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Courageous men, courageous women, and animals
La Route de Sang 1: against bullfighting in France, in French
La Route de Sang 2: against French bullfighting, in English
'Taking the offensive'
The horses: terror and trauma
Horse disembowelling and bullfighting's 'Golden Age'
The bull
The courage of the bullfighters - illusions and distortions
Bullfighting: the last serious thing in the modern world?
Bulls, elephants and tigers
Bullfighting as an art form. Bullfighting and tragedy
Bullring ballet and bulls vomiting blood
Bullfighting and comedy
Bullfighting and 'duende'
Bullfighting and seduction
San Francisco Opera, Susan McClary and Carmen
Cultural stagnation
Animals: appreciation and abuse
Bullfighting and mono-culture
Fadjen, a fighting bull, and Christophe Thomas
Campaigning techniques
Three Spanish restaurants
La Route de Sang: nouvelle route touristique
Human welfare and animal welfare
Other forms of bullfighting
Pamplona: a proposal
Freedom of expression
Bullfighting and tourists
Some supporters and defenders of bullfighting
Fiske-Harrison: The Baboon and Bull Killing Club
Alexander Fiske-Harrison's blog: The Anti-blog
Alexander Fiske-Harrison: the bullfighter-comic
Antalya Nall-Cain: commentary on the writing of
Sarah Pozner, five star fiancée
Stanley Conrad and the infant Jesus
Giles Coren: Pensées et Réflexions d'un Gourmet
Daniel Hannan: the 'tender relationship' of matador-bull'
The Club Taurino of London: fighting talk
A L Kennedy: including ALK on the killing of horses
Orson Welles: who changed his mind
Michael Portillo, speaker
See also
A L Kennedy's 'On Bullfighting'
Women and bullfighting
Seamus Heaney: ethical depth?
Animal welfare and activism
Ethics: theory and practice
'Taking the offensive'
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
'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
Aficionados 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.
From the section on this page on Tristan Garel-Jones:
'I've drawn the attention of many individual bullfighting
supporters and bullfighting organizations to this material and
received replies - the most common responses amount to 'I'll see
what I can do,' - but silence has followed. Not one defence of
bullfighting against these arguments. If these people and
Blood, Sang (French), Sangre (Spanish)
The bull shown above was killed in the Maestranza Bullring
in Seville which features in the opera 'Carmen.' After being
stabbed with the lance of the picador, stabbed six times
with the banderillas of the banderillero and stabbed with
the sword of the matador, the bull was still alive: this
happens very, very often. The bull is now being stabbed in
the spine with a dagger, the puntilla.
Blood, Sang (French), Sangre (Spanish)
The matador José Tomás drenched in blood, not his own
blood but the blood of the bull, during the ritualized cruelty
of the bullfight: the bullfight as horror film:
The festival of Ashura, as celebrated here by Shia
believers. In this case, the believers are drenched in their
own blood. It can't be claimed that the feria, or bullfighting
festival, in 21st century Europe is far preferable to this
festival of Ashura - it's the bullfighting festival which
involves active cruelty.
{} Bullfighting: arguments against and action against
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organizations consider that there are lies on this page, then go
ahead and answer them, if they consider that there are fallacies
on this page, then go ahead and refute them. Any bullfighting
defender who does respond to the arguments on this page will
have to follow much higher standards of critical reading and
critical debate than Alexander Fiske-Harrison, who did claim to
find a lie, a fallacy on this page. His claim that I'd referred to him
as 'the acceptable face of Nazism' was nonsensical, and I
explain why this is so in the section 'Into the Arena' which begins
with comments on bad causes. By his own admission, he'd only
read a little of what I'd written about him.'
Asotauro's Website shows not the least sign of engaging with
difficult anti-bullfighting arguments. Their declaration belongs to
what I call the 'word-sphere,' whiich I describe as 'the world of
ringing declarations, facile claims to importance, hollow
confidence-building assertions, projections for future success.'
The horses: terror and trauma
Petos ('protective mattresses') of picadors' horses.
Ernest Hemingway, 'Death in the Afternoon:'
'...the death of the horse tends to be comic while that of the bull
is tragic.' He relates the time when he saw a horse running in the
bull-ring and dragging its entrails behind it, and makes the further
remark 'I have seen these, call them disembowellings, that is the
worst word, when, due to their timing, they were very funny.'
He was writing of the time when the horses of the picadors were
completely unprotected. A decree of the government of Primo de
Rivera in Spain ordered that picadors' horses should be given a
quilted covering 'to avoid those horrible sights which so disgust
foreigners and tourists.' This took place in 1929. Note that it
wasn't bullfighters or bullfight enthusiasts who called for this
protection. If they had, it would have been something in the
balance to set against their depravity, but no.
Before that time, it was common - in fact, usual - for far more
horses than bulls to be killed in a bullfight - as I explain in The
Golden Age of Bullfighting, as many as 40. Disembowelling is
uncommon now, for the horses of the picador and the
rejoneador or mounted bullfighter.
However, Hemingway was clear about one thing. 'These
protectors avoid these sights and greatly decrease the number of
horses killed in the bull ring, but they in no way decrease the
pain suffered by the horses.' And, in the entry in the Glossary for
the pica, the spear with which the bull is stabbed by the picador,
'The frank admission of the necessity for killing horses to have a
bullfight has been replaced by the hypocritical semblance of
protection which causes the horses much more suffering.' One of
the reasons is that 'picadors, when a bull, disillusioned by the
mattress, has refused to charge it heavily more than once, have
made a custom of turning the horse as they push the bull away
so that the bull may gore the horse in his unprotected
hindquarters and tire his neck with that will see the
same horse brought back again and again, the wound being
sewn up and washed off between bulls...'
Whether the picadors take this action or not, the objective in the
bullfight is to tire the bull not just by spearing it with the picador's
lance (although this is far more than 'tiring.' It's a vicious injury.)
The objective is to tire the bull also by exposing the horse to the
force of the bull. So, horses in the bullfight are crushed against
the wooden barrier of the bullring, lifted, toppled, trampled and
terrorized, suffering broken ribs, damage to internal organs -
treated worse than vermin. The mattress may offer some
protection against puncture wounds but not against other injuries
and it hides the injuries which are caused.
Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre in their biography of the
bullfighter 'El Cordobes' describe injuries to horses during his
'career' - this was long after the adoption of the 'protective'
mattress. Internal organs protruded from the bodies of the
horses. How were the injuries treated? The horse contractors
shoved the organs back and crudely sewed up the wounds. The
organs still protruded, though, to an extent. The protruding parts
were simply cut off. The horses might well last another bullfight
or two. The authors - 'aficionados' - relate all this in a matter of
fact tone, without the least trace of criticism or condemnation.
From my review of A L Kennedy's book, On Bullfighting,
quoting first from the book. She received the help of an
aficionado in writing the book, Don Hurley of the 'Club
Taurino.' ('This book could not have been written without ... the
expertise and advice of Don Hurley.')
A L Kennedy 'Arguments are cited which state, reasonably
enough, that the blindfolded and terrified horse is currently
buffeted by massive impacts, suffering great stress and possibly
broken bones.' She might have mentioned the internal injuries
Blood, Sang (French), Sangre (Spanish)
More on 'La Route de Sang' below, in French.
Lord Nelson, the victor at the Battle of Trafalgar, amongst
other battles, was wounded several times in combat, losing
the sight in one eye and most of one arm before being
killed at Trafalgar. This is Lord Nelson, who was obviously
very well acquainted with death and violence and was no
sentimentalist (his harshness could be severe, and
inexcusable), on the experience of attending a bullfight:
'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.'
One of these women is the fictional Carmen, in Bizet's
opera. Taking seriously the cruelties of the bullfight must
lead to a revision of attitudes to Carmen the woman and to
Carmen the opera.
The peto - a protective mattress - was made a legal
requirement for the horses of the picadors in 1928. Before
the use of the peto - in the bullfight witnessed by Lord
Nelson and his men and the bullfights which took place in
the setting of Bizet's Carmen, 19th century Seville - the
horses were unprotected. In each of these bullfights, far
more horses than bulls were killed, sometimes as many as
forty. Again and again, the horses died in horrific ways -
after disembowelling, trailing their intestines behind them.
This is film of a bullfight which shows the horrific fate of
those horses - the gorings, the disembowellings, the
intestines hanging down, the dead horses lying in the ring -
sights which didn't shock the fictional Carmen in the least, it
seems, judging by the love she has for a man who took part
in these spectacles and inflicted such suffering.
A contemporary film showing similar scenes of
The opera 'Carmen' is based on the novella written by
Prosper Mérimée and published in 1845. Prosper Mérimée
had already written 'Letters from Spain.' Extracts from 'First
Letter: The Bullfights,' which show that his reaction to the
cruelties of the bullring was very different from the reaction
of Lord Nelson and his men:
'During my stay in Spain I have no missed a single fight,
and blushingly admit that I prefer a fight to the death to one
in which the bulls, their horns padded, are merely
On the horses killed in the bullring: Though the horse 'may
be losing streams of blood, though its entrails drag on the
ground and twine about its legs, it must face the bull as
long as it can stand. When it is down to stay, the picador
leaves the ring and returns immediately on a fresh mount.'
'When the bull is cowardly and will not take four thrusts of
the lance, the accepted number, the spectators, sovereign
judges, condemn him by acclamation to a sort of torture—
at the same time a punishment and means of reviving his
fury. From all sides goes up a cry of “Feugo! Fuego!” Then,
instead of their ordinary arms, the chulos are given
banderillas with firecrackers along the shaft ... As soon as
it enters the skin, the amadou lights the fuse : the
explosives go off toward the bull, burning him to the quick,
and, greatly to the satisfaction of the public, he leaps and
plunges. It is, in fact, an admirable sight : this enormous
animal, foaming with rage, shaking the flaming sticks, and
tossing amid fire and smoke.'
Since its introduction, the peto has protected the horse
against disembowelling and other puncture wounds but
doesn't spare them the trauma of being hit by a massive
animal. The blindfold only spares them the sight of the bull,
not in the least the terror of the experience whenever they
are forced into the bullring. What can happen to a horse
'protected' by the peto in the bullring:
There's a different kind of bullfighting, practised by a
bullfighter riding a horse, a 'rejoneador.' Their horses are
unprotected. A film which shows, not injury to the horse but
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which horses also suffer.
Even if a horse is lucky and suffers no broken bones or internal
injuries, it can be imagined what terror it will feel when
blindfolded and led out to take part in the parade before the
bullfight,what terror it will feel when forced to enter the arena to
face the bull, what terror it will feel when it hears and smells the
bull, and the terror it feels when the bull, in its frantic effort to
escape, hits it very hard.
The first film I saw which showed a bullfight included a
'rejoneador,' a mounted bullfighter. (The same film also included
horrendous footage of a bull which had obviously hit the wood of
the bullring very hard, with a horn hanging off, almost detached,
and almost certainly feeling severe pain - even before it faced
the lance, the banderillas and the sword.) The horse of the
rejoneador isn't protected in any way. The intention is that the
horse's speed and agility and the skill of the rider enables it to
avoid the horns of the bull. Sometimes, the reality is otherwise.
Jeff Pledge, on the methods used by Alain Bonijol, the French
supplier of picadors' horses: 'He has built, on a pair of wheels
from some piece of farm machinery, a kind of heavy-duty
carretón, which has a pole with a flat plate on the end sticking
out the front. Several hefty blokes shove it into the horse, who is
wearing his peto, and try to push him over or back ...' ('La Divisa,'
the journal of the Club Taurino of London.) This gives information
not just about training methods but about the hideous mentality
of these people.
Since it's necessary, as bullfight apologists admit, to injure
horses in order to have a bullfight, why, then - abolish the
bullfight, and as soon as possible too, and not only for the sake
of the horses. Catalonia has shown the way.
Horses in human service have suffered horrifically, and continue
to do so. This is some necessary context for the horrific suffering
of horses in the bullring:
Hugh Boustead, a South African officer, of an experience during
the Battle of the Somme in the First World War. (Quoted in
'Somme,' by Martin Gilbert):
'Dead and dying horses, split by shellfire with bursting entrails
and torn limbs, lay astride the road that led to battle. Their fallen
riders stared into the weeping skies.'
Dennis Wheatley, describing an aerial bombing attack on the
Western Front in December 1915 in his book 'Officer and
Temporary Gentleman.'
'When the bombs had ceased falling we went over to see what
damage had been done. I saw my first dead man twisted up
beneath a wagon where he had evidently tried to take shelter;
but we had not sustained many human casualties. The horses
were another matter. There were dead ones lying all over the
place and scores of others were floundering and screaming with
broken legs, terrible neck wounds or their entrails hanging out.
We went back for our pistols and spent the next hour putting the
poor, seriously injured brutes out of their misery by shooting
them through the head. To do this we had to wade ankle deep
through blood and guts. That night we lost over 100 horses.'
Without horses, or similar animals, no developed human
civilization was possible. Before the modern era, their role in
carrying loads (as pack-horses), pulling heavy loads and carrying
riders was crucial, all-important.
Horses of substantial size as well as ponies went down the
mines and were used well into the twentieth century. They were
stabled underground and lived the rest of their lives
underground, in complete darkness or almost complete
darkness. From a display at the National Coal Mining Museum:
'To the miners, the pony was a workmate. Together they
experienced the same conditions [back-breaking work, breathing
in coal-dust] and faced the same dangers [of explosions that
mutilated or killed, of drowning when the workings were flooded,
and the rest]' After nationalization of the mines, they spent 50
weeks of the year below ground but were given two weeks
holiday. A photograph of conditions in an American mine in the
early 20th century:
Gratitude, overwhelming gratitude, is the only proper response.
The horse: this is a species which has benefitted mankind more
than any other, which has earned, many, many times over, the
right not to be subjected to disgusting cruelty. These facts alone
should have made it unthinkable to subject horses to the cruelty
of the bullfight. The link between horses and humanity is ancient
and central. The tradition of bullfighting is not at all ancient.
Bullfighting in anything like its modern form is only centuries old.
In France, the tradition is more recent still.
unprotected. A film which shows, not injury to the horse but
the repeated stabbing of a bull (in the last four or five
minutes of the film) by a female rejoneador, Noelia Mota:
the degrading cruelty of contemporary bullfighting, as of
bullfighting in the past:
Noelia Mota was practising her 'artistry' in a sparsely
attended, minor bullring. A short film showing the first two
stabbings only in a much more prestigious place, the
Seville bullring which is featured in 'Carmen:'
These two stabbings are with the rejones de castigo
('lances of punishment'). The bull is then stabbed six times
with the banderillas, as in the standard bullfight. Finally, the
rejón de muerte ('lance of death') is used to kill the bull.
Again, and again, the bull is uncooperative, the attempt
ends in failure and the bull is stabbed with the descabello,
often repeatedly, as in the standard bullfight.
The bullfight I discuss on this page is the 'corrida,' the
bullfight of Spain and some other countries, but I discuss
very briefly other forms of bullfighting.
I explore the mind of the bullfighter and the bullfight
supporter, discussing in detail their conviction that
bullfighting is a developed art, that it requires special
courage and other deeply misguided views. This
discussion of bullfighting gives new information and puts its
cruelties in a wide context.
For example, I acknowledge the courage of bullfighters but
make clear that this courage is limited, far surpassed by
the courage shown, for example, by high-altitude
mountaineers and in the war experiences of countless
people. I provide some instructive statistics, which show
that the risk of being killed in the bullring is negligible.
The sufferings of the horses in the bull-ring have a context:
the enormous, never-to-be forgotten indebtedness of
humanity to horses in times of war and peace. Instead of
this suffering being secondary or of no account at all (the
usual attitude of apologists for the bullfight such as
Hemingway), it becomes a central objection to bullfighting.
The suffering of the horses is often a prominent part of the
anti-bullfighting case but I give an extended argument. The
section after this, The Golden Age of Bullfighting, is about
horses in the bullring too. It gives information about the
astonishing number of horses killed during bullfights before
1929 but I try to show that this is of far more than historical
importance. In this section, I give reasons as to why
bullfighting may well have reached its final phase.
The multiple stabbings inflicted on the bull are a matter of
common knowledge to opponents of bullfighting. I
document and discuss these, of course. An extract from
my discussion: 'Alexander Fiske-Harrison saw a bull
stabbed three times with the 'killing sword' but still alive,
and then stabbed repeatedly with the descabello.
According to the 'bullfighting critic' of the newspaper 'El
Mundo' who counted the stabbings, the bull was stabbed
in the spine seventeen times before it died.' Alexander
Fiske-Harrison went on to kill a young bull himself, with
hideous cruelty. Like this matador, he stabbed it three
times with the 'killing sword.' The bull was still alive, with
the sword embedded in its back. It too was stabbed in the
spine to kill it. The number of blows isn't recorded. I
include an extended review of his book Into the Arena.
Bullfighting apologists claim that bullfighting is an art rather
than a sport, pointing out that it's reviewed in the arts
sections rather than the sports sections of newspapers. I
expose the artistic pretensions of bullfighting. I quote
defenders of bullfighting who have made revealing
admissions about the artistic limitations of bullfighting.
In fact, every aspect of bullfighting is shown as limited.
Ignore the sick and decadent claims to importance, the
romanticized exaggeration, the flagrant myth-making.
I don't confine my attention to animal suffering. I argue that
the adulation given to bullfighters by bullfighting supporters
distorts. The matador Padilla, for example, has been
portrayed as a heroic figure. He was injured in the bullring
and lost an eye. This is a bullfighter whose recklessness
has been extreme. Padilla is still alive - not so Marie
Colvin, the journalist who was hit by shrapnel during the
conflict in Sri Lanka and lost an eye and who has now
been killed by shellfire from Syrian forces.
Abolition of bullfighting is long overdue. Bull-baiting and
bear-baiting were abolished in this country in 1835. On
other pages of this site, I write about some of the cruelties,
abuses and injustices to people which were prevalent
before and in some cases after this time, such as the
'bloody code,' which punished a large number of offences
in this country with public hanging (two thirds of the
hangings were for property crimes) and the sufferings of
adults and children during the industrial revolution, in
particular the dangerous and back-breaking work of men,
women and children in the mines. But the tearing of a bull's
or bear's flesh by powerful dogs for public entertainment -
the teeth and claws of the bear pulled out beforehand to
make it more helpless - was no minor matter. Bull baiting
and bear baiting were indefensible and their abolition was
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A fact often overlooked is that, even after the development of
mechanical means of carrying loads and transporting people,
horses continue to play their ancient role today, as
uncomplaining, useful - indispensable - beings. In many parts of
the developing world, they continue to be as indispensable as
they ever were in Europe. Their treatment is very varied. It may
be as good as could possibly be expected in desperately poor
societies. It may, on the other hand, be vile, with avoidable
sufferings - and not only the vicious use of the whip, which
leaves so many horses with open wounds and scars. Often,
there is the absence of basic care. From the newsletter of a
charity I support:
'Across the developing world, thousands of brick kilns in poor
villages and towns are churning out millions of bricks to feed a
growing demand for houses, hospitals and schools. These
blisteringly hot open-air factories are relentless brick-making
machines. Desperately poor workers and their horses, mules
and donkeys are merely part of that machine. For the workers,
kiln life is tough enough, but for their animals, these can be the
worst workplaces on earth.
'Temperatures can hit 50 C, yet often there is little water or
shade. Uneducated owners don't understand their animals'
needs and work them hard as they can under tremendous
pressure to meet production targets. Many animals are denied
rest on 12-hour shifts that see weary donkeys and horses
hauling bricks by the ton across hilly, pot-holed terrain.
'Donkeys, horses and mules working in brick kilns suffer
dehydration, exhaustion, hoof, skin and eye problems, and a
catalogue of other illnesses. They bear horrific wounds from
beatings and from falling down, and struggle with filthy, ill-fitting
harnesses and saddlepacks. Sadly, many who fall never get up
again. Life expectancy for kiln animals can be dreadfully short.'
