Spanish Music, music in Madrid, bullfighting in Madrid, Norman Lebrecht's Slipped Disc' and some commenters, 'The Mighty Ones'

 

 

 

 

Image above: from a bullfight in Madrid

 

 

 

 

The material below is critical of the Lebrecht legend himself, severely critical. I've read only a minute fraction of the articles published on 'Slipped Disc' and most of the time, I read none of them. Recently, I not only read an article but commented on it. 'The Mighty Ones' is my sarcastic term for some commenters on his site, 'Slipped Disc' and the material below is about the complete failure to do anything about a situation which had become grotesquely unfair. 

 

Since then, he's released a new page. This was on 9 February, the day after I contacted his 'literary agents,' A M Heath drawing their attention to the material below, without the most recent material. The article of 9 February introduced a new rule for the conduct of 'Slipped Disc,' in particular, this warning to commenters:

 

'You may not criticize any other person from behind a pseudonym.'

 

This marks an abrupt change with previous practice on the site. Before then, gross criticisms were published on the site under pseudonyms, and I give examples below.

 

https://slippedisc.com/2024/02/tightening-up-slippediscs-comments-section/

 

The comments which followed the 'tightened-up rules,'  included these:

 

'In agreement with this, been some pretty horrendous comments on some recent posts.' and this,

 

'Yes, but the fact that troll comments were getting the moderators’ greenlight made it seem like they were encouraged.'

 

'It is frustrating for contributors using their real name to endure personal, hateful, vindictive attacks by other contributors using pseudonyms ...'

 

 

Slipped Disc: the classical music site, run by Norman Lebrecht. Opinions, insults, calls for banning and a  banning  in the comments section of the page 'Pain in Spain as Alondra gains major role.' (February 1, 2024.)

 

An extract from the material below:

 

Norman Lebrecht
If you are threatening defamation action, you’d better leave the site right now.

 

Paul Hurt

If you refer to my comment, you’ll find I made it completely clear that I wasn’t ‘threatening defamation action.’. I wrote, ‘I’ve not the least intention of bringing a claim under the law of defamation in connection with adverse comments on this page.’

 

Norman Lebrecht
... You are no longer welcome on this site.

 

 

 'The Mighty Ones' is my sarcastic name for some commenters on the page of Slipped Disc. I find them ridiculous, and I give the evidence.  The name 'The Mighty Ones' comes from an American animated TV series.

 

The adventures of a gang of tiny creatures ... This band of diminutive heroes calls themselves the Mighty Ones, and while they may be the smallest things in the yard, they're determined to live big lives.

 

An elevated,  vastly different use of 'Mighty Ones,' if 'Gewaltigen' in the first line of the poem by Hölderlin  'An die Parzen' is translated as 'mighty ones:'

 

Nur Einen Sommer gönnt, ihr Gewaltigen!

 

Grant me only one summer, Mighty Ones!

 

During the 'exchange of opinions,' some of these commenters made claims for Spanish composers, instrumentalists and vocal performers which were ridiculously inflated in many cases. I refer to these, sarcastically, as 'The Mighty Ones' too, but with none of the associations of the American animated TV series, and not in the case of the substantial figures who were mentioned, such as Pablo Casals.

 

The site had these 'rules when posting on Slipped Disc,'

 

Please observe the following simple rules:

 

1. No abuse
2. No defamation
3. No personal attacks.
4. You may post anonymously or under a pseudonym, but only under one name.

 

The additional rule, a new rule, prohibited (or claims to prohibit) criticism under a pseudonym.

 

These rules were  ignored quite often. Defamatory and inflammatory language could survive the process of moderation. Moderation of comments could  be very lax and  very strict. Content could be banned, blocked, censored for no very good reason. I've many criticisms to make of Slipped Disc and its owner, Norman Lebrecht but the criticisms here are about a single page.

 

From the 'Slipped Disc' page, 'Why are classical commenters so bitter?' (May 13, 2022.)

 

https://slippedisc.com/2022/05/why-are-classical-commenters-so-implacably-bitter/

 

Chicago Symphony violist Max Raimi writes,'

 

' ... our society seems to be getting nastier all the time. And classical music is increasingly off the radar for the vast majority of the citizenry. But is there really a connection between these two phenomena? Are people who love classical music kinder and more civilized than those who don’t?

'A strong counter argument is hard to ignore if you peruse the comments section of slippedisc.com, Norman Lebrecht’s website devoted to classical music. There you will see a number of people who clearly love classical music. Unfortunately, all too many of them are among the nastiest, most mean spirited people I have ever encountered, even on the web.'

 

Norman Lebrecht adds:

 

'Max Raimi is absolutely right. There has been a tendency by some commenters on this site to shower anyone who enjoys success at any level with scepticism and insinuations that are unfounded in any factual knowledge. Our moderators try to curb the abuse. Much as I am committed to free speech, if the tendency keeps rising, we may have to shut down certain contributors.' 

 

A difficulty is the fact that once comments have been accepted and published, revision of comments and deletion of comments is cumbersome, not straightforward. It requires a submission to the editorial side of things and the delays in implementing the changes can be long. Many, many sites make revision and deletion very easy.  Minor errors can be corrected, and wording which is defamatory or inflammatory or otherwise inadvisable  can easily be removed. Slipped Disc is full of material which should have been revised but was obviously never revised. Still, the streamlined sites often contain material which should have been revised but was never revised, despite the fact that revision would have been easy.

 

I've a preference for more detailed rules than the very concise rules of Slipped Disc, including the new rules introduced on 9 February, 2024.  I provide an example at the end of this section of a Comments Policy which is far superior.

 

The page which is the focus of attention here:

 

https://slippedisc.com/2024/02/confusion-in-spain-as-alondra-gains-major-role/

 

The material on the page includes this:

 

The Orchestra and Choir of the Community of Madrid has appointed Alondra de la Parra as chief conductor and artistic director, starting this summer ...  An insider tells us: ‘Some colleagues in Madrid are shocked and angered with the decision, but are afraid to talk openly about it.

 

The comments in the comments section were very varied and touched upon musical life in Madrid, Spanish music - the case for and the case against, claims for excellence and claims for mediocrity - and, the topic I introduced into the discussion, bullfighting. I commented on some aspects of Spanish music and musical standards as well as bullfighting. The comments section is very instructive, I think, raising questions about  use of evidence, use of insults, and much more. The issues include use of pseudonyms in comments sections: the advantages for the users of pseudonyms and the disadvantages, general, specific.

 

From the first comment of the comments section,

posted by 'GV' (not one of 'The Mighty Ones'):

 

As a Spaniard and fellow musician, I am very unhappy by the appointment of Mexican “conductor” Alondra de la Parra to this position with the Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid, particularly when the current music director, Polish conductor Marzena Diakun, was doing a good job.

Any trained musician would swiftly realize not only Alondra’s lack of technical abilities but also a deficiency in high-quality musical and artistic perspective. I struggle to envision what she will contribute to the orchestra, beyond enhancing its international recognition (she’s popular for reasons I can’t understand). It appears that this decision has been influenced at a political level within the Comunidad de Madrid.

 

...


This is distressing news. I have no reservations in expressing my lack of respect for Alondra de la Parra as a conductor and hope for a very short tenure.

 

And now for extracts from the commenters, me and the people who criticized me. The upvotes and downvotes are recorded as 'UP' and 'DOWN,   I've never added to the figures on any site. If the score in a football match is 1-0 or 1-1 or 5-0 or whatever, the score has importance. Using a finger to operate a key to add to some figures isn't important, except for what it reveals about the minds (or mentality) of those people.

 

New material is added to the site every day. Pictures and text, with links to the existing pages, are visible on the site but before long, is pushed down and out of sight, to make way for newer material. Some pages don't attract much comment - or any comment. The more popular pages (which aren't necessarily the better pages in the least, attact many, many 'votes,' upvotes and / or downvotes, but only for a few days. The number of votes declines steeply, as would be expected. I don't provide dates when the comments below were posted - the information is available on the Slipped Disc site. The decline in the number of votes as the material gets older is obvious in the record here.  

 

'The Mighty Ones' of the heading to this section include  FrauGeigerin, the only commenter I can be sure, or fairly sure, is female, from the use of 'Frau' and of 'Geigerin,' German for female violinist. A male violinist is 'Geiger.'

 

A general comment on FrauGeigerin and the other 'Mighty Ones.' It bothers me, although it probably doesn't bother the majority of commenters who post comments under a pseudonym, that when I'm replying to a pseudonymous commenter, in most cases I've no way of knowing whether the commenter is male or female. When a commenter uses his or her real name, I can often obtain background information. Has the commenter a track record, some record of achievement? A record of achievement isn't always a recommendation, but information which gives a picture of the person is always useful. Pseudonymous commenters are shadowy figures and the shadow is deep shadow. Even when the comments are colourful or interesting or important, there's a lack: the commenter can't possibly be known well enough.

 

Material in square brackets [ ...] doesn't appear in the Slipped Disc page. It's either a comment of mine, or material which I submitted but which wasn't accepted.

 

Paul Hurt

 

[The page is about musical a particular appointment to a minor orchestra in Madrid. For me, it raised much more general issues, about the general musical life of Madrid, the musical culture of Spain, and the relationship between classical music and other aspects of  'cultural' life in Madrid and Spain. The issue I raised was bullfighting. In this first paragraph of my first comment, I made it completely clear that this was supplementary material. FrauGegerin later objected that I raised issues not connected with the appointment to the orchestra. She obviously overlooked this paragraph.]

 

Perhaps this esteemed site might benefit by dividing the page into three sections: the text which the commenters comment on, the main comments of the commenters, and ‘footnotes,’ on issues which aren’t about the main issue or issues but which do have some relevance. I don’t say that this should be considered as a realistic possibility, obviously. This is a comment which would definitely be suited to a footnotes section, if it ever came about, not that it will. I do comment on one ‘mainstream’ issue, though: productions of Bizet’s Carmen.


...

I’m not sure that ‘GV’ would recognize this or agree with this, perhaps not, but Spain’s ranking in the world of music – the kind of music discussed on this site – isn’t a very high one. It’s not as if the appointment of Alondra de la Parra is an affront to Spain’s reputation as a centre of musical excellence. This isn’t a country of universal musical mediocrity either, of course. Obviously, there are exceptions such as the cellist Pablo Casals to take into account, as well as many contemporary musicians.

 

But to get to the point, to name the issue which this footnote is about, Spain – not all of Spain, but certainly including Madrid and so many other places – is a barbaric country. Similarly Mexico and France – not all of France, but many places in Southern France. I’m referring to one issue and one issue only – which is bullfighting, of course.

For an insight into what the people of Madrid get up to, or many of them do, this is an instructive video:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gaNbZl-HSoQ&ab_channel=
RandomScenesAroundthePlanet

 

At 8.00 into the video, the matador prepares to kill the bull. The bull has already been stabbed with the lance of the picador, not shown stabbing this particular bull, and stabbed with six barbed banderillas.
8.06. The matador stabs the bull with the sword intended to kill the bull. In the majority of bullfights, the sword fails to kill the bull outright, including all the bulls in this video. With the sword embedded in its back, the bull is still very much alive but before long collapses. (Often, bulls take much longer than this.)
8.54 The bull is stabbed repeatedly in the spine with a dagger, the ‘puntilla.’ The bullfighting crowd is exultant and calls for the matador to be awarded an ear of the bull or both ears of the bull by waving of handkerchiefs. In the meantime, the horses which remove the bodies of the bulls appear and the bull is dragged away. The ear or ears have been cut off to present to the matador.
10.12. The horses unexpectedly are made to stop.
10.30. The bull is stabbed in the spine again with the dagger. The bull has been dragged along the sand, the ears of the bull have been cut off, when the bull was still alive, it seems! The previous stabbings with the dagger, like the sword of the matador, have failed to kill the bull.
10.44. The bull is now presumably dead, dead for certain, and the dragging from the arena resumes.
11.00. The matador holds up the two ears he’s been awarded.

The corrida resumes, the other bulls are stabbed and killed, not one of them instantly. For footage of a picador on a (blindfolded horse) stabbing a bull with a lance, 39:50 is a place to see what happens.

 

The horses of the picadors now have some protection. Before the introduction of protection, the ‘peto,’ in 1929, forty horses could be killed in the bullring in a single bullfight, often by being disembowelled. Horses can still be disembowelled. The horses of the mounted bullfighters i the ‘rejoneo’ are unprotected. A film which shows the sufferings of horses before the introduction of the peto, including disembowelling:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCTrLWncSjs&list=PLEB32230D46060ADD&index=46&ab_channel=guilledh

This was the kind of bullfighting which Bizet’s Carmen watched, the kind of bullfighting which Bizet’s matador, Escamillo, practised. Productions of ‘Carmen’ are taking place this year at the Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne and the Metropolitan Opera amongst other places. Past productions of the opera have adopted very, very different methods of incorporating bullfighting into the production. I’ll return to this issue later.

 

In Roman amphitheatres, the crowd watched gladiators fight, often to the death, watched the slaughter of animals and watched the execution of the people referred to as ‘noxii,’ often killed in grotesquely barbaric ways. Gladiatorial combat wasn’t the only attraction for the crowd. The surviving legacy of the Roman amphitheatre is bullfighting. In Arles and Nîmes in Southern France, the bullfights take place in the same arenas where these hideous Roman spectacles took place and the bullfights, specifically the ‘corrida’ – take the same form.

The legacy of the Greek theatres – to name just one, the Theatre at Epidauros – is very different. If the literary achievement of Greek theatre has a claim upon our attention, there were other aspects of Greek theatre which came to have a vast and varied influence. Greek theatre was a spectacle as well as a form of literature, combining words with music and dance. The ancient Greeks never attempted opera – its invention was an Italian achievement – but by their use of music they paved the way for opera – unlike bullfighting, a glorious achievement, incomparably wider, deeper, more important.

The supposed ‘artistry’ of the bullfight has to be compared with the rich, radiant, complex, powerful, often transcendently beautiful art-works which have been created in painting, architecture, theatre, instrumental music, vocal music, opera production and other arts. Schiller referred to the stage as ‘Die Bretter, die die Welt bedeuten.’ ‘The boards that signify the world.’

Is Madrid one of the world’s leading cultural centres? Is it a centre of excellence, a beacon of civilized values? Hardly. There’s a more favourable view, of course, but it has to be qualified.

...

 

UP 16  DOWN 97

 

FrauGeigerin
Wonderful unnecessary nonsense. Please, Norman, remove this BS from this ********. [Norman: a reference to Norman Lebrecht. Slipped Disc is his Website.]

UP 55  DOWN 9

 

Anon
Agree. And it’s not even wonderful. This guy is a nutcase.

 

UP 15  DOWN 2


Paul Hurt

Gnädige Frau, it’s best not to make light of
censorship, surely. Free expression can never be an unrestricted right but it should be granted unless there are very good reasons not to. You know yourself that Norman Lebrecht isn’t going to remove material which has already been moderated and which is now in the public domain.

Which leads me to another issue. Whenever I have the time, I like to revise things I’ve written, often discarding whole sections, making all kinds of improvements. Although it’s possible to edit a comment after it’s been published, it would seem that it’s a fairly cumbersome process. Given the choice, I prefer systems which allow the commenter to readily revise comments. Apart from that, the system here works very well.

If the opportunity for revision had been available to you, who knows, you might well have been able to think of improvements. I’d say your comment is a joke comment and that the joke wasn’t worth publishing. Obviously, I wouldn’t want the so-called joke removed.

 

UP 4  DOWN 18

 

Anon
OMG, Paul Hurt. I can’t even read this, it is so ignorant. What are you even doing on this site? Do you know anything about the world or classical music at all?

Spain’s international ranking in music is currently one of the highest in the world. [Not true.] The fact that the only thing you know about Spain is bullfighting & Carmen shows your ignorance & lack of knowledge.

I cannot even begin to address your idiocy. Look at the rosters of Berlin Phil, NY Phil & great orchs in the UK & around the world & you will see Spaniards occupying prominent positions.

Look at the great Spanish conductors from Fruhbeck de Burgos to Lopez Cobos to the current day with the likes of Pablo Heras-Casado or Juanjo Mena occupying international podiums. Or Spanish soloists like Maria Duenas or Pablo Sainz-Villegas.

Have you never heard of Albeniz or de Falla or Rodrigo or the great Spanish film composers of today who are winning Academy Awards?

What is it exactly that you think you know about music at all if you are not aware of Spain’s contributions to classical music? Go back to school.

 

UP 68  DOWN 4

 

Paul Hurt

Dear Anon,

Thanks so much for your reply! In general, I don’t think it’s a good idea to include autobiographical information in a comment and if it is done, it should be done sparingly. I think I can just about justify including some information here. I don’t feel in the least defensive in the face of your withering criticism but I think just a bit of self-defence is in order: nothing aggressive or very abrasive, you’ll find.

 

I was a cellist before converting to the violin and viola. I’m so glad I did. I’ve been an orchestral player and string quartet player, but not professionally. One of the many reasons why I made the change, in my late twenties, was the experience of playing the cello in a public performance of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante K 364, which left me with the wish to be able to play the solo violin and viola parts of this profound and overwhelming work.

 

I’d played the Bach cello suites over the years but the same works would be available to me to play in viola transcription, given sufficient time, as well as playing repertoire new to me, as a player at least, the Bach sonatas and partitas for unaccompanied violin – but not the more difficult bits, and there are far more difficult bits, very difficult bits, in the violin works than in the cello works. The Chaconne in D minor is obviously the prime example.

 

I studied the violin with the Hungarian violinist Rudolf Botta. The composer Philip Venables contacted me to say that he was writing a violin concerto which included text as well as music. It would be a tribute to Rudolf Botta and receive its world premiere at a Proms concert. He’d seen a piece I’d written on an aspect of violin technique. He knew that I’d studied with Rudolf Botta. Could he include some of the writing in his violin concerto? I agreed, of course. My name, and my writing, are part of the work and were part of the performance, but only an incidental, very minor part, of course. The work, entitled ‘Venables plays Bartok,’ was played at the Proms concert of 17 August, 2018 by Pekka Kuusisto and the BBC Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Sakari Oramo.

 

To go back to the issue of defence, I’m sure you’ll be familiar with the celebrated saying, ‘Cet animal est très méchant, Quand on l’attaque il se défend.’ I won’t translate it – someone as cosmopolitan as yourself won’t need a translation. And of course, translations are subject to difficulties, summarized in the famous Italian phrase, ‘Traduttore, traditore’

 

I see the need for knowledge (using knowledge in a very broad sense) to be wide-ranging if at all possible, but only when appropriate, of course. As I see it, music has many, many linkages not just with other artistic forms but subjects seemingly far distant. The philosopher Ludgwig Wittgenstein wrote in ‘Philosophische Untursuchungen, (Section 593) ‘Eine Hauptursache philosophischer Krankheiten – einseitige Diät: man nährt sein Denken mit nur einer Art von Beispielen.’ Again, I won’t translate it, for the same reason.

 

...

 

Just one more thing, Anon. You make a claim but you don’t make a case for Spanish composers. I couldn’t spare the time for making the case for English composers and I couldn’t possibly justify the use of space on this site for that purpose. So, I’ll have to just give a bare assertion: to name just one English composer, Benjamin Britten, and to name just one of his works, Peter Grimes, the opera Peter Grimes is worth any number of works by any number of Spanish composers. I’ll name a second example after all, from a work not nearly as well known, the ‘Courtly Dances’ from Britten’s ‘Gloriana.’ My view is that these are worth any number of works by any number of Spanish composers. I have to qualify this: Spanish composers known to me and works by Spanish composers known to me.’ I’m aware of the crudity of this way of proceeding but restrictions of space make it inevitable in this case.

 

Britain was once referred to as ‘Das Land ohne Musik.’ Not any longer.

 

UP 2  DOWN 31

 

 

LRR
Oh, Paul Hurt, your ignorance stings, my dear!


Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, Teresa Berganza, Montserrat Caballé, Victoria de los Ángeles, Bernabé Martí, Pilar Lorengar, Jaime Aragall, Gaspar Cassadó, Jordi Savall, Pablo Casals, Pablo Ferrández, María Dueñas, Leticia Moreno, Federico Mompou, Xavier Montsalvatge, Pablo Sarasate, Isaac Albéniz, Enrique Granados, Manuel de Falla, Ricardo Viñes, Joaquín Rodrigo, Rafael Orozco, Joaquín Achúcarro, Nicanor Zabaleta, José Iturbi, Francisco Tarrega, Antonio Soler, Tomás Luis de Victoria, Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga, Ataúlfo Argenta, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Josep Pons, Jesús López Cobos, Pablo Heras-Casado, Gustavo Gimeno, Miguel Ángel Gómez Martínez, Pablo González, Juan Mena… all of them Spaniards, and almost every orchestra in the EU and the UK has Spanish musicians (particularly in the wind sections).

But perhaps you’re not acquainted with these luminaries, as your focus appears to be fixated on bullfighting—a practice that doesn’t command widespread interest in Spain, that is banned in some parts of Spain and is also practiced in France and Portugal.

But, please, by all means bore us with your nonsense.

 

UP 27  DOWN 1

 

Paul Hurt

Summary of your piece:
1st paragraph: condescension, or an attempt at condescension.

2nd paragraph, a long, long, list. It seems interminable, it almost seems as if you’ll be including – eventually – any Spanish musicians who currently occupy the last few desks of the second violin section of the Moose Jaw (Canada) Philharmonic, but then the list ends. What a relief!


You’re quite right! I’ve never heard of most of them. How many musicians outside Spain, how many musicians inside Spain, for that matter, will have heard of such people as Bernabé Martí, Pilar Lorengar, María Dueñas, Leticia Moreno, Federico Mompou, Xavier Montsalvatge, Rafael Orozco, Joaquín Achúcarro, Nicanor Zabaleta, José Iturbi, Francisco Tarrega, Antonio Soler, Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga, Ataúlfo Argenta, Gustavo Gimeno, Miguel Ángel Gómez Martínez? This is like an extract from some Monty Python sketch.

