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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: January 2018

Introduction: ‘A condition more abject …’ Meat City and Nonhuman Objects

Summary

Alas! Why does man boast of sensibilities superior to those apparent in the brute; it only renders them more necessary beings.

There is a line in Zola's Pot-Bouille about a man being killed ‘like an animal in an abattoir’. It is a threat from a disturbed man, Saturnin, who has returned from a stay at an asylum in relation to some business with an inheritance. The accompanying woodcut by Georges Bellenger hardly fits the description, but for the gaping skeleton's visage on the man awaiting dispatch by his assailant's long knife. The intruder, who has invaded the condemned man's bedchambers, is in full business attire and sprawls across the man in his nightclothes, in a well-appointed bed chamber, subduing him while holding him by the hair and preparing the final cut. ‘I will bleed you like a pig’, the assailant tells him before he begins, then twice again in the space of a few lines. Readers of Kafka might already have thought of the famous ending of The Trial, when an anonymous dispatch polishes off Josef K. ‘like a dog’. Here the parallel of animal slaughter to violent, yet intimately domestic intrusion, remarks – thrice – on the animality of humanity in the new metropolis, where civic space and quotidian compressions produce such figurative violence between men. But this would of course be to undermine the animal of animality, which was already a routinely ‘de-animated’ market object and administered form of life for killing, for parts, for distribution and for consumption.

The easiest critique of the ‘biopolitical’ moment in this nineteenthcentury context is to lament the force of market expectations thrust upon human bodies in the massive civic space. The far less natural approach, at least outside the Animal Studies approaches that begin ‘after’ the centripetal pull of humanist analysis, is to catalogue the alltoo- natural economisation of life required by such a space and by such a populous.