George Orwell, in the twentieth century, wrote of the ponies in
parts of the Far East: 'Sometimes, their necks are encircled by
one vast sore, so that they drag all day on raw flesh. It is still
possible to make them work, however; it is just a question of
thrashing them so hard that the pain behind outweighs the pain
in front.' (From 'Down and out in Paris and London.')
Another dimension - and another, even worse, dimension of
horror - comes from the role of animals in war. When cavalry
was an active instrument of war, a period lasting millennia rather
than centuries - even as late as the First World War, cavalry had
a real if restricted role - then horses, like men, were injured and
killed by arrows, javelins, spears, axes, musket shot, rifle bullets,
were blasted by cannon and artillery, the link between horses
and humanity again strengthened by common suffering.
From the enormous documentation available, here is one
From Franz Kafka, The Diaries 1910-23:
'Paul Holzhausen, die Deutschen in Russland 1812. Wretched
condition of the horses, their great exertions: their fodder was
wet green straw, unripe grain, rotten roof thatchings...their
bodies were bloated from the green fodder.
'They lay in ditches and holes with dim, glassy eyes and weakly
struggled to climb out. But all their efforts were in vain; seldom
did one of them get a foot up on the road, and when it did, its
condition was only rendered worse. Unfeelingly, service troops
and artillery men with their guns drove over it; you heard the leg
being crushed, the hollow sound of the animal's scream of pain,
and saw it convulsively lift up its head and neck in terror, fall
back again with all its weight and immediately bury itself in the
thick ooze.'
Although I concentrate here for very good reason on the
sufferings of horses, I never at any time forget the human
suffering. During the French retreat from Moscow, this was
extreme - but an extreme often approached or equalled before
and after this time. From David A. Bell's very searching book,
'The First Total War: Napoleon's Europe and the Birth of Modern
Warfare:' 'The men slept in the open, and in the morning, the
living would wake amid a field of snow-covered corpses. Lice
and vermin gnawed at them. Toes, fingers, noses and penises
fell victim to frostbite; eyes, to snow blindness.' The horses'
suffering was extreme - but again, an extreme often approached
or equalled before and after this time. 'The starving soldiers'
were desperate for 'the smallest scraps of food. Some ate raw
flesh carved out of the sides of live horses...'
According to the historian David Chandler he lost a total of 370
000 men and 200 000 horses.
During the First World War, there was approximately one horse
for every two combatants and although horses were not directly
targeted, cavalry by now becoming less important, they were still
used on a massive scale to haul guns and waggons. About 400
000 horses were killed in the conflict. Many of them died, like the
soldiers, by distinctively new methods, by phosgene, mustard
gas, chlorine gas. At Passchendaele horses, like many of the
soldiers, suffocated in the mud.
There are accounts by soldiers who regretted that horses had
been caught up in the conflict. The account of Jim Crow, quoted
in 'Passchendaele,' by Nigel Steel and Peter Hart:
'You hear very little about the horses but my God, that used to
trouble me more than the men in some respects. We knew what
we were there for, them poor devils didn't, did they?'
In one of his last letters before he was killed at Verdun, the
German expressionist painter Franz Marc wrote, "The poor
horses!" On a single day at Verdun, 7 000 horses were killed.
At the end of the conflict, the martyrdom of horses was far from
ending. Large numbers of them were sold to work in the Middle
East and were worked to death.
and bear baiting were indefensible and their abolition was
In countries of modern Europe and the bullfighting
countries of Latin America, animals with swords embedded
in their backs are made to twist and turn by flapping capes,
in the hope that the sword will sever a vital organ and bring
about the death of the bull - a procedure which so often
fails. Even when the animal is killed by the sword at once,
it will previously have been stabbed a minimum of seven
times. I believe that bullfighting, which, unlike bull-baiting
and bear-baiting, has artistic pretensions, is indefensible
in both its Portuguese and Spanish forms and ought to be
abolished. But action against bullfighting should be with full
awareness of context, the context of preventable suffering,
animal suffering, such as the suffering of factory-farmed
animals, and human suffering.
I've made every effort to ensure that the information I give
concerning bullfighting and the other spheres I discuss is
accurate. I'd be grateful if any errors are brought to my
attention - and, of course, relevant information not included
here, different interpretations of evidence, objections and
This page gives an introduction to the subject. I give much
more space to the arguments against bullfighting, the
reasons why there should be action to end bullfighting,
than to the forms that action takes and, I argue, should
take, although I do comment on some campaigning
So much writing in support of bullfighting is suffocating in
its exclusion of the world beyond bullfighting. I see no
reason why my anti-bullfighting page should follow this
example. The supplementary material I include goes far
beyond the limited world of bullfighting. For example, I give
reminders of human courage and artistic achievement
which owe nothing to bullfighting and discuss or mention
natural beauty, wildlife, wildlife conservation and other
topics. The starting point in every case is a bullfighting
La Route de Sang 1: against bullfighting in France, in
French / contre la corrida en la France, en français
Les routes des vins - routes touristiques -
la découverte des paysages et des patrimoines
matériel et immatériel d' une région, par exemple, l'
La Route de Sang (ou La route de la Cruauté), nouvelle
route touristique - la découverte des paysages et des
patrimoines matériel et immatériel d' une région, le
Sud de la France - qui offre soleil, vin, gastronomie,
beauté - et la cruauté horrible de la corrida. Bayonne,
Carcassonne, Béziers, Nîmes, Arles et autres villes: la
honte de la France. La corrida: écrasez l'infâme!
La Route de Sang -
aussi connue comme la route de la cruauté
- nouvelle route touristique - la découverte des
paysages et des patrimoines matériel et immatériel d'
une région, le Sud de la France - qui offre soleil, vin,
gastronomie - et la cruauté de la corrida. Bayonne,
Carcassonne, Béziers, Nîmes, Arles et autres villes: la
honte de la France. La corrida - écrasez l'infâme!
Beaucoup de monde pensent que la corrida existe en l'
Espagne mais n' existe pas en la France - NON!
Une corrida en l' Espagne, Seville: l' art de tuer le
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Even after the development of mechanized warfare and
mechanized transportation, horses were used often - in
enormous numbers as late as The Second World War. I think of
a photo I have of 'The Road of Life.' For 900 days, during the
Second World War, Leningrad was besieged by the Germans:
an epic story of heroism, and starvation, which accounted for
most of the deaths during the siege, at least 632 000 and
perhaps as many as a million people dying. With the capture of
Tikhvin, it became possible to develop an ice road, 'The Road of
Life,' across frozen Lake Lagoda to supply the city. The photo
shows gaunt horses dragging sledges across this ice road.
Horse disembowelling and 'bullfighting's 'Golden
In each twentieth century Spanish corrida (bullfight) before 1929,
six bulls were killed, as is the case now. In each of these
bullfights, how many picadors' horses do you think were killed?
One horse per bullfight on average, not as many as one, more
than one, much more than one? The answer is shocking: as
many as 40 during each bullfight. Disembowelled dying and
dead horses, the intestines of horses and the blood of horses
made battlefields of the bullfighting arenas.
In these scenes of utter carnage such bullfighters as Joselito, ('a
classical purist,' according to Alexander Fiske-Harrison)
Belmonte and Ignacio Sánchez Mejías, the subject of the poem
by the poet and dramatist Lorca, practised their art. Like
Hemingway, the poet and dramatist saw large numbers of these
dead and dying horses but found them not in the least important. A
pre-Peto film showing the slaughter of horses in the bullring during
this period: the horrifying scenes which Lorca and Hemingway
witnessed often, the horrifying scenes which took place in the
bullfights of matadors singled out for praise by Alexander Fiske-
Harrison, Tristan Garel-Jones and so many others. A
contemporary film showing similar scenes of disembowelling, but
without the 'artistic purity' which for Lorca, Hemingway and others
made such a difference. Before the film can be viewed, it's
necessary to sign in.
The fate of the picadors' horses in the bullring before the
protective mattress or 'peto' was adopted in 1929 is a subject of
far more than historical interest. It was revulsion against the
slaughter of the horses (not shared by Hemingway or Lorca)
which led to the adoption of the protective mattress. But this
didn't end the suffering of the horses. Revulsion against their
suffering - and the suffering of the bull - is much more
widespread now than then. The revulsion which makes a return
to conditions before 1929 unthinkable makes it very likely that
bullfighting will eventually be abolished. Bullfighting has surely
reached its lengthy final phase.
'From 1914 to 1920 was bullfighting's Golden Age,' according to
Alexander Fiske-Harrison's blog. In this estimation, he more or
less follows Hemingway, who ' placed the Golden Age between
1913 and 1920. In this 'Golden Age' up to 40 horses were
slaughtered in each bullfight. Alexander Fiske-Harrison tries to
balance the 'artistry' and animal suffering at various places in his
book Into the Arena (I don't accept in the least his claims
concerning the artistry) and makes his own decision as to their
relative importance - a decision which is in stark contrast with my
own ideas. I don't discuss the 'artistry' at all here, only the cost in
animal suffering, and not the suffering of the bulls (atrocious
though it was, and is), only the suffering of the horses.
As for the evidence, I make use of the book by Miriam Mandel
'Hemingway's The Dangerous Summer: The complete
annotations.' Miriam Mandel has more than enough knowledge
of bullfighting and more than enough enthusiasm for bullfighting
to be considered an aficionado. This doesn't affect the
thoroughness or accuracy of the scholarship in the book, but it
does affect my attitude. The book is repulsive, horrible, but
The figures given by Miriam Mandel apply to 'The Golden Age of
Bullfighting' and to a much, much longer period before 1929:
... many horses—sometimes as many as forty - were killed at
each corrida. [bullfight]'
A great deal of information is given about the rulings and
regulations governing the bullfight. The rulings and regulations
which concern the number of horses to be provided for each
bullfight reflect expectations about the numbers likely to die at
each bullfight. The book gives this information:
'In 1847, a local ruling required that forty horses, inspected and
approved by the authorities, stand ready for use in each bullfight.
The 1917 and 1923 Reglamentos called for six horses per bull to
be fought, with the added proviso that the management provide
as many additional horses as were necessary. Sometimes all the
horses would be killed and replacements would be hastily bought
off cabbies and rushed into the ring.'
The addition of (!) to this last piece of information, about the
'replacements ... hastily bought off cabbies and rushed into the
ring' would be understandable but inadequate to the horror.
The scholarly information includes this: 'Perhaps the most
important marker of change is the Reglamento (taurine code),
which evolved significantly from its early version, drafted by
Melchor Ordóñez in about 1847, to the increasingly detailed and
prescriptive documents published in 1917, 1923, 1930, and, post
Hemingway, in 1962, 1992 and 1996.'
Whatever the number of horses killed in the ring - fewer than
twenty, or twenty, thirty or forty - the sight of the horses' blood,
En les villes de La Route de Sang - Bayonne,
Carcassonne, Béziers, Nîmes, Arles et autres villes -
on peut voir ces spectacles artistiques aussi.
En les arènes anciennes de la France la tradition
ancienne de tuer continue - bien sûr non plus des
hommes (des gladiateurs Romans) mais des taureaux.
En les arènes modernes de la France, la tradition
ancienne de tuer continue.
De nombreux vins français sont des produits de la
Route de Sang mais tous les vins français sont les
vins d'un pays de corrida.
Dès que les touristes arrivent à Calais, ou l’un des
ports de mer ou aéroports français, ils sont arrivés
dans un pays de la corrida.
Paris est la capitale d'un pays cenralisé (malgré les
régions de la France, très variées), un pays de la
La corrida: écrasez l'infâme!
La honte de Bayonne, Carcassonne, Béziers, Nîmes,
Arles et les autres villes de la route de sang: évitez ces
villes ou visitez et protestez au bureau de tourisme!
La Feria en les villes de La Route de Sang est
'La Fête qu' assaisonne et parfume le sang' en les
mots de Charles Baudelaire, 'Le Voyage'. Aussi: la
feria glorifie 'Le bourreau qui jouit ...'
Quelle est cette odeur désagréable de La Route de
Sang? C' est l' odeur de la barbarie, de la cruauté.
Une vidéo qui montre la barbarie et la cruauté en une
ville de la Route de Sang, Saint-Gilles, et un bourreau
qui jouit:
Mon site a un classement très élevé dans Google pour de
nombreux termes de recherche. Exemples:
bullfighting arguments action against 1 / 547,000
ethical depth 2 / 76,300,000
Autres informations:
J' ai envoyé Des e-mails avec des informations sur le
contenu ici à
beaucoup de personnes / organisations, par exemple:
BAYONNE, Bureau de Tourisme
Adjointe de Direction
Chargée de commercialisation de spectacles.
PAU, Bureau de Tourisme
ORANGE, Bureau de Tourisme
AVIGNON, Bureau de Tourisme
MONTPELLIER, Bureau de Tourisme
ARLES, Bureau de Tourisme
SAINT-GILLES, Bureau de Tourisme
DAX Mairie
(Toutes les villes ne sont past villes de la corrida mais 'la
Route de Sang' est proche. Comme j' ai expliqué, toute la
France est un pays de la corrida.)
LONDRES Ambassade française
MANCHESTER Consulat de France
La Route de Sang 2: against French
bullfighting, in English
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the intestines of the disembowelled horses, the horses in agony,
the dead horses, the sights which didn't disturb Hemingway or
Lorca, the sights which Alexander Fiske-Harrison overlooked or
didn't think too important - these sights aren't going to return to
the contemporary bullfight.
Miriam Mandel writes, 'Occasionally one hears reactionary calls
for the abolishment of the peto, but modern sensibilities would
not allow a return to the pre-peto bullfight that Hemingway
encountered when he first went to Spain.
The peto or 'protective mattress' for the picadors' horses 'was
first used at a Madrid novillada on 6 March 1927, and it was
mandated by law on 18 June 1928.' After the peto was
introduced, there was a vast decrease in the number of horses
disembowelled and the number of horses killed in the ring, but as
I explain in the next section, The horses, there are still horses
disembowelled in the ring - the horses of mounted bullfighters
('rejoneador') and the horses of picadors. The peto protects
against puncture wounds but not at all adequately against the
weight of the bull smashing into it and the peto disguises so
many injuries. The horses in the bullfighting ring are still treated
with despicable cruelty. It's true that 'modern sensibilities would
not allow a return to the pre-peto bullfight' but Miriam Mandel
overlooks the obvious fact that modern susceptibilities find
unacceptable - repellent - the treatment of horses and bulls in
the contemporary bullring. The page gives abundant
documentation of this treatment. What was once accepted isn't
accepted any longer, except by the supporters and patrons of
bullfighting. Many of these wouldn't object in the least if forty
horses died by disembowelling at every bullfight, but I'd claim
that although there's no such thing as certain moral progress,
these people have been left far behind by this particular moral
Two eyewitness accounts of the deaths of horses in pre-Peto
This account is by a spectator at a bullfight who was sickened by
what he saw: Sir Alfred Munnings. It comes from his
autobiography, published in 1955. The account is based on what
he saw at a pre-peto bullfight.
'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-
'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.'
This is the account of Prosper Mérimée. It's clear from the full
account he gives in 'Letters from Spain' that he liked what he
saw. He compares himself to St Augustine: 'St. Augustine relates
that in his youth he had an extreme distaste for gladiatorial
combats, never having seen one. Forced by a friend to
accompany him to one of these pompous butcheries, he vowed
to close his eyes as long as it lasted. At first he kept to his word
well enough, and forced himself to think of other things; but when
the populace cried out at a celebrated gladiator's fall, he opened
his eyes—opened them, and could not close them again. From
then on until his conversion, he was one of the most passionate
enthusiasts about these games.'
He gets this wrong. Augustine was writing about a man called
Some years ago, I visited France. From Alsace, where I
travelled some of La Route de Vin, I travelled much further
south than I'd originally intended. A main reason was to
visit, for the first time, an area where bullfighting takes
place. . To visit the area not out of simple curiosity but as
an activist, as someone who had already studied the
subject of bullfighting in detail, who had found it barbaric
and repulsive and who had given a great deal of thought to
the most effective campaigning techniques.
In the time I had available, I was only able to visit the
bullfighting town of Arles. As an individual, I could only do a
little on this visit. The urge to make a protest was strong. I
confined myself to writing messages of protest at six or
seven different places on the woodwork inside the arena
where bullfighting takes place, and I went to the tourist
office and loudly spoke about the barbarity of bullfighting.
Since returning to this country, I've phoned tourist offices
and arenas and made other protests. Whilst I was in
Provence, I came across a circus with animal acts. There
were lions crammed together in a small cage. There are
parts of Europe, and other parts of the world, where animal
acts are banned or surely will be banned before long, since
animal welfare is a matter of widespread concern.
Provence isn't one of these areas, although there are
certainly highly motivated activists in Provence, as in other
areas of France.
With the exception of people such as these, in the matter
of bullfighting, the level of indifference, apathy and
complacency in France is dismal and shocking. Opinion
polls which supposedly show majorities of French people
opposed to bullfighting aren't evidence that the majority of
people feel strongly about it.
France is a strongly centralized country. Even though
bullfighting is illegal in the Northern parts of the country,
France is a jurisdiction which allows bullfighting: France is
a bullfighting country, a country in which bulls are killed in
bullrings. As soon as tourists reach Calais, or any of the
French sea ports or airports, they have arrived in a
bullfighting country. For far too long, the French corrida has
been ignored. Many, many people are unaware that
corridas are held in France.
To return to bullfighting, towns and other places are very
concerned with their reputations. They would rather be
known as progressive than primitive, as enlightened rather
than barbaric, notable as centres of civilization rather than
notorious as centres of unjustified killing and
bloodthirstiness. There is some defensiveness in these
places, I think, or hope. The campaign to end bullfighting
can increase this defensiveness, can even implant the
beginnings of shame and self-disgust in the hardened
hearts of some aficionados but, most importantly, it has to
implant in the minds of the general public an association
between bullfighting towns and death and blood, to do
damage to the reputation of these places. In this way, it's
possible to apply indirect pressure on people who are,
realistically, too hardened ever to change, or who have too
much to lose to accept change. It's unlikely that a bull-
breeder, an employee of an arena or a bullfighter will
accept the loss of livelihood.
I don't think that boycotts of bullfighting towns are useful.
As a form of economic pressure, they're useless. Nîmes
and Arles and other bullfighting towns have a great deal to
lose economically if bullfighting supporters stay away. The
massive influx of bullfighting supporters into Pamplona
brings so much money into the town that attempts to
boycott Pamplona are futile. It's claimed that 500 000
bullfighting supporters visit Arles for the Easter festival
when the bullfighting season begins. I think it's far more
useful for activists to descend upon these places and to
make their presence - and their opposition - felt. Some
people may do this by staging high-profile protests. I've
taken part in protests of this kind in other areas of animal
welfare, but there are other, less public, ways of making
opposition felt, for those who are averse to taking part in
public demonstrations.
As a reminder of the barbarities which take place along this
route, this video shows the killing of a bull at the 'Graine de
toréros in the village of Bezouce in France. (Bezouce is not
far from Nîmes.) The bull is stabbed with the sword within a
few seconds after the start of the video (previous stabbings
by the picador and banderillero not shown). After four
minutes of agony - the agony can't be proved but is surely
overwhelmingly likely - the bull dies and is dragged out of
the arena. The matador here obviously isn't vastly
experienced in the least but again and again bulls take a
long time to die after being stabbed by the most
experienced matadors - I won't call them the 'best'
matadors - as I explain in various places on this page. I
emailed the town hall of Bezouce and phoned later and
complained to the mayor. The mayor made no attempt to
defend the place's support for bullfighting and before long
put the phone down.