3rd paragraph: parting sneer, ‘by all means bore us with your nonsense.’ Sorry to be critical, but I do find your list boring. I suppose that in some circumstances it could be soothing, soporific.

More important, you don’t distinguish levels of achievement. The real but relatively modest achievement of Falla can’t possibly be equated with the achievement of Mahler or Alban Berg or many others. William Austin, the author of ‘Music in the 20th century,’ gives this concise verdict, after outlining his genuine achievement: ‘Andre Coueuroy’s Dictionnaire critique maintains that ‘with Ravel, Bartok, Stravinsky, and Schoenberg, he dominated European music after the death of Debussy.’ But this must be dismissed as wishful thinking.’

Of the people in your list, the one I’m most familiar with is the cellist Pablo Casals. William Austin claims that he probably gave more to 20th century music than Falla, although the achievement he discusses includes achievement in extra-musical matters. Casals really was remarkable – but in your list he’s just one name among many.

 

UP 1  DOWN  21

 

Carlos
Mixing bullfights and standards of classical music making IS barbaric. And only finding Pau Casals worthy of mention in our accolade of distinguished musicians is truly indicative of your own ignorance. Teatro Real has been awarded top ópera theatre in the world just 2 years ago, and over 60% of young orchestral performers in European orchestras are Spanish. I am not defending bullfights but am clearly accusing you of getting your knickers in a twist and by so doing offending Spain.

 

UP 5  DOWN  0

 

spanish bridge player
I am sorry to read comments from PAUL HUNT showing his total lack of knowledge about the actual european musical situation and his frustrated musical career
Your views show.
You have never suffer Alondra de la Parra conducting.
You have missed the actual musical life of Madrid.Teatro Real has been the only one performing in the continent at pandemia times.
I can understand your suffering due to the actual poor situation of the London orchestas,Norman dixit,and the English National Opera in holidays somewhere.
You clearly show your preference for fox hunting to bullfihting.Only to tell you this bulls live 5 years in open fields to yours living only one and been killed by electrical weapons.You can decide your preference .
Kindly I suggested you a visit to Madrid to enjoy a better musical life,a first ranked gastronomy and the real existance of sun.
Finally my excuses for my english learn in a Madrid school,but probably better tahn PAUL HUNT spanish

 

UP 4  DOWN 1

 

CristobalCortesPizarro

 This man should research and read who they are. It would good if he educated himself before commenting here.

Hurt’s comments are perfect examples freudian psychological projection. It must be very sad to be Paul.

 

UP 5  DOWN 0

 

Paul Hurt

 

[If 'Slipped Disc' provided a way of revising comments after publication, I would have shortened and revised this comment.]

 

think that ‘Slipped Disc’ needs to be very careful. I’d claim that ‘Slipped Disc’ is vulnerable. I’ll explain why. The stream of invective, the insulting remarks about me, are far from harmless, for reasons I’ll explain. The remarks survived the process of moderation. I now need to give some basic information. If it doesn’t survive the process of moderation, if this comment isn’t accepted for publication, then I intend to take action. Giving the person criticized a right of reply – an effective right of reply – is or should be very important for ‘Slipped Disc.’ Is it?

 

I don’t have a business. My (unpaid) work, takes the form of a series of projects. Most of the projects aren’t concerned with matters which potentially have commercial value. Here, I’ll concentrate attention on one project which is very different.

 

First of all, extracts from some basic information about ‘Online defamation’ from ‘Keystone Law:’

 

‘Whether statements take the form of tweets, videos, reviews, or other comments, defamatory comments can have a materially damaging impact on a person’s personal life and their career.’

 

‘Defamatory statements are statements that cause, or are likely to cause, serious harm to a person’s or organisation’s reputation, irrespective of whether they were made maliciously or were just simply ill-conceived. Where those statements are made within the last 12 months, it may be possible to bring a claim under the law of defamation.’

 

I’ve not the least intention of bringing a claim under the law of defamation in connection with adverse comments on this page. But I strongly believe that Slipped Disc is at fault and that these aren’t trivial issues. Effective action doesn’t have to take the form of legal action. I do have other forms of effective action available to me.

 

My work is very wide-ranging. One project is concerned with water collecting, water conservation and composting (which amongst other advantages has importance in water conservation.)

 

I have a Patent Pending and a Non-provisional Patent application registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). I’ve carried out original work on water collecting surfaces and water conservation at the garden level but this patent and patent application are concerned with innovation at the farm level.

 

The invention title is, ‘Integrated dual layer structure and structure-group system
with modifiable components and configurations for growing, protected cropping, protected working, materials handling, water collecting and water conservation for use in vineyards and orchards and as a polytunnel substitute.’

 

The invention offers wide-ranging and very substantial advantages in mitigating the effects of climate change. To mention just one, drought. Large areas of Spain, to give just one example, have been ravaged by drought. Amongst other advantages, the invention offers means of collecting very large quantities of rainwater (and other forms of precipitation) which would otherwise be wasted.

 

[In the published comment, I explain that when I promote this invention in the United States - I haven't begun to do that yet, a massive task - I'd expect the people I contact to make an internet search in many cases to obtain background information about me. It's possible, if very unlikely, that it would uncover the claims made by some of these commenters. I don't think in terms of 'reputation management' in the least but I think it's important that ridiculous, moronic claims should be challenged - and deterred, whenever possible.]

 

To summarize, your commenters – and Slipped Disc itself – seem to be largely unaware of some possible consequences of releasing material into the Public Domain without taking much thought.

 

Another project of mine is the furtherance of freedom of expression – but freedom of expression isn’t an absolute right. Freedom of expression is subject to restriction in some cases. Far too often, freedom of expression on the internet is subject to banning, blocking, censoring. if commenters think they have complete freedom to make derogatory comments which have no supporting evidence whatsoever, just because they feel like it at the time, then they need to be challenged. These commenters are assuming that there are rights without responsibilities.

 

UP 0  DOWN 5

 

Norman Lebrecht
If you are threatening defamation action, you’d better leave the site right now.

 

UP 6  DOWN 1

 

Paul Hurt

If you refer to my comment, you’ll find I made it completely clear that I wasn’t ‘threatening defamation action.’. I wrote, ‘I’ve not the least intention of bringing a claim under the law of defamation in connection with adverse comments on this page.’

 

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Stephen L
Can’t you just bump him off the site, Norman? It’s taken me two coffees and a complete rendition of Carmen to listen to this. And now on Casals playing the Bach Cello Suites!

 

UP 4  DOWN 0

 

Paul Hurt
'
To bump off:’ ‘to kill.’ You didn’t bother too much about choice of words, obviously, but your meaning is clear: you were advocating banning, blocking, censoring, getting rid of me by methods that don’t amount to annihilation. How considerate! What a thoughtful individual you are, Stephen L!

 

With advocacy of this kind, ‘Slipped Disc’ may well flourish as never before, all dissenting voices silenced, but perhaps its appeal would be to people who are easily pleased, to some extent. Perhaps Stephen L too is easily pleased, to some extent.

 

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JohnCH
it is always entertaining seeing a man embarrass himself by showing he did not take his medication today.

 

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Paul Hurt
To begin with a brief note for Norman Lebrecht or whoever decides whether this comment should be accepted for publication or not. In my reply to Norman Lebrecht above I included this: ‘Effective action doesn’t have to take the form of legal action. I do have other forms of effective action available to me.’

 

I’ve long experience of activism for a variety of causes – radical activism, when I was a lot younger, as well as activism of a more genteel kind but still very determined activism In this case, I intend to use the forms of publicity available to me. I haven’t needed to contact the press in one or two campaigns – the press has contacted me.

 

If this comment isn’t accepted for publication, I’ll be making the material available to a wide range of recipients. In fact, I’ll be making the material available to a wide range of recipients even if this comment is published on ‘Slipped Disc.’

 

In the meantime, I suggest that you read your own Comments Policy. It’s possible that you haven’t consulted it for some time. This reminder is needed, I think.

 

I’ve no way of knowing what achievements JohnCH has to his name – his real name, that is, not his pseudonym. Using a standard, well-known phrase ‘keep taking the medication’ to turn into an almost instant comment obviously isn’t an achievement. If JohnCH happens to be four years old then I’ll take back the criticism. In that case, he’s advanced for his age. If he’s a grown adult, not so.

 

As I see it, I’m entitled to give a defence. The views at Slipped Disc may differ. It takes the form of evidence, something in very short supply in most of the comments here, not counting the ones on Alondra de la Parra. Many of those do supply evidence.

 

The concise and convenient form of evidence I’ll use is simply this – a few very recent Google rankings for my site for some search terms. This will have to do. I don’t give the address of the site here.

 

ethical depth 2 / 191,000,000
farming water collecting composting
1 / 40,600,000
Cambridge University excellence stupidity
1 / 5,430,000
poetry line length 3 / 125,000,000
Christianity remembrance redemption [from an anti-Christian perspective]
poem composite 1 / 32,300,000
metaphor theme 2 / 123,000,000

If by any chance JohnCH, Mystery Man, is a writer on ethics, perhaps he could provide information and evidence in a further comment.

 

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Norman Lebrecht
Thank you for the threat. You are no longer welcome on this site.

 

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I found this comment interesting

 

Orest85

 Actually it is a relevant topic to bring about, because the exact same people who put de la Parra in charge of the ORCAM (The Community of Madrid’s Ministry -Consejería- of Culture) are the biggest promoters of bullfighting in Spain, keeping the fiesta in live support with its multi-million Euro subsidies to the barbaric tradition (despite dwindling attendance numbers and a civil society who is increasingly opposed to it), and promoting it as the ultimate symbol of “freedom” and “liberal democracy”.

 

Even as recently as three days ago, Isabel Díaz-Ayuso, the president of the Community of Madrid, linked the closure of Mexico City’s bullfighting ring (a decision taken by the Courts, not by politicians) with communism and political control, suggesting that the drought in Catalonia currently is “a direct consequence of having shut down” bullrings.

 

https://www.theolivepress.es/spain-news/2024/02/04/madrids-conservative-premier-blames-drought-in-spains-barcelona-on-bizarre-reason-the-closure-of-their-bullring/

 

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This is followed by many other comments on Alondra de la Parra, mostly adverse and most of them quite interesting to read. I've no information to impart on her merits or lack of them.

 

Just one of them:

 

PericodelaVid

 

Everyone is shocked here in Madrid with the news. I can’t imagine a single reason to hire Alondra de la Parra for the ORCAM. She’s definitely not wanted in Madrid by season ticket holders and most of the musicians of the orchestra.

 

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What? Everyone shocked in Madrid? Falsification by generalization

 

Extract from the Comments Policy of the site 'Harry's Place.'

 

http://hurryupharry.net/comments-policy/

 

Freedom of speech

Harry’s Place believes in freedom of speech and open debate. With that in mind, while reserving our rights ... we run a largely unmoderated discussion board. It is our conviction that adults in a free society can discuss ideas openly without, generally speaking, the need for policing.

We do not delete comments simply because we do not agree with them. We want a vibrant marketplace of ideas, not an echo chamber. It should be kept in mind however that marketplaces can at times be loud and chaotic.

It is our conviction that the best way to deal with contrary views – even objectionable ones – is to challenge them, to argue, to criticise them or, in some cases, to treat them with contempt by ignoring them. This is how a free society functions.

Furthermore, we believe that minds can be changed. People may hold eccentric or obnoxious views today, but they may come around to another view through discussion and engagement with those who think differently. Silencing people and banning them closes the door forever on the chance to persuade them of their errors or to challenge their ideas. We will not, in general, ban any participant permanently.

Even when a mind cannot be changed, it is better that a bad idea is exposed to the light of day. We cannot prepare ourselves for ideological battles against ideas that lurk in shadow and are transmitted in whispers.

What we expect of those leaving comments

We understand that political, religious and ideological discussions can get somewhat heated. We therefore are fairly indulgent. We do however ask our commenters to attempt to maintain a level of respect and civility. Not only does it cost nothing, civility makes for a more rewarding discussion.

 

...
Disclaimer

 

The fact that a comment appears, or has not been deleted, in no way implies an endorsement by Harry’s Place of that comment or its author’s views.

 

Activism

Activism is a strong interest of mine. I've been an activist in various causes. The Harry's Place policy on comments has to be supplemented for the purposes of activism. I'll assume here that the cause promoted by the activists is a good caus, a cause that can be defended, that the cause is supported by argument and evidence. There are many, many causes which would fail this test.

 

In many or most cases, opponents of the good cause will not be open to argument and reason. Opposition to Hamas is a good cause. Supporters of Hamas won't generally be persuaded by argument and reason. They simply have to be opposed, and Hamas itself has to be defeated, using not verbal methods but force.

 

I obviously believe that bullfighting is a bad cause and that supporters of bullfighting should be opposed. A greater percentage of bullfight supporters can be persuaded to change their view than supporters of Hamas, but bullfighting has to be opposed not only by verbal means.

 

Bullfighting can be opposed by indirect means - by targetting people and organizations with a connection with bullfighting but not necessarily a close connection.  'Targetting' can refer to actions of different degrees of intensity. A lower level of intensity would be appropriate in the case of a cultural organization with links with a cultural organization in Madrid, which in turn has only an indirect connection with Las Ventas. This example would need a much more detailed account to justify the methods chosen. The methods chosen should be not at all grotesque, repugnant to common sense. It has to be established that the methods, whether very vigorous, radical, even, or much more low-key, are appropriate for the stated objective, in the view of fair-minded people. Obviously, there are pitfalls to be avoided. These include the definition of 'fair-minded' for the purposes of the activism. My page  animal welfare and activism  explores various forms of activism, with relevace to causes which have no connection with animal welfare, or no close connection.

 

Supplementary:

 

The Slipped Disc site includes a page, 'Kafka's America lands in Zurich.'

https://slippedisc.com/2024/01/kafkas-america-lands-in-zurich/

 The comments section attracted far fewer comments than the page on the new appointment in Madrid covered above. It includes comments of mine. I've a page about Kafka (and the poet Rilke) on this site.

 

 

 

 




 

 

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 'Carmen' and bullfighting: productions and problems.   Slipped Disc: 'The Mighty Ones.'  

   

 

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Material on this page will be revised and extended, in particular the very short profiles of opera companies below.

 

In this column, 1

 
Introduction: The opera 'Carmen,' productions,problems, blunders

Royal Opera House, Teatro Royal, Madrid 
Metropolitan Opera

Glyndebourne Festival Opera
English National Opera
San Francisco Opera
Lyric Opera, Chicago
Seattle Opera

Deutsche Oper, Berlin


[Sections on other opera companies with past or future productions of 'Carmen' will be added.]

 

Some 2024 'Carmen' productions, with dates, and a note on performers and others

 

In the column to the right, 2

Introductory images
What if ... Carmen loves a gladiator?
Bullfighting as an art form. Bullfighting and tragedy
Bullring ballet

Bullfighting and 'duende'
Bullfighting and seduction
Cultural stagnation
Animals: appreciation and abuse
Bullfighting and mono-culture

An account: unprotected horses in a bullfight
Pro-bullfighting views. Freedom of expression

 

See also my pages
 
Bullfighting: arguments against, action against

Seamus Heaney and bullfighting

 

Introduction

 

The opera 'Carmen' is about violence, and so much else, of course. Productions of Carmen obviously have to present the violence which affects the protagonists, the human protagonists. This is completely legitimate -  essential.  What  productions have neglected, again and again, is another form of violence, the violence of the bullfight, in particular the form of bullfighting  at the time when the opera was set. This differs from contemporary bullfighting in very significant ways. A knowledge of bullfighting, the contemporary forms and the nineteenth century forms, can transform interpretations of the characters, should transform interpretations of the characters, above all, of Carmen herself.

 

This is a far more problematic opera than has been supposed by directors of 'Carmen,' by others at opera houses, by  reviewers of productions of 'Carmen,' by commentators on the opera, including academic writers. The problems which emerge, the problems which have been neglected are basic and important ones.

 

Bullfighting is embedded in 'Carmen' but directors have choices in the presentation of bullfighting.  Bullfighting can be minimized in productions but far more often it has been 'celebrated,' or at least treated in ways which would cause not the least offence to the tourist boards of Spain, France, Mexico and the other bullfighting countries - as a colourful spectacle, which enhances the effect of the music. The music of Carmen is, of course, the product of genius - although, I think - I'm sure -  a lesser form of genius, not, for example,  the genius manifest in 'The Marriage of Figaro,' 'Cosi fan tutte,' 'Don Giovanni' and 'The Magic Flute.'

 

The publicity materials put out by the Metropolitan Opera for their forthcoming production of 'Carmen' contain distortions. This seems to be very much a production which minimizes bullfighting - but a production which seems not to recognize the difficulties which face the interpretation.  Here, I explain why this is so.

 

There are now many organizations which recognize that bullfighting is being challenged as never before and which intend  to defend it. One of them is 'Asotauro,'  which gives this momentous declaration at the top of its home page www.asotauro.com:

 

'A los taurófilos nos ha llegado la hora de pasar a la ofensiva, no dejando ni una mentira sin contestar, ni una falacia sin rebatir.'

 

'For lovers of bullfighting [literally, 'lovers of bulls'] the time has come to take the offensive, leaving no lie unanswered, no fallacy unrefuted.'

 

Aficionados in Spain refer to a bull which is unaggressive as a 'toro manso' or 'cowardly bull.' I sympathize completely with the 'toro manso' and its unwillingness to fling itself on the lance of the picador, the banderillas of the banderillero and the sword of the matador to provide aficionados with the experiences they think they're entitled to. But what of the aficionado manso,  afraid - unable, it seems - to answer arguments? For these people I've no sympathy whatsoever, of course.

 

Opera directors who have chosen to present 'Carmen' in ways which falsify, ignore or evade the realities of the bullfight have been badly mistaken - but only in these productions. I don't draw any conclusions about their wider work. I think that future mistakes of this kind will justify a much harsher view. For a long time, the moral objections to bullfighting have been the subject of critical debate (a debate to which supporters of bullfighting have contributed, effectively, nothing whatsoever) and have been widely publicized.

 

For a long time, many, many directors of 'Carbmen' have shown not the least awareness of, not the least interest in, these issues. In their general work, they may have produced, invigorating, thought-provoking work but in their productions of 'Carmen,' they have  complacently implemented one or more of the routine formats available, which include these:

 

(1) Bullfighting as a colourful tradition with colourful costumes. In these productions, the dancing has generally been more prominent than the bullfighting but the view of bullfighting is one that would be appreciated by the French and Spanish tourist boards. There are too many of these to

 

(2) The feminist interpretation, of Carmen as a strong woman, as well as the victim of male aggression. Carmen was and is no feminist heroine, no role model for women. Carmen was a woman who had no sympathy for the victims of horrific cruelty.

 

(3) Interpretations based upon generalized aggression which take no account of the  aggression and multiple cruelties of the bullfight.

 

(4) Interpretations accompanied by background material on the bullfight which is misleading or woefully inadequate.

 

Sometimes, the productions involve directors based in bullfighting areas, are ones which take place in bullfighting areas or are co-productions with theatres in bullfighting areas.

 

An example of the first, Calixto Bieito, based in Bilbao, Spain, and his 'Carmen' productions for English National Opera. A director who is based in a bullfighting area can be expected to know about bullfighting.

 

An example of the second, productions which take place in bullfighting areas, such as productions of 'Carmen' which take place at the Teatro Real, Madrid. I'd include in this category productions in Aix-en-Provence. No bullfights take place in Aix-en-Provence itself but the town is in an active bullfighting area.

 

An example of the third, the production of Carmen which takes place at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, a co-production with La Scala, Milan and the Teatro Real, Madrid. I've no criticisms to  make of La Scala, of course, in this connection.

 

Before the discussion, a link to a video which shows the  contemporary barbarity of the bullfight.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWXwC4BHfk8&ab_channel=Cte.Mart%C3%ADn

 

Watching the video from 1:12 to 1:18 will show a procedure which isn't rare but very, very common: a bull which has been stabbed with the picador's lance, stabbed six times with the banderillas and stabbed with the matador's sword in an attempt to kill it but which is still alive. The blood which is evident in the video would have been in much greater quantities in the bullfights witnessed by the fictional Carmen, the blood of the bull and the blood of all the dead and dying horses on the sand of the arena. 

 

More, much more information and discussion on my page on bullfighting.  Unlike this page, it makes use of Large Page Design: the page is wide as well as long. It can't be viewed adequately on the small screen of a mobile device.

 

I gave a link on the page to one video which showed the disembowelling of a rejonoador's horse during a bullfight

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGtv51Rf2Wc

 

but now it's no longer available: 'This video has been removed for violating YouTube's policy on violent or graphic comment.' But most videos of bullfghts show violent or graphic content. The scenes actually witnessed are far worse.

 

Too much should not be made of trends. Trends can be harmful as well as beneficial, trends should be actively opposed in many cases rather than accepted and treated as inevitable. But one trend which can be welcomed is the trend to eliminate displays of public cruelty in countries which claim to be civilized. This has been achieved almost entirely in the case of cruelty to people. Burning alive, breaking on the wheel, hanging by the neck have gone.

 

In this country, bull-baiting and bear-baiting (and badger baiting) survived well into the nineteenth century. They were finally abolished in 1835. TBull-fighting remains a cause to be won - and it surely will be won, eventually. Bullfight apologists found no objection to it, but the public disembowelling of vast numbers of horses was found to be more and more intolerable and the protective mattress was introduced - although it fails to protect horses against all harm and injury and the horses of the mounted bullfighters in the 'rejoneo' are unprotected. 

 

The continued suffering of the horses, the blood flowing from the bull's back, torn in so many places by the lance of the picador and by the banderillas, the sword thrust, stabbing to sever the spinal cord when sword thrusts fails to kill, the bull thrashing in agony, the flow of blood from a bull's mouth as it dies, the long trails of blood and the dark pools of blood in the sand - there will be mounting revulsion against these things, the arguments of bull-fight apologists will sound more and more hollow and bull-fighting will eventually be abolished in country after country.

