of transcendental attributes. It's human attributes are as numerous and protean as the gods of Rome (and amazingly similar in their utility). They fall to hand as we need them—novelty, familiarity, antiquity, autonomy, rarity, sanctity, levity, solemnity, eccentricity, complicity, and utility. Their value in the moment determines the temple at which we offer up our sacrifice. There is never any doubt of our desire, if we feel ourselves free enough to buy into the embodied panoply of likeness and resemblance before our eyes—not to own it, but to join it in a pagan embrace that closes the space between ourselves and everything beyond ourselves. It s hard to hold the world, of course, as we hold values dear, as we hold certain truths to be self-evident, but beauty, value, and truth arise out of the intimacy of that embrace.
The Invisible Dragon, Essays on Beauty by David Hickey, 2002
Felix Edouart Vallotton, 1907
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the show which goes on through June 3, 2012, The Steins Collect, there hangs next to Pablo Picasso's frequently reproduced 1905-6 portrait this painting by Felix Vallotton which was also owned by Gertrude Stein.
Further, we might seek out the "most efficient beautiful image" that valorizes the most egregious content to the wealthiest and most influential beholders exclusively. In this category, I think we must acknowledge Picasso's Les demoiselles d 'Avignon—either as a magnificent "formal breakthrough" (whatever that is) or, more realistically, as a manifestation of Picasso's dazzling insight into the shifting values of his target market. So consider this scenario: Pablo comes to Paris, for all intents and purposes a bumpkin, with a provincial and profoundly nineteenth-century concept of the cultural elite and its proclivities—imagining that the rich and silly still prefer to celebrate their privilege and indolence by "aestheticizing" their surroundings into a fine-tuned, fibrillating atmosphere. He proceeds to paint his Blue and Rose period pictures under this misapprehension (pastel clowns, indeed!)—then Leo and Gertrude introduce him to a faster crowd.
He meets some rich and careless Americans and gradually, being no dummy, perceives among the cultural elite with whom he is hanging out, and perilously hanging on, a phase-shift in their parameters of self-definition. These folks are no longer building gazebos and placing symboliste Madonnas in fern-choked grottos. They are running with the bulls—something Pablo can understand. They are measuring their power and security by their ability to tolerate high-velocity temporal change, high levels of symbolic distortion, and maximum psychic discontinuity. They are Americans, in other words, post-Jamesian Americans in search of no symbolic repose, unbeguiled by haystacks, glowing peasants, or Ladies of Shallot. So Pablo Picasso—neither the first nor the last artist whom rapacious careerism will endow with acute cultural sensitivity—goes for the throat, encapsulates an age with a painting of French whores, and, through no fault of his own, creates the cornerstone of the first great therapeutic institution.
I have no wish to diminish Picasso's achievement by this insouciant characterization of it, but I do want to emphasize the fact that, during the period in which Les demoiselles was painted, pictures were made primarily for people, not against them—and to suggest further that if we examine the multiplication of styles from roughly 1850 to 1920, we will find, for each one of them, a coterie of beholders, an audience already in place. Thus, a veritable bouquet of styles, of "beauties," was invented, and none of them died, nor have they since. An audience persists for each of them, and if I seem to have splintered the idea of beauty out of existence by projecting it into this proliferation, well, that is more or less my point.
The Invisible Dragon, Essays on Beauty David Hickey 1993, 2000
But although each art has thus its own specific order of impressions, and an untranslatable charm, while a just apprehension of the ultimate differences of the arts is the beginning of aesthetic criticism; yet it is noticeable that, in its special mode of handling its given material, each art may be observed to pass into the condition of some other art, by what German critics term an Anders-streben–a partial alienation from its own limitations, through which the arts are able, not indeed to supply the place of each other, but reciprocally to lend each other new forces.
The School of Giorgione, 1877 from The Renaissance, Studies in Art and Poetry. Walter Pater.
At Chelly National Park Monument, photograph by Ansel Adams 1937
"More than 50 photographs by Ansel Adams are on exhibit at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts in downtown Tampa...through July 6."
This photograph brings to mind that we rented a darkroom in North Beach and I learned how to develop and print black and white film from Noel, Ansel Adam's granddaughter.
We vaccinated the ewes with 2 ml of CD/T (Clostridium perfringins types C and D) vaccine SQ (subcutaneously). We vaccinate all sheep annually with CD/T. Most importantly we must vaccinate the bred ewes before lambing so they confer a passive immunity to the newborn lamb through its ingestion of colostrum, the first milk from the dam's udder, which conveys various antibodies along with those from the vaccination that will protect the lamb until its own immune system develops.