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He gets this wrong. Augustine was writing about a man called
Aloysius, not himself. Aloysius went to the arena to watch
gladiators fight and kept his eyes shut. When he opened them,
'He saw the blood ... Far from turning away, he fixed his eyes on
it ... he was delighted with the contest, drunk with the lust of
blood. He was no longer the man who had come there, but he
was one of the mob.' People can accept almost any cruelty, can
find delight in cruelty and the shedding of blood - at the Roman
arena and at modern bullfighting arenas. The moral objections
aren't undermined in the least by their passion for bloody
Prosper Mérimée's book was published in 1830 but the events
he witnessed continued unchanged until the peto was adopted -
but horses have been disembowelled and severely injured in the
bullring ever since. He wrote,
'The picador, with the lance under his arm, gathers his horse well
under him; takes his place exactly in front of the bull; seizes the
moment at which the head is lowered for the charge to fix the
lance in the neck, and not elsewhere; bears down with the full
weight of the body and at the same time wheels his horse to the
left, so as to leave the bull on the right. If all these movements
are well executed, if the picador is vigorous and his horse
responsive, the bull, carried by his own impetus, goes by without
touching him. Then the duty of the chulos is to distract the bull
until the picador has had time to get out of the way, but often the
animals knows only too well which is his real aggressor;
brusquely he swings about, makes for the horse at a rush, and
runs his horn into the belly, overthrowing both horse and rider.
The latter is immediately rescued by the chulos. Some pick him
up, others wave their capes before the bull's eyes, draw him
toward themselves, and, leaping over the barrier with surprising
agility, make their escape. The Spanish bull is as fast as a horse;
and, if the chulo is far away from the fence, he barely reaches it.
Therefore, the horseman, whose life must depend on the chulos'
agility, does not often venture into the middle of the ring; when
he does, it passes for an extraordinary feat of daring.
'Once again on his feet, the picador, if he can get his horse up,
remounts. Though the poor beast may be losing streams of
blood, though its entrails drag on the ground and twine about its
legs, it must face the bull as long as it can stand. When it is
down to stay, the picador leaves the ring and returns
immediately on a fresh mount.
'I have said that the lances can only make a flesh-wound and
serve only to infuriate the bull. Nevertheless, the impact of the
horse and the rider, the bull's own efforts, above all the shock of
pulling up short on his hocks, tire him rather promptly. Often,
also, the pain of the lance-wounds disheartens him. At last, he
no longer dares attack the horses, or, to use the technical term,
he refuses to "enter." By that time, if he is vigorous, he had
already killed four or five horses. The picadors rest; the signal is
given to plant the banderillas.
When Alexander Fiske-Harrison described the years between
1914 and 1920 as bullfighting's 'Golden Age,' I doubt if he gave
the least thought to any other contemporaneous events. When
humanity was undergoing the catastrophic sufferings of the First
World War, and the influenza pandemic of 1918 - 1919, which
killed far more people than the First World War, somewhere
between 20 million and 40 million people in all, including vast
numbers of people in Spain (the term 'Spanish flu' is often used),
was all this outweighed by, compensated by, the Golden Age of
bullfighting? Elementary sensitivity should have led him to use a
different term or to make his discussion much more complex.
The bull
Before abolition in Catalonia: bull in the plaza 'La Monumental,'
There are many, many images and films available on the internet
which show the course of a bullfight. I think it's advisable to see
some of these images and watch some of the films. None of
these films, none of the films distributed by convinced opponents
of the bullfight, show untypical 'atrocities,' incidents which are
very rare. The bull is never wounded and killed under controlled
conditions. Whatever the intention, the lance of the picador, the
banderillas and the sword regularly penetrate flesh not at all near
the targetted area. The picador's horse may be about to fall as
the bull's massive weight charges into it, the lance may sever an
artery and blood pulses out. Hemingway mentions the fact that
the bull 'may be ruined by a banderillero nailing the banderillas
into a wound made by the picador, driving them in so deep that
the shafts stick up straight.' When blood pours out of the mouth
and nose of the bull, which is often, the sword has failed to cut
the aorta (the heart is out of reach of the sword.)
When the bull is about to be killed, it will already have had its
back torn open by the lance of the picador and will already have
had its back lacerated repeatedly by the barbed banderillas. By
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had its back lacerated repeatedly by the barbed banderillas. By
the time of the sword thrust supposed to kill the bull, the bull will
have two or three stab wounds inflicted by the picadors and six
stab wounds from the banderillas.
The sword often hits bone, or goes deep into the animal but fails
to kill. The bull, staggering, still alive and conscious, with the
sword embedded in its body - this is far more common than an
instantaneous death. A report by Tristan Wood in 'La Divisa,' the
journal of the 'Club Taurino' of London, on the bullfighter Miguel
Abellán: ' ... an excellent faena of serious toreo, only for its
impact to be dissipated by four swordthrusts.' The excellence
and seriousness found here are surely only an aesthete's
In the same set of reports, on the bullfighter Morante de la
Puebla: 'the swordwork was very protracted.' Or, alternatively,
the bull died a very slow death.
From the gruesome, matter of fact accounts of bullfights on the
site 'La Prensa San Diego'
'Capetillo received a difficult first bull and encountered big
troubles at the supreme moment, requiring 12 entries with the
sword.' 'Moment' is very badly chosen. The hideous writer is Lyn
Daniel Hannan, a Member of the European Parliament and
devoted aficionado: '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.'
This shocking video shows the bullfighter Antoni Losada
stabbing a bull with the 'killing sword' seven times in the bullring
at Saint-Gilles, France.
After the 'killing sword' has been used to no effect, a different
sword, the descabello, or a short knife, the puntilla, is used to
stab the spine, often repeatedly.
Alexander Fiske-Harrison saw a bull stabbed three times with the
'killing sword' but still alive, and then stabbed repeatedly with the
descabello. According to the 'bullfighting critic' of the newspaper
'El Mundo' who counted the stabbings, the bull was stabbed in
the spine seventeen times before it died. This experience had a
lasting effect on his girlfriend, 'her perspective on bullfights
changed for ever,' but Alexander Fiske-Harrison went on
attending bullfights, went on to kill a bull himself and opposes the
abolition of bullfighting.
From my critical review of A L Kennedy's On Bullfighting, quoting
from the book. A L Kennedy is watching a bullfight at the most
prominent of all bullrings, Las Ventas in Madrid:
' At the kill, the young man's sword hits bone, again and again
and again while the silence presses down against him. He tries
for the descabello. Five blows later and the animal finally falls.'
The descabello, as the Glossary explains, is 'A heavy, straight
sword' used to sever the spine.
' 'I have already watched Curro Romero refuse to have almost
anything to do with his bull, never mind its horns. (The severely
critical response of a member of the audience to a cowardly bull
or a cowardly bullfighter.) He has killed his first with a blade
placed so poorly that its tip protruded from the bull's flank...As
the animal coughed up blood, staring, bemused, ['bemused?'] at
each new flux the peones tried a rueda de peones to make the
blade move in the bull's body and sever anything, anything at all
that might be quickly fatal, but in the end the bull was finally,
messily finished after three descabellos.'
'The suffering of the bull 'left, staggering and urinating helplessly,
almost too weak to face the muleta' wasn't ended by a painless
and instantaneous death: 'Contreras...misses the kill...Contreras
tries again, hooking out the first sword with a new
one ...Contreras finally gives the descabello.' So, the sword is
embedded in the animal, the sword is pulled out and thrust into
the animal yet again, but it's still very much alive, the ungrateful
creature. The descabello is hard at work in this book. People
who have the illusion that the 'moment of truth' amounts to a
single sword-thrust and the immediate death of the bull are
disabused of the notion here. More often, the moment of truth is
hacking at the spine with the descabello.'
The cutting off of the bull's ears before it's dead - this is less
common. What humanitarians these people are! They generally
wait until the bull is dead before cutting off the ears! Not always,
though. On occasion, they are impatient for some reason and
can't wait.
The life and death of the bull are sharply contrasted. The bulls
are treated humanely until they arrive at the bull-ring, but their
sufferings may begin even before the picador thrusts his lance
into them. Sometimes, thick needles have been pushed into the
bull's testicles before they enter the ring.This practice is said to
subdue any bull, and no wonder.
Too much should not be made of trends. Trends can be harmful
as well as beneficial, 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. In
the case of animals, now that bull-baiting and bear-baiting have
been abolished, bull-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 horses was found
to be more and more intolerable. The continued suffering of the
horses, the blood flowing from the bull's back, torn in so many
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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 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
the 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 be abolished
last 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.
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.
The claim is made by bullfighting apologists that the bull that dies
in the bullring is 'lucky.' The claim is made that these bulls have
a far better life and a longer life (although not much longer) than
the bulls reared for beef, kept in factory farms and slaughtered at
a younger age. The claim is made that when bulls are 'tested' for
their fighting qualities - the 'tienta' - the bulls which go to the bull
ring are much more fortunate than the ones that fail, that will be
slaughtered for beef.
Pigs and chickens, both the chickens reared for meat and laying
chickens, are very often kept in factory farms but this isn't true of
beef cattle in most cases. I can claim to have an exhaustive
knowledge of the subject - I've opposed factory farming for a
very long time. Animals other than pigs and chickens have been
kept in factory farms to a lesser extent, or attempts are being
made to factory farm them. In this country, there are planning
applications - which are being strenuously resisted - to adopt the
hideous 'zero-grazing' system for dairy cows in massive factory
farm complexes.
But generally, beef cattle have just as good a life as fighting
bulls, grazing in fields. It's true that their life is generally shorter.
Fighting bulls are at least four years old when they enter the
bullring for the regular corrida, but the 'novillos,' the bulls fought
by the apprentice matadors or 'novilleros' are closer in age to
beef cattle. When Frank Evans, the British bullfighter, came out
of retirement to fight - and kill - a bull, the bull was just two years
old. The picture I have is poignant, not for its image of the
bullfighter fighting long after most bullfighters have retired but for
the bull, not at all a good-looking bull, much slighter than a four
year old bull, of course - to put this animal to the sword needed
even more callousness than usual, I feel.
But the arguments of bullfighting apologists which refer to factory
farming and the age of slaughter are surely cynical,
opportunistic. There's no evidence at all that most of these
people are concerned in the least about factory farming and the
slaughter of animals.
'Thought experiments' are often used in ethical discussion. They
can be used to support or oppose an ethical argument very
graphically. In the case of the 'lucky' fighting bull, these
analogies suggest themselves. The death of gladiators in the
Roman arenas is widely recognized as a blot on Roman
civilization - indefensible. The Romans might have developed a
system according to which all the gladiators were made up of
men condemned to death, volunteering to fight instead of being
executed. They had the chance of living for longer, and perhaps
much longer. Even if they were beaten in combat, the crowd
might spare their lives. What if a contemporary jurisdiction which
often executes, such as Texas, proposed to allow condemned
men the same chance of living for longer and by similar means?
It would be unthinkable, of course. There's massive opposition to
the infliction of death in public. In the history of the death penalty,
the trend has been for executions to be public, then not seen by
the public, within the confines of a prison, before being abolished
altogether. Similarly, if an animal is being slaughtered, then to
make a public exhibition of the slaughter is felt to be degrading.
Human responsibility towards domesticated animals, and
standards for keeping domesticated animals should include as a
bare minimum (1) humane treatment whilst the animal is reared
and (2) a humane death. These should be regarded as essential,
fundamental principles of animal welfare in a modern civilization.
Battery chickens are denied (1). They have the benefit of (2)
almost always, but not invariably. The bull has the benefit of (1)
but not (2). Beef cattle generally have the benefit of (1) and (2).
No matter how well treated it may have been before arriving in
the bullring, the death of the bull, more often than not far from
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the bullring, the death of the bull, more often than not far from
instantaneous, preceded by injuries which are likely to be painful
or agonizing, is an act of disgusting cruelty that shames Spain,
France, Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador.
The courage of the bullfighters - illusions and
The North Face of the Eiger (Acknowledgments: flickr)
In this section, I discuss the risks of mountaineering and some
forms of rock climbing, the risks of battle and the risks of
bullfighting. I point out that the risks of bullfighting are grossly
and grotesquely exaggerated by bullfighters and defenders of
I begin with mountaineering. I was a cross-country skier and I've
used cross-country skis in the Alps for downhill skiing. Steve
Barnett's book 'Cross-Country Downhill,' mainly about skiing in
the Canadian and American North-West, is a fine introduction to
its compelling attractions, but my own skiing was much more
limited. My rock climbing career, on the other hand, was very
brief. The experience of dislocating a shoulder twelve times - not
on a rock face - was one of the things that convinced me that I
wasn't well suited to rock climbing.
Of course, anyone who takes up mountaineering and climbing in
other settings will need to consider very carefully the risks. Many
of them are avoidable, but not all. .
Edward Whymper wrote in 'Scrambles Amongst the Alps,'
“Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are
nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may
destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well
to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.”
Edward Whymper is best known for the first ascent of the
Matterhorn in 1865. During the descent, four members of the
climbing party were killed.
Climbers almost always use modern methods of protection,
which include not just climbing ropes but many other
sophisticated pieces of equipment. Free climbers don't. The best
known free climber is Alex Honnold, shown above. If free
climbers fall, almost always they die.
If we compare bullfighting and high-altitude mountaineering, then
high altitude mountaineering is far more dangerous than
bullfighting, as well as incomparably more interesting, more
demanding, and, if you like, more 'noble.' Now, with modern
equipment and techniques, it's far less dangerous than it used to
be but the fatality rate on high mountains still averages
something like 5%. That is, one in twenty of the mountaineers on
an expedition will not return. Some mountains have a much
higher fatality rate. K2, the second highest mountain in the world,
has claimed more than one death for every four successful
ascents. Annapurna is even more deadly. Compare the number
of fatalities for the tiny number of mountaineers attempting to
climb just one Himalayan peak, Annapurna 1, which can easily
be confirmed (Unlike bullfighting, Himalayan mountaineering
has immensely detailed sources of statistics, such as 58 fatalities between the successful
summit attempt in 1950 and 2007, a total of only 153 summit
attempts. (And whereas injured bullfighters have speedy access
to modern medical care, the case is very different for injured
high-altitude mountaineers. The frostbitten fingers and toes of
the two climbers who made the first ascent of Annapurna 1
became gangrenous and were amputated on the mountain
without anaesthetic.) To climb Annapurna (a deadly mountain,
but not the most dangerous peak) or another very high mountain
- or many much lower mountains, for that matter - just once
involves a far higher risk of death than a bullfighter faces in an
entire bullfighting 'career.'
Reinhold Messner describes the first ascent by the French
climbers Herzog and Lachenal, which was also the first ascent of
any mountain over 8 000 metres high. Herzog was caught in an
avalanche, knocked unconscious, was suffering from frostbite.
Along with others in the party, he waded through deep snow
back to Advanced Base Camp, in an epic of endurance. To climb
K2 or Annapurna or another very high mountain just once
involves a far, far higher risk of death than a bullfighter faces in
an entire bullfighting 'career.'
France has every reason to feel pride in these and so many
other mountaineers, just as France has every reason to feel
shame about its bullfighters.
Injuries to mountaineers occur not only as a result of falling but
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Injuries to mountaineers occur not only as a result of falling but
from a range of other causes, such as rock fall and avalanches -
the snow which makes up the avalanche may resemble the
consistency of concrete rather than anything soft and fluffy,
capable of causing crushing injuries and multiple fractures.
On high mountains, the ferocity of the winds and blizzards often
make a rescue from outside impossible until it is too late. Rescue
facilities are well organized in the Alps, not at all in the
Himalayas and the Andes. Even in the Alps, bad weather can
delay rescue for days, or rescue may be impossible. For the
mountaineer, safety and medical help are generally far, far away.
An injured bullfighter, on the other hand, can be taken from the
ring almost immediately to the bull-ring clinic and then to a main
hospital. For this reason, injuries in the bull-ring are almost
always non-fatal. And on the other side of the barrera, the low
barrier surrounding the bull-ring, lies safety. At all times, safety is
so near. Another advantage: a bull-fighter is in the position of
danger for such a short time. A mountaineer may be in an area
of acute danger for days or weeks. The dangers are not just the
ones that result from errors, which are completely
understandable, given the enormous demands which the
mountains make on the human mind and body. There are also
'objective' dangers, from the stonefalls that occur regularly in the
mountains, avalanches, crevasses, other dangers that result
from the unpredictability and instability of snow.
When, on the mountain called 'The Ogre,' Doug Scott broke both
his legs, safety was far away. The party was caught by a storm
and it took six days, five of them without food, to descend. Chris
Bonington, also in the party, broke ribs during the descent.
Another, now famous, story of magnificent bravery and
endurance in the mountains is that of Joe Simpson, which he
recounts in his book 'Touching the Void' (available in French,
Spanish and many other languages). In 1985, he and Simon
Yates set out to climb the remote west face of the Siula Grande
in the Peruvian Andes. It was 1985 and the men were young, fit,
skilled climbers. The ascent was successful, after they had
climbed for over three days. But then Joe Simpson fell, and
broke his leg badly. There was no hope of rescue for them. They
had to descend without any help. Yates was lowering Simpson
on the rope but lowered him into a hidden crevasse. He couldn't
hold him and was forced to cut the rope. Simpson wasn't killed
by the fall, He managed to drag himself out and drag himself
down the mountain, dehydrated and injured, until, at last, he
reached base camp.
The Wikipedia entry for the Eiger gives valuable information
about the ascents of the infamous North face, shown in the
image at the beginning of this section, including solo ascents, the
injuries, fatalities, rescues, successful and unsuccessful, stories
of courage and endurance which put bullfighting in its place.
Since 1935, at least sixty-four climbers have been killed whilst
climbing it - compared with the 52 bullfighters who have been
killed in the ring in a period of over 300 years since 1700. Taking
into account the number of climbers making the attempt, tiny
compared with the number of bullfighters fighting in that period,
climbing on the North face is far more dangerous.
The Wikipedia information on one summit attempt, made only a
few years after Lorca made his fatuous remark about bullfighting
being 'the last serious thing in the world.' This attempt on the
Eiger, like all the others before and since, was a serious matter
by any reckoning. It also underlines the closeness of safety in
the bullring, the availability of prompt medical care in the
bullring, the lack of these in the mountains, and the fact that it's
not only bullfighters who face injury.
'The next year [1936] ten young climbers from Austria and
Germany came to Grindelwald and camped at the foot of the
mountain. Before their attempts started, one of them was killed
during a training climb, and the weather was so bad during that
summer that after waiting for a change and seeing none on the
way, several members of the party gave up. Of the four that
remained, two were Bavarians, Andreas Hinterstoisser and Toni
Kurz, the youngest of the party, and two were Austrians, Willy
Angerer and Edi Rainer. When the weather improved they made
a preliminary exploration of the lowest part of the face.
Hinterstoisser fell 37 metres (121 ft) but was not injured. A few
days later the four men finally began the ascent of the face. They
climbed quickly, but on the next day, after their first bivouac, the
weather changed; clouds came down and hid the group to the
observers. They did not resume the climb until the following day,
when, during a break, the party was seen descending, but the
climbers could only be watched intermittently from the ground.
The group had no choice but to retreat since Angerer suffered
some serious injuries as a result of falling rock. The party
became stuck on the face when they could not recross the
difficult Hinterstoisser Traverse where they had taken the rope
they first used to climb. The weather then deteriorated for two
days. They were ultimately swept away by an avalanche, which
only Kurz survived, hanging on a rope. Three guides started on
an extremely perilous rescue. They failed to reach him but came
within shouting distance and learned what had happened. Kurz
explained the fate of his companions: one had fallen down the
face, another was frozen above him, the third had fractured his
skull in falling, and was hanging dead on the rope.'
In the morning the three guides came back, traversing across the
face from a hole near the Eigerwand station and risking their
lives under incessant avalanches. Toni Kurz was still alive but
almost helpless, with one hand and one arm completely
frostbitten. Kurz hauled himself off the cliff after cutting loose the
rope that bound him to his dead teammate below and climbed
back on the face. The guides were not able to pass an
unclimbable overhang that separated them from Kurz. They
managed to give him a rope long enough to reach them by tying
two ropes together. While descending, Kurz could not get the
knot to pass through his carabiner. He tried for hours to reach his
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knot to pass through his carabiner. He tried for hours to reach his
rescuers who were only a few metres below him. Then he began
to lose consciousness. One of the guides, climbing on another's
shoulders, was able to touch the tip of Kurz's crampons with his
ice-axe but could not reach higher. Kurz was unable to descend
farther and, completely exhausted, died slowly.