 

When that happens, it will be a series of victories not for squeamishness and sentimentality but for elementary human decency: a real moral advance. Opponents of bullfighting who despair of ever making an impact should note the signs that even some bullfighters are beginning to question some of what they do.

 

The English bullfighter Frank Evans, who has killed many bulls in his long 'career,' has now written that the long-drawn out process of killing, as it so often is, the repeated stabbing, can't be condoned in modern conditions. If the bull isn't killed by the first sword thrust, then it should be shot. This proposal has no chance of being accepted by the vast majority of bullfighters and bullfight supporters. Even if it were adopted, it would still allow the stab wounds inflicted by the picadors and the stab wounds of the banderillas and the injuries to the horses.

 

The corrida can never be made into a humane spectacle. It simply has to be abolished. Almost certainly, it will not be abolished first in Spain. In which bullfighting country will bullfighting be abolished first? We must try to reduce the number of bullfighting countries, we must try to win country by country. This is an issue which tarnishes the reputation of the European Union. There are reasons why the Europan Union tolerates bullfighting in Spain, France and the loathsome but less loathful form of bullfighting practised in Portugal but the European Union is involved in a gross form of contradiction - the contradiction between the regulations it enforces in connection with humane slaughter of farm animals and the protracted and barbaric slaughter of bulls in the bullring.

 

The bullfight entails the transformation of a very powerful animal into a weak animal, by pain and injury. There's no great contrast between the 'illegitimate' tampering with the bull before it goes into the ring, by skewering its testicles with a needle or beating it with sandbags, or any of the other methods used, and the methods which bullfight supporters find indispensable, the stabbings with the pic and the banderillas. All of them have the effect of wearing down the bull. In the third phase, the cape is  used to make the bull turn right and quickly left, right and left, right and left, until often it sags to its knees and can barely stand again. Even the bulls which aren't weakened to anything like this extent are still nothing like the animal which entered the ring.

 

My opposition to bullfighting is general and wide-ranging but some of the forms it takes reflect some of my interests. My interest in opera isn't wide ranging but is very important to me. I have an interest in other forms of vocal music and a much more wide-ranging interest in instrumental music, in symphonies, concertos, string quartets and quintets, music for solo violin, viola and cello, and the rest.

 

Opera is important to me not just for the supreme musical achievement in the works I listen to (as well as study) but for its unique breadth. This isn't in the least an original comment but simply a fact known to anyone with an interest in opera: opera is the art form which combines music with words and  two-dimensional and three-dimensional visual worlds. Human psychology, emotions and moral values obviously play a part in instrumental forms but in opera, the issues are raised more often.

 

Ethical issues to do with animals are practically never raised in opera productions and need not be considered but 'Carmen' is an obvious exception, or should become an exception, I believe, if the issues to do with bullfighting are taken into account, and taken seriously. I intend to challenge the assumption that productions of 'Carmen' can safely overlook the bullfighting issue by a range of action, not only by publicizing the issues on pages of this Website.

 

Supplementary:


It's practically never necessary to consider issues to do with animal welfare in (non-musical) drama. One exception is Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night,' in connection with bear-baiting, but these are incidental. They have nothing like the importance for productions of 'Twelfth Night' which bullfighting has in the case of 'Carmen.'

 

When Sir Andrew Aguecheek admits to not knowing what the French word  'pourquoi' means, he says,

 

'I would I had bestowed that time in the tongues that I have in fencing, dancing, and bear-baiting.' (I.ii.87-9).

 

Later, Fabian complains to Sir Toby Belch that Malvolio

 

'brought me out o’ favor with my lady about a bear-baiting here' (II.v.6-7).

 

Sir Toby says that they’ll have their revenge upon Malvolio:

 

 'To anger him we’ll have the bear again, and we’ll fool him black and blue (II.v.8-9).

 

Malvolio will be the intended bear and Toby, Fabian, and Andrew will be the dogs.

 

Royal Opera House, London and
Teatro Royal, Madrid

 

 

The section below Some 2024 'Carmen' productions, with dates and a note on performers and others  has more on the Royal Opera House's co-production with the Teatro Real of Madrid.

 

'Carmen' will be produced at the Royal Opera House in   2024, a co-production with La Scala Milan - and with a theatre, the Teatro Real,  in the city which is the most prominent bullfighting centre in the world, Madrid. That status is a cause for shame, not in the least  for pride. I intend to write more on the co-production with Madrid and to publicize my reasons for criticizing  the co-production nearer the time of the performances at the Royal Opera House.  More on Madrid in the third column of the page.

 

The advance publicity material, which gives the name of the director, Damiano Michieletto

 

https://www.roh.org.uk/tickets-and-events/carmen-by-damiano-michieletto-details

 

is perfunctory, generic - standard-stuff. It includes this, 'Soon bored of Don José's obsessive nature, Carmen moves on to celebrity toreador Escamillo.' And later a reference to 'the flamboyance and masculinity of Escamillo’s ‘Toreador Song.’'  It doesn't look likely that the Royal Opera House is going to give a searching examination of the human psyche, as represented by this intensely masculine celebrity. This is only a preliminary comment, no more. We'll have to wait and see, and the Royal Opera House will have to  wait and see what the critics have to say.

 

Productions of 'Carmen' which evade the bullfighting problem aren't necessarily to be condemned. In fact, evasion is a necessity, almost. There are no perfect solutions to the problems but a lighthearted presentation of the bullfighting is one method - preferably combining light-heartedness with some sarcasm. 

 

One successful treatment of the issue, possibly (my opinion can only be tentative, because based on internet materials, not on seeing an actual performance, was the production under the direction of Barrie Kosky at the Royal Opera House.  This is a recording of the 'Toreador Song:'

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vr8sc4EjsTQ&ab_channel=RoyalOperaHouse

 

This is escapism of the best kind, I think - a complete delight. If the same kind of treatment is used too often, for very different ends, it becomes much less delightful.

 

This is one of the comments published on the You Tube page. I think this is the only time I've quoted a You Tube comment on the site. I don't intend to make a habit of it.

 

Different, yes, worthy of all these negative comments - no. I went to see this, and was apprehensive due to the reviews. Sure it was not traditional, but it was one of the best nights at the opera I have been to. Actually it was almost a ballet as well. The choreography whilst singing was simply amazing. Unfortunately, watching on screen dilutes the experience, but in the flesh it was amazing and spine tingling.

 

 The shame of Las Ventas Bullring in Madrid, the shame of Madrid - the shame of Spain. From the massive array of evidence available, just one telling episode about the fate of one of the six bulls killed in a corrida which took place in the Las Ventas bullring in Madrid. This material also appears in the third column of the page, as part of an 'exchange of opinions' in the site 'Slipped Disc.'

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gaNbZl-HSoQ&ab_channel=
RandomScenesAroundthePlanet

 

2:26. The bull is stabbed with the last pair of banderillas.

8.00. The matador prepares to kill the bull.
8.06. The matador stabs the bull with the sword intended to kill the bull. In a vast number of bullfights, the sword fails to kill the bull, including all the bulls in this video. With the sword embedded in its back, the bull is very much alive but before long collapses.

8.54 The bull is stabbed repeatedly in the spine with a dagger. The bullfighting crowd is exultant and calls for the matador to be awarded an ear of the bull or both ears of the bull by waving of handkerchiefs. In the meantime, the horses which remove the bodies of the bulls appear and the bull is dragged away. The ears have been cut off to present to the matador.

10.12. The horses unexpectedly are made to stop.

10.30. The bull is stabbed in the spine again with the dagger. The bull has been dragged along the sand, the ears of the bull have been cut off, when the bull was still alive. The previous stabbings with the dagger, like the sword of the matador, have failed to kill the bull!
10.44. The bull is now presumably dead, dead for certain, and the dragging from the arena resumes.
11.00. The matador holds up the two ears he's been awarded.

The corrida resumes, the other bulls are stabbed and killed, not one of them instantly.

 

So much for the shameful, degrading and barbaric progeny of the Roman amphitheatre in the city which also houses the Teatro Real and the Prado gallery.

 

https://bachtrack.com/opera-event/carmen-the-royal-opera-royal-opera-house-covent-garden-12-may-2024/386322

https://www.roh.org.uk/tickets-and-events/carmen-by-damiano-michieletto-details

https://imgartists.com/roster/damiano-michieletto/

 

The Metropolitan Opera

 

 

From Chapter III of the novella 'Carmen.' :

 

 I found ... some three hundred women ... all of them screaming and yelling and gesticulating ... On one side of the room one of the women was lying on the broad of her back, streaming with blood, with an X newly cut on her face by two strokes of a knife. Opposite the wounded woman, whom the best-natured of the band were attending, I saw Carmen, held by five or six of her comrades. The wounded woman was crying out, ‘A confessor, a confessor! I’m killed!’ Carmen said nothing at all. She clinched her teeth and rolled her eyes like a chameleon.'

 

There had been an argument about a donkey, leading to the attack on the woman by Carmen, who  'began making St. Andrew’s crosses on the girl’s face with a knife she had been using for cutting off the ends of the cigars.'

 

In the article 'Carrie Cracknell on Creating a Feminist Carmen at the Met' (12 January 2024)

 

https://playbill.com/article/carrie-cracknell-on-creating-a-feminist-carmen-at-the-met the interviewer, Matt Dobkin, states, 'You’ve described your approach as “looking through a feminist lens.” But I'd claim that the lens is a distorting lens. Carmen is no feminist icon. Anyone who thinks of her as a feminist icon, anyone who admires Carmen wholeheartedly, has to take into account the fact that this so-called feminist icon wounds another woman, in the incident recorded in the opening quotation here.

 

A woman who takes a knife to another woman, carves a pattern in her face, perhaps disfiguring her for life, perhaps killing her even, is subject to severe legal penalties, not presented as a suitable person for admiration. Carmen's violence was obviously far less serious in its impact than the fatal attack on her at the end of the opera but excusing Carmen's violence should be out of the question.

 

This is a very recent page and much more argument and evidence will need to be presented but in the meantime, I'd suggest a look at my very extensive page on feminism, as background information, most of it not directly relevant to the particular issues here, but undermining, or at least calling into question, some feminist ground principles. The page can be found at

 

www.linkagenet.com/themes/feminist-ideology.htm

 

From the pre-performance publicity supplied by the Metropolitan opera:

 

Acclaimed English director Carrie Cracknell makes her Met debut, reinvigorating the classic story with a staging that moves the action to the modern day and finds at the heart of the drama issues that could not be more relevant today: gendered violence, abusive labor structures, and the desire to break through societal boundaries.

 

Dazzling young mezzo-soprano Aigul Akhmetshina leads a powerhouse quartet of stars in the complex and volatile title role, alongside tenor Piotr Beczała as Carmen’s troubled lover Don José, soprano Angel Blue as the loyal Micaëla, and bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen as the swaggering Escamillo. Daniele Rustioni conducts Bizet’s heart-pounding score.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkUxIJ8ohRs&ab_channel=
MetropolitanOpera

 

Move the action to the modern day? But the fictional Carmen belongs to a world which is sickening and repugnant to  modern views in  crucial respects. I explain why in the column to the right.

 

https://www.metopera.org/discover/articles/
fearless.-unconventional.-daring/

 

The production 'is set explicitly in the United States' but 'the setting is not completely specific. In some ways, it evokes the world of the American Rust Belt, but we have also replaced the toreador and bullfighting with a cowboy and rodeo. The setting also speaks to the realities of other industrial communities across the ever-shrinking and increasingly homogenous globalized world.'

 

Placing the action in the world of cowboys and rodeo is, I think, a potentially  successful director's decision, even though removing references to bullfighting radically modifies 'Carmen.' The distortion can be welcomed but the removal can't be performed without costs. The reference to an 'ever-shrinking and increasingly homogeneous globalized world' seems very unwise. 'Carmen' is embedded in a world which was far from homogeneous and globalized. Not all pre-homogeneous and pre-globalized worlds can be admired. The world of 'Carmen' was barbaric and  despicable in crucial respects. These aspects have been erased but the reputation of the woman Carmen, claimed to be 'fearless, unconventional, daring' doesn't deserve to remain intact.

 

The characterization in the libretto amounts to no more than a crude sketch. The claims are superficially plausible but aren't solidly based. I think they will be convincing only to people who don't look very deeply into the characterization of the piece. 

 

The interview with Matt Dobkin also includes this:

 

 'Fearless, unconventional, daring. That’s how director Carrie Cracknell describes the title character of Carmen. But it’s also an apt description of her new production of Bizet’s indelible masterpiece, which opened at the Met on New Year’s Eve ... [2023] 

 

As a matter of strict fact, the published reviews - the ones I've read -  have been 'mixed.' They haven't, in the main, agreed with the opinion that this production is anything like 'fearless, unconventional, daring.' There are reviews which praise cast members but are less than convenced that the production is very remarkable.

A few extracts from some adverse reviews, without losing sight of the fact that there have been many appreciative, admiring reviews. I'm a neutral. I have absolutely no opinion on the merits or otherwise of the adverse reviews or the appreciative, admiring reviews of the performances. I've no right to an opinion. I haven't attended any of the performances.

 

From the OperaWire review:

'Frank Capra once famously said, “There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.” That can apply to any art form, including opera. And nowhere is that cardinal sin committed more frequently than in Cracknell’s production.'

'Act one is an unfortunate, static slog ... the action feels like it’s moving at snail’s pace. I never thought I would describe “Carmen” as a “slow-moving” opera, but here we are.'

'In each Act, Cracknell employs some specific stage motif that she reuses ad nauseam, stripping it of meaning or impact.'

' ... lack of specificity in terms of character actions leads to vague character dynamics and characters at large. José and Micaëla awkwardly hug a few times, suggesting more of a friendship than any kind of romance or romantic relationship, thus making Micaëla feel a bit like an afterthought in the opera. José is flat as they come as a character, more like a silly chump who gets caught up in a messy relationship that he has no idea if he wants or not. Escamillo, he’s just there. And Carmen, unfortunately also seems like she’s more a product of the necessity of producing the opera “Carmen” than a compelling being. Aside from a few moments – her dancing to relax her unsettled friends inside the truck, or the aforementioned Act three aria – she feels rather lacking in unique personality. We never really get a hint of who she is outside of the expected.'

From the New York Times review:

 

‘The bland, lethargic staging, which opened on New Year’s Eve, falls into the pattern of so many of the Met’s updatings: It is, almost gesture for gesture, the same as any extra-stale traditional “Carmen,” just dressed up in cutoff jeans and trucker hats instead of flamenco skirts and castanets.’

‘a staging that lacks passion, wit, depth and variety’.

 

‘…this “Carmen” reimagines nothing. It seems from her interviews that (Carrie) Cracknell wants to emphasize the broader structures of gender and class that make Carmen’s death a societal tragedy instead of an individual crime of passion. But the director struggles to render that distinction legible to the audience.’

 

From the review in the British publication, 'Gramophone.'  This is one of the reviews which is full of praise for the musical side of things. The review gives (conflicting) opinions on the extent to which bullfighting has any prominence in the production - overall, hardly any prominence, but there are conflicts.

 

'The Metropolitan Opera’s new Carmen is mostly being dismissed as an unnecessary updating, with what director Carrie Cracknell calls 'a feminist point point of view'. Much of this is true - the updating and move from 19th Century Spain to 'present day' American Southwest, with a rodeo (instead of bull fight), complete with clowns, doesn’t do the job. 

'The locales on Michael Levine’s sets go against the grain: while outside a factory remains, the inside of a dirty eighteen-wheel truck careening down a highway has little of the allure or comfort of a smoky café just outside Seville. A 'wild spot in the mountains' (as suggested in the libretto for the third act) doesn't work as a truck stop, complete with overturned (?) truck and gas pumps. The rodeo atmosphere in the final act has much of the blood sport of a bullfight, so no issue there, but the black iron stands, which rotated often on the Met’s overused turntable, were simply ugly. A no-fun rodeo, if that’s really what it was.

'Nothing on stage is physically sensual; the audience sees sharp, metallic edges and wild, blinding, neon lights. It’s an assault on the senses, and it avoids any warmth. The Met titles have been liberally altered to lose all sense of Spain and bullfighting.'

 

 

This page, like so many others on the site, is a plea for taking account of complexities, a plea for synoptic  accounts, accounts which take account of aspects which have been overlooked. I do this by highlighting details which seem significant to me. It wouldn't be practicable in the least to provide very comprehensive, systematic accounts of opera productions. These sections on productions of 'Carmen' are wide-ranging in a sense but not at all wide ranging in other respects. I don't examine the record of achievement and failure or comparative failure for the opera houses listed, I examine only one single work and one aspect in particular of the work - which of course is 'Carmen.'

 

When an opera house has presented various productions of 'Carmen,' I examine only one of these, and only briefly. In some cases, I do mention other aspects of their work, as here. I comment on Peter Gelb, but again, my comments aren't at all comprehensive. I know enough about his work in opera to realize that some of his views aren't my views at all, but I've ample grounds for respecting and admiring his achievement - but not unreservedly, of course. I've absolutely no reservations about his view of the invasion of Ukraine by Putin's forces. I provide some basic information here, more than enough to act as a corrective to people who go in for generalized, simple-minded criticism.

 

The page

 

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2022/apr/01/peter-gelb-new-york-metropolitan-opera-interview-russia-putin

 

is a good page on Peter Gelb's response to the invasion of Ukraine. it includes these words of Peter Gelb:

 

'The great Russian masterpieces are not responsible for Putin. We are cancelling Putin, not Pushkin. So we’re not going to be making changes to our plans for the performance of the Russian repertory.'

 

The page

 

https://www.metopera.org/information/a-message-from-peter-gelb/

 

records his resounding call. A resounding call is what was needed, and is still needed, supplemented by calls of a different kind, such as intensely personal ones.

 

The Metropolitan Opera opens its heart to the innocent victims of the unprovoked war in Ukraine and salutes the heroism of the Ukrainian people. We stand in solidarity with them and urge the leaders of the free world to support them in their hour of need ... As an international opera company, the Met can help ring the alarm and contribute to the fight against oppression. While we believe strongly in the warm friendship and cultural exchange that has long existed between the artists and artistic institutions of Russia and the United States, we can no longer engage with artists or institutions that support Putin or are supported by him—not until the invasion and killing has been stopped, order has been restored, and restitutions have been made. We stand in solidarity with Ukraine, its brave leaders, citizens, and artists. We dedicate the rest of our season to their courage.

 

I know very little about Peter Gelb. It wouldn't be realistic, it wouldn't be possible to include a full, detailed and rounded profile of Peter Gelb on this page or any other. Some of the faults mentioned by his  critics of him may well be the faults which are very common in the case of high achieving people. I find mention of Peter Gelb thinking big, but thinking big often involves mistakes of scale, failure to achieve all objectives, or sometimes' failure to reach any of them. The faults arising from thinking big have to be sharply distinguished from the faults arising from thinking small, which has its own characteristic faults, such as petty-minded underachievement.

 

'Thinking big' doesn't have to be thinking big on a national or international scale. Local issues don't always demand modest, restrained efforts in the least.

 

Theodore Roosevelt on thinking big, action and criticism, in a style not in favour now. I don't make any claims about the extent to which this applies to Peter Gelb. It does apply to critics, to some critics but not to all critics or many critics. The critic can be much more important than the deed or much less important.  When the deed is an opera production and the opera production is insignificant, ludicrously bad, then criticism of stature is wasted on the production, obviously. In other cases, a very flawed opera production can represent a very significant achievement.

 

 

'It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.'

 

I've a page of Norman Lebrecht's site, 'Slipped Disc,'

 

https://slippedisc.com/2024/02/conductor-wears-gaza-hostage-ribbon-at-covent-garden/

 

to thank - not the page discussed and criticized in the third column of this page - for this information,

 

CONDUCTOR WEARS GAZA HOSTAGE RIBBON AT COVENT GARDEN

 

Next to a picture of Kery-Lynn Wilson on the page

 

This is the Canadian-Ukrainian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson taking a curtain call after La Boheme at Covent Garden. She is wearing the yellow ribbon in solodarity with the Israeli hostages kidnpapped by Hamas and held in Gaza tunnels.

 

Wilson is married to the Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb.

 

Often, I don't favour simple and easily implemented ways of demonstrating support.  Sometimes, they distract attention from the big, costly, hazardous operations needed to achieve results. But they have their uses. I do find the picture and very brief text affecting, well worth including. This is the case if the ribbon was worn for a different reason. It has been claimed that the ribbon was blue and yellow and was in support of Ukraine.

 

Glyndebourne Festival Opera. David McVicar

 

 

Above, Glyndebourne

 

The 2024 Glyndebourne season includes a production of 'Carmen.' The Director is Diane Paulus, who is currently  the Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University. My page  on Harvard University gives information about selected aspects of the university and selected people at the university, including a past member, the Irish poet Seamus Heaney.

 

A page on the Glyndebourne production  on the Glyndebourne Website  includes footage of 'Diane Paulus on Carmen' (found by scrolling down the page a short distance). This is not at all penetrating,recycling familiar claims. I'd claim that my extended treatment on this page puts the claims in context, supplies a very different context. Amongst the claims of Diane Paulus is this: 'Carmen is a freedom fighter and a leader.'

 

In the case of the Glendebourne production, it will be necessary to use the materials available to me by the time the production comes to an end and to publish comment here on specific issues, ones concerning the presentation of bullfighting in the production.

 

English National Opera

 

 

 


The director Calixto Bieito doesn't favour orthodoxy in general, but his unorthodoxy could be described as a form of orthodoxy. He has been known to follow trends which amount to orthodoxies.

 

His productions of 'Carmen' could be called  'cutting edge.'

'Cutting edge,' noun: (1) the edge of a tool's blade, as with the tools of the sordid trade of bullfighters.   (2) the latest or most advanced stage of the development of something.

 

'cutting edge,' adjective: 'highly advanced, innovative or pioneering.'

 

But the term has lost so much of its meaning. Routine, fatuous work is often described as advanced, innovative or pioneering - 'cutting edge.'