Death caused by Clostridium perfringins is rapid (within 24 hrs) but painful; when the symptoms are observable, treatments are usually in vain.
To vaccinate a sheep is to say, "Not yet Death, this sheep is not ready to die, we can live for a day, a month, a year, a lifetime even." We are Max von Sydow who plays a 15th century knight who plays chess with Death attempting to avoid life's inevitable and unavoidable checkmate, in Ingmar Bergman's film the Seventh Seal which was taken from the Book of Revelation.
And when the Lamb (having seven horns and seven eyes) had opened the Seventh Seal, there was silence in heaven for half an hour. Revelation 8:1
What differentiates farming from other occupations, is that farmers determine when a living thing dies, be it a lamb that I take to the slaughterhouse or a carrot that a vegetable farmer pulls from the ground. Vegetables die anonymously; they fit well into the industrialized food machinery that Mark Bittman describes in The Human Cost of Animal Suffering, New York Times March 13, 2012.
I like Mark Bittman for his column in the Times, The Minimalist which ran for 13 years; his recipe for a butterflied leg of lamb with pesto was memorable for the invention, the idea, the simplicity and of course the taste; he has given of us many good recipes including those which have meat as a component. Mark Bittman is a champion of animal welfare, a critic of the factory farm and of corporate agriculture in general that produces adulterated food as it generates cash flow. I applaud him for his work against industrial methods of food production; those applied to vegetables are bad and those applied to animals are worse.
But where I question him is his statement that killing animals is "maltreatment," I would agree with him when it comes to animals slaughtered in a conveyor belt factory of death for fast food chains and supermarkets which is the way most livestock meet their end, this is maltreatment. Here is what he says in the Times:
None of which justifies egregious maltreatment. (Yes, vegan friends, I get that killing animals, period, is maltreatment. This ambivalence, or hypocrisy if you prefer, is for every ambivalent or hypocritical omnivore or flexitarian a puzzle, and scale is an issue.) That maltreatment must first be acknowledged in order for us to alleviate it.
He is absolute: "killing animals, period, is maltreatment." He goes on to describe a middle ground that permits the killing of animals "that allows our children to make more humane decisions." Does he mean that, if our children are to continue as carnivores (which he supposes), this middle ground will allow humane ways of maltreatment?
Is there a way to kill that is not maltreatment, how, how does one handle this killing, what does one do? It is this so called middle ground that has our answers. Mr. Bittman wrote another column on March 16th, No Surprise: Meat Is Bad for You.
Then on March 17th, Saint Patrick's Day, Mark Bittman published a recipe in the Times for beef stew and he did not specify how the cow was to be killed for it's meat. The recipe was delicious reading and I wonder how many of his readers, those who followed the recipe, bought beef from cows that had been killed in an industrial processing plant, one that, he abhors for the maltreatment inherent in the way they handle livestock and kill them. Perhaps it is the editorial policy that he couldn't specify in the recipe how the beef should be killed. It must be a difficult thing to believe one thing and to understand that you must hold your tongue and not voice your heartfelt opinions or be fired. What we must do for our paychecks!
I really wouldn't bring up my beliefs if it were not relevant to the topic at hand. I am a bad Buddhist for reasons different from the many good Buddhists who believe me a bad one.
Several years ago, Carol, a Tibetan Buddhist and a local sangha member, whom I'd invited over to the farm for two reasons (I was tempted to join a Buddhist sangha and I wanted her to let me touch her breasts), after smelling the complex living fragrances of a sheep barn, turned up her nose as if to say, it stinks of death here, and this fact of her being able to find unpleasant the odors that I find lovely, along with her telling me on the hillside above the sheep barn that the head monk of her sangha had told her I would not be a suitable member because I had sheep, I knew, looking down at the flock before the barn—a little intoxicated with their aroma—and smiling slightly but sadly, that not only had I been barred entrance to her sangha, I would never be able to touch her breasts.
The Japanese Zen master Eihei Dōgen 永平道元 (1200-1253) said that, "Zazen is enlightenment." What did Dogen mean? Zazen is one of the the first practices taught to those starting on a Zen path; beginners are told to focus their attention on the breath as it goes in and out of the body—when you notice that your mind has wandered, you return your attention to the breath. And like the breath, the question a Zen practitioner keeps coming back to is, "Enlightenment, what is it?" If the Dalai Lama were not enlightened, who could be; or is he just the simple monk he says he is?