The intensity of the dangers in the high mountains, the fact that
these dangers are so protracted, the beauty of this hostile
environment - these and other factors have their effect on human
consciousness. Anyone who has read enough books about
mountaineering and by mountaineers and enough books about
bullfighting and by bullfighters to be able to compare the two will
surely be convinced that the states of consciousness revealed in
mountaineering literature are incomparably richer, deeper and
more complex.
What are the achievements of bull-fighters to be compared with
the achievements of mountaineers? What bravery has been
shown in the bull-rings of Arles, Nîmes, Madrid, Seville,
Valencia, Granada, Mexico City, all the bull-rings of the
bullfighting world, that could possibly be compared with the
bravery shown on Annapurna, Everest, the Matterhorn, the North
Face of the Eiger and the other peaks? The summit may be
reached or not, but mountaineers have every reason for pride.
Bullfighters are obviously very proud of those bleeding, still-warm
ears that have been cut from the bull as a mark of their
'achievement.' Revulsion is the only proper, civilized response.
Of all risky activities, none has anything like the bullfighters'
highly developed Mythology of Death. Mountaineers tend to be
self-effacing and reticent, at least in talking about the dangers.
They are acknowledged and mentioned, but there's none of the
decadent boasting indulged in by bullfighters, and so for other
people who take part in risky activities. During the Winter
Olympics at Vancouver, 2010, one of the competitors in the luge
event, one of the men and women who hurtle down the ice at
terrifying speeds, was killed. The competitors showed restraint
and dignity and hurtled down the ice in their turn, without
histrionics. The biography of the Spanish bullfighter of a
previous generation, El Cordobes, was entitled, 'Or I'll dress you
in mourning,' referring to his boast that he would make good in
bullfighting or die in the attempt. (Like the vast majority of
bullfighters, he didn't die in the attempt.) The book - one I
haven't, to be fair, read from cover to cover, only in large extracts
- is astonishing. I think particularly of the effusive bullring
chaplain holding up a religious medal when it seemed that El
Cordobes' histrionic heroics were becoming particularly risky.
The English bullfighter Frank Evans has written about the
women who are attracted to him because of the supposedly
glamorous danger he faces.
A L Kennedy makes a grotesque comparison, in connection with
the bullfighter 'El Juli,' who, rumours have it, 'will soon attempt to
face seven bulls ... within the course of one day... At this level,
the life of the matador must be governed by the same dark
mathematics which calculates a soldier's ability to tolerate
combat: so many months in a tour of duty, so many missions
flown, and mental change, mental trauma, becomes a statistical
inevitability. But in the corrida, the matador is not exposed to
physical and emotional damage by duty, or conscription - he is a
volunteer, a true believer, a lover with his love.' This comes from
her book 'On Bullfighting.' I note in my review of the book, ' ... ten
years after she wrote about him and his likely demise, El Juli is
still with us, still very much alive, despite the dark mathematics.'
John McCormick gives the same argument in the morass of
ignorance and falsification that makes up a significant part of
'Bullfighting: art, technique and Spanish society.' He writes of the
bullfighter, 'Just as the suit of lights marks him off in the plaza
from the run of men, so in his own mind he is marked off
always ... The closest thing to it I knew was fear of combat, but
that was different too, because there was always the comforting
sense of having been coerced.
The difference in toreo lies in the element of choice. Only the
toreo chooses freely to risk wounds or death.'
Not true of the volunteers from this country and others who went
to fight in the Spanish civil war, such as George Orwell, who was
shot in the throat. The merchant seamen who served on the
ships bringing supplies to this country during the Second World
War were all volunteers. Many of the particularly dangerous
missions undertaken in the Second World War were undertaken
by volunteers. All those members of the armed forces from
Northern Ireland who fought against the Nazis were volunteers -
there was no conscription in the province during the war - and
obviously all those from the Irish Republic who joined the British
armed forces to fight against Nazism, around 38 000 in number.
The soldiers of this country who fought in The First World War in
1914 and 1915 were volunteers. Conscription wasn't introduced
until 1915. This is an incomplete list, which could be vastly
extended, of evidence from before the publication of the book in
1967. Events since would provide further contrary evidence. For
example, the soldiers from this country and others who fight
against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The men and women who
work in bomb disposal, amongst other things making it safe for
villagers to return to their villages, are all volunteers. And
evidence from other activities before and after he wrote, for
example, the mountaineers who risk death in the mountains,
practitioners of high risk sports in general, are obviously all
volunteers. Again, obviously an incomplete list.
Some opponents of the bull-fight refer to the matador as a
coward. This is a clear instance of what I refer to as alignment,
which involves a distortion of reality. It's also an instance of
alignment to claim that Picasso cannot have been a great artist
because he was so devoted to the bullfight. Picasso's work
leaves me cold, including the overrated painting 'Guernica,' but I
recognize his importance as an innovator, his secure place in the
history of artistic modernism. (All the same, when I think of his
devotion to the bullfight rather than his artistic importance, then
to me he's 'Pablo Prickarsehole.')
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to me he's 'Pablo Prickarsehole.')
The mistake of rejecting achievement because of an objection to
the person's personality or one aspect of the work, is discussed
in the case of another Spanish artist, Salvador Dali, by George
Orwell ('Benefit of Clergy: some notes on Salvador Dali.')
Similarly, to decide that Descartes cannot have been a great
philosopher because of his notorious view that animals are
automata and cannot feel. Descartes' position as one of the
great philosophers is beyond dispute. His 'Meditations' is one of
the most attractive works in all philosophy, and certainly one of
the greatest works of rationalist philosophy.
To return to the bullfighters, their courage surely can't be in
doubt. If fatalities in the bullring are rare, gorings and other
injuries are not. Nobody who was a coward would choose to
occupy the same space as a half-tonne bull with sharp horns, but
I think I've established that their courage is strictly limited.
A related issue: the ethics of climbing and the ethics of
bullfighting. 'The ethics of bullfighting' here has a very narrow
meaning: whether or not the bull is tampered with to make the
work of the bullfighters much less dangerous. Better to call it
'code.' The word 'ethics' shouldn't be used in connection with
bullfighting. The shaving of the bull's horns is one notorious
practice that makes a bull far less dangerous but is commonly
practised. There are others. Stanley Conrad who runs what has
been described as the 'best' (pro-) bullfighting Web site in the
world in English, admits this, in a review of A L Kennedy's 'On
Bullfighting:' 'the critical issues plaguing the present day corrida -
weakened taurine bloodlines, horn shaving and other pre-corrida
attacks on the central creatures' integrity...'
Another critical issue plaguing the present day corrida is cited in
the routine and otherwise uncritical book 'Bullfight' by Garry
Marvin, a social anthropologist, which includes information about
one practice which I can't confirm from other sources. If true, it
reflects the tawdry dishonesty and corruption of the relationship
between bullfighters and journalists in Spain. He writes,
'In whatever novillada or corrida he is performing, it is important
for the matador to have preparado la prensa (literally, 'prepared
the press', meaning to have paid a certain amount of money to
the reporters and photographers who will cover the event),
because the reports of a performance can have a considerable
influence on the chances of further contracts. If not sufficiently
'prepared', the press can damn a good performance with faint
praise or can concentrate on the odd bad moments rather than
on the overall performance. If well 'prepared' they can do exactly
the reverse and can find good things to say even though the
matador might have been booed from the plaza.' The same
novillero who had the problem with the festival performed
extremely well on two afternoons in a series of novilladas in a
town near Valencia. He paid as much as he could to the local
newspaper critic, who was also a correspondent for a national
magazine dedicated to the corrida. The amount paid was
obviously not enough, and he received a few cursory lines in the
report. Other novilleros who had not done as well but who had
obviously given more money received much more coverage,
including several flattering photographs.'
The book is described by the publisher as one which 'explains
how and why men risk their lives to perform with and kill wild
bulls as part of a public celebration ...' The usual ignorant or
shameless overestimation of the dangers to life which I discuss
on this page.
Opponents of bullfighting are often pessimistic - how to win a
victory against forces seemingly so powerful and entrenched?
They should remember, though, that they are opposing
something which is diseased.
Breaches of climbing ethics make the mountain easier to
ascend, with less danger. They include resting in the rope rather
than using the rope purely to arrest a fall, in climbs where
artificial aids aren't permitted. Climbing ethics are almost always
observed, the 'bullfighting code' very often flouted. Climbers who
would like to climb a particularly dangerous rock face don't bring
along explosives to make the rock face less difficult and
dangerous, but in bullfighting, the most devious practices are
common. And the bullfighters, not the climbers, are the ones who
will boast of the dangers, of how, in the case of male bullfighters,
the vast majority, the glamour of danger makes them attractive to
women ...
The 'courage' of bullfighters in the past was the means - the
morally obnoxious means - by which a few individuals could
escape poverty and deprivation. As the bullfight apologist
Michael Kennedy acknowledges in 'Andalucia,' the growth of
prosperity makes individuals less and less keen to take risks in
the bullring. The amounts that can be earned are enormous. A
bullfighter may earn more than most footballers in Spain. The
financial rewards of climbing are far less - for the vast majority of
climbers nothing whatsoever.
The people who run with the bulls at the San Fermin Festival in
Pamplona (and similar events) run a risk of injury but most of the
injuries are minor. The most common injury is contusion due to
falling. There have been fatalities in the bull-run: 15 fatalities in
the last 100 years. Given the large numbers of people who take
part, this isn't very many. They include someone suffocated by a
pile-up of people and someone who incited a bull to charge him
by brandishing his coat.
The attempt to claim excellence for bullfighting stumbles upon
the fact that two categories essential for these claims, physical
courage and artistic achievement, are also categories where
humanity's achievements are stratospherically high.
Alexander Fiske-Harrison lets slip in his book 'Into the Arena' the
information that between 1992 and the publication of his book in
2002, no bullfighters were killed in the ring in Spain. In his blog,
he gives a figure for the number of professional bullfighters
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he gives a figure for the number of professional bullfighters
killed in the last three hundred years: 533. This is one of the lists
he refers to, the annotated list of deaths of matadors since
This document, like the others, omits context and comparison.
For example, in 1971, José Mata García died as a result of
bullfighting injuries, but would probably have survived if medical
facilities at the ring had not been very poor. In the same year,
two Spanish matadors were killed in car accidents (a
Venezualan matador was killed in a car accident as well.)
Between 1863 and 1869, no deaths are recorded for matadors.
During the American Civil War in just one prison (Salisbury,
North Carolina) during a four month period (October 1864 -
February 1865) 3,708 prisoners died out of a total of about 11
000. (Information from the 'Civil War Gazette.') This is about a
33% mortality rate. If a similar mortality rate applied to
bullfighting, then in one single bullfighting season in Spain there
would be markedly more bullfighters killed than have been killed
in three centuries of bullfighting.
Or consider this as context for the death of 533 bullfighters in a
period of over 300 years: Italian soldiers facing soldiers of the
Austrian-Hungarian army. On December 13, 1916 (later known
as 'White Friday') 10,000 soldiers were killed in avalanches.
Essential background for bullfighting mortality statistics is the
frequent recklessness of bullfighters. In the Anti-blog, I refer to
Padilla, injured but not killed, who head-butted a bull, obviously
very near to the horns, twice. Padilla lost an eye as a result, but
in the same year in which more bullfighters were killed in car
accidents than in the ring, 1971, a bullfighter lost an eye in a car
The pro-bullfighting Website has a page
on bullfighting risks written by Michael Cammarata, which
includes this: ' ... toreros are not inherently at risk for many
health conditions. Their lives may be complicated by injuries, but
death by the bull’s horns is rare, they are unbelievably resilient,
and healthcare has improved to the point that nearly all
consequences or mishaps are manageable.' Penicillin
transformed bullfighting. Before its introduction, accidents in the
bullring, like accidents on the farm, were far more likely to be
'In 1997, the Spanish government issued the first Royal Decree
significantly pertaining to "sanitary installations and medico-
surgical services in taurine spectacles" (Real Decreto de Oct. 31,
1997).' The regulation outlines the facilities which must be
'All infirmaries are expected to have basic amenities, including
sufficient lights, ventilation, generators for back-up energy
supplies, and a communications system. Mobile infirmaries
should have a minimum of two rooms; one for examination and
another for surgical intervention; however, the standards for fixed
infirmaries are higher. A bathroom, recovery room, and
sterilization and cleaning room are also necessary. The
regulation continues to outline a list of necessary supplies, such
as central surgical lamps, tables, anesthesia machines,
resuscitation machines with laryngoscopes, intubation tubes,
suction, and a cardiac and defibrillator monitor. The responsibility
for such materials lies in the hands of the chief surgeon of the
... events with picadors require the following staff: a chief
surgeon, an assisting physician with a surgical license, another
physician of any type, an anesthesiologist, a nurse, and an
auxiliary person. Events without picadors such as novilladas
without picadors, sueltas de vacas, and comic taurine events
require a chief surgeon, a physician, a nurse, and auxiliary
person. Therefore, the difference is in the assistant surgeon and
the anesthesiologist. A plaza de toros has ambulances on site
for emergency transports from the plaza to the nearest hospital,
during which at least a nurse and physician must be on board
the vehicle.
Fatalities to bullfighters may be very rare, but fatalities to the
horses used in bullrings don't seem to be nearly so rare - but I
haven't been able to find any statistics whatsoever. This
surprises me not at all. The bullfighting world seems to consider
the welfare of horses completely unimportant. When I found, this news piece was on the Home page,
headed 'Diego Ventura [a 'rejoneador,' not a picador] triumphs,
but loses his horse to goring.' (He 'lost' another horse two years
'The star horse "Revuelo" was gored in the right hind quarters,
during a performance in Morelia, Mich.
'The goring was deep about 30 centimeters, fracturing the femur.
It was reported in several newsoutlets [sic] that the goring was
on the left when in actuality it was on the right.
'The veternarian [sic] that was onsite was looking after the horse
trying to see how bad the goring was, with his hand exploring the
goring, it was said that when he took his hand out he brought
bone with it.
'The horse was losing too much blood, and even though they
tried to transport him to a clinic, he succumbed to his injuries.
'The horse, called "Revuelo" was 7 years old and a horse that
was used during the placement of the banderillas.
'This is Diego's 2nd loss, his other was in 2009 of the horse
named "Manzanarez".'
Although bullfighters may be severely injured in the bullring, the
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severity of the injuries in warfare, particularly since the
introduction of explosives, is of a different order of seriousness.
John Keegan writes well about the subject in 'The Face of
Battle.' The injury to the bullfighter Jose Tomas in Mexico was a
particularly severe injury, but it was one wound, not the severe
multiple wounds common in times of war. Bullfighters who have
been gored can almost always still walk, they still have the use
of their limbs, they can still see. The effect of high explosive, in
the current conflict in Afghanistan, in the massive bombardments
of the First and Second World War and other wars, can leave the
soldier - or the civilian - with a single limb or even none at all, or
blinded, or mutilated so much that even advanced surgery can
never restore anything like the person's appearance. Similarly in
the case of the horrific burns which are common in time of war.
Ordinary people in vast numbers have faced these risks, with
none of the romanticized myth-making of the bullfighters and
their supporters.
The courage of bullfighters is completely eclipsed by the courage
shown by innumerable ordinary people in time of war, including
civilians. The life expectancy of many soldiers at the Western
Front during periods of intense fighting, the life expectancy of
new RAF pilots in 1917, was a few weeks. The men who flew in
RAF Bomber Command during the Second World War were all
volunteers. 55,573 were killed out of a total of 125,000 aircrew - a
44.4% mortality rate. What French bullfighter has had to show a
fraction of the courage, has faced a fraction of the dangers faced
by the countless, ordinary (or extraordinary) French soldiers at
the relentless killing machine of Verdun?' Of the 20 million
Russian soldiers who fought in The Second World War against
the Nazis, well over 10 million were killed. Over half the
population of Warsaw died during The Second World War, 800
000 people in all. The risk to life involved in bullfighting is tiny
compared with the risks to civilians as well as combatants in
much modern warfare.
During The Second World War, this country was dependent
upon the convoys bringing food, fuel and other materials across
the Atlantic. The merchant seamen who served on these ships
were all civilians and all volunteers. Of the total of 185 000 who
volunteered, over 30 000 were killed, the majority after their ship
had been attacked by a U-boat. The war experiences of the
survivors often involved the explosion of the torpedoes, their ship
burning from end to end, burning oil in the water, men drowning
in oil. These acute dangers were even worse, of course, for the
many who faced the long voyage across the Atlantic on oil
tankers. The well-developed propaganda machine of bullfighting
has never yet faced such realities.
The French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry had a very
adventurous period in aviation and eventually a very dangerous
one. He became a fighter pilot for the Free French and was killed
in action in 1944. But the mythology of death had no attractions
for him. He wrote: 'It is not a question of living dangerously. That
formula is too arrogant, too presumptuous. I don't care much for
bullfighters. It's not the danger I love...It is life itself.'
Bullfighting: 'the last serious thing in the modern
See also the images and discussion in the section Lord Tristan
Garel-Jones and war, pets, sentimentality
Hitler and Franco, the Spanish fascist dictator
See also the previous section Bullfighting and 'duende' for more
on the supposed superiority of the Spanish attitude to death, an
argument often used to justify bullfighting.
The bullfighting audience tends to make clear its disapproval, of
bullfighters and bulls, by throwing cushions into the arena,
jeering and whistling. I think that the stupidities of Alexander
Fiske-Harrison and other bullfighting apologists, their falsification
of reality, deserve a strong and robust counter-response.
Towards the end of 'Into the Arena' he claims of the bullring,
"And in that ring are all the tragic and brutal truths of the world
unadorned.' In the Prologue, he quotes the words of the poet
García Lorca: 'the bullfight is the last serious thing left in the
world today'.
These words, written in the thirties, when many millions had
been left maimed in mind or body by their experiences in the
First World War, when many millions remembered their losses
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First World War, when many millions remembered their losses
during the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and 1919 which killed 60
or 70 million people - known sometimes as 'Spanish flu,' on
account of its severity in Spain, when the anything-but-trivial
movement of Nazism was beginning, were falsified by the
seriousness of reality in these and countless other ways then
and have been falsified in countless ways in every decade since
then, and falsified in countless ways too by the serious
achievement or the striving for serious achievement of countless
men and women. Lorca's 'the bullfight is the last serious thing left
in the world' has the benefit of sounding impressive, to many, but
it belongs only to what I call 'the world sphere.' Anyone who
reflects on such matters as serious politics, art, culture, the
realities of war and the realities of peace, the struggles of
everyday life and struggles for survival, will surely realize the
extreme falsity of those words. Equally worthy of contempt are
the words of the writer and director Agustín Díaz Yanes who
declared that 'bullfighters were the only free men left in the
world.' (Reported in The Times Literary Supplement blog,
'Tagore in Segovia.'
The material I give on this page of the horrific occupation of
Poland during the Second World War and its utterly ruthless
Governor, Hans Frank, is a reminder of some realities. To say
that the extermination camps in Poland at Auschwitz, Treblinka,
Belzec, Chelmno and other places, the crushing of the Jewish
uprising in the Warsaw ghetto (some 6 000 burnt alive or dying
of smoke inhalation), the crushing of the resistance Home Army
in Warsaw, the daily terrors of the long occupation, during which
over 5 million Polish civilians died, to say that these and all the
other tragic and brutal truths of the world are in the bullring,
unadorned, is monstrous and Alexander Fiske-Harrison's
endorsement of the lie is monstrous.
During the fascist dictatorship and during the Second World War
(Franco kept Spain out of the Second World War but supported
Hitler), bullfights took place throughout the bullfighting season,
so bullfighting supporters had reason to be content. Spanish
bullfighting supporters took pride in their bullfighters and gave
them their adulation.
In this country, we have very different reasons for pride, the
courage, endurance and sacrifices made by people in this
country when it didn't give up or stand aside, like Franco's Spain,
but fought against Hitler.