 

To me, a production of Carmen which includes some of the bullfighting background, perhaps amounting to just a token gesture, is by necessity about a tawdry, much worse than tawdry pseudo-artistic abomination. Nothing about bullfighting is really 'cutting edge' except for the barbed banderillas, the points of the picador's lance and the matador's killing sword and the  points of what are usually the real killing weapons, those used for hacking at the spine.

 

This is a review by Mark Berry of the 2022 revival of a Calixto Bieito show at English National Opera. I wasn't in the audience and I've no way of knowing how fair his comments are.


https://seenandheard-international.com/2023/02/disappointing-revival-of-calixto-bieitos-production-of-carmen-at-english-national-opera/

The review includes this:

'If that brought the shortcomings of an oddly unsettled English translation more strongly to the fore, that is firmly the fault of that translation. (And really, Carmen in English is ultimately not a very good idea.)'


I can endorse his comment that 'Carmen in English is ultimately not a very good idea' but it's a pity that he didn't provide any reasons. Translation studies are an interest of mine and I intend to add a section to this page giving my reasons. I go further and maintain that translations into English aren't 'a very good idea' for productions in English-speaking countries, at least in the case of  operas in Italian, German and French.

The site has a page on translations, the translations of Seamus Heaney and my own translations.  It includes material on translation studies. I intend to include in this section material on presenting opera in the original language and presenting opera in English translation, advantages and disadvantages.


San Francisco Opera

 

 

 

San Francisco Opera isn't producing 'Carmen' this year but it's perfectly possible that it will produce the opera at some time in the future. If so, the material on this page could be informative.

 

This section, like most other sections in this column, projected and already published, is very critical in tone but it relates to one issue and one issue only, although the issue is a wide-ranging one. It also relates to one production only.

 

Francesca Zambello was the director of the San Francisco Opera production of 'Carmen' in 2019. Francesca Zambello is a very, very prestigious director, on the evidence of the Website

 

https://francescazambello.com/

 

which gives the important information that Francesca Zambello is a

 

STORYTELLER.
CHANGEMAKER.
EMPOWERED LEADER.  

 

'Francesca Zambello is an internationally recognized director of opera and theater and a leading light in the arts who has made an indelible mark around the world. Her home is New York City but her work has graced the stages of the Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, the Bolshoi, Covent Garden, the Munich Staatsoper, Paris Opera, New York City Opera, Washington National Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and English National Opera.'

 

No mention of San Francisco Opera! When was this written? Before or after Putin's invasion of Ukraine? More care is needed in revising the content. From the New York Times, 'Valery Geriev, a Putin ally, chosen to lead Bolshoi Theater,' which is in Moscow.

 

The publicity materials on the San Francisco Opera Website for the production included this bit of routine writing

 

'Meet the hottest woman in all of Seville—a free spirit who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to go get it. But what happens when the attention she attracts turns obsessive? Find out in this pulse-pounding, picturesque production.'

 

And this atrocious propaganda-publicity:

 

The Art of the Bullfight

'If you want a more complete picture of Spanish culture, study bullfighting. Famous writers of various nationalities have eloquently expressed that sentiment from Federico García Lorca to Ernest Hemingway, most notably in the American author’s Death in the Afternoon ...

'Although he never visited the country, Georges Bizet (along with Carmen co-librettists Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy) knew that no story set in Spain would be complete without channeling the passion and mythos intrinsic to the bullfight—or toreo as it is known in Spanish-speaking countries. That fascination continues today with films such as Blood and Sand, based on Vicente Blasco Ibáñez’s best-selling novel, and Pedro Almodóvar’s Matador.

'Yet for outsiders there are still a number of misconceptions surrounding this vital aspect of Spanish culture. First, as Edward F. Stanton writes in his comprehensive Handbook of Spanish Popular Culture, bullfighting is neither sport nor entertainment. It is ceremony, a way of life deeply rooted in Spanish society—in effect, a solemn and sacred dance of life and death. What’s more, bullfighting is theater, as cathartic as ancient Greek tragedy. Not a competition between man and bull, but, as Stanton writes, “a mutual participation in a prescribed ritual, or as some have suggested, a kind of sublimated lovemaking.” But isn’t bullfighting inherently cruel and savage, in which the bull or (less likely) the man must die? Spaniards also fervently debate the question. “Take away the bull and we’ll see what is left,” wrote Spanish author Antonio Gala. “Would we recognize ourselves without the passion for and against the bull?” For the bull is the country’s most identifiable symbol. As early as the first century A.D., the Iberian Peninsula was described by the Greek geographer Strabo as a dried, stretched bull’s hide. Cattle still populate the Spanish countryside—in actuality and as 20-foot-tall, black billboards in the shape of a fighting bull (toro bravo). Originally advertisements for Soberano (“Sovereign”) brandy, these billboards have become national artistic monuments.

'Fans will trace the origins of Spanish bullfighting as far back as ancient cave paintings and Roman hunts, although the historical record isn’t so certain. What we do know is that for centuries, the Catholic Church in Spain registered its displeasure with bullfighting’s pagan associations, including one edict dating from 447 A.D. Two popes even attempted to outlaw the spectacles in the sixteenth century. During the age of the Enlightenment, Spanish monarchs also tried to prohibit the bulls, yet with little success. Government policy changed entirely during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco (1939–1975), when bullfighting was promoted owing to its strong connection to Spanish tradition. Today, in spite of protests by animal rights advocates and increasing government regulations, bullfighting remains popular.

According to one count, there are approximately 8,000 bull-related events celebrated each year in Spain. These include not just the formal bullfight or corrida de toros, but the encierro or running of the bulls immortalized by Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises; capeas, the informal caping of calves, cows, or bulls during fiestas in thousands of town squares; and recortadores or competitions of bull-dodgers practiced by amateurs. In contrast, bullfighting is a centuries-old profession.  Nowadays most bullfighters or toreros are trained in formal bullfighting schools, including one in San Diego. In 1976, it became legal for women to be professional bullfighters in Spain. 

'In Bizet’s Carmen, there are notable inaccuracies about bullfighting, including the very term toreador which does not exist in Spanish. (It was purportedly invented by Bizet so that the syllables of the word would correspond with the music for the Toreador Song.)  However, as Stanton notes in his history of bullfighting, “the most marginal ethnic group in all of Spain, the Gypsies, have made up a disproportionate percentage of matadores,” particularly in more recent times. The hot-blooded Carmen has met her match not with the cool and aloof Don José but with the brave Escamillo.

In the end, passion, dignity, and tradition have become synonymous with Spanish bullfighting. Without bullfighters, as the aficionado Fernando Claramunt remarked, “Spain would be like any other place in the world. They are modern man’s last connection to the ancient, heroic past.” '

 

This is bad, shockingly bad. The  misconceptions and falsifications to be found in this passage, and the many more lies and misconceptions used in defence of bullfighting, are addressed in detail in my page on bullfighting. I include further material on this page, in the column to the right.  I point out that the bullfighters who are, supposedly, 'modern man's last connection to the ancient, heroic past' have now, and had in the past, only a very remote chance of being killed in the bullring, unlike the vast numbers of people in modern times who face incomparably greater risks.

 

I oppose disruption and damage as campaigning techniques in the case of all the causes which I've actively supported. I wouldn't oppose disruption and damage in the case of Nazism, of course.

 

I oppose the view that because 'Carmen' is an opera which is ethically objectionable, in part - the part which is concerned with bullfighting - that the composer Bizet had no melodic gift or that Bizet had no musical strengths. That would be ridiculous. If people want to go to see a performance of 'Carmen' given by this opera company, or any other, then they're entitled to. I hope that audiences of the opera will have enough knowledge of the realities of bullfighting to see through the spurious glamour. Overall, I recommended this course of action to supporters of San Francisco Opera:

 

My advice to people thinking of attending a performance of 'Carmen' at San Francisco Opera  would have been this:


Stay away. (Or, if you don't want to stay away, go.) Continue to support San Francisco Opera but give this production a miss. Let the public at the performances of 'Carmen' be made up entirely of believers, people who in their ignorance really do believe that bullfighters are 'modern man’s last connection to the ancient, heroic past.'

 

I believe that Matthew Erikson compiled the shameless pro-bullfight propaganda on the San Francisco Opera Website which is quoted above. If I'm informed that this is not so, I'll remove this information, of course.

 

None of the reviews of Carmen I've ever read have discussed the issues which are the focus of attention here but I've gained a great deal from reading them. Almost always, they are well written and have rewarding insights, not just musical insights but the wider insights which opera demands. These are some of the reviews of this production which I've consulted. They seem to me to be well written - very well written - and to have many insights. As in the case of the reviews mentioned in the section on the Metropolitan Opera, I have to remain a neutral, though. As I write in the section,

 

'I have absolutely no opinion on the merits or otherwise of the adverse reviews or the appreciative, admiring reviews of the performances. I've no right to an opinion. I haven't attended any of the performances.'

 

https://www.sfcv.org/articles/review/san-francisco-opera-plays-carmen-heavy-hand

 

https://operatoday.com/2019/06
/carmen_in_san_francisco_2/

 

Very brief material available on the 2019 production seems to me impressive, a tough-minded and authentic portrayal of this section of Spanish society. Strong human emotions endure, but this society is alien to our world to a large extent. Cruelty continues, but the forms taken by cruelty may well change.

 

Lyric Opera of Chicago

 

 

The Lyric Opera of Chicago had productions of 'Carmen' in 2017 and 2023. Unlike many of the opera houses in this list, there's no production for 2024. I carried out preliminary work for this section, including reading reviews of the productions, but decided to use none of the material, except for a brief extract from one review of the 2017 production. I criticize this extract, but I've no criticisms to make of these productions. If Lyric Opera ever decides to produce 'Carmen' again - I'd think that this is likely - then I hope some of the material on this page can be taken into account.

 

This disclaimer is included in various sections in this column, when reviews are quoted, appreciative or critical:


I have absolutely no opinion on the merits or otherwise of the adverse reviews or the appreciative, admiring reviews of the performances. I've no right to an opinion. I haven't attended any of the performances.

 

This is if the review seems to observe ordinary critical standards. I take a dismissive view of a  review by Tom Williams of a performance of the 2017 production

 

https://chicagocritic.com/carmen-2017-lyric-opera-of-chicago/

not because it's appreciative but because it doesn't seem to observe ordinary critical standards. The opening paragraph is a succession of cliches and copied and pasted comments, the kind that can be found in so many comments sections, with or without comments of a far higher standard:

After seeing various productions of Carmen through the years, I must admit that the production I saw this season at the Lyric Opera of Chicago was both the finest Carmen I have seen to date and that Carmen quickly enshrined itself as my ‘all-time’ favorite opera! Bizet’s Carmen has it all: memorable music including  haunting arias and rhythmic marches; terrific characters and romance with empathetic plot and a painful tragedy. To me the 3 hours flew by!. I can’t think of a better opera to introduce  newbies to opera.

 

This kind of reflex rubbish can be found again and again: 'Don Giovanni is my favorite [or 'favourite' or 'fave'] opera. Responsible criticism calls for much more thought, much more experience - a response not based on a very few productions.

 

 As for 'terrific characters,' I try to give reasons on this page why I consider that characterization is a weakness of the opera - the characters are sketched in crudely, the characters are stereotyped rather than interesting: a wooden bullfighter, a very dull murderer, and, of course, the  'femme fatale,' Carmen, a woman who seems to defy convention but who accepts many of the norms of society, the norms of this particular society - to mention just one example, the acceptance of a particularly disgusting and primitive form of a disgusting and primitive practice, bullfighting. A comparison with 'The Marriage of Figaro' would be instructive.

 

There have been many people, there still are many people, who would regard themselves as 'free spirits,' radically unconventional, who are no more, or not much more, than drifters - and not interesting drifters, people of negligible achievement or low achievement - if societies were mainly comprised of such people, societies would go under.

 

Seattle Opera

 

 

Above, Seattle Opera, McCaw Hall

 

In this section of the page, there are brief accounts of how some opera companies have presented 'Carmen' and I make it clear that any criticisms I make are about one aspect of the opera only, the presentation of bullfighting - but this is an issue with unexpected ramifications, an issue which in fact is far-reaching. I don't make any criticisms of Seattle Opera's productions. I mention just one article. The view presented in the article isn't my view but I give next to no supporting argument and evidence here - the reasons for my view are presented in the page as a whole, supported by material outside this page.

 

'CARMEN ON THE COUCH: ANALYZING BIZET'S BOLD HEROINE'

 

is an article by Tom Huizenga, a producer and prolific writen, which appears on the Seattle Opera Blog.

 

https://www.seattleoperablog.com/2019/04/carmen-on-couch-analyzing-bizets-bold.html

 

He refers to some views of Susan McClary, but the article is far from being a rehash of her views. I have Susan McClary's book on my shelves and this is an excellent book, one I respect, for its thoroughness, the work of someone who is a musicologist but much more than a musicologist. I  think that this is one of the books which fall into the category of 'very thorough, but omitting some essentials which are very significant.' I intend to give reasons in a separate section but existing material on the site shows the differences between my views and the views of Susan McClary. Susan McClary is a feminist and my page on feminism presents argument and evidence to cast doubt on some common feminist convictions. 

 

Tom Huizenga quotes Susan McClary: ' ... Carmen is a hero to some, most notably feminists.' But to others, Carmen is a threat.' Many of the claims made for Carmen seem to me to be extravagant, or if not extravagant, reckless. The character drawing in 'Carmen' seems to me sketchy, crude. The music is at the opposite pole, not in the least sketchy, not in the least crude, bold, vital, visceral, very, very accomplished. Commenters seem to me to be confusing the evidence of the libretto  with the statement of the music.

 

Carmen is a woman who carves the face of another woman with a knife. To choose her as a feminist icon seems to me grotesque, and very wrong. Carmen is a woman who can stand up for herself. Too bad that she overlooks so much - I include the animals she's content to see subjected to barbaric treatment in the bull ring. Her views of this depraved practice at the time  are completely conventional, the views of the society she lives in, views she never questions.

 

 Women infinitely more deserving of admiration than the fictional Carmen include these. The material comes from the third column of my page bullfighting: arguments against and action against.

 

Four women members of Special Operations Executive were executed at Ravensbrück during the war, each of them suffering from extreme malnutrition and the effects of relentless hard labour. Each of them had been tortured for days after being captured. Each of these volunteers faced the same risks as members of the resistance. The courage needed to parachute from the aircraft into Nazi-occupied territory, to face from that moment acute and unrelenting danger, is beyond praise. The four members of SOE who were executed at Ravensbrück are shown in these photographs: Violette Szabo, Cecily Lefort, Denise Bloch and Lilian Rolfe.  . Between 20 000 and 30 000 women prisoners  died at Ravensbrück. They came from over 30 different countries.

Violette Szabo


Cecily Cecily Lefort

Denise Bloch

 

Lilian Rolfe

Tom Huizenga quotes Denyce Graves, a mezzo-soprano singer, who claims to have 'learned much about being a woman' from Carmen. She says,

 

'I don't know of too many women who are as commanding and compelling as Carmen.'

 

David Huizenga gives a nuanced view: He writes, 'Depending on the audience's perspective, Carmen is disturbing or delightful, a figure to be emulated and held up as a cautionary tale.' I think that here, 'or' would be preferable to 'and.'

 

Deutsche Oper, Berlin

 

Aigul Akhmetshina was the Carmen in the Deutsche Oper production. The director was Ole Anders Tandberg.

 

From the site

 

https://slippedisc.com/2023/12/aigul-remembers-a-carmen-with-balls/

 

which contains these appreciative comments by Aigul Akhmetshina:

 

This production of Carmen at the Deutsche Oper was unforgettable. This rendition featured bull testicles as a gift and symbol of Escamillo’s love, lots of blood, and reading futures from organs – a cheerful show that haunted my dreams!

 

https://bachtrack.com/review-carmen-tandberg-margaine-castronovo-deutsche-oper-berlin-january-2018

 

 

In his version Norwegian director Ole Anders Tandberg has embraced the unique blend of great opera, working-class tragedy and overstoked operetta. He packs his triumphant ramped-up production with emotional realism, bloody corrida symbolism and grotesque, Tarantino-esque scenes of absurd cruelty. 

 

The critic Mark Berry was less appreciative.

 

https://seenandheard-international.com/2023/10/rarely-has-andalusia-seemed-less-inviting-or-less-interesting-than-in-this-vulgar-production-of-carmen/

 

' If you like gruesome imagery with unfortunate (I assume they were accidental) racist overtones, this may be for you. If not, even something more ’traditional’ is likely to prove a better bet than this.

 

'The curtain confronting us on entrance to the theatre, sets the tone: a bloody scene, involving what must have been the gouged eye of a bull. Once the curtain rises, the bullring (Iberia, not Birmingham) is centre stage, and proves to be the only setting for the entire thing: either inside, the arena suggestive of an amphitheatre, or outside (as one would expect for the fourth act). Fair enough, except nothing really is done with this. The metatheatrical suggestion turns out to have nothing to it. And whilst we know Carmen involves bullfighting, is it really ‘about’ it? It could be, I suppose, but there is little sign of that here, other than a strange obsession with internal organs (and even that is pushing an association).'

 

This disclaimer is included in various sections in this column, when reviews are quoted, appreciative or critical:


I have absolutely no opinion on the merits or otherwise of the adverse reviews or the appreciative, admiring reviews of the performances. I've no right to an opinion. I haven't attended any of the performances.

 

Some 2024 'Carmen productions,' with dates and a note on performers and others

Dir: Director

 

Lincoln Center, Metropolitan Opera, New York City
Dir: Carrie Cracknell
2023: Dec 31), Jan 3, 5, 9, 12, 16, 19, 23, 27

 

Apr 25, 29, May 3, 9, 13, 18, 22, 25

 

National Theatre, Prague
Dir: Grischa Asagaroff
Jan 11, Feb 21, Mar 12, Apr 23, May 28, Jun 14, 27

 

Wiener Staatsoper, Vienna
Dir: Calixto Bieito
Jan 29, Feb 1, 3

 

Oper Frankfurt, Frankfurt-am-Main
Dir: Barry Koskie
Mar 2, 8, 17, 28, Apr 1, 5, 13

 

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
Dir: Damiano Michieletto
Apr 5, 8, 11, 14, 16, 23, 26, May 1, 5

 

May 12, 17, 20, 23, 25, 29, 31

 

Opernhaus, Zurich
Dir: Andreas Homoki
Apr 7, 10, 12, 14, 19, 21, May 4, 11, 15, Jun 12, 15

 

Wiener Staatsoper, Vienna
Dir: Calixto Bieito

Apr 18, 21, 25, 28

 

Glyndebourne Opera House
Dir: Diane Paulus
May 16, 19, 23, 26, 30, June 2, 7, 10, 13, 15, 17, Aug 1, 4, 7, 9, 12, 15, 17, 20, 22, 24

 

A note on performers and others

 

Anything which causes difficulties for the smooth running of an opera company, anything which causes difficulties for opera performances, potentially or actually, will be unwelcome. In reality, difficulties of one kind or another are inevitable, of course.  Difficulties which arise from issues to do with animal welfare are very unusual, but are only likely to arise in connection with productions of the opera 'Carmen.'

 

I have a strong interest in opera and a strong awareness of the difficulties facing opera singers, orchestral players and administrators and others in opera companies. To confine attention to the opera singers, to begin with, the problems facing singers in launching a career and making a living from opera singing are immense, the problems of continuing a career at a high level or more modest levels are massive. Opera criticism, like criticism in other musical forms, is a necessity, but I feel for the singers (and the instrumentalists) who have to face the verdict of the critics - reasonable or unreasonable, fully justifiable or wrong-headed - again and again. The administrators and other people  at the opera companies have a very tough time and certainly need to be versatile, many of them, faced with problems arising from artistic values, practical problems to do with the set and many other things, and financial problems to do with balance sheets, to do with staying in business, avoiding bankruptcy.

 

This site is wide-ranging and includes criticism, but not music criticism. There's a great deal of literary criticism, though. I don't have the necessary skills and attributes to be a music critic. To mention just one aspect, I'd be incapable of singling out one singer as a weak link in an opera production, I'd be incapable of comprehensively demolishing the claims of an opera company to have achieved anything very much in an opera production. I can write hostile criticism, but only in certain restricted fields, for certain issues. In general, I'm not an abrasive person at all. Effective critics need to be tough-minded, with anything that comes their way. I'm not tough-minded with anything that comes my way.

 

 'Carmen' isn't an opera which interests me very much for its music. The 'issues arising' from the music and libretto are a different matter and have nothing to do with appreciation.  For me, 'Carmen' isn't remotely in the same category as 'The Marriage of Figaro,' 'Don Giovanni,' 'Cosi fan tutte' or 'The Magic Flute.'  All the same, I do recognize that 'Carmen' is  a work of musical genius, although it's an opera diminished by its libretto, as I see it, and very much a 'problem opera.'

 

 Productions of 'Carmen' should obviously continue. Any animal welfare campaigners (or 'animal rights campaigners') who have different ideas are very wrong.

 

As I see it ,there's a big difference between productions which take a completely uncritical approach to bullfighting and productions which take a very cautious approach, taking care not to give spurious glamour to bullfighting.

 

If this seems a moderate approach on my part, I need to make this clear: I intend to oppose as vigorously as I can productions based on the premise that there's nothing in the least questionable about bullfighting, or that bullfighting is a colourful Spanish tradition which shouldn't be questioned. I also intend to oppose as vigorously as I can co-productions with the Teatro Real of Madrid, such as the 2024 co-production of the Royal Opera House - but the whole emphasis will be upon the Teatro Real of Madrid, not the Royal Opera House.

 

To make a frank admission, I'm interested in deterring future co-productions with the Teatro Real. Opera companies are free agents. They are free to cooperate with the Teatro Real and I'm free to criticize them. It's just that I won't be criticizing the Royal Opera House for this year's co-production. I will be doing all I can, or what I can, to publicize the issues.  

