The above is a photo of me pawing through my piece on The Awl about the meat markets.
This piece started as a failed conversation my friends and I had about truffle oil.
We were drunk at a loud bar. Rather the bar was loud because we were drunk in it. Two of my friends were talking about ham-fisting or fisted hams. It was a pork dish of some kind. I was angry at my phone because twitter wouldn’t update. I was angry at myself for never having read The Magic Mountain.
One of my friends turned to me and said:
“What do you think about truffle oil?”
“What?” I said. I thought he said something like muffled foil. Not that perfectly off but close.
“Truffle oil. What do you think about?”
“I think there’s a silence walled up in the violent structure of the founding act.”
Which must be a typical thing for me to say. We started talking about The Girlfriend Experience, never to return to truffle oil or muffled foil.
We left the bar and didn’t get into the next two bars and ended up somewhere we shouldn’t have been.
I want to make the connection that Stuart Ross recently wrote for HTMLGiant about Here and Now, the correspondence between Paul Auster and J. M. Coetzee. I like to think Elizabeth Costello was somehow integral to Ross’s newest essay, at least when he provides this fond recollection of his grandfather (of all our grandfathers):
Our grandfathers never talked back to their food. They didn’t look good food in the mouth. Mine was a butcher, from the Bronx, borough of butchers. He was my king. For him, steak was clock. Fowl was work. He sliced off bits of fingernail throughout the day, the scent of shed blood hounding him. The only marketing he ever saw were the bubble letters announcing the cut and cents per pound. His freezer at home was filled with wholesale steaks and chops, and tubs of Key Food-brand orange sherbet. Steak and sherbet, that’s all he ate. He didn’t need the potatoes, the asparagus. He liked his steak bloody, never tartare.
He woke up at 3:30 a.m., came home at 3:30 p.m., reclined in his chair, finished the crosswords in the Post, the News and the Times, Mondays thru Sundays. When the crossword was finished he dropped the whole paper to the carpet. That’s when I would crawl over and snatch it away, devour the sour news and snark I couldn’t begin to understand. I’d look up, take a peek at the spine of the book he would’ve started reading, doorstops about the tragedies at Treblinka and Nagasaki. And what today might be brokered as WWII fan fiction. What I wouldn’t give for an audit trail of his library borrowings.
It’s that shading there, at the end, Treblinka and Nagasaki, that so offends dear Elizabeth’s audience, but, taken as a wily rhetorical maneuver, I’ve always found it so apt, so moving (quoting now from Elizabeth Costello):
And to split hairs, to claim that there is no comparison, that Treblinka was so to speak a metaphysical enterprise dedicated to nothing but death and annihilation while the meat industry is ultimately devoted to life (once its victims are dead, after all, it does not burn them to ash or bury them but on the contrary cuts them up and refrigerates and packs them so that they can be consumed in the comfort of our homes) is as little consolation to those victims as it would have been—pardon the tastelessness of the following—to ask the dead of Treblinka to excuse their killers because their body fat was needed to make soap and their hair to stuff mattresses with.
At least inside the safe confines of Coetzee’s novel—this long sad sentence raging around the problem of empathizing with animal consciousness, and where the ecologically devastating and indubitably unsustainable industry is mated to the mass psychosis of another era. And it’s strangely moving, too, for Ross to end on the death of his forebears, to move from a critique of the culture, our consumptive lunacy, our dumb fleshly desires, into poignancy, into memory, the way those voices from a different generation make our decisions (going vegan, for instance) appear less urgent, or to seem like folly. Well—it is a very lovely essay, and the logic of it plays out lyrically. It is not an angry wash until its end, when it matters.
My own father, I might add, did kill chickens as a boy, on my grandfather’s farm. He fed the birds, he kept them from foxes, and gathered their eggs, and he wrung their necks, then plucked them, gutted them, he handed them over for supper, familiar in every way with his fowl. Now he forks the tiny animal cubes out of his chicken noodle soup because of it. But he would not stop eating ham or beef because of it.
Other news: Has anyone listened to Colin Stetson’s New History Warfare, Vol. 3: To See More Light? The title song is what I’ve had in my head all morning. I got up to chat with Nicholas, to eat my vegetarian sausage burrito and drink coffee, and fell into the maw a big mean bass saxophone. Lots of trills, too. “To See More Light” has three or so distinct passages—and while I composed this, and drank my coffee, and texted with Nicholas, I have felt breathless and harassed, like I were jumping trains in an action movie, or plunging into an arctic ice abyss, the tincture of ice fracturing, tinkling, loosing stalactites all about me; the album was co-produced by Ben Frost, so all of this palpitation in one way makes sense. I’m not certain about Justin Vernon’s contributions—he is not an angel in sable orbit, he does not knock about the celestial orbs, vibrating in their order, the way Stetson does all on his own with his huge wailing instrument, his plangency and menace. Vernon is more like a squire, a boy in the retinue, humming, a description that reverses, I suppose, the majesty of both in Bon Iver. I’m glad they throw each other work. And for it, I am transported to a far more pleasant place. What is today? Muggy, I think, the humidity is a cataract this morning—this noon-time; it is past noon, now.
My boyfriend called me “batflap” affectionately during this time, and an exchange from yesterday went thus: “Dear Coco, the basement is cool and dark this morning; I slept under a goose down blanket.” And he replied: “Thk u pecky.” Pecky!