It can be argued that the prominence of bullfighting in Spain now
is a consequence of Franco's victory in the Spanish civil war. A
note on the place of bullfighting in Spanish society during the
Franco era. From Carrie B. Douglass, 'Bulls, bullfighting and
Spanish identities:'
Franco and the "Spain" that won the Civil War, the Nationalists,
seemed to value the fiesta nacional in a special way. Although
Franco was from Galicia, a region without much of a bullfighting
tradition, he was a great aficionado of los toros ... Corridas were
included in the bundle of images considered to be
"castiza" (pure) Spain which Franco and his Nationalist
supporters in general patronised. General Franco was often
photographed with popular bullfighters ...
'In fact, had it not been for the Nationalists (the Right) during the
Civil War the toro bravo and the corridas de toros may well have
died out completely ... the Republicans and the political left had
been against los toros ... the Anarchists opposed bullfighting
totally, calling the corrida a "remnant of medieval cruelty"
claiming that it desenstized people to suffering and distracted
them from the task of educating themselves."
From my page A L Kennedy's 'On Bullfighting:'
'The republican Lorca and the nationalists were linked as well as
contrasted. They were linked by the cult of death. One nationalist
rallying cry was 'Long live death!' Lorca: 'Spain is unique, a
country where death is a national spectacle...In every country
death has finality. Not in Spain. A dead person in Spain is more
alive than is the case anywhere else.' Another republican, El
Campesino, again quoted in 'The Battle for Spain' : 'I am not
pretending that I was not guilty of ugly things myself, or that I
never caused needless sacrifice of human lives. I am a
Spaniard. We look upon life as tragic. We despise death.'
Massacres on a vast scale have taken place in countries without
anything like a death-cult, but the Spanish death-cult faces
enormous problems in coming to terms with these massacres -
including the massacres which took place during the Spanish
civil war.
The Spanish cult of death - not a justification of bullfighting,
something to be used in defence of bullfighting, but something
which has encouraged and been used to justify human slaughter
as well as animal suffering in the bullfight - is a sign of disease,
not health. Paul Preston is the foremost British historian of the
Spanish civil war. His books include 'The Spanish Holocaust:
Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain,' which
documents the slaughter and torture of those years. He
estimates that at least 130 000 people were executed by the
nationalists during the war but the total is likely to have been
much higher. He estimates that just under 50 000 people were
killed by the Republicans. Compare the attention given to the
533 bullfighters killed in the ring since 1700 by Alexander Fiske-
Harrison. When the town of Badajoz was captured by the
nationalists on August 14, 1936, the prisoners were confined in
the bullring. Hundreds were killed in the executions which began
that night. Soon, as many as 4 000 people were killed.
Alexander Fiske-Harrison's bucolic portrayal of fighting bulls
living a life of ease in the wide open spaces of the ranches
ignores the history of such places: the misery of the landless
poor in Southern Spain, regarded with indifference or contempt
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poor in Southern Spain, regarded with indifference or contempt
by the landed aristocracy. Land reform was one of the chief
proposals of the Popular Front government elected in February
1936 on the eve of the Spanish civil war. Helen Graham, on
events early in the war:
'It was a war of agrarian counter-reform that turned Andalusia
and Extremadura into killing fields. The large landowners who
owned the vast estates which covered most of the southern half
of Spain rode along with the Army of Africa [Franco's Moroccan
forces] to reclaim by force of arms the land on which the
Republic had settled the landless poor. Rural labourers were
killed where they stood, the 'joke' being they had got their 'land
reform' at last - in the form of a burial plot.
Reforms, and not only land reforms, were crushed with the
victory of the nationalists in the war, and large numbers of the
landless poor were exterminated. The wealthy land-owners who
bred and reared bulls were amongst those who benefitted from
the crushing of the legitimate government and its supporters.
The bull-rearing ranches have a very dark history, then.
Alexander Fiske-Harrison may be aware of these aspects of
Spanish history, but his writing on Spain never mentions them. A
wider interest in history, a less exclusive interest in the history of
bullfighting, would add perspective to some of his views - or even
overturn them.
Bulls, elephants and tigers
In the bullfighting arena: Madrid, 1865
Hemingway, 'Death in the Afternoon:' '...Huron, a bull of the
ranch of Don Antonio Lopez Plata ... fought a Bengal tiger on the
24th of July 1904 in the Plaza of San Sebastian. They fought in a
steel cage and the bull whipped the tiger, but in one of his
charges broke the cage apart and the two animals came out into
the ring in the midst of the spectators. The police, attempting to
finish the dying tiger and the very live bull, fired several volleys
which 'caused grave wounds to many spectators.' From the
history of these various encounters between bulls and other
animals I should say they were spectacles to stay away from, or
at least to view from one of the higher boxes.' The 'other animals'
which took part in these 'encounters' included elephants, as in
the illustration above.
Hemingway's reservations are only to do with the danger to the
spectators. He has no revulsion at the effect of the tiger's teeth
on the bull and the bull's horns on the tiger. What might a more
detailed account of this 'encounter' have revealed? Perhaps an
eye of the bull hanging down by a strip of flesh, its face almost
ripped away, the tiger pumping out blood from deep wounds,
perhaps with an empty eye socket too. What would a detailed
account of the injuries to the bull and the elephant have
revealed, when the 'encounter' was at a later stage than the one
shown above? It should be apparent to anyone with any moral
sense that the Nobel Prize Committee gave its prize to a sadist.
As well as the formal, ordered bullfight, with its three 'acts,' the
bull has been pitted against other animals. Why is it that they are
unthinkable today? There has been a transformation in human
attitudes to animals, so powerful that it has even influenced
many, but not all, bullfight apologists. Now, there are more
bullfight apologists who would go so far as to condemn the
cruelty of a bull fighting other animals but who continue to defend
the practices of the bullfight, using supposed arguments which
rely heavily upon words like 'art,' 'tragedy,' 'honour,' 'courage.'
The fight between an elephant and a bull which seems to have
aroused no opposition in the Madrid bullfighting supporters of
1865 would probably be opposed by the majority of bullfighting
supporters now. They will find that the transformation of attitudes
which has condemned such events as these has condemned the
formal, ordered bullfight as well, and has condemned them.
One common justification for the treatment of the bull in the
bullring appeals to the longer, privileged life of the bull up until
that point. An entrepreneur in Spain could appeal to the same
argument in an attempt to reintroduce the combat of elephant
against bull. Elephants due to be culled owing to the fact that
there's insufficient food for them to be imported into Spain, given
five more years of life, in a separate section of bull-rearing
ranches, and then made to fight in the arena, speared to make
them weaker, any animal which survives for a quarter of an hour
to be humanely killed. An arrangement which might appeal to
many bullighting supporters fails because it's no longer within the
bounds of possibility. The reputation of Spain, the reputation of
Europe, is one consideration among many.
It's becoming ever more clear, if not in every part of Europe and
the wider world, that bullfighting dimishes the reputation of every
country which allows it and that whatever arguments are brought
forward against abolition, its cruelty demands abolition.
More evidence that Hemingway could be disgusting. A 'capea,'
as the glossary of 'Death in the Afternoon' informs us, refers to
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'informal bullfights or bull baitings in village squares in which
amateurs and aspirant bullfighters take part.' Now, Hemingway
tells us, 'one bull which was a great favourite in the capeas of the
province of Valencia killed sixteen men and boys and badly
wounded over sixty in a career of five years.' So, simple enough.
The bull was defending itself. The people who were killed and
injured knew what risks they were running and there was an
easy way to avoid all these risks. After the bull had killed or
injured people in its first season, it was allowed to go on for
years afterwards.
What happened to this 'great favourite,' also described by
Hemingway as 'a very highly valued performer?' The bull's owner
sent the bull to the slaughterhouse in Valencia. Two relatives of
a someone killed by the bull asked permission to kill the bull,
which was granted. The younger of the two 'started in by digging
out both the bull's eyes while the bull was in his cage, and
spitting carefully into the sockets, then after killing him by
severing the spinal marrow between the neck vertebrae with a
dagger, he experienced some difficulty in this, he asked
permission to cut off the bull's testicles, which being granted, he
and his sister built a small fire at the edge of the dusty street
outside the slaughter-house and roasted the two glands on sticks
and when they were done, ate them. They then turned their
backs on the slaughter-house and went along the road and out
of town.'
Hemingway was in the vicinity when all this was done, although
he doesn't reveal the fact in 'Death in the Afternoon.' There's not
the least evidence that he disapproved of the treatment of the
Bullfighting as an art form. Bullfighting and
The top picture here shows the ancient Greek theatre at
Epidauros. (Acknowledgements: cdine's photostream.) The
lower picture here shows the Roman arena at Nîmes in France,
then part of the Roman Empire. (Acknowledgements:
mikeandanna's photostream.) 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, such as the one at Nîmes, are used for an activity which is
in a clear line of descent from the past: for the spectacle of
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.' The more thoughtful and artistic spectators
could admire the imaginative reconstruction. Katherine E. Welch,
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'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
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 'artistry' of the bullfight here.
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, but not for a long time 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
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, 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
The Romans devised brutal spectacles with bullfighting as the
only modern descendant. Greek theatre was incomparably
richer, incomparably more important, its descendants
incomparably richer and 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. I believe that 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 (my own particular interests) 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, music, literature, the theatre, 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
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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.
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 seem 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.
I've a familiarity with Shakespearean tragedy but particular
knowledge of the tragic writing which inaugurated the whole
magnificent tragic enterprise, the tragedy of ancient Greece. 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.
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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 overwhelming complexity and richness of the plots of literary
tragedy goes with the overwhelming 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. (Bekker
'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 the 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.)
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
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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 still 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 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
modern advance. Moral 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 one of the most important of all works 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 is in ecstasy. With further experience, the memory of
the ecstasy becomes embarrassing. The wine was one
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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.'
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 ' 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
The appreciation of music generally demands insights and
emotions of a vastly greater range, vastly more subtle and
complex, than the appreciation of the crowd at a bullfighting. See
my page music. '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 on Poetry and Music, I
give extracts from the writing of Basil Lam as evidence.
Bullring ballet and bulls vomiting blood
One of the comments on this Youtube video, 'Toro vomitando
sangre,' 'Bull vomiting blood'
'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
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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
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
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.'
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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
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
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
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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 comedy
Hemingway had a less than sure feeling for comedy. He found
comedy where there was none at all, in the death of the horses
in the bull-ring, and was oblivious to comedy in his own writing.
Isn't this comic, or, rather, bizarre? It comes from the Glossary of
the book, where, as well as explaining the diseased world of bull-
fighting, he includes an entry on, of all things:
'Tacones: heels; tacones de goma are rubber heels: these are
sold by ambulatory vendors who will come up to you while you
are seated in the cafe, cut the heel off your shoe with a sort of
instant-acting leather-cutting pincers they carry, in order to force
you to put on a rubber heel. The rubber heels they attach are of
a low, worthless grade...If any rubber-heel attacker ever cuts a
heel of your shoe without your having first definitively ordered a
pair of rubber heels, kick him in the belly or under the jaw [!] and
get the heels put on by someone else...There is one sinister-
faced Catalan high-pressured heel ripper...I gave him that
[whether a kick in the belly or under the jaw isn't specified] but he
is more of a dodger by now and you might have difficulty landing
on him. The best thing when you see this particular heel-selling
bastard (hijo de puta will do) approaching is to take off your
shoes and put them inside your shirt. If he then attempts to
attach rubber heels to your bare feet [!], send for the American or
British Consul.'
For Hemingway, 'in the tragedy of the bullfight the horse is the
comic character ... Therefore the worse the horses are, provided
they are high enough off the ground and solid enough so that the
picador can perform his mission with the spiked pole, or vara, the
more they are a comic element.' And in connection with the
disembowelling of the horses, 'There is certainly nothing comic
by our standards in seeing an animal emptied of its visceral
content, but if this animal instead of doing something tragic, that
is, dignified, gallops in a stiff old-maidish fashion around the ring
trailing the opposite of clouds of glory, it is as comic it was the
horse which provided the comic touch' then according to
Hemingway it is as comic as burlesque farce: 'If one is comic the
other is; the humour comes from the same principle ... I have
seen these, call them disembowellings, that is the worst word,
when, due to their timing, they were very funny.'
See also Seamus Heaney on the actions of the banderillero,
(stabbing the bull six times) which he thinks are 'closer to
comedy than tragedy.'
The humour of some bullfighting enthusiasts, their idea of 'fun',
make a deeply depressing study. The animal victims of the
'informal events' of Spanish fiestas are presumably regarded as
hilarious, light relief from the solemn 'tragedy' of the corrida itself.
A page on the impressive Web site of FAACE gives examples.
The live goats thrown from the church tower in Manganeses de
la Polvorosa, the pigeons and squirrels stoned in Robledo de
Chavela, the live chickens hung from a line and hacked to pieces
in Tordesillas, the chickens buried up to their necks and
beheaded by the blindfolded villagers of Aduna, the bulls
attacked with hundreds of darts in Coria. [This has now been
ended.] See also the sombre, harrowing, informative, intelligent
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ended.] See also the sombre, harrowing, informative, intelligent
page on the same Web site,
The same page includes comments on the 'hazy and outrageous
mythology' of the bullfight industry and the economic momentum
which perpetuates the bullfight.
Donkeys are sometimes used in a 'hilarious' event which mimics
the mainstream Corrida. (And sometimes there's another
'hilarious' character - a dwarf dressed as a bullfighter.) The horse
is regarded as a comic character in the bullfight (so its sufferings
are of no account) and a donkey is even more comic.
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 the poet and his monstrous lies -
fated to be scythed
and beginning to fade.
My poem 'Lorca'.
Lorca 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
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
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
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.
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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,
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.
San Francisco Opera, Susan McClary and Carmen
Below, there's information about the production of Carmen due
to be given by San Francisco Opera later this year. Susan
McClary, a musicologist at Case Western Reserve University in
Ohio, is the author of the book 'Carmen.' There's a critical
section on the book, with much more information on the
background to the opera, in my page on Cambridge University
(the book is published by Cambridge University Press, a
department of the university.) Susan McClary completely
neglected the topic of the ethical objections to bullfighting in her
book on the opera - even though this is the only opera to have a
bullfighting setting. San Francisco opera, in its obnoxious,
misleading publicity material, which I quote, neglects the topic
From the libretto of 'Carmen':
ESCAMILLO (to Carmen)
If you love me, Carmen soon
you can be proud of me.
Ah! I love you, Escamillo, I love you,
and may I die if I have ever loved
anyone as much as you!
Ah! I love you!
Yes, I love you!
The bullfighter Escamillo is soon to fight in the bullring. It's his
prowess in the bullring which will supposedly make Carmen
proud of him.
The publicity materials on the San Francisco Opera Website
include 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 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. “It is impossible to believe the emotional
and spiritual intensity and the pure, classic beauty that can be
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and spiritual intensity and the pure, classic beauty that can be
produced by a man, an animal and a piece of scarlet serge,”
Hemingway wrote in 1932.
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
'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
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.” '
The misconceptions and falsifications to be found in this
passage, and the many more lies and misconceptions used in
defence of bullfighting, are addressed on this page. 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.
Cast and Creative
This is the list provided by the San Francisco Opera Website
J'Nai Bridges
Don José
Matthew Polenzani
Anita Hartig *
Kyle Ketelsen
David Leigh *
El Dancairo
Christopher Oglesby*
El RemendadoZhengyi Bai*
SeokJong Baek*
Natalie Image*
Ashley Dixon
James Gaffigan *
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June 5, 11, 14, 20, 23, 26, 29, 2019
Back to my own response:
San Francisco Opera's production of Carmen:
action against
If I lived in San Francisco, I wouldn't attend any of the
performances. I'd print leaflets to explain my revulsion and I'd
offer a leaflet to people who decided that they would attend - as
I've done in the case of a variety of causes, not just opposition to
bullfighting. I hope that some San Franciscans will do something
similar just before the performances start and during the time
when the opera is being performed.
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:
San Francisco Opera's production of Carmen
Stay away. 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.'
Aficionados out there are welcome to point out the mistakes and
omissions they find in my account of bullfighting on this page, if
they want to, and if they can.
I don't take the view that because Susan McClary's book
'Carmen' is very deficient in some ways, such as the ignoring of
the questions raised by bullfighting, that the book is completely
hopeless. She has many, many strengths as a musicologist,
although many, many weaknesses when she strays beyond
musicology, which is often.
I give a list of people involved in the production, but with no
blame attached, with the exception of people who did make the
decisions which compromise this production so severely,
including Matthew Erikson, who compiled the pro-bullfight
propaganda on the San Francisco Opera Website which is
quoted above.
I regard live opera as very important. I live in a city without an
opera company, or a professional orchestra. Music can't flourish
where recorded music is the only music on offer. The demands
on professional and semi-professional musicians (and the staff of
opera companies) are severe. Singers, instrumentalists and
conductors face immense difficulties in launching their careers
and in the rest of their careers. Except for a minority, they are
paid not nearly enough.
Cultural stagnation
The attention given to the bullfight in Provence, Seville and 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
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
James Gaffigan
Michelle Merrill *1
Associate Stage Director & Movement
Denni Sayers
Production Designer
Tanya McCallin
Original Lighting Designer
Paule Constable
Revival Lighting Designer
Justin A. Partier
Fight Director
Dave Maier
Chorus Director
Ian Robertson
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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
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 very much. 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 one of the painters who mean a
great deal to me. As is clear from 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. His failures in regard to bullfighting are,
I think, 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
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
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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 significant 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 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, 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. I discuss it in the sections Bullfighting
and 'duende' and Cultural stagnation. The Spanish
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and 'duende' and Cultural stagnation. 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
preoccupation with death, 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 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 - but 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 everything important in the world, or so much that's
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).
Fadjen, a fighting bull, and Christophe Thomas
This is a remarkable film from Pablo Knudsen showing the warm
relationship between a bull bred for fighting and Christophe
Thomas, the French man who saved him from ever fighting in a
bullring, It shows too the gentle relationship between the bull
and the goats who play with him and the bull's complete
acceptance of a horse. 'Fighting bulls' are subjected to treatment
which is artificial and abnormal, treatment calculated to make
them aggressive. In the bullring, the bull has nowhere to escape
or to hide. The film exposes this treatment and the trickery often
used by bullfighters, which fools so many people. The idyll, the
possibility of a wonderfully harmonious relationship between
human and animal, is far from being a myth. It's no more
impossible in the case of human and 'fighting bull' than in the
case of human and dog. The film comes from Christophe
Thomas's Website, which has other films about Fadjen. The site
deserves a prominent role in the anti-bullfighting movement,
I don't in the least claim that all bulls are non-aggressive, only
that in this respect, as in others, they show variability.
Campaigning techniques
I provide an illustration of the distinction I make here in the next
section, Three Spanish restaurants.
In campaigning, I think it's essential to distinguish two things:
(1) The most effective techniques to win, in this case, to abolish
the corrida. This will often demand short, vivid messages and
simple slogans - as when the French Alliance Anticorrida
organized an amazing air campaign over Nîmes in May, 2007,
two planes flying and towing banners with a short message
against the bullfight over a distance of 600km. It will often
demand arguments presented very briefly, and action which is
concentrated rather than diffuse, action which is not at all
genteel, but action which keeps within the law. In a democracy, it
may be necessary to break the law in exceptional circumstances
if that seems the only way to end a serious abuse, but the most
effective actions for opposing bullfighting don't require the law to
be broken (I mention an exception below.) In fact, violence
against people and damage to property damage the anti-
bullfighting cause. I oppose these tactics in all cases. (Where
the opponent is a totalitarian power, as in the occupied countries
of Europe during the Second World War, then the use of
violence and force an damage to property can easily be
In fact, in most cases, anti-bullfighting activists use tactics which
can be supported wholeheartedly, for example, the tactics used
by these Spanish activists shown in this film. It shows them
travelling to the scene of their protest outside the bullring,
followed by horrific scenes during a bullfight.
I support disruption of bullfights, whether or not they entail a
public order offence which is a breach of the law. The rule of law
is very important but a perfectionistic approach to observance of
the law isn't possible or even desirable in every single case.