What progress toward Enlightenment does is to make us into the recipients of a gift: happiness is very bright to an unhappy person; it is warm and flashing viewed from the depths of despair, but there are other gifts that might be unseen in the giddy glare of happiness; they are almost unnoticeable because they are common. These smaller and more day-to-day gifts are aspects of life itself, so often overlooked in our busy pursuits of occupation and wellbeing.
Some of these everyday gifts are thoughts about death. We live in a wake of death caused by simply going on from day to day, all of us: you, me, Mark Bittman, HHDL, Carol, members of her sangha, everybody. Life supports life; the taking of life perpetuates the living and the only way we can stay alive is by killing. And eating or, in reality, killing to stay alive requires an intention realized or not, but acted upon. Food died for you, you killed it as you bit into that apple; it gave you sustenance and the only things that can provide life to living things are other living things in and of themselves. All living things, in a broader sense, are cannibalistic devouring other living things to live.
Based on the common horror that we call eating you can see why people, when they even think of the food process at all, choose what they consider to be a lesser evil and eat only plants calling themselves vegetarians, why Mark Bittman calls the killing of animals, at the prompting of his vegan friends, "maltreatment," and you can see why Carol and her good fellow Buddhists frown upon keeping sheep. Abhorrence, denial, guilt and exclusion, or a modern day shunning, are several, and there are more, palliative, projecting or self blaming personal responses to the eating of meat.
Yet, there is a satisfactory response, a singular way of successfully addressing the bestialities of life, like the taking of life to live, or as we euphemistically call it, eating; but I am loathe to name this solution because I might be imposing here in the same way my mother imposed on a young and errant me, not by silence, although that was a part of her change of tone coupled with a matter-of-fact look that made me feel alone and cold such that I would do anything to have her warm love—anything at all—I would even be a good boy. Ha! We never grow out of the need be more virtuous than we are, do we.
In a previous draft I'd mentioned a contest in a column of the New York Times, The Ethicist, Tell Us Why It’s Ethical to Eat Meat. Having deleted the reference but now that the winner has been declared by the judges, one of them being Mark Bittman, I bring it up again because Jay Bost, writer of the winning essay, states what is paramount to sanely going about one's daily life and that is pertinent to this discussion; he, and only he, of the 6 published finalists from over 3000 entries submitted to the Times expressed a sentiment that should be common not only to the eating of meat but also to everything, and I do mean everything, that enters one's field of concern.
It's best to read Jay Bost, but let me quote part of the last paragraph where he says that eating meat is ethical if three reasons are met,
First, you accept the biological reality that death begets life on this planet...Second, you combine this realization with that cherished human trait of compassion and choose ethically raised food... And third, you give thanks.
Reason number one, I described in different, probably much colder, words; and reason number three was what I was approaching in this attempt (essay), what Mark Bittman and so many others ignore: thankfulness and of course we will return to it as gratitude is tantamount, not only to eating, but to living as well; and last but not least reason number two, Mark Bittman understands "ethically raised food" well (I have no critique of him here); food ethics are his food politics and it mostly fills his column. That's why I enjoy reading him; he informs me and, more often than not, we agree.
But it's difficult to keep those three reasons in mind when we're hungry: We grab something to eat and really don't give much thought to the fact that what we're eating is alive, or once was, and who knows how this food was raised and consequently killed, ethically or otherwise (there were no or inadequate labels on it to specify how it was raised); and of top of all that, why should we be grateful, as if paying for the food and service weren't enough, and expensive it was too. Besides I always tip well, no matter the quality of the service.
Being thankful, to say thank you, is to express a debt that can never be paid so unlike the transactions where with the exchange of money renders debts paid in full and duly forgotten. To say thank you, to express gratitude, is to say I will always be in your debt. This is the key to living, to eating, to killing in order to live.
In the trailer at the small, humane slaughterhouse while we're waiting for the door to open I look into the eyes of my sheep and silently say thank you. And, that as a debt never to be paid, I say it again and if I forget to say it, or am too busy to, or distracted by something or my mind wanders, I eventually come back to gratitude like the breath in zazen.
As an afterword: On May 15th Mark Bittman mentions in his column in the Times, We Could Be Heroes the contest for which he was a judge about the ethics of eating meat. Yesterday we vaccinated the lambs with CD/T; they'll get a booster in 3 weeks.