 

The next step for me will be to contact Teatro Real, in Spanish, to bring the material on this page to their attention, and to provide translations into Spanish and French of material on this page and my general anti-bullfighting page,

Bullfighting: arguments against and action against.  The translations into French are for the reason that bullfighting is a continuing activity - and cause for shame - in many areas of the South of France.

 

I've long experience of activism for various causes. I'm unwilling to be only an online activist. I see the need for some degree of personal contact with people with opposing views, to confront opponents where it seems likely that something can be achieved - and often, opponents can be disadvantaged without changing their opinions.

 

I've thought long and hard about campaigning techniques and their use to further various causes, written about campaigning techniques and spoken in public about campaigning techniques. I addressed 1,000 people or so at an Annual General Meeting of Amnesty International at Edinburgh on this subject. I took the view that Amnesty International's compaigning techniques were demonstrably ineffective and that this needed action.  The resolution I'd written to present the case and to take action was passed overwhelmingly.

 

Later, I became convinced that Amnesty International was losing contact with realities and was becoming impossible for me to support. I did end my association. I had been the death penalty co-ordinator for Sheffield Amnesty International for two decades and had worked on almost the full spectrum of human rights abuses. My misgivings were partly to do with Amnesty's use of the term 'human rights,' but this isn't an issue I can comment on further here.

 

It's not likely that I'll travel to Covent Garden to hand out leaflets giving information about Carmen's linkages with bullfighting, but not impossible in the least.

 

I've challenged opponents in Europe only on one occasion, in the bullfighting town of Arles in Southern France. I travelled to a location in Suffolk to hand out leaflets making the case against the poet Seamus Heaney for some of his writings on bullfights and for attending at least one bullfight, and probably more. The event and the experience is recorded in my page Seamus Heaney and bullfighting.  The event was fairly recorded in an East Anglian newspaper, which sent out a reporter to interview me, and in the Sheffield newspaper, the 'Star.' A few days after they published their accounts, Richard Alleyne of the Daily Telegraph phoned me. I was courteous and answered his questions as fully as I could. When the report appeared, the event was grossly misreported and I could explain exactly why. I published my account before long, in the page mentioned. After a time, he contacted me and it was obvious that he considered he'd been mistaken, badly mistaken. My account is still in the public domain.

 

I've nothing but praise for the venue, the Snape Maltings concert hall, and people at the venue. I've added some images to the page and intend to add more appreciative comment. Suffolk is a county which is important to me, not least for its associations with Benjamin Britten, a composer who is important to me. East Anglia is a region which is important to me. Richard Alleyne took it as an instance of wilful eccentricity that I was willing to travel 200 miles just to draw attention to Seamus Heaney, There were more reasons for wanting to go to Suffolk.

 

I'm an activist to achieve results. Most often, I need to work with other people to have a better chance of achieving results but wherever possible, I work without help. In the case of bullfighting, I've not found it easy to work with people who have contacted me and asked to work with me to oppose bullfighting. This is an area which can attract people who have completely unrealistic ideas about animal welfare, or 'animal rights,' people, for example, who believe that killing animals can never be justified, people who believe that people who harm animals should be hanged, and people with other attitudes I'd have to criticize. None of this prevents me from wanting to oppose pro-bullfighting people with the utmost commitment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introductory images

 

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3

4

5

 6

7

8

9

 

Above, 1.  Sleek, sophisticated and attractive: part of the Metropolitan Opera building. 2. Hideous, barbaric, ugly: a picador's horse, disembowelled. The dark mass below the horse is the horse's intestines spilling out, one of the countless horses disembowelled in the bullfight before the adoption of protection for the horses in 1928. The bullfight in Carmen belongs to this barbaric world. The violent image comes from this very violent video

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCTrLWncSjs&list=
PLEB32230D46060ADD&index=46&ab_channel
=guilledh

 

- a form of violence not just relevant to Carmen but embedded in Carmen, inseparable from Carmen, but a form of violence not recognized by the vast majority of the opera houses which have presented the opera. 3 and 4. More images showing the cruelty to horses in those times. 5. An attempt to kill the bull with a sword has failed. The descabello'is used to stab the bull in the spine. It may well take many thrusts before the attempt succeeds. 6. An alternative weapon to finish off a bull - a dagger, the puntilla. 7. Parade of the picadors. 8. Picador stabbing the bull with his lance. This stabbing, or more than one stabbing, marks the start of a whole series of wounds. 9. The protective mattress doesn't guarantee protection for the horse. Here, a picador's horse has fallen and is trapped for the time being. Even when there are no physical injuries, the terror of the horses can easily be imagined - but not easily imagined by bullfighting supporters, I would think.

 

Admiral Lord Nelson, the victor at the Battle of Trafalgar,  was obviously no sentimentalist, not someone with no experience of injuries and killings, but this is what he wrote after attending a bullfight in Spain with some of his men.

 

‘We felt for the bulls and the horses … How women can even sit out, much less applaud, such sights is astonishing. It even turned us sick, and we could hardly go through it: the dead, mangled horses with their entrails torn out, and the bulls covered with blood, were too much. We have seen one bull feast, and agree that nothing shall ever tempt us to see another.

 

In the bullfight of Nelson's time and Carmen's time and well into the twentieth century, in fact, until 1929, the number of horses killed in each bullfight amounted to as many as forty or more. Six horses might be  provided for each of the six bulls to be killed. If more horses were needed, men were sent out into nearby streets to buy some working horses to be sent into the bullring.

 

As the bullfight proceeded, as each of the six bulls was killed, more and more horses were killed or injured, bleeding profusely. The injured ones might be dragged away or made to stand and remounted, their blood drenching the sand. By the end of the corrido - the bullfight - the horrific scene in the arena would resemble the aftermath of a battle.

 

A very graphic video which shows a badly injured horse. This horse was injured in a race, not a bullring. Quite quickly, a humane killer was used.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uwkPq_F-ho&ab_channel=tetice%C3%

1oyuca

 

The treatment of horses in the bullfights of Carmen's time was utterly different, completely callous, showing horrific cruelty.  No matter how badly injured they were, if they were still alive, they were pulled to their feet.

 

Productions of 'Carmen' never show the bloody scene in all its horror. It would be impossible to do that, of course. There must be very few productions which show any blood at all. The blood is simply hinted at, if that. An exception is the production at Deutsche Oper (the link is to the section in the column to the left which gives some information about this notorious production.)

 

This is a painting by JL Gérôme  with the title,  'La Fin de la corrida,' 'The End of the Corrida.'  It was painted about 1870 and so at a time when the horses of the picadors were unprotected and suffered horrendous injuries in very large numbers. The picadors' horses were given protection (but not complete protection) some sixty years later. An image of another painting by him is in the section What if ... Carmen loves a gladiator?

 

 

If the typical treatment of the bullfight in productions of 'Carmen' is a sanitized one, this is a work which, in its own sphere,  is not quite so sanitized, but the painting is evasive. This seemingly realistic painting is far from realistic. There would be far more horses lying on the sand - and there is no blood shown at all! None of the tracks show any signs of blood. In the black-and-white images above which show dead and dying horses, blood is not shown, but this is for obvious reasons.

 

No horse intestines are shown in the painting.. The majority of the injuries which caused the death of the horses would be disembowellings and the mass of the intestines near to the horses and the intestines dragged by the horses along the sand in a bloody track would be impossible to ignore. But this particular artist has ignored all this.  

 

This is a strange and very evasive painting. In their very different ways, the  directors of 'Carmen' productions have been just as strange and evasive.

 

An extract from the French translation and an English translation, Act 2 of the opera:

 

... this is the moment!
The bull comes bounding
out of the toril!
He charges, comes in, strikes!
A horse rolls over, dragging down a picador!
"Ah! Bravo bull!" roars the crowd;
the bull turns, comes back,
comes back and strikes again!
Shaking his banderillas,
maddened with rage, he runs about!
The ring is covered with blood!


... c'est l'instant
Le taureau s'élance en bondissant hors du toril...
Il s'élance, il entre, il frappe, un cheval roule
Entraînant un picador.
«Ah bravo toro!», hurle la foule.
Le taureau va... il vient... il vient et frappe encor!
En secouant ses banderilles,
Plein de fureur, il court!
Le cirque est plein de sang;

 

Emphasis in the final line supplied by me. No attempt will be made in traditional stagings of the opera to show or suggest 'The ring is covered with blood,' 'Le cirque est plein de sang.'

To return to the previous images, the image of the disembowelled horse is followed by two images of a number of dead or dying horses which will have received  horrific injuries, followed by an image of a 'rejoneador,' a bullfghter who stabs the bull on horseback.. The horses in this form of bullfighting are unprotected and are sometimes disembowelled. The Las Ventas bullring, like others, has a team of veterinarians. These attend to the the horses injured in the bullring. They offer no help to the bulls.

Then there's an image of a bull about to be stabbed in the spine with the descabello, perhaps many times. As usually happens, the sword intended to kill the animal has failed to kill it. The sword is embedded in the bull and the handle is visible. The number of stabbings a bull receives in the contemporary bullfight  is always a minimum of eight - the first stabbing with the lance of the picador, six stabbings with the banderillas and a stabbing with the sword of the matador but it's very often many more. In my page on bullfighting I give a case of a bull which was stabbed by the lance of the picador, the banderillas and the sword of the matador - which failed to kill the animal. Then, it  was stabbed 17 times in the spine with the descabello. Another weapon used to finish off a stricken bull by stabbing it in the spine is a dagger called the puntilla. Again, multiple blows are often involved.

 

The final image in this series shows a bull with sword embedded in its back but still very much alive, about to be stabbed in the spine with a short knife, the 'puntilla,' perhaps many times. The image shows a bullfight in San Marcos, Mexico. Bullfight believers will regard San Marcos as an important cultural centre in Mexico. Not so, not in the least, opponents of bullfighting. The Wikipedia entry for the place gives this information about the

'Feria Nacional de San Marcos:'

 

 'The fair is host to a large range of activities, of which bullfighting and cockfighting are the most popular.'

In the 'Carmen bullfight,' the bull was always stabbed far more than eight times. The picador's lance was lighter than the one used in the contemporary bullfight and there were always multiple stabbings with the lance.

 

The fictional Carmen was obviously a woman who could sit out and applaud such sights, multiple stabbings, multiple disembowellings, a woman who wasn't sickened by the violence of the bullfight, a woman who could applaud the dead, mangled horses with their entrails torn out and the bulls covered with blood. 

 

 From the libretto of the opera, referring to Escamillo the matador, Escamillo, the bull-killer - who, far more often than not, will have left his sword embedded in the bull and left the bull very much alive, needing much more work before the bull was actually killed:

 

'Long live Escamillo! Ah bravo!'

'CARMEN
Ah, I love you, Escamillo. I love you.'

 

To choose such a woman as a feminist icon is a grotesque choice, and very disturbing.

 

What if ... Carmen loves a gladiator?

 

We know a great deal about what went on in Roman amphitheatres, what went on in bullfighting arenas, what happens now in bullfighting arenas (some of them dating from Roman times and  used for killing, killing of a much more varied kind, as I point out.) Despite all the differences, there are similarities between the Roman spectacles of cruelty and the spectacles of bullfighting cruelty:

 

the intoxicating, delirious responses of the crowd, so often, vivid colour ('the ring is covered with blood' (from 'Carmen'), the use of music to 'enhance' the experience, the rules that constrain the action in the Roman amphitheatre and the bullfighting arena, whilst freely permitting atrocious cruelty, the women who fell for gladiators, the women who fell for a bullfighter (for example, Carmen), the women who still do.  The appeal is memorably expressed by the Roman poet Juvenal:

 

'What was the youthful charm that so fired Eppia? What hooked her? What did she see in him to make her put up with being called "the gladiator's moll"?'

 

She was infatuated with a bullfighter called 'Sergius.'Juvenal makes it clear that Sergius was very unattractive.   'But he was a gladiator. That word makes the whole breed seem handsome, and made her prefer him to her children and country, her sister, her husband. Steel is what they fall in love with.'

 

This, from Act 2 of the opera, is the claim of the bullfighter Escamillo:

 

The ring is packed, it's a holiday,
the ring is full from top to bottom.
The spectators, losing their wits,
yell at each other at the tops of their voices!
Exclamations, cries and uproar
carried to the pitch of fury!

...


Toreador, on guard!
And remember, yes, remember as you fight,
that two dark eyes are watching you,
that love awaits you!
Toreador, love awaits you!

 

With the replacement of 'toreador' by 'gladiator,' this, from the bullfighting festival of cruelty would fit the Roman festival of cruelty exactly.

 

From Act 4 of the opera, beginning with the Chorus:

 

It's the Matador, the skilled swordsman,
he who comes to finish things off,
who appears at the drama's end
and strikes the last blow!
Long live Escamillo! Ah bravo!
Here they are! here's the cuadrilla! etc.

ESCAMILLO (to Carmen)
If you love me, Carmen soon
you can be proud of me.

CARMEN
Ah! I love you, Escamillo, I love you,
and may I die if I have ever loved
anyone as much as you!

TOGETHER
Ah! I love you!
Yes, I love you!

 

Is this really love, or infatuation brought on by the poisonous and mistaken allure of a bullfighter-killer for Carmen and the not in the least deep approximation of feeling shown by the bullfighter-killer Escamillo for Carmen? The quality of the music is what will convince the audience, or most of the audience or some of the audience - in a musically successful production - or get the audience to believe something which isn't shown by the non-musical side of the production.

 

What if the Romans had worked on the sadistic acts carried out in their arenas, had taken care to add a certain artistry, to make the sadistic acts far more than acceptable to sophisticated people?  The retarius was a gladiator who could use his  net to try to entangle his heavily armoured opponent and who could then stab him with the three-pointed trident he carried, or with his knife. The tactics were quite varied and relied upon speed and agility. It would have been quite easy for the retarius to use the net in a graceful manner, with similarities to the use of a cape in bullfighting. The retarius could have pranced around the ring and adopted poses with similarities to the antics of bullfighters. The music could have been improved - although no attempt has been made to improve the music played at bullfights.

 

The procession of the gladiators into the amphitheatre could have been improved, to make it into a spectacle which matched the spectacle of the bullfighters entering the arena. This, from 'Carmen,' would apply to the Roman event, with the change from 'banderilleros' to 'gladiators.'

 

Look at the banderilleros!
See what a swaggering air!
See them! See them!
What looks, and how brilliantly
the ornaments glitter
on their fighting dress!

 

More could have been made of the final sword thrust or dagger thrust which ended the life of a defeated opponent in the ring - something similar to the 'moment of truth' claimed for the killing of the bull is killed. But I point out that the very quick, almost instantaneous killing of the bull is quite uncommon in the bullring. The reality is far more often much more extended, involving attempts to get the sword in the bull's back to move, to reach a vital spot, and / or hacking at the spine, often, many times. The killing of a defeated gladiator in the Roman arena would have been far quicker and more dependable.

 

But no 'artistic' innovations could possibly have redeemed what went on in the Roman arenas. It tainted Roman 'civilization.' Abolition was an absolute necessity. Although the cruelty of the bullfighting arena is very different, despite some similarities, abolition of the corrida is an absolute necessity. 

 

Please see also the section below

 

Bullfighting as an art form. Bullfighting and tragedy  which includes discussion of the Roman arenas, what went on in the arenas - much more than fights between gladiators. 'One picture is worth a thousand words' but a thousand words, or less but often far more, may be needed to correct the misleading impressions which can be given by an image.

 

All the images in this section  are misleading. All of them, including the first, don't convey the realities of the killing in the Roman amphitheatres, their degrading  horrors. Images of bullfights (or 'bull-stabbings') and the even worse bullfights of the past ('bull stabbings with horse disembowellings) do convey, in most cases, the realities of killing in the bullring. If colour photography and filming had been available when horses were disembowelled in very large numbers in bullrings then the realities of horse killing would be presented very, very forcefully but the existing monochrome records present it powerfully, as do written records. Empathy can work with very limited records.

 

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Images above: information

 

1. Painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 'Pollice verso,' the turned thumb signifying the bloodthirsty crowd's call for a defeated gladiator to be either spared or killed. The bloodthirsty crowd includes vestal virgins, the women in white shown in the painting. women in white are vestal virgins. After the 'reforms' of the emperor Augustus - these were not strongly enforced - women were confined to the upper rows of an amphitheatre. Only the Vestal virgins were seated lower down. An image of another painting by him, 'La Fin de la Corrida' is given in the section above Introductory images.
2. Painting by Jose Moreno Carbonero, 'Gladiators after the fight.'
3. The Colosseum, where gladiators fought gladiators, gladiators fought wild animals, wild animals were hunted and where executions, including mass executions took place.
4. The Roman amphitheatre at Arles,
where gladiators fought gladiators, gladiators fought wild animals, wild animals were hunted and where executions, including mass executions took place, where bulls were slaughtered and horses disembowelled in the corrida and where bulls are still slaughtered, but not in the least by the instantaneous killing of humane slaughter.
5. Spear head found in the the gladiator barracks at Pompeii.

6. Bullfights have bands and there were bands  in Roman amphitheatres. Shown in this image, musicians with trumpet (tuba), water organ  (hydraulis), and horns (cornua). From the gladiator mosaic  at Nennig, Germany.
7.
Gladiators, including gladiators  fighting other gladiatars and gladiators fighting animas. Part of the Zliten mosaic  from Leptis Magna, Libya.

8. Mural of a hunt, showing a venator attacking a lioness, from the amphitheatre at  Mérida, Spain. The amphitheatre is in ruins and has not been converted into a place to hold bullfights.  It did have a place to hold the animals before they were sent into the arena to be killed, just as present day bullfighting arenas have places to hold the bulls before they enter the arena. 

 

Bullfighting as an art form. Bullfighting and tragedy

 

 

 

The top picture here shows the ancient Greek theatre at Epidauros.  The lower picture here shows the Roman arena at Nîmes in France, constructed when it was  part of the Roman Empire. These two places represent  vastly different aspects of civilization, at vastly different levels of achievement: one the shameful and  diseased dead end, the other the growing point. 

A sign in English in the arena at Nîmes gives information about events there in Roman times: 'All day long, to the roars of the crowd and the sound of trumpets, the arena staged one show after the other: animal fights, hunts, executions and, topping the bill, gladiatorial contests. 'French arenas dating from Roman times, the one at Nîmes and the one at Arles, are used for an activity which is in a clear line of descent from the past: for the spectacle of killing.

 

More images of the theatre and its long and eventful history - which includes opera. Music was part of the theatrical performances in ancient Athens. We have no record of this music but we can be certain that it was incomparably less developed and important than the music of the operatic masterpieces and the operas which are far from being masterpieces. 

 

More images: simple reminders of some theatres and some masterpieces. The first image shows a theatre constructed in Roman times, the second and third images show the Estates theatre in Prague, the setting for the first performance of Mozart's 'Don Giovanni,' which contains violence, but violence which has no linkages with the violence of  bullfighting arenas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Roman arenas were used for diverse spectacles, all of them brutal and bloody, of course. Gladiators fought each other, very often  to the death, gladiators fought and killed wild animals - lions, tigers, bears, bulls, elephants and others - and there were executions, which were sometimes conducted with a degree of depraved 'artistry.'  Katherine E. Welch, 'The Roman amphitheatre from its origins to the Colosseum:'

 

' ... condemned criminals dressed up as characters from Greek mythology ... were forced to perform and, at the performance's climax, were put to death ... The difference between these mythological executions in the amphitheatre and Greek dramas in the theatre were commented upon by Martial as an improvement.'

 

Bullfighting is very different from the gladiatorial combats against wild animals (the 'venationes') but is clearly descended from them. Instead of a variety of wild animals, the bull is the only animal to be put to death. The death of the gladiator who fought the wild animals in the amphitheatre was very common, the death of the bullfighter in the bullring very uncommon. The more sensitive members of the Roman audience might justify the barbarity they were witnessing with the thought that they were also witnessing displays of skill and courage. More sensitive members of the bullfighting audience at Nîmes and Arles may justify the barbarity they are witnessing with the thought that they too are  witnessing displays of skill and courage - and 'artistry.' I examine the supposed 'artistry' of the bullfight here, and in my main page on bullfighting.

 

It would have been perfectly easy to have made the combat of Roman gladiators into something with claims to artistry just as good as the claims of the modern bullfight, the artistry of both (at the lowest possible level) undermined by their moral depravity. To claim that a practice is 'art' is far from justifying it. If Greek tragedy had developed in such a way that there was  the actual death on stage of performers, the emotion of the spectators might have been heightened, but of course at ruinous cost. The Greeks never took  this step. In classical Greek drama, when a killing  took place it was shown behind the 'skene,' as it was thought inappropriate to show a killing on stage, giving us our word 'scene.' 

 

Italians decisively abandoned this, the worst part of the Roman heritage, after the Colosseum became a ruin.

 

'In 1332 Ludwig of Bavaria visited Rome and the authorities staged a bullfight at the Colosseum in his honour. It was the first time in more than eight hundred years that such an event had been witnessed, so naturally the public turned out to watch in great numbers, though no one, not even the organisers, seems to have realized that this had been one of the Colosseum's original functions.' Peter Connolly, 'Colosseum: Rome's Arena of Death.'

 

What have the Italians done with the Colosseum? The Colosseum has been used for something which is imaginative, something which marks a complete break with its past, something in which Italians can take great pride. As another page on this site makes clear, I actively oppose the death penalty (but not in all circumstances) and the Colosseum's new use as a symbol of opposition to the death penalty pleases me no end. When a country abolishes the death penalty or the death sentence of a prisoner is commuted, the Colosseum is lit up. The Roman amphitheatre at Verona is often used for staging opera and other musical performances.

 

The Romans devised brutal spectacles with bullfighting as the only modern descendant. Greek theatre was incomparably richer, incomparably more important, no less than the creation of tragic drama and comic drama, and works, by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes, of remarkable artistry. The range of the surviving works is astonishing, expressing pathos, harshness, human savagery and cruelty, sympathy for the victims of human savagery and cruelty, grandeur, beauty, wonderment, tenderness, gentleness, chance, unexpectedness, parody, crude humour and sophisticated humour, eroticism, fun and mature vision, excess and restraint, and so much more, of course, and so much more than the cramped and primitive world of bullfighting.