People handing out leaflets opposing bullfighting (or some other
activity) may be 'guilty' of obsruction if they stand still whilst
doing so, but any feelings of guilt on that score are unnecessary.
In this film, a bullfight in Barcelona is disrupted:
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In this film, a bullfight in Barcelona is disrupted:
No bullfights take place here now, of course, as in the rest of
Spanish Catalonia. (The same moral advance hasn't been made
in French Catalonia so far.)
(2) The reasoning which underlies the action. This should not be
simple. It should be comprehensive (covering all relevant
aspects of the subject rather than a few), fair-minded (taking
every care to avoid distortions of reality, taking note of possible
objections), sophisticated in moral argument and, also, factually
correct. It's not true, for example, that the bull is killed by a sword
thrust to the heart, as is often claimed, for example, in the
current 'Rough Guide to France.' Very often, the bull isn't killed
by a sword thrust to the aorta either, but, after hitting bone, by
brutally prolonged attempts to sever the spinal cord.
I would stress the power of ideas. The ideas which seem vastly
more forceful, developed, persuasive than the opposing ideas
are amongst the most important contributions to activism.
They're a precondition for activism, or should be. One of the
most striking demonstrations comes from the history of penal
reform, on which the Italian thinker Beccaria has had an
incalculable influence. To read more about his achievement,
click here. Beccaria's achievement is amongst other things a
massive practical achievement - concrete reforms can be traced
back to his work - but these were due purely to his ideas. He had
none of the attributes of an activist. The introduction to his work
'On Crimes and Punishments' in the Hackett edition describes
the work as 'greater than its self-effacing author, a man of almost
crippling shyness.'
The philosophical literature to do with animals and animal
suffering is now vast. The fact that most aficionados in the
bullfighting regions of Europe, from Andalucia to Arles, are not
aware that it exists is a serious deficiency. This literature, which
reflects a fundamental change of consciousness, is comparable
in importance with the literature and the changes which began
the secularization of Europe during the Enlightenment. A non-
technical statement by Jeremy Bentham, often quoted, is a good
starting point. His 'utilitarian' view is now better termed a
'consequentalist' view. It appears in The Principles of Morals and
Legislation, 1789, Chapter XVII, Section 1d:
'The day may come, when the rest of the animal creation may
acquire those rights which never could have been withholden
from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already
discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a
human being should be abandoned without redress to the
caprice of a tormentor. It may come one day to be recognized,
that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the
termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for
abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it
that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason,
or, perhaps, the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or
dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more
conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a
month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it
avail? the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk?
but, Can they suffer?'
Three Spanish restaurants
This section illustrates the discussion of the previous section on
Campaigning techniques. It gives suggestions for practical action
and gives further reasons in support of action.
Abel Lusa is the owner of three Spanish restaurants in London.
In an interview on he mentions 'a strong torero
influence' in answer to the question, 'Where do you take your
inspiration from when creating your menus and the ambience in
your restaurants?'
These restaurants are within a short distance of each other on
Old Brompton Road: 'Tendido Cero,' (174 Old Brompton Road),
'Capote y Toros' (157 Old Brompton Road) and 'Cambio de
Tercio (163 Old Brompton Road.) In an interview
'Tendido Cero.' 'Tendido' refers to 'rows of open seats in a bull
ring' (Hemingway, 'Death in the Afternoon.') 'Cero' is zero. The
rows of seats are numbered. This restaurant has 'huge, rather
camp photographs of matadors.' ('Time Out.')
'Capote y Toros.' 'Capote' is the cape of the bullfighter and
'toros,' of course, means bulls. In this restaurant there are ' ...
framed pictures of bullfighters.' ('Time Out.') These can be seen
by scrolling down a little way, past the images of some foods on
offer, on this page on this page.
'Cambio de Tercio.' 'Cambio' means 'change' and the 'tercio'
refers to one of the three parts of a bullfight, the 'tercio de varas,'
in which the bull is lanced by the picador, the 'cercio de
banderillas,' in which the bull is stabbed with the six banderillas,
and the 'tercio del muerte,' where 'muerte' means death. This
restaurant too makes use of a bullfighting theme, the bullfighter
paintings of Luis Canizares, whose work is also prominent on
their Website,
Less indirect ways of opposing bullfighting would be preferable
but anti-bullfighting activists in this country aren't able to make
use of them, since there are no bullrings here, this country being
so much in advance of Spain in matters of animal welfare. This
being so, I believe there's a case to be made for action against
these restaurants, but principally by handing out leaflets to
customers. This would be my interpretation of 'direct action,' a
form of action which is almost instinctive with me, but a form of
action which has to be used with great restraint if it isn't to be
counter-productive. (There's no reason, however, why leafletting
should be conducted in too genteel a way.) In the past, my
interpretation of direct action was far less restrained, but never to
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interpretation of direct action was far less restrained, but never to
the point of advocating or of course taking part in violence and
damage to property
I can think of ways in which opposition to bullfighting which used
these restaurants as a focus could be very useful. I think it's a
mistake for activists to overlook actions which it could be argued
are marginal. Small scale actions can make a contribution in this
sphere as in others.
This page is about bullfighting, not about other animal welfare
issues, but I resolutely oppose the cruelty involved in producing
foie gras. Its production is illegal in this country. In my page on
Israel I mention the fact that Israel used to be the fourth largest
producer of foie gras in the world but, to its very great credit,
banned its production in view of the cruelty involved. Importation
of foie gras into this country and selling it here aren't illegal.
Many restaurateurs never use it, as a product of gross cruelty. It
will come as no surprise that Abel Lusa isn't one of them and
that his restaurants offer foie gras.
Shops and large stores have sometimes come under intense
pressure for this one issue, selling foie gras. Kirk Leech, writing
in defence of Foie Gras (
'On Friday 9 December a small group of animal rights activists
'targeted' a list of Yorkshire based restaurants that serve foie
gras. Van Zeller, a restaurant in Harrogate was subjected to a
short but noisy demonstration. The protestors then made their
way to the small village of Ramsgill where they protested outside
the Yorke Arms Hotel. From there they moved onto Bolton
Abbey, near Skipton where the Devonshire Arms Hotel was
'targeted'. Their activities included leafleting customers as they
arrived to eat and making speeches condemning foie gras
outside the establishments. Occasionally they book tables and
then when seated stand up and denounce foie gras in front of
other customers.'
This will seem very unsophisticated behaviour to gourmet-
aesthetes of a certain kind, or the usual kind. But the ethics of
these gourmet-aesthetes, and the bullfighting-aesthetes, will
seem very unsophisticated - primitive - to many people who have
given thought to the matter. Matthew Norman gives an
appreciation of the cooking at 'Cambio de Tercio' which is very,
very effusive (in 'The Daily Telegraph.') A sample: “Ooh, ooh,
ooooooohh,” moaned my friend. “Woo, wooo, woooooo,” I
whimpered back.' This appreciation of 'a thing of genius' ( ...
gazpacho decanted into a bowl hosting a juicy disc of lobster and
a scoop of cherry sorbet) was succeeded by appreciation of
another thing: 'This was a creamy, eggy, potatoey mush with
caramelised onions at the bottom of a cocktail glass, followed by
a sheet of foie gras terrine atop smoked eel and apple slices.'
Could such a sophisticate be an ethical ignoramus, in matters
appertaining to foie gras at least? Quite easily.
Kirk Leech continues,
'Most restaurants and shops don't need the hassle of these
protests and cave in to this degree of pressure. Only this week
Brook's, in Brighouse Yorkshire, and Six Baltic, based in the
Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art on the river Tyne, became
the latest restaurants to drop foie gras.'
'Were it that all campaigns could be won with such little effort. In
the past, animal rights activists have been known to participate in
illegal and occasionally violent attacks against their opposition.
Now it's phone calls, emails and small protests.
'Low input activism this maybe, but it's clearly effective.'
I couldn't put it better myself. I resolutely oppose illegal and
violent action and make phone calls, send emails and take part
in small protests (I've travelled great distances to take part in
these.) I advocate 'low input activism' as more effective than the
alternatives. Kirk Leech does underestimate the difficulty and
arduousness of action so often, or almost always.
I think that the evidence available justifies taking action against
these three Spanish restaurants, 'Tendido Cero,' 'Capote y
Toros' and 'Cambio de Tercio' for selling foie gras and a second
issue, bullfighting. Action against these restaurants could well be
given a high priority, using the methods of 'low input activism.'
It can be argued that opposition should only take the form of
presenting ideas, arguments and evidence, with no attempt to
target a specific individual, organization or commercial concern.
My priority is very much to present contributions which belong to
the realm of ideas, arguments and evidence, but I see the need
to supplement these with specific action. I'm completely
receptive to criticisms of this approach.
I've given an outline of action which could be undertaken, part 1
in the previous section on Campaigning techniques. Part 2 in
the previous section is concerned with the reasoning which
underlines the action. Here, I concentrate on foie gras rather
than bullfighting. The reasons for opposing bullfighting are given
in the rest of this page. I now need to address the matter of foie
gras, so that any opposition to these restaurants for their
connections with foie gras and bullfighting can be carried out
with a comprehensive set of arguments and evidence.
The reasons Kirk Leech gives in his article for defending foie
gras production are completely inadequate. In this area, as in so
many others, evidence-based argument is in short supply. An
evidence-based document which should be studied with care by
defenders of foie-gras production, one giving a wealth of
biochemical, physiological and other information, and scrupulous
in its drawing of attention to areas where adequate information is
lacking, is the European Union's Scientific Committee on Animal
Health and Animal Welfare on Welfare Aspects of the Production
of Foie Gras in Ducks and Geese.
However, the matter can't be decided by citation of biochemical,
physiological, ethological and other scientific evidence alone, and
this particular document has to be supplemented with other
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this particular document has to be supplemented with other
studies and other approaches, such as ones which make an
appeal to moral philosophy. There are films available from 'show
farms' which attempt to give an idyllic picture of the life of geese
and ducks. It can be shown that these are misleading. For a very
different perspective, an inquirer could watch this very harrowing
film, Force-Fed to Death (the narrator is Reger Moore) and after
watching it could well come to the conclusion that action against
the three Spanish restaurants, and other restaurants and food
outlets which sell foie gras, is fully justifiable. The film comes from
the large organization PETA. In general, I don't endorse in the
least some of the tactics used by PETA, which are sometimes
deranged, or some of the deranged thinking which lies behind the
tactics. Some of PETA'S work is genuinely impressive, and the
film is an example of PETA at its best, I think. Abi Izzard of PETA
changed her name officially to
'' (changes to
documents like her driving licence were necessary) to publicize
the fact that the store Fortnum and Mason still sells foie gras - not
in the least a useful contribution.
This is the introduction to the Scientific Committee's document. It
sets out the principles which I think should underlie all animal
welfare work. Giving the reasons for practical opposition will not
always entail the giving of very comprehensive evidence in
dispassionate form, but the scrupulousness and
comprehensiveness of an adequate ((survey)) should inform the
practical action.
'There is widespread belief that people have moral obligations to
the animals with which they interact, such that poor welfare
should be minimised and very poor welfare avoided. It is
assumed that animals, including farm animals, can experience
pain, fear and distress and that welfare is poor when these
occur. This has led to animal welfare being on the political
agenda of European countries.
'Legislation varies, but E.U. member states have ratified the
Council of Europe's Convention on the Protection of Animal kept
for Farming Purposes. Article 3 of that Convention states that "
Animals shall be housed and provided with food, water and care
in a manner which, having regard to their species and their
degree of development, adaptation and domestication, is
appropriate to their physiological and ethological needs in
accordance with established experience and scientific
knowledge” (Council of Europe, 1976).
'In addition to political debate, the amount of information based
on the scientific study of animal welfare has increased. Scientists
have added to knowledge of the physiological and behavioural
responses of animals and philosophers have developed ethical
views on animal welfare. Nevertheless, all agree that decisions
about animal welfare should be based on good scientific
evidence (Duncan, 1981, Broom, 1988 b).
'Scientific evidence regarding the welfare of ducks and geese in
relation to foie gras production is gathered together in this report.
In chapter 1, different definitions of animal welfare are presented,
the four main indicators of animal welfare are discussed and the
importance of combining results from several indicators is
emphasised. In the second chapter the extent of production of
foie gras is described and in the third, practical aspects of
production are summarised. Chapter four concerns the
behaviour of geese and ducks in relation to force feeding or
“gavage”. The consequences for the birds of force feeding are
described in chapter five. The remaining chapters concern the
likely socio-economic consequences of any changes whose aim
is to improve the welfare of the birds, suggestions for future
research and conclusions. Finally, there is a list of references
quoted in the report.
'There is widespread belief that people have moral obligations to
the animals with which they interact, such that poor welfare
should be minimised and very poor welfare avoided. It is
assumed that animals, including farm animals, can experience
pain, fear and distress and that welfare is poor when these
occur. This has led to animal welfare being on the political
agenda of European countries.
'Legislation varies, but E.U. member states have ratified the
Council of Europe's Convention on the Protection of Animal kept
for Farming Purposes. Article 3 of that Convention states that "
Animals shall be housed and provided with food, water and care
in a manner which, having regard to their species and their
degree of development, adaptation and domestication, is
appropriate to their physiological and ethological needs in
accordance with established experience and scientific
knowledge” (Council of Europe, 1976).
'In addition to political debate, the amount of information based
on the scientific study of animal welfare has increased. Scientists
have added to knowledge of the physiological and behavioural
responses of animals and philosophers have developed ethical
views on animal welfare. Nevertheless, all agree that decisions
about animal welfare should be based on good scientific
evidence (Duncan, 1981, Broom, 1988 b).
'Scientific evidence regarding the welfare of ducks and geese in
relation to foie gras production is gathered together in this report.
In chapter 1, different definitions of animal welfare are presented,
the four main indicators of animal welfare are discussed and the
importance of combining results from several indicators is
emphasised. In the second chapter the extent of production of
foie gras is described and in the third, practical aspects of
production are summarised. Chapter four concerns the
behaviour of geese and ducks in relation to force feeding or
“gavage”. The consequences for the birds of force feeding are
described in chapter five. The remaining chapters concern the
likely socio-economic consequences of any changes whose aim
is to improve the welfare of the birds, suggestions for future
research and conclusions. Finally, there is a list of references
quoted in the report.'
Human welfare, animal welfare
Bullfighting supporters quite often criticize animal welfare and
animal rights supporters (I don't give arguments here for
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animal rights supporters (I don't give arguments here for
preferring one form of words or the other but I describe myself as
involved in 'animal welfare,' not 'animal rights') for neglecting
human welfare and human rights. More often than not, I would
think, the bullfighting supporters haven't been very energetic
themselves in furthering human welfare and human rights (they
may have been too busy watching and reading about bulls being
slowly put to death.) If one person has done little or nothing to
reduce human suffering but a great deal to reduce animal
suffering, whilst another person has done little or nothing to
reduce human suffering or animal suffering, then I think that the
moral advantage in this respect, if not necessarily in all respects,
lies with the former.
Another common criticism made by bullfighting supporters: you
oppose bullfighting but you eat meat! This particular criticism
can't be made of me - I've been a vegetarian for over thirty
years. I'd wish to defend meat-eating bullfighting opponents,
though. The argument used in the previous paragraph is
applicable here, in modified form. I doubt if there are many
vegetarian bullfighting supporters. I don't have the results of any
meticulous surveys but I would think that almost every one eats
meat. If one person eats meat and opposes the cruelty of the
bullfight and another person eats meat and supports the bullfight,
then the moral advantage in this respect lies with the former.
If someone eats meat but takes care to eat meat from animals
which have been humanely reared and humanely killed, then at
least this is to observe the basic standards of animal husbandry
and slaughter. There are abuses and imperfections in
slaughterhouses, sometimes substantial, but at least it can be
claimed that in a modern, well-regulated system, an attempt is
made to ensure that slaughter is instantaneous and painless.
Slaughter in the bull-ring is in anything but controlled conditions.
It's impossible to ensure that the sword is placed so as to ensure
instantaneous death. The bullfighter is often terrified of being
gored as the sword goes in, so that the 'aim' is far from accurate.
For whatever reason, again and again, the sword strikes bone,
or is embedded in an animal which is still very much alive. If
slaughter in the modern abattoir falls short of the ideal,
sometimes very much so, then slaughter in the bull-ring is vastly
more objectionable.
Bullfighting apologists in my experience are usually fond of very
short, supposedly conclusive but not at all conclusive arguments,
such as this objection to meat-eating bullfight opponents. They're
not nearly so good at addressing a very wide range of issues in
depth, in detail.
Other forms of bullfighting
On this page, I discuss the 'corrida,' the form of bullfighting
practised in Spain, the bullfighting countries of Latin America and
Southern France. Southern France has other forms of
bullfighting as well and Portugal has its own form of bullfight.
A page which gives useful information about the Portuguese
bullfight and is well written, although with typographic errors.
Quotations below are from this page.
The Portuguese bullfight is less objectionable than the corrida
but is barbaric and activists do well to oppose it.
The Portuguese bullfight is far from being bloodless. As in the
corrida, the bull is stabbed with six banderillas and these are
heavier than the ones used in the Spanish bullfight. This phase
of the bullfight is brutal. The bull isn't killed in the arena, but it is
killed later, and it may well wait for slaughter, suffering from its
wounds, until the next morning or longer.
Horses in the Portuguese bullfight in general suffer far, far less
than in the corrida but the risk of severe injury and death is
always present.
'The horses themselves, a cross of Arab and English
thoroughbred, are animals of great beauty, quite unlike the
horses in the Spanish bullfight, who are there primarily to be
gored by the bull, and consequently, are beat-up old nags that
can barely carry their mounts on a hot afternoon.' [Although
horses are often gored in the Spanish bullfight, they aren't there
'primarily to be gored by the bull,' but they are there to be
charged by the bull, hit by the bull and lifted by the bull, with all
that this implies when the bull moves so fast and weighs about
half a tonne.]
Even so, the horses in the Portuguese bullfight are terrorized:
'[a difficulty which] the horseman overcomes is the fear of his
horse. Anyone who rides horses will know that courage is not
one of the virtues of the animal, which shies even from a pile of
rubble at the side of the road. Imagine, then, the control
necessary to get this nervous animal to ride toward a charging,
half-ton hulk of bull. Naturally, use of the spurs is necessary, and
even the best of the horsemen leave unaesthetic patches of
blood on the sides of their mounts from repeated spurring.'
In fact, the dangers to horses in Portuguese bullfights are similar
to the dangers of the horses of the rejoneadors in Spanish
bullfights. This film shows what may happen to them:
Pamplona: a proposal
Efforts to carry out reform or to abolish abuses are always more
difficult when reform or abolition involves an opponent which has
great economic power. There is, of course, no linkage between
economic power and powerful ethical arguments in favour. The
fighting in the Roman amphitheatres brought economic benefits
but required abolition. The festival of San Fermin at Pamplona
involves not just bull running but bull-fighting. Scenes from
bullfights at Pamplona are shown below.
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One of the bulls which ran at Pamplona earlier in the day. The
sword-thrust (or perhaps multiple sword-thrusts) failed to kill it,
as usual, and the animal is finished off with a dagger.
Acknowledgments: Maroc's photostream
Another scene from the San Fermin Festival, Pamplona:
spearing the bull and terrifying the horse, or worse (but referred
to by aficionados as the 'tercio de varas,' the first stage of the
Acknowledgments: Elarequi61's photostream
And another scene from the San Fermin Festival, Pamplona:
stabbing the bull with the banderillas (the second stage of the
bullfight, the 'tercio de banderillas.')
Acknowledgments: Rufino Lasaosa's photostream
A San Fermin festival at Pamplona without the bullfight, a
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A San Fermin festival at Pamplona without the bullfight, a
festival without the killing, would do a very great deal for the
reputation of Pamplona and the reputation of Spain. The people
who have a riotous party at Pamplona and turn their backs on
the bullfighter are on the right lines. If only Pamplona could
transform itself during its festival into a place of drinking, high
spirits, song, debauchery and general excess until the early
hours or day and night, a place where there's still the thunder of
hooves and people taking their chance with the bulls, but without
the barbarity.