 

The full range of civilization's achievements should be defended, promoted and of course extended - not just civilization's abolition of past cruelties and efforts to abolish present cruelties but so much else as well, including a vast treasure  of subtle insights and  nuances. It will always be to the credit of this country that it continued the fight to end Nazism  - and also that it  decided not to neglect every aspect of civilization which didn't contribute to the country's physical survival. In desperate circumstances, at the low point of 1940,  for instance, cultural and scholarly publication continued. Amongst the works published in that year was the ninth edition of the monumental Greek lexicon of Liddell and Scott, the current edition, which enhanced the study of Homer, Thucydides, Aristotle and the Greek dramatists and the rest of ancient Greek achievement in words.

 

If the legacy of the Roman amphitheatre is bullfighting, the  legacy of Greek theatre  includes, of course, the tragedies and comedies of Shakespeare and other dramatists, and non-dramatic comedy for that matter. If the literary artistry  of Greek theatre is its main claim upon our attention and most deserves our admiration,  there were other aspects of Greek theatre which came to have enormous influence too. Greek theatre was a spectacle as well as a form of literature, combining words with music and dance. The ancient Greeks never attempted opera - its invention  was an Italian achievement - but by their use of music they paved the way for opera.

 

What aspects of human life and experience does bullfighting leave out? Almost all. The 'artistry' of the bullfight has to be compared with the rich, radiant, complex, powerful, sometimes transcendently beautiful art-works which have been created in painting, architecture, theatre, instrumental music, vocal music, opera, music, literature, the ballet and other arts. Schiller referred to the stage as 'Die Bretter, die die Welt bedeuten.' 'The boards that signify the world.'

 

Hemingway, 'Death in the Afternoon:' 'Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death.' I would emphasize a different aspect. Bullfighting is the only art form where the artist inflicts suffering and death, the only art form which is morally wrong. Bullfighting is the pariah amongst the arts. Suffering and death have enough power. An art should do nothing to increase it. In other arts, suffering and death are confronted, explained, found impossible to explain, raged against, transcended, balanced by consolation and joy, not inflicted. In my main page on bullfighting, I examine in detail Hemingway's claim and show that the risk of being killed in the bullring is very, very low. Millions of ordinary (and extraordinary) people have faced vastly greater risks in time of war. Mountaineers face vastly greater risks - without any of the ridiculous posing of bullfighters and their supporters.

 

Hemingway, 'Death in the Afternoon,' of bullfighting: 'If it were permanent it could be one of the major arts, but it is not and so it finishes with whoever makes it.' Hemingway thinks of bullfighting as a minor art form, then, not a major one. His view of the performing arts - and if bullfighting is an art, then it's a 'performing art' - is open to question. Great performances in the true arts are surely something of major, not minor, significance. What I would assert is that amongst the performing arts, bullfighting is at rock bottom.

 

F. Scott Fitzgerald, 'The Great Gatsby:' 'The other car, the one going toward New York, came to rest a hundred yards beyond, and its driver hurried back to where Myrtle Wilson, her life violently extinguished, knelt in the road and mingled her thick dark blood with the dust.'

 

Although the cause of death is technologically advanced, death by motor vehicle, this fictional account seems, at first sight, to resemble  the much older world of the Iliad, the Homeric character dying in the dust. When Homer recounts a violent death, he makes frequent mention of dust. One of many examples is Iliad 13: 548.

 

In her fine introduction to Anthony Verity's fine translation of 'The Iliad,' the classical scholar Barbara Graziosi writes, 'Vivid, painful, and direct, the Iliad is one of the most influential poems of all time ... This poem confronts, with unflinching clarity, many issues that we had rather forget altogether: the failures of leadership, the destructive power of beauty, the brutalizing impact of war, and - above all - our ultimate fate of death.' Its many readers 'have turned to it in order to understand something about their own life, death, and humanity.'

 

I've already given reasons why it's an act of callousness, gross ignorance, contemptible stupidity to think of the death of horses as comic. I focus now on tragedy. Here, bullfight apologists are on no surer ground.

 

'Tragedy' has a very wide meaning now. Almost all human deaths are 'tragic' apart, that is, from the deaths of very old people.The word has come to mean not much more than 'very sad' and 'very regrettable.' The clam that the death of the bull is tragic goes beyond this. Bullfight apologists don't claim that the death of the bull is 'very sad' or 'very regrettable.' If they did, they would want to avoid the death by abolishing the bullfight. What they are doing is claiming a linkage with literary tragedy. The study of literary tragedy is the essential background to any claim that the bullfight is a tragedy. Certainly, I'd expect bullfight apologists to have done the necessary study, before any mention of the death of the bull as 'tragic.'

 

Bullfight apologists tend to have a simplified understanding of tragedy, focussing attention on the solitary death of the tragic protagonist, identified in bullfighting with the bull. In fact, very many tragedies don't end with the death of the protagonist. If the protagonist does die, the death of the protagonist may be quiet and uneventful, lacking the distinctive characteristics of tragic death. Other characters may die together with the protagonist, so that the effect of a solitary tragic death is blunted.

 

It would be difficult to overestimate the importance and the influence of Aristotle's 'Poetics,' despite its brevity, as an examination of tragedy, although tragedy is only one of its themes. My comments here are necessarily brief. Very much to be recommended is reading the 'Poetics.' One accessible version is published by Penguin Classics, with an illuminating introduction by the translator, Malcolm Heath, which will be instructive reading for the average bullfighting supporter, naively convinced that bullfighting is a tragic form and the bull a tragic protagonist. In the brief extracts below, though, I use my own translations from the 'Poetics.'

 

In the analysis of tragedy, plot is the primary element for Aristotle. He devotes chapters 7 - 14 almost entirely to his analysis of plot. He distinguishes simple from complex plots, claiming that complex plots are superior. Examining the many complex tragic plots which were familiar to Aristotle and which date from after the time of Aristotle, we can appreciate and admire, their lack of uniformity, their very great differences, their subtle differences, the richness of this one part of cultural history: the enormous differences between the fully-achieved tragic worlds of Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Oedipus the King, Agamemnon, Medea and the rest.

 

The plot of the bullfight is simple, primitively simple, and repetitious. Bullfighting supporters love the special terms in Spanish which give them the feeling that they are insiders, that they know the meaning of potent special words, one denied to outsiders. So, both Hemingway's 'Death in the Afternoon' and A L Kennedy's 'On Bullfighting' include Glossaries of these Very Important Words. Although an outsider, very much an outsider, I use some of these terms here.

 

The primitive plot  of the bullfight  consists of these three 'Acts:'

 

First Act: Suerte de Varas, 'The Act of Spears' in which the bull is stabbed with the lance of the picador.


Second Act: Suerte de Banderillas, in which the bull is stabbed with six barbed darts.


Third Act: Suerte de Matar, also known as the faena, 'The Act of the Kill,' in which the matador kills the bull with a single sword thrust, more than one sword thrust, or by hacking at the spine once or repeatedly.

 

People who pay money to see one 'performance' will see the Suerte de Varas, the Suerte de Banderillas and the Suerte de Matar repeated six times, since six bulls are killed. Anyone who sees 100 bullfights will see these Acts repeated 600 times.

 

The complexity and richness frequently found in the plots of literary tragedy are so often accompanied with complexity and richness of character - the hesitations, doubts, deviousness, goodness, moral badness, the whole inner life and all the actions of the protagonist and the other characters. Although bulls are varied, 'cowardly' or 'brave,' predictable or unpredictable, with a degree of individuality, Oedipus, Hamlet and King Lear are infinitely more varied, more richly varied, and the tragedies in which they appear are infinitely more varied, more richly varied, than any bullfights. Again, the bullfight is primitive by comparison with a work of achieved literary tragedy. Bullfighting apologists make a great deal of the 'knowledge of bulls' possessed by the bullfighters and the better-informed elements of the audience. But again, this knowledge is surely pitifully limited in comparison with the knowledge and the insight needed to appreciate adequately the masterpieces of literary tragedy.

 

In the bullfight, the fate of the protagonist, the bull, is rigid and predictable - the bull always dies, except for those rare occasions when pardoned, and everything in the bullfight leads up to the death of the bull. The death of the tragic protagonist which is central to the bullfight plays a less important role in literary tragedy in some cases.

 

Aristotle hardly mentions death in tragedy in the 'Poetics.' His examination of tragedy was based upon a much greater number of Greek tragedies than the ones available to us, of course. At the beginning of his discussion, he gives a definition of tragedy, which makes no mention of it. The account, including its important terms, require extended analysis. Below, I give particular attention to 'magnitude,' μέγεθος

'Tragedy is an imitation of an admirable action, which has completeness and magnitude, in language which has been made a source of pleasure, each of its species separated in different parts; performed by actors, not through narrative, and giving through pity and fear the purification of these emotions.'

 

ἔστιν οὖν τραγῳδία μίμησις πράξεως σπουδαίας καὶ 
τελείας μέγεθος ἐχούσης, ἡδυσμένῳ λόγῳ χωρὶςἑκάστῳ 
τῶν εἰδῶν ἐν τοῖς μορίοις, δρώντων καὶ οὐ δι᾽ ἀπαγγελίας, 
δι᾽ ἐλέου καὶ φόβουπεραίνουσα τὴν τῶν τοιούτων 
παθημάτων κάθαρσιν.

The surviving Greek tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides are in accordance with Aristotle's discussion: the death of the protagonist is far from being invariable or if it does occur is not necessarily a distinctive tragic death.

 

A few examples, from each of these tragedians. Aeschylus' 'The Persians' takes place at the court of the Persian king. A messenger arrives to announce the Persian defeat at the hands of the Greeks - this based on historical fact. King Xerxes arrives, a broken man, and the play ends with him a broken man. The first play of Aeschylus' Oresteian trilogy portray the death of Agamemnon, the second the death of his murderer Clytemnestra at the hands of Orestes, but the third play, 'The Eumenides,' portrays the acquittal of Orestes and is without a tragic death. In Sophocles' 'Oedipus the King,' Oedipus survives. When he does die, in 'Oedipus at Colonus,' his death is quiet, not a violent tragic death.

 

Sophocles' 'Philoctetes' has a 'happy ending.' (See my examination of Seamus Heaney's version of the play which includes my own translations and comments on the production of the play.) Euripides' 'The Women of Troy' portrays the sufferings of a group of women from a captured city awaiting slavery. The tragedies of the seventeenth century French dramatist Corneille, like 'Philoctetes,' end happily.

 

The tragedies of Shakespeare do show the death of the protagonist, but although each of these takes place in what is obviously a tragedy, I'd argue that they are not necessarily tragic deaths, deaths with the distinctiveness of tragic deaths. In Hamlet, for instance, the death of Hamlet lacks tragic distinctiveness because it is part of a general blood-letting - Shakespeare to this extent repeating a notorious aspect of Titus Andronicus with vastly greater and more mature artistry. In a short period of time, not only Hamlet dies but Gertrude, Laertes and Claudius. The entire royal family is finished off. The death itself may be strangely muted, at least in comparison with the highly charged and dramatically momentous events which have preceded them, as with the deaths of Othello, Macbeth and King Lear. The death of King Lear has a linkage with the quiet death of Oedipus.

 

The three 'Acts' which end with the death of a bull, repeated six times in a bullfight, last altogether about a quarter of an hour or a little longer. I write about this time-scale in my page aphorisms:

'There are no great theatrical masterpieces which last only a quarter of an hour. They need longer than that for their unfolding, to have their impact. '

 

Aristotle, in the 'Poetics,' wrote that 'Tragedy is an imitation of an action that ...possesses magnitude.' (Section 4.1) The word he uses for 'magnitude' is μέγεθος,  and it expresses the need that the dramatic action should be imposing and not mean, not limited in extent. Aristotle's view here isn't binding, but it does express an artistic demand which more than the so-called 'unities' has a continuing force. The 15 minutes, approximately, which elapse from the entry of the bull until its death are far too little for the demands of a more ambitious art. The complete bullfighting session is simply made up of these 15 minutes repeated six times, with six victims put to death. This repetition doesn't in the least amount to magnitude, to 'megethos.' The scale of bullfighting doesn't have adequacy. The scale of Greek drama does have adequacy. Shakespearean themes needed a drama with much greater scale for adequacy.

 

The history of tragedy has been very long and eventful, but we have to reckon too with the death of tragedy, or tragedy changed out of all recognition. In contemporary conditions, the tragic sense is modified, blunted, often overturned. We are forced to become critical, to become suspicious.

 

Contemporary life gives us so many examples of deaths and sufferings which can be avoided, by the advances of science and technology, as well as deaths and sufferings which are brought about by science and technology. In both cases, human decisions, plans and mistakes are fundamental. Deaths in car crashes, like the death of Myrtle Wilson described above, are so often avoidable and easily avoidable - just take care to use a seat-belt, to observe speed limits, and so on. These risks can be lowered by passing suitable laws.

 

The dangers, sufferings and deaths of the bullfight, we are reminded, aren't eternal, part of the tragic lot of humanity and the animal kingdom, but easily preventable - just ban the bullfight, and they are gone. Although death is inevitable, death at a certain time and place is very often anything but. The only reason why a bull dies in the late afternoon on a certain day at Arles or Nîmes or some other centre of cruelty is because the bullfight hasn't been abolished. When we read words to the effect that the bull was 'born and bred for this moment' (the moment of death in the bull-ring - not that the death usually takes only a moment) then we have to protest that this wasn't a destiny, it was far from being an example of tragic inevitability, it was the result of a decision.

 

Modern scepticism has to be taken into account. There's a parallel with the scepticism which illusions bring to sensory experience. Not everything that people see or hear has to be acknowledged as real. Under certain conditions, people can see towers, trees or other objects which don't exist. The fact that some people experience hallucinations, like the experience of optical illusions, lead us to treat the senses with scepticism, suspicion, even if we have grounds for thinking that not all sensory experience is untrustworthy.

 

Similarly with the intense emotions, intense aesthetic experiences and the pleasure and satisfaction which bullfight apologists claim to experience at a bullfight. They have to be approached with complete caution. Not all emotions are checked by scepticism any more than sensory experience - the emotions of mountaineers not at all, except for those emotions with a clear origin in pathology, such as ones brought on by oxygen starvation. But many emotions, sincerely and uncritically felt, don't withstand scrutiny.

 

Nietzsche, 'Thus spake Zarathustra,' Part 3: 'For man is the cruellest animal. At tragedies, bullfights and crucifixions, he has hitherto been happiest on earth...' People are denied the intense emotions of a crucifixion for very good reasons: not due to modern squeamishness or sentimentality, but due to a real ethical advance. Ethical advances in our attitude to animals make the strong emotions of the bullfight just as wrong.

 

Michael Jacobs, in his book 'Andalucia' is one of those writers who have described the silence before the bull is killed, a time of intense drama - supposedly. He claims that there isn't only 'butchery' in the arena. At times, bullfighting becomes 'one of the more moving and mysterious of human activities.' These intense experiences melt away with just a little attention to the disastrously misguided ethics of the killing. (Completely relevant too is the fact that whilst the audience is appreciating this 'moving and mysterious' experience, the picador's horse may well be shaking, in agony, after being charged by the bull and hit by the bull with full force.)

 

A comparison: Richard J, Evans, in his 'Rituals of Retribution,' which is concerned with the history of capital punishment in Germany (and a very important work of 'humanitarian history') gives information about executions in Leipzig in the 1680's, at a time when Bach was composing there. The scene has to be imagined. 'There was a precise order laid down for the procession to the scaffold.' There was often beautiful music to accompany the procession, performed to a high standard (even if there's no record that Bach himself officiated.) One can imagine the malefactor awaiting the blow from the executioner's sword, the silence before the blow fell, the consummate emotion.

 

 These things may have been felt, but they could not be justified. High emotion isn't self-justifying. Of course, the victim may have been guilty of theft rather than murder, may have been innocent of the crime altogether. The silence, the intensity of emotion, were present at the execution of an innocent victim just as at another execution. In modern conditions, in liberal countries, the public beheading of a guilty murderer is unthinkable, no matter what the emotional loss for the spectators, the denial of their opportunity to feel 'spiritual' intensity as the head of the victim falls with the swoop of the executioner's sword.

 

Intense emotion may be due simply to ignorance, lack of knowledge. Someone who knows nothing about wine drinks a sample and feels something like ecstasy. With further experience, the memory of the ecstasy becomes embarrassing. The wine was one-dimensional, crude. Someone becomes interested in music and is delighted by a performance or a recording - which become hopelessly limited and crude with the growth of understanding.

 

These insights can lead not just to an appreciation of the better and the worse within an activity but to the rejection of the activity itself: to the rejection of bullfighting as an activity, in this case. In 'Death in the Afternoon,' Hemingway discusses appreciation of wine, but doesn't allow for the growth of consciousness which would lead to the rejection of bullfighting. Although there can be 'better' matadors and 'worse' matadors, in the opinion of aficionados, bullfighting will be found hopelessly crude in comparison with developed art forms.

 

George Steiner's book, 'The Death of Tragedy' is concerned with the literary genre of tragedy. He argues that a genre which includes some of the greatest works of literature - including the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, the tragedies of Shakespeare - is exhausted, at an end. I don't agree, but his discussion is interesting.

 

George Steiner traces the decline and fall of tragedy in detail, and gives various reasons. For example, 'It is not between Euripides and Shakespeare that the western mind turns away from the ancient tragic sense of life. It is after the late seventeenth century.' The seventeenth century marks the beginning of the scientific revolution. 'It is the triumph of rationalism and secular metaphysics which marks the point of no return. Shakespeare is closer to Sophocles than he is to Pope and Voltaire...The modes of the imagination implicit in Athenian tragedy continued to shape the life of the mind until the age of Descartes and Newton.'

 

There is also the impact of changes in social conditions. 'In Athens, in Shakespeare's England...the hierachies of worldly power were stable and manifest. The wheel of social life spun around the royal or aristocratic centre.' The tragic heroes of the ages of literary tragedy include King Lear and Oedipus the King. In actual fact, George Steiner does claim that literary works of tragic feeling were created subsequently, but now, tragic death and suffering were democratic. He claims that Büchner's Woyzeck 'is the first real tragedy of low life.' And, 'Büchner was the first who brought to bear on the lowest order of men the solemnity and compassion of tragedy.'

 

Alban Berg's decided to write an opera based on Woyzeck after attending the first production of the play in Vienna, on 5 May, 1914.  The opera, 'Wozzeck,' is, of course, immensely important.

 

 

 

The semi-mythical status accorded to the bull in so many accounts of the bullfighting apologists, the stress upon the bull's power, seem to be an attempt to equate the bull with the tragic hero created before the seventeenth century. In contemporary conditions, this is archaic and cannot work.

 

A part, probably a large part, of the supposed artistry of the bullfight comes from the work with the cape, the swirling and flowing of the cape. If there were no death and cruelty involved, it might be fine, impressive, like those displays of flag swirling, but by no stretch of the imagination a major art form. Skiers can make beautiful, exhilarating patterns in the snow with their carved turns - and 'extreme' skiers, who can lose their life with one single mistake, are certainly engaged in a far more hazardous activity than bullfighters. The Telemark turn of downhill cross-country skiers '...is so elegant and graceful that onlookers often say it looks like a waltz.' (Steve Barnett, 'Cross-Country Downhill.') I used to be a cross-country skier, with a particular interest in cross-country downhill. But skiers don't generally claim that their turns amount to an art form. I wouldn't claim that in the least.

 

The technique of bullfighting, such as the action of the wrists, is surely not nearly as subtle, intricate and complex as the technique of a developed skill such as violin playing, which makes extraordinary demands on neuro-muscular co-ordination, not just of the fingers and hand but the shoulder, arm, elbow and wrist, requiring intense, arduous and protracted study. Working at just one aspect of technique (and emotional expression) such as the vibrato, requires long and patient study. (I play the violin and viola.) Both bullfighters and musicians practise, bullfighters, for example, by sticking banderillas into a target on wheels or practising killing with a 'killing carriage' but  even amateur musicians are surely practising skills which are vastly more complex than those of the bullfighters. My own studies with the Hungarian violinist Rudolph Botta have left an indelible impression. My page

 

https://www.linkagenet.com/phd/cello-violin-viola-proms.htm

 

includes some material in the first column of the page.

 

 

The appreciation of music demands insights and emotions of a vastly greater range, vastly more subtle and complex, than the appreciation of the crowd at a bullfighting.  'The Rough Guide to Spain' on aficionados: 'a word that implies more knowledge and appreciation than "fan"' - but, I'm sure, far less knowledge and appreciation than that needed for a developed art. In my page Poetry: linkages with music I provide discussion of some  issues.

 

Bullring ballet

 

One of the comments on this Youtube video, 'Toro vomitando sangre,' 'Bull vomiting blood'

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7Y194Y7I3M&feature=g-vrec

 

'Don't be deceived by your eyes. Just keep saying to yourself, "This is a beautiful art like ballet." '

 

To many defenders of bullfighting, including  this comment-writer on the Youtube film, my revulsion at the blood pouring out of this bull's mouth will seem hopelessly crude and misguided.  According to this perspective, the  blood and  stabbings, including the vomiting of blood after stabbing with the sword, are incidental, not the essence of the corrida: the corrida requires an appreciation of nimbleness, agility, dexterity, poise, grace, delicacy as well as strength and above all beauty. Some aficionados regard the corrida as having linkages with accomplished ballroom dancing - bullring dancing - but more often linkages with ballet - bullring ballet. Daniel Hannan writes, ' 'The Spaniard is watching, not a contest, but a ritualised dance: a relationship so tender and tragic that it might almost be called love.'

 

I'm completely familiar with this viewpoint. Anyone with any knowledge of the writing of aficionados will be aware of it. But I believe that it's a  grossly misleading viewpoint and can't possibly justify the corrida. Treating the violence of the corrida, its spilling of blood as incidental, amounts to active distortion and  falsification. No bullfighter can guarantee that he (or she) will kill a bull instantly. A bull vomiting blood is a common, not a rare occurrence.

 

The focus of attention here is on bullfighters on foot, not mounted bullfighters, 'rejoneadores.' In their case, it's the highly-trained horse which makes the agile and graceful movements.  Clicking on this link shows the end result. The hideous photograph shows, in the words of the caption, 'Spanish 'rejoneador' or mounted bullfighter Pablo Hermoso de Mendoza  celebrates his kill during his bullfight at the Santamaria bullring in Bogota, Colombia ...'

 

The agility and nimbleness of the banderilleros are striking, but unlike ballet-dancers, their choreography is subject to powerful moral objections. Their nimble steps take them up to the bull and allow them to evade the bull, but the act of stabbing the bull with the six banderillas is no incidental matter. Hemingway acknowledges the suffering caused by these stabbings, but writes of the bull, 'I keep my admiration for him always, but felt no more sympathy for him than for a canvas or the marble a sculptor cuts or the dry powder snow your skis cut through.' This is aestheticism without ethics, an evasion, the failure to take into account  the crucial and obvious difference between canvas, marble, snow on the one hand and the bull on the other: the bull is a sentient being, with the capacity for pain. Alexander Fiske-Harrison acknowledges the pain caused by the banderillas too, but only in his internet writing, not in his book. (His description of his killing of a bull makes it clear that the bull took some time to die: it's not in the least unlikely that this bull too was vomiting blood, like the bull in the film.)

 

No aficionado makes any claim for artistry in the work of the picador who spears  the bull in the first 'Act' of the bullfight, but the injury to the bull, the sentient being, is far from incidental in this case too.

 

The  'matador,' like the banderillero, does attempt a kind of ballet and of a more ambitious kind. The choreography in both kinds is necessarily improvisational and the circumstances make completely unattainable any developed artistry fit to be compared with ballet. The word 'matador' means 'killer.' Aficionados may prefer to think of the  bullring as  the stage where the ballet is being performed but the bullring is after all a slaughterhouse. If nimbleness, agility, dexterity, poise, grace, delicacy as well as strength and above all beauty are the essence of the bullfight, then aficionados would find all these qualities in bloodless displays featuring performer and bull. Blood, violence and injury are intrinsic aspects of the corrida, central and not peripheral.

 

The corrida's linkages with the Roman venationes are obvious. The Romans watched these fights between men (sometimes women) and wild animals in their arenas. If, in Roman times, these fights against wild animals, like the gladiatorial combats in which men and sometimes women were killed, had developed to stress 'artistry,' and Romans had appreciated the choreography of the wild animal killers and the choreography of the gladiators, then the ethical objections to the wounding and killing would be left undiminished.

 

An aficionado could be described, not just as a person who appreciates the corrida in a 'knowledgeable' way, but as a person who, amongst other things, discounts and evades these intrinsic aspects of the corrida. When aficionados decry, from their superior knowledge, the use of the term 'bullfighting,' they are surely evading a central aspect. Hemingway refers to 'bullfighting' and 'bullfighters' throughout 'Death in the Afternoon,' but some aficionados would be unwilling to grant that Hemingway was an aficionado at all. The back cover of Alexander Fiske-Harrison's 'Into the Arena' mentions 'bullfighting,' 'the bullfight' and 'fighting bulls.' The 'true essence' of the bullfight is described as 'man against bull in a life or death struggle from which only one can emerge alive.' (But this is misleading. The bull is overwhelmingly likely to emerge dead, the bullfighter overwhelmingly likely to emerge alive, despite any impression of comparable risks.) As in the case of Hemingway, Alexander Fiske-Harrison uses throughout his book the terms 'bullfight,' 'bullfighting' and 'bullfighter,' in a way which may well offend refined aficionados who prefer not to associate their art with violence or even with what Daniel Hannan describes as 'contest.'

 

The account in which Daniel Hannan claims that 'The Spaniard is watching, not a contest, but a ritualised dance: a relationship so tender and tragic that it might almost be called love' also contains this, 'The bull took two pics, the second of which went in repeatedly and way off to one side. After the banderillas, as the bull stood spurting fountains of blood ... ' there was  'a miserable excuse for a sword-thrust into the bull’s flank.'

 

I'd prefer to use the term 'bull-stabber' rather than 'bullfighter.' There are three kinds of bull-stabber: the picador, who stabs the bull with a lance, the banderilllero, who stabs the bull with barbed banderillas, and the matador, who stabs the bull with a sword. But on this page, I use the established word 'bullfighter.'

 

Any claim by aficionados that the anti-bullfighting activist is bound to have an 'external,' view of bullfighting, or, as they would prefer, the 'corrida,'  that the activist can't possibly understand the world  of the aficionado or the matador, is very much mistaken. We're not in the least fated to understand only those things we support and appreciate or to fail to understand those things we oppose. Readers have access to many, many worlds at great {distance} from what happens to be their own world, worlds provided by the great novelists and writers of non-fiction and worlds it's possible to understand by our own insights: the worlds of Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, Raskolnikov, Malone, of fictional and non-fictional politicians, shopkeepers, financiers, labourers, criminals, detectives and of course so many more worlds - including the worlds of aficionados and matadors.

 

The aficionado who feels superior to bullfighting supporters who are non-aficionados and very much more superior to opponents of bullfighting relies amongst other things on superior knowledge of the correct terms - 'the corrida,' instead of 'bullfighting,' for example, and may well feel that correcting the misconceptions of others amounts to a confirmation of the importance and legitimacy of the activity - not so. The aficionado has a knowledge of these terms, and many more (the quotation is from 'Into the Arena,' Chapter 17):

 

'Using the language of the first matador, Pedro Romero, you need parar, templar and mandar. Parar means 'to stop' or 'to stake' - as in poker - and refers to the matador standing his ground. Templar means 'to temper' or 'to tune', adjusting the cape to the bull's charge and / or adjusting the bull's charge with the cape. Mandar means 'to send', with the sense of command, and refers to sending the bull safely away from the body to the place of your choosing.' There follows a discussion of a further term, cargar la suerte, which he translates as 'to load the dice'. (The Club Taurino of London proudly displays these terms on the Home Page of its Website.)

 

John Gordon's account 'Morante de la Puebla:my Morantismo, his Tauromaquia' (published by the Club Taurino of London in 'La Divisa')  is a fairly representative account of intricate and technical aficionado writing, more so than anything in Alexander Fiske-Harrison's book, or Hemingway's, for that matter. An instructive quotation: ' ... not only are his molinetes quite belmontinos, but his kikirikís are reminiscent of Gallito and his naturales de frente are his particular tribute to the post-war toreo of Manolo Vázquez.' He has an aesthete's as well as a technician's viewpoint, assessing the 'technical and aesthetic' performance of the matador Morante, commenting amongst other things on the common passes and the less common passes, including the 'media chicuendina. ' He discusses named individual passes and the linkage ('ligazón') of passes [not an aspect of linkage which appeals to me at all], and the various actions, such as swivelling, pivoting, leaning, the shifting of weight.

 

Tristan Wood, also writing in 'La Divisa, in a very matter of fact way about another bullfighter:' '  'At Barcarrota, he [José Luis Moreno] gave his opening Sepúlveda toro some decent verónicas [passes with the cape, the caape held up in front with both hands] before watching it savage the picador’s horse in a huge derribo, [knocking over] the bull rolling the caballo [horse] as it lay on the ground and inflicting a cornada [horn wound] in its right flank.' Tristan Wood is the author of 'How to watch a bullfight.'

 

As soon as it's realized that  watching gladiators fight to the death in the Roman arena would no more be legitimated by technical terms and 'knowledge' than bullfighting (or the 'corrida') then the aficionado's pride and status are  suddenly shown to be without any foundation. If the Romans had developed the 'aesthetic' aspect of gladiator-fighting and had developed 'artistic' moves, instead of stressing brute force, skill and courage, then the {separation} of the aeesthetic and the ethical would be clear (I don't of course deny that there are linkages.)

 

John Gordon notes that 'Morante is very poor with the sword in his hand, and this is surely the most mediocre side of his toreo. It is only necessary to watch the way he lines up for the kill, his right arm seemingly contorted and in the wrong place. What is worse, he goes “out” away from the bull before he has even reached the jurisdiction of the morrillo. [morillo: the large muscle mass in the region of the bull's neck.] Ultimately, there is a lack of conviction when he goes in for the swordthrust, and, when one does not enter believing that the sword will go in, more often than not, the result will be a pinchazo.' A pinchazo is the term for the sword hitting bone. There may be repeated pinchazos and when at last the sword sinks into the bull without hitting bone, the bull may not be killed. John Gordon writes purely as an aesthete, completely indifferent, it seems, to the fact that the bulls Morante attempts to kill so badly will be suffering intensely. He refers to 'the delicate grace that underlines his aesthetic personality.' John Gordon's account, like the account of other aficionados, is subject to extreme {restriction}. It takes no note of the moral dimension. In the same way, the gourmet-aesthete finds some foie-gras 'mediocre,' some, allegedly, 'heavenly,' and can supply some plausible taste-terms,  without giving any thought to the moral dimension.

 

It's often argued that aficionados deplore some common events in the bullring - bulls left weak or almost helpless when they have been lanced by the picador too vigorously, bulls which take a long time to die when the killing sword is used. Their objections have nothing to do with humanitarian ethics at all. They are simply thinking of their own enjoyment, with the limited perspective of the aesthete rather than a moral being. It would be possible to eliminate tampering with the bull before it enters the ring but once it's in the ring, it's impossible to eliminate these absolutely common events, since the picadors, banderilleros and matadors are never able to stab the bull in the 'correct' places, in the conditions of the bullfight, and even if they were, moral objections would remain.

 

Aficionados'  knowledge of  the bullfight and its technical terms,  the much lesser knowledge of almost all opponents of bullfighting, prove nothing about the moral status of the bullfight. If an opponent, unlike the aficionado, is unaware that the sword thrust is intended to pierce the aorta of the bull not its heart and is unaware that the sword thrust is called an 'estocada,' unless it hits bone, in which case the term is 'pinchazo,' then the act of killing is in no way legitimated by  the superior knowledge of the aficionado. In the same way, the traditonal Roman Catholic doctrine of hell isn't legitimated by the superior knowledge of the Roman Catholic theologian and the misconceptions of the atheist, who may be unaware of the distinction, for example, between mortal and venial sins.

 

The technical terms of bullfighting aren't to be equated with the technical terms of ballet. They're the technical terms for one or another instances of gross cruelty or its accompaniments. The aficionado knows that a mounted bullfighter is called a 'rejoneador' and that the rejoneador uses  'rejones de castigo' ('lances of punishment') before using the banderillas and eventually the  'rejón de muerte' ('lance of death), the 'descabello' being used on the spine after that in many cases. Opponents of bullfighting who know only that the bull is stabbed repeatedly  before being killed have  enough knowledge to come to an informed view of the morality of the acts - something which the  superior knowledge of the aficionado doesn't guarantee in the least.

 

Bullfighting has linkages with ballet, but ballet is an incomparably more developed art than bullfighting. Aficionados like John Gordon can point to a  repertoire of movements in bullfighting, ones which they see performed very well or not nearly so well, but the actions of ballet are incomparably more intricate, skilful and varied. The predominant motion of the bullfight, on which other movements are superimposed,  is monotonously elliptical to a considerable extent. The bull is forced to move around the bullfighter in  approximate more or less elongated ellipses, more often ragged than smooth, again and again. The actions of ballet are anything but monotonous. (But bullfighting isn't objectionable primarily on aesthetic grounds such as these.)

 

Aficionados who now feel an urgent need to supplement their 'knowledge' with an understanding of  ethical dilemmas and ethical debate in general, have at least and at last begun to appreciate the enormity of their task, but are surely untypical. 'Afición' is generally knowledge of one sphere and shocking ignorance of other spheres of direct relevance to the continued existence of the activity they support.

 

Bullfighting and 'duende'

 

He went and saw it often, Lorca:
the bulls' as they stumbled and died
suddenly glazed eyes,
as if no longer able to comprehend
the Spanish arguments for death and torture.

From frantic sun to shade,
overshadowing the dazed end
of Lorca's 'poetic' lies -
fated to be scythed
and doomed to fade.

(My poem 'Lorca')

 

Lorca, the Spanish poet, gives us his thoughts on 'duende' and death in his essay 'Theory and Function of the Duende:' the full text of the essay in English translation.

 

He writes of duende that 'its most impressive effects appear in the bullring.' Duende, he claims, isn't needed for all phases of the bullfight, but 'in the work with the cape, while the bull is still free of wounds, and at the moment of the kill, the aid of the duende is required to drive home the nail of artistic truth.' And, 'Spain is unique, a country where death is a national spectacle, where death sounds great bugle blasts on the arrival of Spring.' He refers, of course, to the start of the bullfighting season at Easter, but his reference to Spanish uniqueness is obviously wrong, ignoring the bullfighting traditions in Southern France and Latin America.

Duende encompasses the death of people as well as bulls. I give statements from one short paragraph of Lorca's essay, on separate lines, so that their profundity, or stupidity, stands out more clearly, depending on the views of the reader:

'In every country death has finality.
Not in Spain.
A dead person in Spain is more alive than is the case anywhere else.'

The dead of the Somme, Passchendaele, Verdun and Auschwitz and the other extermination camps, being almost all non-Spanish and dying far from Spain, are denied, then, the consolation of being 'more alive' enjoyed by, for example, the Spaniards who died in the Spanish civil war, the Spanish women who died in childbirth before the development of modern medicine, the victims of the Spanish Inquisition, as well as their torturers and executioners.

So many of Lorca's claims are superficially deep, reminding us of the 'dark gods' of D H Lawrence at his worst: 'the duende has to be roused from the furthest habitations of the blood,' and 'quoting the Spanish composer Falla: 'all that has dark sounds has duende.'

 

Lorca sharply distinguishes duende from the Muse, 'which stirs the intellect' and the Angel. The Muse, according to Lorca, 'lifts the poet into the bondage of aristocratic fineness, where he forgets that he might be eaten, suddenly, by ants, or that a huge arsenical lobster might fall on his head - things against which the Muses who inhabit monocles, or the roses of lukewarm lacquer in a tiny salon, have no power.' In a similar style, he refers to 'that other melancholy demon of Descartes, diminutive as a green almond, that, tired of lines and circles, fled along the canals to listen to the singing of drunken sailors.' This from someone who has a towering reputation in European culture.

 

He goes so far as to give a definition of duende, one of the most useless and empty definitions imaginable: 'a mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained.' As is shown by the fact that the definition was originally drawn up by Goethe to describe the violinist and composer Paganini.

 

How does an Andalucian with the Anadulucian view of death regard those who do everything they can to save life? Grudgingly? I think that the Andalucian attitude, like the acceptance of Rilke, fails. With apologies to the people of Andalucia who aren't so limited as to share these obsessions and confusions.

 

Bullfighting and seduction

 

'From the Website of the French anti-bullfighting organization 'Alliance anti-corrida,' 'Bullfights use the very perverse effects of seduction: colours, costumes full of light, brass bands, sunshine. Everything is set up in order to mask the bloody reality. To this list could be added the haughty or grimly determined look of the bullfighter in his (or sometimes her) colourful costume. Although these are completely familiar, I include an image. It evidently shows a bullfighter superimposed on a separate image of a bullring background but the image of the bullfighter is important here, not the background.

 

The morality of the bullfight can never be confirmed by any of its outward trappings. The costumes of the matadors,  the procession before the bullfight,  the language ('the moment of truth'), the music, to some people (but the brass bands may well be found completely unseductive) convert some people to the substitute religion or supplementary religion of the bullfight, they make the bullfight acceptable to many, many people, or far more than 'acceptable,' but that is all they are - trappings, appearances.

 

If  horses and  bulls were treated in the bullring in exactly the same way as now but the bullfighters were people in nondescript clothes who made no attempt to pose, if 'the moment of truth' were to be described as 'the attempt at killing,' then the immorality of bullfighting would be even more widely recognized.

 

Bullfighters and bullfighting supporters aren't 'Nazis' - this is a word that has to be used very carefully - but there are linkages in the use of seduction and propaganda and in their mythologizing. Nazi Germany understood very well how to seduce the senses and mask the reality of its brutal and degraded regime: torchlit processions, the vast displays of might at Nuremberg. Leni Riefenstahl's film 'Triumph of the Will' shows the Nuremberg uses Wagner's 'Götterdämmerung, the beating of drums, the singing of the Horst Wessel-Lied, the shadow of Hitler's plane, the consecration of Nazi Party flags, a giant swastika, silhouetted men, vast numbers of men. Ethical depth so often requires looking beyond the seductive appearance and if most Germans at the time never did so, some Germans were never fooled, and often paid with their lives.

 

The Roman Catholic Church has brought many into its fold and kept many within it despite any doubts by its very often masterful use of visual spectacle, the visual appeal of priestly vestments, by the musical and architectural riches which are part of its heritage, by the evocative language of the Mass. But again, it's necessary to look beyond any seductive appearances. Roman Catholic theology - including the ban on artificial methods of  contraception and abortion in all circumstances, the concept of mortal sin, until not so very long ago the belief that unbaptized babies could never enter heaven, the belief in hell, and the rest - cannot possibly be confirmed by any of these outward trappings.

 

Cultural stagnation

 

The attention given to the bullfight in Provence, Seville, Madrid  and all the other places is a sign not of colourful tradition but of stagnation. Any region or country with vitality tries to preserve its strengths and reduce its weaknesses. To be unchanging, to be oblivious to the better intellectual and cultural currents of the age, is a sign of weakness.

 

Great Britain, but particularly England, has a very high regard for tradition but it has at least recognized that tradition can be a sign of weakness as well as strength. It's remarkable that Britain, with all its faults, transformed itself from a bull-baiting and bear-baiting and fox-hunting country, one with no real tradition of animal welfare, to one with such a care for dogs, cats, and injured wildlife, and one which has achieved a very great deal in the abolition of factory farming, although not nearly enough.

 

Countries, as well as people, are not condemned to repeat the past, to perpetuate traditions that have become unacceptable for very good reasons. Practices that seem deeply embedded in a society, too much a part of its tradition to be reformed or abolished, can be ended.

 

Hanging by the neck is an ancient English tradition that has gone. It might have been expected that Spain's fondness for the death penalty would have been reversed with more difficulty. Not so. Execution by garotte and shooting was ended in Spain in a dramatic way. To their credit, not one member of the Spanish parliament voted against abolition. Before bad practices are ended by legislation, though, they may wither away, regarded as obsolete, as an embarrassment. This will be an essential preliminary to the abolition of bullfighting in the bullfighting countries.

 

Andalucia, along with Castilia, is the European region most closely associated with the bullfight. It's argued - more often, simply stated - that Andalucia is so receptive to bullfighting because of the attitude to death there. Northern Europeans, and others, are supposed to confess their limitations at this point, to confess, helplessly, that they can't possibly understand death like the Andalucians, being so much more superficial. That's why so many Northern Europeans, and others, are outraged by the bullfight. They lack this sense of life mysteriously interlinked with death. And how does an Andalucian interpret and make sense of, from the depth of Andalucian insight, those vast repositories of death outside Andalucia, such as the Somme, Passchendaele, Verdun, Stalingrad, and Auschwitz and the other extermination camps?

 

Martin Seymour-Smith is a writer I appreciate.  I quote him in a number of places in this site. Yet he supported the bull-fight (whilst opposing fox-hunting). His biography of Robert Graves has a photograph which shows the two of them attending a bullfight, Robert Graves looking very worried, Martin Seymour-Smith with a look of evident appreciation. He was a man of contradictions, although of course hardly alone in this. Goya was an ardent supporter of the bullfight and drew pictures of bullfighting scenes, but he is obviously a great painter, as in his unforgettable series of pictures 'The Disasters of War,' and from such masterpieces as 'The Third of May, 1808: The Execution of the Defenders of Madrid' and 'Saturn eating his son,' Goya had deep insights into the violence of the world. I regard his failures in regard to bullfighting are failures in what I refer to as {adjustment}.

 

I've digressed to make it clear that I see the need to recognize that bullfight supporters are not necessarily to be condemned totally, given no credit for any strengths. Their strengths may be very substantial.

 

Arrival in Provence for the first time from Northern Europe. Impressions, the experience of countless travellers: the heat of the day, the wonderful warmth of the evenings, the powerful leafy scents, the quality of the light, the blue skies, the cypresses, the unexpected wildness of the landscape, French spoken unexpectedly, with a different accent. Is not the ordered bullfight just another sign of local distinctiveness? To abolish it to make a reduction of contrast?

 

In other places in this site, I've made clear that reduction of contrast can't be regarded mechanically as always good. It has to be evaluated. There are many, many colourful customs, distinctive of a region, which have involved unnecessary harm to men, women or children, as well as animals. Their loss has been a gain.

 

If we carry out a ((survey)) of a region, or a whole country, we find that there is so much to interest us. Provence has so much to interest any traveller that the loss of the bullfight would be insignificant. A survey of the pleasures available would include so much - a very partial list would include the pleasures of eating, of wine, of emotional intensity, sexual intensity, of the landscape, of nature, of the genuine arts, the true arts not fatally compromised by any dependence on the infliction of suffering and death. The bullfight apologist might even discover that the world of animals becomes an absorbing interest.

 

The English writer V S Pritchett describes the pleasures of life in Spain in 'The Spanish Temper' and 'Foreign Faces.' In 'Foreign Faces,' he gives a memorable portrait of Seville, the city of Figaro and Don Giovanni. The overwhelming impressions as he enters the city: 'Inside the city white walls are buried in bougainvillea and wistaria and all climbing flowers, geraniums hanging from thousands of white balconies, great lilies in windows, carnations at street corners, and roses climbing up the walls and even the trees so that all the gasps and hyperbole of pleasure are on our lips.' He goes on to describe momentous, thrilling, dramatic aspects of life in Seville. As for the bullfights held there, '...this spectacle has its terrible periods of boredom...There are plenty of people in the crowd coming away from the bull ring complaining of the enormous prices charged, the commercialisation of the show and the decline in its quality.' The 'decline in its quality:' V S Pritchett judged the whole thing purely in terms of human pleasure. He was uncritical, a gifted but limited writer.