This isn't to suggest that having a party and running with the
bulls, or watching other people run with the bulls, has anything
like the significance so often claimed. These are unimportant
rather than important, except for the people who take part. The
importance of Pamplona is primarily importance for the local
economy. Pamplona shares the narcissistic exaggeration which
is the 'soul' of bullfighting. As for the risks to life, running with the
bulls, like fighting bulls, is a low-risk activity.
For those who want it, running of the bulls could take place, just
as now, offering exactly the same experience, and there could
be bloodless bullfights in the arena, like the ones in Southern
France, or activities involving bulls such as the 'Recortes.'
A recortador in action
Many animal welfarists would object, claiming, perhaps, that the
bulls would be stressed, but I wouldn't. Better this by far than any
corrida. Animal welfare, like politics, is the art of the possible.
Animal welfare, like politics, is an area where perfectionism is
likely to delay effective reform, perhaps for ever, rather than
advance it. Reformers, like mountaineers, can attempt near-
impossible objectives or objectives that seem impossible but
which aren't so. But working for a world in which all living things
are without stress, all living things are happy, is to attempt the
'HillmanMinx,' an uncompromising opponent of bullfighting,
included this in one of his comments on a Website: 'I've been to
the Pamplona bull run myself - Spain is fascinating, and bulls will
always be part of their culture, but it takes little imagination to
see that that could continue to be so without the savage cruelty
inflicted on the animals.'
Alexander Fiske-Harrison, writing on his other blog, 'The
Pamplona Post,' writes something remarkable, for once:
'I forget whether it was Stephen Ibarra or Rick Musica, those
pillars of Pamplona, who said that if they took the bulls away
from the feria, but kept the people, they’d still come, but if they
took away the people, it wouldn’t be worth it for the bulls alone.'
I don't think people would come in large numbers to a bull-free
Pamplona but they would certainly come in large numbers to a
bullfight-free Pamplona (a 'corrida-free Pamplona,' that is, a
Pamplona where no bulls were killed in the bullring.) A Pamplona
which offered thrills, excitement, riotous living and took away the
abject barbarity would be worth supporting. As it is, no humane
person should support the San Fermin festival.
The probability of a Pamplona with bull-running but no bull-
fighting is probably remote, but if other towns offered bull-running
but no bullfighting (except perhaps for bloodless bullfighting or
activities such as 'Recortes,' these towns could attract many,
many people who attend the San Fermin festival at Pamplona
but who have qualms about the cruelty of the corrida, or no
interest in the corrida. They could offer real competition to
Pamplona. Eventually, the economic arguments for Pamplona
too abolishing corridas could become very strong.
There are many, many towns and cities in bullfighting areas
which could obtain great financial benefits by offering a festival
similar to the San Fermin festival, but without the cruelty.
Carcassonne in France would be a strong contender, I think. The
town introduced corridas not so very long ago. It would gain
rather than lose economically if it abolished them and began to
offer a festival of the bulls without killing of the bulls. The
appearance of the town would certainly be an advantage:
It might be expected that Spanish towns and cities
would be particularly resistant to bull-running without
corridas, certainly in areas like Andalucia, but the
Spanish financial crisis has made the chances of
success greater.
Bullfighting and the Spanish financial crisis was the
subject of an article published in 'The Times' recently
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subject of an article published in 'The Times' recently
(4 June). A good article, not sympathetic to
bullfighting. (Notice the mention of 'the prolonged
agony that ends with the estocada (sword thrust.)'
‘… The crisis that has pushed Spain to the brink of financial ruin
has produced (arguably) an unlikely winner – the fighting bull …
'Rather than ending their lives at the hands of a matador in the
ring, increasing numbers of toros bravos are being slaughtered
for their meat, a quick exit in an abattoir that is seen as
somewhat kinder to[than] the prolonged agony that ends with
the estocada (sword thrust).
'Since the financial crisis began, the number of bullfights has
fallen by 46 per cent, from 2,177 in 2007 to 1,177 last year,
according to government figures, a decline partly attributable to
cultural changes but accelerated by economic decline.
'The cost of going to a bullfight has put off many fans … Local
councils, which traditionally have paid for bullfights during civic
festivals, have cut back on such expenditures. And the high cost
of raising a fighting bull … has hit breeders …
' "We are looking for other sources of business,” Carlos Nunez,
president of the Association of Fighting Bull Breeders, said. “We
hope we can bring in tourists to see the bulls.” …’
Andalucia's economic problems are severe. 'The Atlantic' gives a
brief account which includes this:
'82.1 percent of 16 to 19 year-olds and 63.1 percent of 20 to 24
years looking for work can't find it. In total, 66.4 percent of
people under 25 are unemployed.'
This site isn't in the least a single issue site and although I
concentrate on bullfighting on this page, understandably enough,
it's not to the exclusion of other issues. I make this completely
clear. The Spanish financial crisis isn't important only in its
effects on bullfighting. The Spanish financial crisis is important,
obviously, for a whole host of reasons. This is one of them:
extreme financial difficulty - and the crisis may become worse,
immeasurably worse - will often be the precursor of extreme
political instability, instability which may even lead to wars. This
is one of the extreme dangers facing Europe as a whole, far
more than a very remote possibility for Europe as a whole, which
everyone must hope will never materialize. Politicians and others
have to do more than hope, however: they have to take
decisions, often very difficult decisions.
It's impossible to generalize. There are Spanish people living
very pampered, very wasteful lives - aficionados amongst them -
for whom it's impossible to feel any sympathy if they suffer
hardship. There are also many, many good people in Spain -
active opponents of bullfighting amongst them - who face
extreme hardship, and many good causes in Spain likewise, and
not just the anti-bullfighting causes.
The duties of Spanish politicians aren't in the least confined to
issues to do with bullfighting and taking steps to abolish
bullfighting is only one issue with which they should be
concerned. This is an elementary consideration. Opponents of
bullfighting have to take care not to overlook or to minimize the
responsibilities and skills of politicians, which obviously include
matters such as taxation policy, planning policy, fiscal
regulation, defence expenditure, and so much else.
Financial and economic considerations have an impact on
bullfighting but the decline of bullfighting and the defeat of
bullfighting interests have to be based on more secure grounds.
Otherwise, the ending of the financial crisis in Spain could end
this particular threat to bullfighting.
Ethical issues remain paramount. Pamplona's bullfighting
connections bring it great economic benefit, but the same can be
said of many morally flawed and morally disastrous practices.
From a very different sphere, a flood of imports of cheap
clothing, produced by badly paid, in fact, exploited workers,
many of them children, has economic benefits for many people.
Again, these are elementary considerations.
I resist completely any suggestion that in situations of crisis, only
issues which are relevant to the crisis are important. Unless it
becomes more or less impossible, interest in the full range of
human issues (which include issues to do with animals) should
continue as before. There are many historical examples to show
that this has been the case. The stupendous cultural
achievements of 5th century Athens were achieved despite the
fact that Athens fought the Peloponnesian War. The fact that
Athens' survival was so often in doubt didn't lead to any ignoring
of architecture, drama and other fields. During the Second World
War, many, many books were published in Britain which had
nothing to do with the winning of the war or Britain's fight for
survival - books on poetry and so much else.
Similarly with events in other countries. The atrocities and
suffering in Syria don't consign the struggle to end bullfighting to
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 deeply
misguided. In 'the marketplace of ideas,' I regard anti-bullfighting
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arguments as decisively, overwhelmingly superior to pro-
bullfighting arguments. 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, Islamists and
others. A bookshop should be under no pressure to deny shelf-
space to books which criticize political correctness, Islam and
bullfighting and books which support political correctness, Islam
and bullfighting, and similarly for other issues. 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 is given below. 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
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.' 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
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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
This is very much 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 an intensely 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.') The rallying cry 'no platform for ...' was applied to Sir
Ian Blair, the former Metropolitan Commissioner of Police (by an
Indymedia Website) when he came to give a talk at Sussex
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
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. Supporting
freedom of expression - the general principle - is vital.
The context includes this: 'A talk organised ... by the Queen Mary
[University of London] Atheism, Secularism and Humanism
Society on ‘Sharia Law and Human Rights’ had to be cancelled
after threats of violence.' Information from the excellent site which promotes freedom of speech in
universities. The site reports the President of the Atheism,
Secularism and Humanism Society and the statement issued by
The Principal of Queen Mary College in support of free
The President of the Society:
‘Five minutes before the talk was due to start a man burst into
the room holding a camera phone and for some seconds stood
filming the faces of all those in the room. He shouted ‘listen up all
of you, I am recording this, I have your faces on film now, and I
know where some of you live’, at that moment he aggressively
pushed the phone in someone’s face and then said ‘and if I hear
that anything is said against the holy Prophet Mohammed, I will
hunt you down.’ He then left the room and two members of the
audience applauded.
‘The same man then began filming the faces of Society members
in the foyer and threatening to hunt them down if anything was
said about Mohammed, he added that he knew where they lived
and would murder them and their families. On leaving the
building, he joined a large group of men, seemingly there to
support him.'
The Principal of the College:
'Professor Simon Gaskell, Principal of Queen Mary, University of
London said: "We are concerned about reports of a disturbance
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London said: "We are concerned about reports of a disturbance
at a recent meeting of the Atheism, Secularism and Humanism
' "The democratic right to freedom of expression and debate is
one Queen Mary strongly upholds and promotes. Talks,
meetings and debates are held peacefully at Queen Mary on a
daily basis and we will continue to host such events.
' "We are equally committed to our duty of care to students. A
police investigation of Monday night's incident is currently
underway and Queen Mary will conduct its own review. We will
do our utmost to ensure this occurrence is not repeated and that
our students are able to gather and engage in debate freely
without interference of any kind." '
In this 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
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
Bullfighting and tourists
Here, I discuss only on aspect - the promotion of bullfighting in
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Here, I discuss only on aspect the promotion of bullfighting in
tourist guidebooks, their lazy-minded endorsement, sometimes
by writers who should know better. The Madrid guide by Anthony
Ham is one example. From http://www.all-
'The Guide gives ticket agencies for the purchase of bullfighting
tickets and where to find a bullfighting museum. Although it
quotes polls saying that 75% of Spaniards have no interest in the
sport, there is no mention of the large and growing anti-
bullfighting movement spreading through Spain.
'The only attempt to show the “other side” is the question “An
epic drama of blood and sand or a cruel blood “sport” that has no
place in modern Europe? (Page 221)
'But the Madrid guide makes it obvious where the ‘Lonely Planet’
stands on the question of bullfighting. At the very beginning of
the guide a picture is chosen featuring the interior of a pro-
bullfighting restaurant concentrating on bullfighting memorabilia.
'They also write: ‘Nothing can exceed the gaiety and sparkle of a
Spanish public going eager and full-dressed to the fight’ (Page
101) ‘at once picturesque, compelling theatre and an ancient
ritual that sees 30,000 bulls killed in 17,000 bullfights each year
in Spain.’ (Page 222)
'Tony Moore, Chairman of FAACE, wrote to the Editor on the 7th
of January 2009 saying
'Your writer would be better employed making a good job of
researching what is a very controversial subjecting instead of
repeating the same old staid clichés. One wonders if he is just
lazy or in the pocket of the bullfighting industry.
'You are doing no favors to Spain; they want to break away from
the outdated and cruel picture that bullfighting paints.
ask you to make sure that when the subject of bullfighting is
mentioned in one of your travel guides, if you do not condemn it,
at least you should not promote it!
There was no reply to his letter.
The author of the guidebook wrote this, but not as part of the
guidebook. It was written in 2006 but the situation seems not to
have improved - for bullfighting's defenders, that is - since then.
For one thing, they have been defeated in Barcelona and the
rest of Catalonia. They've made attempts to minimize the ban on
bullfighting and explain it away but there's evidence that when it
did happen, it was regarded as a severe setback.
'That bullfighting should become a thing of the past in separatist
Barcelona is less important than that public apathy is taking hold
in Madrid, Valencia and Andalusia, Spain's bastions of
bullfighting. "Before, you put up a poster and the people came,"
says Juan Carlos Beca Belmonte, the manager of Madrid's Las
Ventas bullring, Spain's most prestigious plaza de toros. "Now
we are the ones who have to chase after the crowd." Luis
Corrales, president of the Platform in Defence of the Bull
Festival, says: "There used to be only bullfighting or soccer, or
maybe a movie. But now there are so many other leisure
choices." Spanish state television, mindful of the corrida's
diminishing appeal, has also cut by almost one-third the air time
it devotes to bullfighting, and many private channels no longer
broadcast from the ring. The concomitant fall in advertising
revenues is exacerbating the financial crisis confronting bullring
operators, who must pay up to $50,000 for a full quota of bulls
and as much as $575,000 for a top matador and his entourage
for a single corrida. To break even for each fight, promoters must
sell at least 75 per cent of seats. At one level, rumours of
bullfighting's demise are premature, for this remains a
multimillion-dollar industry that employs 150,000 Spaniards.
Every year, Spain's 60 major bullrings draw about 20 million
spectators who pay $1.35 billion into the industry's coffers. The
mid-May Fiesta de San Isidro in Madrid, which heralds the start
of Spain's most important bullfighting season, is a major social
event where the great and good of Spain gather to be seen in
illustrious company. Matadors, defined by their statuesque
grace, dazzling traje de luces (suit of lights) and glamorous
lifestyles, are national celebrities whose private lives are
dissected by Spain's scandalised and scandalous prensa rosa
(pink press). But the fact that the average Spaniard is now more
likely to know a bullfighter's face from the pages of a magazine
than they are to have seen him in the bullring reinforces the
widely held view that bullfighting's glory days have passed. The
figures that attest to the size of the industry also conceal the
serious financial difficulties that confront almost every major
bullring. Even members of the bullfighting fraternity admit that
they no longer stand at the centre of Spanish life. "My goal is for
bullfighting to form a part of today's society, instead of remaining
on the margins," says Alejandro Seaz, a Spanish businessman
and bullfighting promoter. Of far greater concern for supporters
of bullfighting are two simple, telling statistics: the average
spectator at Las Ventas bullring in Madrid is a fiftysomething
male and just 17 per cent of Spaniards younger than 24 say that
they are at least "somewhat interested" in bullfighting. In an
attempt to attract a younger generation of bullfighting
aficionados, and in order to pay the bills, promoters have been
forced to transform the amphitheatre-style bullrings into
multipurpose arenas. Bullfights now share the stage with rock
concerts, and sanitised performances akin to circuses (where the
bulls are not killed and acrobats leap over the bulls' horns) have
begun to replace the traditional battle to the death between man
and beast. In Valencia, ticket prices, which for keynote bullfights
can run as high as $200, have been slashed, cocktail bars
installed and free glossy magazines handed out so as to widen
the corrida's appeal. In the largely conservative world of
bullfighting, however, resistance remains to the idea that the
tradition must reinvent itself. The corrida is an essential pillar of
Spanish cultural identity, their argument runs, and something
quintessentially Spanish would be forever lost were bullfighting
forced to change. According to Jose Maria Garcia-Lujan, a
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forced to change. According to Jose Maria Garcia Lujan, a
lawyer involved in the running of Las Ventas: "They don't like to
touch anything, lest the magic wear off". There are nonetheless
signs that the magic may have already worn off for an industry
showing the unmistakeable signs of permanent decline.
Increasingly abandoned by younger Spaniards, tarnished by
sordid kiss-and-tell scandals and suddenly peripheral in the
country of its birth, bullfighting is being forced to ask whether it
can survive as a viable tradition beyond the current generation of
aficionados. The question has been asked before, not least by
Hemingway, one of bullfighting's most trenchant defenders, who
wrote in the 1930s: "How long the bullfight survives as a lynchpin
of Spanish life probably depends on whether the majority of the
population thinks it makes them feel good." Whether because
bullfighting no longer makes Spaniards feel good or simply
because they have better things to do with their time, the answer
has never been less certain.'
I don't use trends and opinion polls to argue against bullfighting,
but I think that the opinions here help to explain why defenders
of bullfighting are worried.
Some defenders of bullfighting
Alexander Fiske-Harrison: The Baboon and Bull
Killing Club
Not Alexander Fiske-Harrison but José Tomás: the bullfight as
horror film. (Acknowledgments:
Alexander Fiske-Harrison decided that to understand bullfighting
and to understand himself, he had to kill a bull. He trained with
bullfighters and has now killed a bull, or, to be precise, mortally
wounded a bull. What he did was to stab a bull repeatedly. It
was finished off by someone else, a bullfighter called Rafaelillo.
Alexander Fiske-Harrison's first sword-thrust struck bone. His
second sword-thrust struck bone. His third sword-thrust was
'behind the proper killing spot.' His helper swung his cape on one
side of the bull and then he swung his muleta on the other side,
the standard technique of making the bull turn this way and that,
so that the sword embedded deep in his body would move
around and sever some vital organ: a hideous way of trying to
ensure death, and very often completely unsuccessful. He was
reassured to find that 'the bull was dying. I could see his legs
shaking now.' And 'Rafaelillo came over with the descabello
sword to sever the nervous link between brain and spinal
column.' In the professional bullring, a long time may elapse
between the first sword thrust and the stabbing with the
descabello. The book gives no indication of the time it took for
the wounded bull to die.
This killing was regarded as outstanding. He writes, 'please note
that two misses, pinchazos [hitting bone with the sword] followed
by a killing strike on your first animal is absolutely unheard of ...'
The death of the first animal is usually much more messy and
protracted. The death of bulls at the hands of the most
experienced bullfighters is often messy and protracted.
In the Prologue of 'Into the Arena' he writes of bullfighting,
'When it was done well, it seemed a good thing; when done
badly it was an unmitigated sin.' On his blog, he gives great
prominence to this: 'I can't think of many spectacles in the world
which are evil when done badly but good when done well.' 'But
he knew for certain that his own performance would be without
'artistry,' the people who came to watch him - nearly a hundred
of them, including his parents - knew that it would be without
artistry. In the Prologue, he writes of bullfighting, By this
principle, he has to regard his own fight and killing as an
'unmitigated sin' or 'evil.' Alexander Fiske-Harrison, the other
bullfighters present and the spectators, including Alexander
Fiske-Harrison's parents, were all morally culpable.
He was about to kill a bull and the spectators were about to
witness a killing which couldn't even be justified by the warped
reasoning of bullfighting supporters (as I see it), a killing by
someone who would never make a 'career' out of his
performance, someone who was killing for the sake of his inner
compulsions and his book, and death for the bull which was
unlikely to be instantaneous and in the event wasn't at all quick,
even if quicker than many of the long-drawn out deaths which
shame Spain, France and the other countries of the corrida.
The death he planned to inflict had no justifications of necessity -
other than the satisfaction of his inner compulsion, and of
course the book. Whilst running in Seville he injures his knee,
although he can still flex it, but he decides that his fight couldn't
be postponed. 'Rescheduling that many people - and by which I
mean those intrinsic to the fight - simply could not be done in the
near future, certainly not within the projected publication date of
the book.'
After the killing, he becomes very thoughtful. A bullfighter asks
him, 'What did you feel?'
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'I tried to answer, 'Mi corazón esturo con el toro muerto en la
plaza. ['My heart was with the dead bull in the ring.'] I just wanted
to go and sit with him in the ring with a bottle of whisky. Only he
understood now.'
I believe that Alexander Fiske-Harrison is making a film about
bullfighting. He could consider a dramatic adaptation of this
scene - the words softly spoken, accompanied by sentimental,
sloppy music. He could consider this title for the drama, a long
one, but, there are longer: 'Only the dead bull understands the
one who kills him.'
To imagine that to understand killing it's necessary to kill - this
is a crude, cruel and disastrously misguided notion of
understanding. To understand the mind of a different kind of
killer, a murderer, one uses reflection, insight and other qualities
of the mind, one doesn't kill someone, of course. Dostoevsky's
incomparable insights into the mind of the murderer Raskolnikov
in 'Crime and Punishment' was achieved by these means.
Another crude, cruel and disastrously misguided notion of
understanding: A A Gill, a restaurant critic, claimed that he shot a
baboon 'to get a sense of what it might be like to kill someone ...