 

Animals: appreciation and abuse

 

The Italian poet Umberto Saba on the pathos of one animal, the original followed by my translation

 

La capra

 

 

Ho parlato a una capra.
Era sola sul prato, era legata.
Sazia d'erba, bagnata
dalla pioggia, belava.

Quell'uguale belato era fraterno
al mio dolore. Ed io risposi, prima
per celia, poi perché il dolore è eterno,
ha una voce e non varia.
Questa voce sentiva
gemere in una capra solitaria.

In una capra dal viso semita
sentiva querelarsi ogni altro male,
ogni altra vita.

 

The goat

 

I talked to a goat.
He was alone in the field, tethered,
fed up with grass, soaked
with rain, bleating.

That same bleating was brother
to my sorrow. I answered, first
as a joke, but then because sorrow's for ever,
has a voice and never varies.
This voice I sensed
moaning in a solitary goat.

In a goat with a semitic face
I sensed all ills lamenting,
all lives.

 

There's a linkage between bullfighting, surely, and a pitifully limited appreciation of animals and care for animals, a linkage between bullfighting and other abuses of animals, even if there may be exceptions. Bullfighting apologists do, genuinely, appreciate the power of the bull, the magnificence of the bull (both the power and the magnificence are destroyed by the punishing power of the picador's lance and the banderillas, so that it's a shadow of the magnificent animal, an animal weakened by injury, loss of blood and pain which faces the final act.) Bullfighting apologists are far less likely than so many other people, surely, to appreciate, to sympathize with, to commune with, to feel pity for, to want to help, all the animals which lack the power and strength of bulls but which have grace, charm, usefulness, or which have no particular appeal to any human preferences but which simply have mysterious 'otherness:' to feel the compassion of Umberto Saba, or of Thomas Hardy. This is from Thomas Hardy's poem, 'Afterwards:'

 

If I pass during some nocturnal blackness, mothy and warm,
When the hedgehog travels furtively over the lawn,
One may say, 'He strove that such innocent creatures should ...come to no harm,'

 

Feelings like these, present in bullfighting countries but surely in stark contrast with the predominant ethos of a bullfighting country, are infinitely more valuable than the grandiose posturing which is  bullfighting's depraved contribution to the world.

 

As with life-enhancing feelings, so with opposition to organized mass cruelty, it could confidently be predicted that the bullfighting countries would not be in the forefront of opposition to the cruelties of factory farming. When the European Union voted to phase out the battery cage (although the so-called 'enriched cage,' a slightly larger battery cage, is a very poor compromise), the only country which voted against was - Spain.

 

Bullfighting and mono-culture

 

The 'culture' in 'monoculture' refers to the growing of crops, of course: monoculture is cultivation of one crop to the exclusion of all others, or the overwhelming dominance of a single crop. Monoculture has severe disadvantages. It may entail the loss of genetic diversity, aesthetic loss, loss of interest, the monotony of uniformity, and practical loss, such as the loss of plants which feed beneficial insects and other creatures.

 

The term 'monoculture' is sometimes used without reference to agriculture. In this case, the reference is almost always to dominance, not to the complete exclusion of alternatives.  I use the hyphenated term 'mono-culture' where the 'culture' refers not to cultivation of crops but to aspects of artistry, major or minor, and, to an extent, the wider world of 'ideas, beliefs, values, and knowledge' (Collins English Dictionary).

 

It seems to me  that in the areas of Spain where bullfighting is actively pursued, there's a mono-culture of bullfighting which is unhealthy. Bullfighting doesn't exclude all other forms of 'culture,' obviously, in these areas, but it does have  dominance. In Andalucia, for example, cante jondo flourishes, to an extent, but is less prominent than bullfighting and has linkages with it.

 

The mono-culture of bullfighting is uninteresting as well as unhealthy. Nature writing in English is one of the glories of English literature - the nature writing of  American writers such as Thoreau as well as  such English writers as Gilbert White, in 'The Natural History of Selborne,' Richard Mabey and of course so many others, and  in other countries as well as these, including a host of superb lesser-known writers.

 

I'd include in this number Jennifer Owen, who wrote 'Garden Life.' She writes of swifts, 'In July, swifts wheel and scream in the sky above the garden. Their elegant, black silhouettes, tracing ever-changing patterns against the clear blue of early morning or the opalescent glow if evening, lift the spirits of the most earthbound gardener.'

 

Many of these writers have revealed the glory of humble creatures, such as moths. They are prominent in 'Garden Life.' Thoreau writes in the closing section of 'Walden' that 'Every one has heard the story which has gone the rounds of New England, of a strong and beautiful bug which came out of the dry leaf of an old table of apple-wood, which had stood in a farmer's kitchen for sixty years ...'

 

Spain's natural history is  richer than England's in many respects, but the English have made incomparably more of their heritage of natural history than the Spanish, I'd claim. The mono-culture of bulls has surely impoverished Spanish nature writing. Apart from its cruelty, the  mono-culture of bullfighting in large areas has impoverished Spanish culture.

 

If it's conceded that nature writing and appreciation of nature are strengths of English culture but argued that English culture, unlike Spanish culture, largely ignores death, and that this is an obvious weakness of English culture, then I'd argue in turn that this is a gross distortion. The Spanish preoccupation with death can easily be paralleled in earlier English culture. English parish churches - important to many an intransigent atheist, including myself - are full of reminders of 'memento mori.'  English culture has far more of classical balance now: remembrance and grieving rather than a preoccupation with death which could be called obsessive, the public and private  remembrance of our war dead, including those who died fighting against fascism, and the countless acts of private remembrance and grieving obviously observed to a greater or lesser extent in every country, not only in Spain.

 

The biography section of a very comprehensive library or a very comprehensive bookshop contains biographies and autobiographies  of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, explorers, travellers, poets, novelists, essayists, politicians, generals, soldiers, sailors, airmen, painters, architects, financiers, administrators, nationalists, anarchists, communists, conservatives, comedians, gardeners, ordinary people with ordinary or extraordinary lives -  obviously, the number of categories is immense. It may even include, in the case of very comprehensive libraries, the biographies of a few bullfighters.

 

Are the claims to importance made by bullfighting supporters to be believed in the slightest? Is the adulation in the least healthy? Would the biography section of a very comprehensive library or a very comprehensive bookshop be anything other than pitiful if it contained not much more than biographies of bullfighters or books such as Alexander Fiske-Harrison's 'Into the Arena,' which belongs to the genre of autobiography?

 

Does bullfighting really encompass a large part of what is important in the world, or so much that's important?

 

Miriam Mandel is the editor of 'Hemingway's Dangerous Summer: the complete annotations,' a scholarly pro-bullfighting work - but its accumulated detail undermines the bullfighting case. There's revealing information about the extent of 'afeitado,' tampering with the bull by 'horn shaving.' Miriam Mandel shows the usual aficionado's awe-struck and credulous opinion of bullfighters, extending even to bullfighters' biochemistry and physiology, or at least the biochemical and physiological processes concerned in wound healing. These, it seems, are different from those of lesser people: 'Injuries require a bullfighter to absent himself from the ring, but these enforced absences are often surprisingly short (bullfighters seem to heal more quickly than other people).'

 

An account: unprotected horses in a bullfight

 

An extract from the account  of a spectator who was sickened by what he saw at a bullfight, Sir Alfred Munnings. It comes from his autobiography, published in 1955. The account is based on what he saw at a pre-peto bullfight. Carmen was obviously not sickened by what she saw at bullfights. She liked what she saw.

 

'I have sat at dinners given by the American Ambassador in Spain with a titled Spaniard as my neighbour, hearing things of bullfighting not written in books. Have we read in those novels extolling the matador, of living skeletons - once horses - ridden not only to slaughter but in a tawdry procession? Have we read of punching, horning, or weeks of durance between Sundays, with flies crawling over festered wounds, as the victims, not killed, await in the stables NEXT SUNDAY’S SPORT? Watch such a procession, and see some fifteen sorry steeds, doomed, starved, carrying heavy, stuffed out picadors. No wonder the horses are hurled to the ground, overweighted, weak and half-dead.

 

'Passing the tall archway, I had seen a little white horse. To my surprise it was in the procession, carrying a great picador, and the next thing we saw was the little white horse and another in the ring. This humble white horse stood there blindfolded, his ears stuffed and tied, little knowing what he was there for. Oh, little white horse; Little White Horse!’ I kept repeating to myself, as the bull put a long horn right through the little horses neck, just above the windpipe.

 

'Imagine the fright of the horse, blindfolded and deaf, at the sudden stab. Then the bull, his horn through the neck of the horse began dragging it slowly round with him, the picador dismounting and others in the ring trying to free the horse, now no longer a horse, but a holiday victim,  the blood running down its white jaw and neck.

 

'When cleared, and the picador remounted,  the bull charged,  hurling man and horse backwards with a crash against the wooden barrier. ‘Oh little white horse.’ I said to myself and, the picador being rescued, and the bull attracted away, they beat the horse to its feet  with blood streaming from a wound in its chest, down its white legs. The time was up for the horses, and the white horse and the other - a starved emaciated bag mare were led  out to come in again. The little white horse's end came later.

 

'The bay, its teeth chattering with fear, having been in before, stood near the barrier below us, the motley red and white striped bandage over its offside eye, its ears stuffed with tow, and tied with what seemed to be old electric wire. The Bull made short work of the bay horning the horse from behind. The picador cleared, and the horse beaten to its feet by red-shirted attendants. There, from the underpart of its belly hung a large protuberance of bowels. With head outstretched a man hauling it along on the end of the rein, another hitting it with a stick, it was led out.

'Not a soul cared, excepting ourselves.

 

'But what of the white horse? He too was lifted and hurled on his back, to the cheers of the crowd,  and when beaten to his feet was stomping on his own entrails, which stretched and split like pink tissue paper.'

 

Pro-bullfighting views. Freedom of expression

 

I've never at any time attempted to suppress pro-bullfighting views, Anti-bullfighting activists who do try to suppress pro-bullfighting views are very much mistaken - not mistaken about bullfighting, obviously, but very much mistaken in opposing the free flow of ideas.

 

All attempts to suppress pro-bullfighting books or other printed materials, to suppress pro-bullfighting films or internet materials, to suppress pro-bullfighting talks and lectures, are  misguided. In 'the marketplace of ideas,' The anti-bullfighting case needs no censorship of pro-bullfighting views at all.

The principle that there should be a free flow of ideas, information and evidence is a principle under attack. It's essential to defend it. I know of one organization which called upon a bookseller to remove a pro-bullfighting book from sale and was successful. This was a bad mistake on the part of the organization and the bookseller. There are many threats to freedom of expression, threats which may be veiled or violent.  They come from believers in  political correctness, radical Islamists and many others, including animal rights activists.

 

 Before I could read Alexander Fiske-Harrison's Into the Arena it was necessary for me to buy a copy. The idea that I should be expected to criticize Alexander Fiske-Harrison's defence of bullfighting on the basis of a few things I'd heard, without having read the book, is repugnant. My very critical discussion appears in my page on bullfighting.  It includes  information about Alexander Fiske-Harrison's censorship of my own comments but I include a further example here.

 

Alexander Fiske-Harrison writes on his blog, 'By the way, I have noticed that various animal rights protesters are complaining that I have blocked their comments on this blog. Well, that’s easy enough to answer: I will post any comment that is civil and unthreatening.'

 

This is simply not true. One comment I sent to him simply gave some of the material in the previous paragraphs about the importance of supporting freedom of expression for writers on bullfighting such as himself. That comment was blocked, perhaps because it included this: 'I regard anti-bullfighting arguments as decisively, overwhelmingly superior to pro-bullfighting arguments. The anti-bullfighting case needs no censorship of pro-bullfighting views at all.' The comment I submitted was completely civil and unthreatening, and all the other comments I submitted have been completely civil and unthreatening, but have been censored by him, except for a much earlier set of comments, very brief, simply  stating my intention to discuss 'Into the Arena.'

 

I showed that his reaction to one comment could easily be explained - he'd simply not read most of what I'd written, by his own admission. He was condemning what he hadn't read. He refused to post this as well. I'd raised one particular issue which he seems determined not to discuss openly - the fact that the bull he killed had blunt horns and  had apparently been subjected to the procedure called 'afeitado,' judging by the photographs in 'Into the Arena.'  This would have made the bull - which was in any case far from being a full-sized animal - much less risky to fight.

 

 

After this mention of suppression of views by Alexander Fiske-Harrison, I  return to suppression of views by some anti-bullfighting activists.

The British bullfighter Frank Evans planned to give a talk at a bookshop in Manchester. It was cancelled because of the threat of disruption. Again, this was a bad mistake. Alexander Fiske-Harrison was  invited to give a talk at Blackwell's bookshop in Oxford, death threats were made, allegedly, and the talk was rescheduled. I obtained a ticket for the event.

 

On his Website, Alexander Fiske-Harrison writes, 'I am happy to announce that unlike Salman Rushdie, I will actually be talking at my venue - Blackwell’s of Oxford – regardless of protests.' It would have been better if he hadn't invited readers to compare his situation with that of Salman Rushdie. The danger in which Salman Rushdie found himself was incomparably more serious than the dangers facing Alexander Fiske-Harrison.

 

As in the case of his exploits in the ring, Alexander Fiske-Harrison  exaggerates  the dangers he faces. The animal rights movement (for the record, I'd describe myself as involved in animal welfare, as one activity among many, not animal rights) includes dangerous as well as deluded people, but their dangerousness (their lethal intent) isn't to be equated with the fanatics who were out to get Salman Rushdie and anyone associated with his book, 'The Satanic Verses.' In that case, lethal intentions were followed by lethal results. Destruction of property in the name of animal rights is quite another matter. It has been far more extensive than media reports would suggest.  I discuss briefly the Animal Liberation Front and its misguided and ineffectual tactics in my page Animal welfare: arrest and activism.

 

Then Alexander Fiske-Harrison posted this on his blog:  Following the temporary cancellation of my Oxford talk on my book Into The Arena and vastly exaggerated reports of death threats etc. abounding in the Oxford Times and Oxford Mail ... ' If so, why did he make any comparison with Salman Rushdie? In his case, the death threats weren't exaggerated.  Now his talk has been cancelled, since hardly any tickets had been requested.

 

Whatever the level of threats to the author, if bookshops have been put under pressure not to stock Alexander Fiske-Harrison's 'Into the Arena,' (or such books as Hemingway's 'Death in the Afternoon') then is this to be only a starting-point? I discuss the cruelties of foie gras production in the section Three Spanish Restaurants. Bookshops (and libraries) may have many books on their shelves which 'promote' the use of foie gras, particularly books on French cookery, and not just ones on  haute cuisine. Are they to be removed? There are many animal rights campaigners who would agree with or use the slogan 'Meat is murder.' I don't agree with the slogan at all. But most of these people would have the sense (I hope) to realize that removing all but vegetarian and vegan cookery books from bookshops and libraries is an impossible (as well as undesirable) objective.

 

No bookshop can be anything like as comprehensive as a large library, of course. Are large libraries -  including the largest of them all in this country, the British Library - not to include on their shelves 'Into the Arena,' Hemingway's 'Death in the Afternoon' and other books defending bullfighting? Published books have to be made available, to scholars, to readers of all kinds - including opponents of the views expressed in some of these books. A good bookshop should give hints of comprehensiveness, at least.

 

Supplementary information, but the most comprehensive library of all, an imaginary library, is described in a short story by the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, 'The Library of Babel.' This contains 'all that it is given to express, in all languages. Everything ...'

 

Running a bookshop is a demanding activity, now more than ever. It's completely wrong to pressurize a bookshop for any of these reasons. If the owner or manager of a bookshop has scheduled a talk by a pro-bullfighting writer for the near future and is approached by a person or an organization asking for the event to be cancelled, what is the owner or manager to do? Abandon all but the most essential duties and spend an intensive week or two studying as many aspects of the issue as possible as thoroughly as possible before coming to a decision? Not forgetting to read  'Into the Arena.' Or assume that the objector's arguments (which are unlikely to be detailed ones - the objector is very unlikely to have read the book) are correct and cancel the event immediately?

 

 

The anti-libertarian, pro-censorship 'principle' of 'no platform for ...' doesn't usually take the form of 'no platform for bullfighting supporters.' It's usually no platform for 'racists,' and a variety of other human rather than animal issues (and we're supposed to take it for granted that the objectors are correct in their understanding  of 'racist' and 'racism,' that their intelligence and freedom from bias are beyond dispute. They may describe people who want to set limits to immigration into this country as 'racists.')

 

Similar issues are raised when people who advocate boycotts of Israeli products approach the owner of a shop or the manager of a supermarket which stocks Israeli products. Again, is this owner or manager expected to examine the arguments and evidence in depth before coming to a decision?  Or is the owner or manager to assume that the boycotters' case must be correct and clear the shelves of Israeli products at once?

 

My page on Israel gives detailed information about another attempt to enforce a boycott of Israel. The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was due to play at the Proms. Pro-Palestinian activists called for the performance to be cancelled. What were the management to do in the week or so after receiving this call? Study the relevant history of the Middle East, and in particular the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, make a comparative study of human rights in Israel and other countries of the Middle East, such as Iran, Syria and the Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, make a further comparative study of war and conflict and of the action which has been taken by democratic countries, totalitarian countries and  countries with other forms of government in waging war, including such issues as blockades and  protection of non-combatants, study the international legislation concerned with these issues, study  the arguments and evidence deployed by supporters of Israel and opponents of Israel, do a little research into moral philosophy and the different approaches to deciding difficult moral issues, such as consequentialism - whilst continuing the intensely demanding task of coordinating the nightly concerts of the Proms season?

 

Or was the management simply to assume that the pro-Palestinian activists must be correct and to cancel the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra's concert without delay - and to add the task of explaining the action to aggrieved concert-goers and defending themselves in the courts for breach of contract to their work-load? In the event, the management stood firm and the concert went ahead, but was disrupted.

 

Anti-bullfighting censors are far outnumbered by censors of a very different kind, such as radical Islamist censors,  They may well be unaware of the context, or indifferent to it: the assaults on freedom of expression from many different directions.

  

In my page on Israel I write: 'Countries that can be considered free have been surrendering more and more of their freedoms. Complacency and lack of resolve have allowed them to slide towards an Age of Post-enlightenment. Most often, freedoms have been eroded by the growth of informal censorship, self-censorship, strong disapproval, but sometimes by new legislation.' 

Kenny Hodgart writes well about one such piece of legislation in this country:

 

'Freedom of speech was hard-won in the West; the freedom only to speak inoffensively is no freedom at all ... Never mind the freedom to speak offensively: people have been invited to believe there is such a thing as the right not to be offended. Never mind that 'incitement to hatred' is a grey, disputable thing, and a different thing to incitement to violence, which was already a criminal offence. Never mind that most ideas are capable of giving offence ... And never mind that in the marketplace of ideas, 'hate speech' can be challenged, debated or ignored. What we now have is moderated free speech at best.'

 

Nigel Warburton, in his 'Free Speech: a very short introduction,' writes, 'Defenders of free speech almost without exception recognize the need for some limits to the freedom they advocate.' I think this is true, and well put. I'm a libertarian in matters of free speech but not an absolutist libertarian. In the terminology I use, I recognize {restriction}: (free speech). I discuss {restriction} and the {theme} theory of which it forms a part on other pages.

Nigel Warburton writes, again very cogently:

 

'Holmes, like Mill, was committed to defending freedom of speech in most circumstances, and, explicitly defended the value of a ‘free trade in ideas’ as part of a search for truth: ‘the best test of truth,’ he maintained, ‘is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market’. Holmes wrote passionately about what he called the ‘experiment’ embedded in the US Constitution arguing that we should be ‘eternally vigilant’ against any attempt to silence opinions we despise unless they seriously threaten the country – hence the ‘clear and present danger’ test outlined in the quotation above. Holmes as a judge was specifically concerned with how to interpret the First Amendment; his was an interest in the application of the law. Mill in contrast was not writing about legal rights, but about the moral question of whether it was ever right to curtail free speech whether by law, or by what he described as the tyranny of majority opinion, the way in which those with minority views can be sidelined or even silenced by social disapproval.

 

'Both Mill and Holmes, then, saw that there had to be limits to free speech and that other considerations could on occasion defeat any presumption of an absolute right (legal or moral) to freedom of speech. Apart from the special considerations arising in times of war, most legal systems ... still restrict free expression where, for example, it is libellous or slanderous, where it would result in state secrets being revealed, where it would jeopardize a fair trial, where is involves a major intrusion into someone’s private life without good reason, where it results in copyright infringement (e.g. using someone else’s words without permission), and also in cases of misleading advertising. Many countries also set strict limits to the kinds of pornography that may be published or used. These are just a selection of the restrictions on speech and other kinds of expression that are common in nations which subscribe to some kind of free speech principle and whose citizens think of themselves as free.'

 

I'd make the point that 'permitting' is obviously different from 'approving.' 'Permitting whilst loathing' will often be a response in a free society. It expresses  my response to Alexander Fiske-Harrison's stance on bullfighting - and his killing of a bull - but I see the need not just to 'permit' the publishing and sale of his book and talks by the author but  a passionate upholding of the principle of free expression, if not expression without some {restriction}.

 

In a wide range of moral and other issues, some of the most fatuous objections often come from people who mechanically point out an alleged inconsistency and ignore the most significant differences. 'You object to bullfighting, but you eat meat!' Alexander Fiske-Harrison, a meat-eater himself, argues along similar lines. (I point this out, as a vegetarian.) 'You object to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. But Britain has nuclear weapons! (Ignoring the vast differences in political responsibility and restraint.) If German research in atomic physics had been more advanced before the end of the Second World War, then the argument, equally idiotic, might have been, 'You object to Germany acquiring nuclear weapons. But the United States has now acquired nuclear weapons!'

 

So much for these tidy and unformed minds and their reflex responses.

 

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