What does it really feel like to shoot someone, or someone's
close relative?' He wrote (in 'The Sunday Times') 'I took him just
below the armpit. He slumped and slid sideways. I'm told they
can be tricky to shoot: they run up trees, hang on for grim life.
They die hard, baboons. But not this one. A soft-nosed .357 blew
his lungs out.'
The Club Taurino of London caters for the depraved tastes of the
aficionado-voyeur, who feels the psychological need to watch
killing. I offer an argument in moral philosophy which I've called,
for convenience, The Argument from The Baboon and Bull
Killing Club. Defenders of bullfighting very often claim that
watching bullfighting is justifiable because the kind of experience
available to the spectators outweighs the suffering of the
animals. (Many defenders of bullfighting argue - or simply
assume - that animals can't suffer, as in the case of those who
maintain that 'animals have no souls.' These individuals are
mentioned in 'Into the Arena.') Alexander Fiske-Harrison and A
A Gill believe that killing an animal - a bull and a baboon in their
case - is justified on account of the kind of experience which they
gained. Presumably, many, many other people would also have
similar experiential benefits if they too killed an animal? If their
example were imitated, and many, many animals were killed for
the sake of the experience (provided it were legal in the country)
would they approve or disapprove? I believe, of course, that their
whim, craving, need, whatever it may be, is far from harmless
and not to be imitated. In the case of killing for these reasons,
and watching killing as a spectator, the moral arguments against
are decisive, it seems to me. It would be morally wrong to set up
a Club for killers of animals, but clubs such as the Club Taurino
of London, which cater for spectators of killing and which foster
and encourage public killing of animals, are morally unjustifiable
Giles Coren, another restaurant critic, and a defender of
bullfighting, has fantasized about killing. He posted this on twitter
"Next door have bought their 12-year-old son a drum kit. For
fuck's sake! Do I kill him then burn it? Or do I fuck him, then kill
him then burn it?" These thoughts would have been better left
buried in his consciousness ... not everything that is thought
should be spoken, not everything that is spoken should be
published. (But see also my discussion of freedom of
Alexander Fiske-Harrison is a friend of Giles Coren. His blog
shows the two comrades watching a bullfight. If Alexander Fiske-
Harrison's defence of bullfighting seems far more sophisticated
than that of his fellow enthusiast, appearances are deceptive.
He's got ample reserves of simple-mindedness too.
This is one of the milder examples. The quote is from Mark
Rowland's review in 'The Times Literary Supplement,' a review
which seems to have enraged AF-H:
'After being present at the killing of a bull in practice, Fiske-
Harrison gets blood on his hands. He writes: ‘I went straight to
Flaherty’s, Seville’s Irish pub … and ordered a large glass of
Johnny Walker, sitting staring at it with the blood from the great,
dead bull staining my hands pink and my nails black. It took days
to wash out.’
'This does seem a little narcissistic ... While having no direct
experience of the blood of a recently deceased Spanish bull, I
would be very surprised if it were that difficult to remove from
one’s hands. And, so I cannot allay the suspicion that Fiske-
Harrison is sitting in the bar with blood on his hands because he
enjoys it, his little red badge of courage.'
Victor Hugo wrote, 'It is good to wash one's hands, but to prevent
blood from being spilled on them would be better.' ('The Last Day
of a Condemned Man.') The reference isn't to bullfighting, but the
words are apposite.
The photograph at the beginning of this section shows the
matador Jose Tomás in action (the blood here is from the bull,
not his own). Alexander Fiske-Harrison has things to say about
Jose Tomas and blood in the book, seemingly oblivious of his
own milder obsession.
He writes of the matador, 'He divided the aficionados ... the
reason I had most often heard is that he fights with 'demisiado
sangre', 'too much blood', and by blood, they mean his own.
Even a cursory glance through the press cuttings of his bullfights
shows his face and body drenched in blood like something from
a Jacobean tragedy.' Or a horror film.
Haematophilia is a form of fetishism - an intense interest, often of
a sexual kind, in blood. The bullfight as blood fetishism - this is a
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a sexual kind, in blood. The bullfight as blood fetishism
neglected area of research.
One of the quotations which precede the Prologue is this,
simple-minded, pompous and inflated rather than deeply
impressive, surely:
Ser un torero es como hablar con Dios
[To be a bullfighter is like talking to God]
Eduardo Dávila Miura (matador)
He has some insight into the cruelty of the bullfight, but his lack
of insight into 'the sick and decadent claims to importance, the
romanticized exaggeration, the flagrant myth-making,' as I put it
in the introduction, is obvious.
This is an inbred world, generally oblivious of the achievements -
including achievements that require enormous courage - of the
world outside, achievements which vastly surpass those of the
bullfighters. Alexander Fiske-Harrison settles into this world of
extreme {restriction}, despite the moral qualms he advertises
occasionally, and long before the end of the book he seems to
be at complete ease there. But throughout, as early as the
book's Prologue, Alexander Fiske-Harrison can be as uncritical
as any bullfighting slob who ever slouched on a bullring cushion.
In his account of the bullring in Seville, of the first bullfight he
witnessed, he gives us this: 'The gate was opened ... by Manolo
Artero, a stout middle-aged man, who shouted to the rustling
crowd the words he had shouted for thirty years: 'Silence! A man
risks his life here today.' How impressive the words of Manolo
Artero sound to bullfighting supporters, how stupid to other
people, ones with a healthy sense of the ridiculous and an
appreciation of equally dangerous acts or far more dangerous
acts. The last fatality in this ring was in 1992. This was the last
fatality in any bullring in Spain.
Later in the book, he writes, of a small bullring, 'It is not a place
where one would wish to be gored by a bull. How good, I
wonder, is the local doctor and how far is the nearest hospital? it
is the length of the journey to the hospital that kills the matador
as much as the bull's horns.
For injured mountaineers, on the other hand, the hospital is
much further. Above, I write,
'On high mountains, the ferocity of the winds and blizzards often
make a rescue from outside impossible until it is too late. Rescue
facilities are well organized in the Alps, not at all in the
Himalayas and the Andes. Even in the Alps, bad weather can
delay rescue for days, or rescue may be impossible. For the
mountaineer, safety and medical help are generally far, far
Mountaineers don't have the comforting knowledge that an
equivalent of the 'Burladero' is close by. There are a number of
these convenient things around the bullring. John McCormick:
'Burladero: a narrow wooden shield ... permitting the torero to
slip to safety when necessary but wide enough for the toro not to
pursue him.'
Again and again, Alexander Fiske-Harrison stresses the death-
defying exploits of bullfighters, completely oblivious, it seems, to
something else which he wrote in the book (published in 2011):
' ... no torero has died in the ring in Spain since 1992.' The
bullring isn't, it seems, anything like the deathtrap commonly
portrayed by bullfighting apologists.
I don't have an exact figure for the number of bullfights which
took place in that period of not far short of twenty years (taking
account of the time between writing and publication, of course)
but it will probably have been in excess of 17 000, with the death
of at least 100 000 bulls. And the number of bullfighters killed in
that period, by his account: 0. Whether the bull has been a bull of
the Saltillo breed, the Miura breed (described by Alexander
Fiske-Harrison as 'the bulls of death') or some other breed,
including the taurine equivalent of mongrels, whether the bull has
been massive, heavy and powerful or tiny, in taurine terms.
whether the bullfighter has had long experience in taurine
slaughter or virtually none, whether the bullfighter is amateur,
like Alexander Fiske-Harrison, or professional, not one bullfighter
has been killed in all that long period.
An appreciative piece by Victoria Aitken on the site includes this: 'the book is extremely well
researched' and 'According to Fiske-Harrison's research, one in
four matadors die in the ring.' There's no mention of this
particular piece of 'research' in the book. If she had taken the
trouble to read the book, all the book, she would have found that
there's no mention of it at all, only a mention of the complete lack
of fatalities. I haven't been able to find any mention of the 'one in
four' statistics anywhere but Victoria Aitken's piece. Alexander
Fiske-Harrison needs to present evidence and to explain himself.
Unless he can come up with convincing evidence, which seems
very unlikely, the claim seems justified that bullfighters risk
serious injury in the bullring but not to any significant extent
death: the courage needed to face the risk of serious injury is
less than the courage needed to face death. Aristotle writes
succinctly about degrees of courage in the Nicomachean Ethics
(III, 115a, 25.)
'What, then, are the fearful things which concern the courageous
person? The most fearful of all ... now the most fearful of all is
death ... '
περὶ ποῖα οὖν τῶν φοβερῶν
ὁ ἀνδρεῖος; ἢ περὶ τὰ µέγιστα;
... φοβερώτατον δ᾽ ὁθάνατος:
Alexander Fiske-Harrison refers to bulls which refuse to play the
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Alexander Fiske Harrison refers to bulls which refuse to play the
game (not his words) and fight but a striking omission from the
book is any discussion of tampering with the bull before the fight,
a notorious way of reducing the danger to the bullfighter. One
method of tampering or doctoring, sawing off the tips of the
horns, 'afeitado' in Spanish, is referred to in the report of Antonio
Lorca in the newspaper ABC, published in 2008 and referring to
bullfighting in Seville: 'At first sight they looked like bulls, with
long hoofs, and horns looking suspiciously doctored, but in
reality they were kittens.' Bruce Schoenfeld, a bullfighting
enthusiast, writes of bullfights in Seville, 'The trappings remain
the same year after year. Unfortunately, so does the deplorable
condition of many of the bulls fought in Sevilla. Because the so-
called sophisticated crowds here want to see artistic bullfighting,
breeders send animals that are smaller, less dangerous and
theoretically easier to work with ... In actuality, bulls in Sevilla
often come out weak and docile, tiring so easily that sometimes
they simply fall down on their own accord, even without a sword
thrust.' This seems a very naive comment for someone who has
written so much about bullfighting. He seems not to acknowledge
the distinct possibility, or likelihood, that the bulls are so weak
and docile and tire so easily because they have been subjected
before entering the ring to one or other of the standard methods
of ensuring that the bull is weak, docile and tires easily.
Jérôme Lescure's very disturbing film entitled 'A Two Hour
Killing (commentary in French, the images overwhelming) shows
sawing of the horns being performed, followed by monstrous
cruelties in corridas in five places in the South of France. (You
may need to scroll down a little way to locate the arrow button
you click on to start the film.) The cruelties include the use of
capes to make the bull turn its head from side to side, in the
hope of making the sword embedded in the animal cut a vital
organ - the same technique used in Alexander Fiske-Harrison's
debut as a would-be bull-killer - and the severing of the spine
when this fails to work. In the film, the bulls are stabbed with a
dagger rather than the descabello, the sword which was used to
end the life of Conséjote after Alexander Fiske-Harrison had
finished stabbing him.
The man performing the sawing and reshaping in the film says
'Afeitado, c' est interdit, mais tout le monde le fait,' 'Afeitado is
forbidden but everyone does it.' (The 'everyone' is obviously
hyperbolic.) Another method of tampering with the bull is
administration of massive doses of sulphates or salt.
I sent this next paragraph to him, for posting in the comments
section of the site he uses for promotion of 'Into the Arena' and
discussion of its themes.
‘ 'Afeitado,’ as you know, is the practice of sawing off the horn
tips of the bull, the action disguised by further work. (The video
‘A two-hour killing’ shows it being performed on a bull before a
French bullfight.) Like other well known practices, not universal
but common, such as the dosing of the bull with a substance of
one kind or another, afeitado decreases the risk to the bullfighter
substantially. Illustration 13 in your book ‘Into the Arena’ shows
you fighting the bull which you later killed – or rather the
bullfighter Rafaelillo killed, by severing the spine, after you had
made repeated attempts to kill the bull with your sword. The
photograph shows clearly that the tips of this bull’s horns are
missing [I missed this when I first looked at the photograph. It
was the anti-bullfighting campaigner 'HillmanMinx' who noticed
the missing horn tips, on a Web photograph], not only making it
more difficult for the bull to fight but reducing the risk of serious
injury to you, blunt horns obviously having much less penetrating
power than sharp horns. Do you have a comment? Were the
horns of this bull sawn before your fight to make the horns blunt,
was this bull chosen for your fight because it had these blunt
horns, or is there another explanation? I write as an opponent of
This material was 'awaiting moderation' for some time but
eventually, the information was given that it had been 'deleted.'
So he decided not to bring the matter to the attention of his
readers and he decided that he had no need to answer the
questions, or would rather that he didn't answer the questions. It
seems to me that he fought an incapacitated bull. If he claims
otherwise, then he needs to present evidence and argue his
case - preferably without making the personal smears against
me that he did on this occasion, after the information about
The American aficionado John McCormick writes about afeitado
in his book 'Bullfighting: art, technique and Spanish society:
'Horn shaving (and other abuses to the toro) create a parody of
the fiesta because it upsets the toro's timing, and therefore
allows the torero to take 'risks' that look suicidal but are not so.
' ... the toro is lured into a narrow corral, trussed with ropes to the
point where he is immobile, and 2 or 3 inches (called 'the
diamond') are sawed off each horn with a hack-saw. The entire
horn is then reshaped by filing, including a sharp point, but the
toro has been raped of his life-long training in the precise use of
his horns ... After filing, the horn may be rubbed with mud and
dung to dirty up the dirty work ... Whoever has tried to force pills
down a cat's throat is prepared to appreciate the effect upon the
toro of being trussed by ropes and violated by the saw and the
file; in addition, if the saw cuts too far down, tissue will be torn,
and pain and perhaps fever follow, just as though one were to
cut deeply into the flesh of one's nails.'
He follows this with a comment about the transportation of bulls
to the ring: 'The length of the journey alone, during which the
animals take neither food nor water, weakens them.'
This film (with commentary in French) shows the bull 'lured into a
narrow corral, trussed with ropes to the point where he is
immobile' and then subjected to sawing of the horn tips. The
process is shown towards the end of the film - after a succession
of shocking images, with diagrams which show exactly what the
various stabbing implements (such as the 'rejones de castigo' or
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'lances of punishment') do to the bull. A bull is shown with the
'killing sword' sticking out of its flanks.
Phil Davison writing just before the 1994 bullfighting 'season'
began. There's no evidence that afeitado is any less of an issue
now. '
El afeitado (horn-shaving) has been an unprecedented scandal
this year,' said the then Interior Minister, Jose Luis Corcuera, at
the end of last season. Unprecedented, perhaps, but hardly new.
Permit me to cite the words of another ageing and near burnt-out
scribe written 34 years ago.
' 'To protect the leading matadors, the bulls' horns had been cut
off at the points and then shaved and filed down so that they
looked like real horns. But they were as tender at the points as a
fingernail that has been cut to the quick and if the bull could be
made to bang them against the planks of the barrera, they would
hurt so that he would be careful about hitting anything else. . .
' 'With the length of the horn shortened, the bull lost his sense of
distance, too, and the matador was in much less danger.' Thus
wrote Ernest Hemingway in 1960 in The Dangerous Summer,
hardly his best book but certainly his last. 'A bull whose horns
have been altered is at least 10 times as safe to work and kill as
a bull with its horns intact,' the great man calculated.
'Bullfighting critics' descriptions of individual bulls are
increasingly headed with the euphemism 'sospechoso de
pitones' (suspicion over the horns).'
In Chapter 3, Alexander Fiske-Harrison notes of a cow due to be
fought, ' ... I am surprised to see the farm manager cut the tips of
its horns off with bolt-cutters. When it gets up, blood pumps out
of the horns with little pulses of the heart, like water from a
drinking fountain on an alternating current.' [This is rubbish, of
course. A pump which uses alternating current shows no
difference in its mode of working from one which uses direct
current.] I do not ask why they do this, I merely watch.' Were
bolt-cutters used on the bull which Alexander Fiske-Harrison
took part in killing?
He certainly fought against a bull with blunt horns. No attempt
had been made to reshape the horns and make them pointed,
but it seems clear that this bull was not nearly so dangerous as
he claims, as in the caption which accompanies Illustration 13:
'There are faults here. I am just happy to be alive.'
'British writer risks death in the afternoon' was the title of a
depressingly large number of pieces by writers unaware of the
real level of the risk of death during his fight - very, very low, with
those blunt horns, the horns too of a young and undersized bull.
Even if the horns had been sharp, his survival in the ring would
have been overwhelmingly likely. Where are the fatality statistics
which show that apprentice bullfighters, bullfighters killing their
first bull, are at great risk of death? How many of the reviewers
read all of the book? If they had, they would have found
Alexander Fiske-Harrison's unintentionally revealing fatality
statistics which make the title 'British writer risks death in the
afternoon' ludicrously dramatic.
Bullfighting apologists can easily remember the lost bullfighters,
the mortals but near-immortals whose names resonate with and
impress so many outside the faith - there are so few of them.
Alexander Fiske-Harrison shamelessly aligns himself with these
few. The date was set for his fight to the death, 5 November, and
the time. 'Enrique also decided that the fight should occur at five
o' clock in the afternoon. This being the time mentioned in the
refrain of the García Lorca poem every schoolboy in Spain
knows so well.
A las cinco de la tarde.
Eran las cinco en punto de la tarde.
'At five in the afternoon.
It was at exactly five in the afternoon.'
'Of course, there was something more than a little ominous
about that choice of time for, as the first verse ends:
Lo demás era muerte y sólo muerte
a las cinco de la tarde.
'The rest was death, and death alone
at five in the afternoon.' '
The blunt horns alone, whether cut with bolt-cutters or by some
other means, made this very, very unlikely.
Section 1 of this poem is certainly an artistic failure. The
repetition 23 times of 'at five in the afternoon' is interminable
rather than inexorable. An unsophisticated writer who protested
'at five in the afternoon! We get the point! Now get on with the
poem!' would have a point.
Towards the end of the poem, the mono-culture of Andalucia, for
such people as Lorca, is made clear in all its exhausted and
parochial limitation: the bullfighter as the supreme representative
of this society, or one of the supreme representatives, the
inability to imagine far greater achievement in a different sphere,
perhaps for all time:
'It will be a long time, if ever, before there is born
an Andalusian so true, so rich in adventure'
Alexander Fiske-Harrison's fixation on the alleged dangers to
life of bullfighting becomes more and more wearisome. This is
far from being only his fixation. It pervades the bullfighting world.
He trains with a small calf (an animal less than a year old).
Illustration 27 draws attention to 'the grim determination' on his
He goes to a bullring where his friend Padilla is due to fight. He
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describes the way matadors get out of bed on the day of a
bullfight. 'His focus at the time is completely on his forthcoming
war with Death ...' The bullring is small. He sees Padilla's father,
wife and daughter. 'It seems a strangely cosy place to risk your
life with your family watching.'
Before a bullfight, the matador Cayetano looks at 'the flag of
Spain fluttering above the ring.' Cayetano says, 'That! That is
what I hate.' Not, we're quickly informed, the flag but the wind
that makes it fly. Bullfighting is more dangerous when there's a
wind. Cayetano says, 'The wind, that is what kills you.' This goes
unchallenged by the author, of course. But no bullfighter has
been killed in Spain since 1992, in all meteorological conditions.
If the winds were strong or almost gale force, they made no
In one of the later chapters of the book, the author is with a
matador, Alfonso, due to fight the next day. He talks about
members of his family. This becomes, 'Tomorrow he struggles
with Death, so tonight he struggles with his life.' This would
sound much less impressive is, 'Tomorrow, he struggles with the
possibility that he may become the first fatality in the bullring
since 1992, so tonight he struggles with his life.' If the death of
the bulls is meant, this ought to have been made clear.
On the previous page, he reports his father standing up to the
men who attempted a coup d' état in 1981. They fired into the
air. His father sat with arms folded. 'How did he do that? He was
never a soldier. How? Because when you have fought a bull,
gunfire just becomes one more thing that can kill you. Just one
more among many, and not the most terrifying at that.' Here, as
well as the usual overestimation of the dangers of bullfighting,
there's obviously an underestimation of gunfire.
A few pages later, on the day of the bullfight, 'In Adolfo's hotel
room I join him in the strange silence of a man preparing for war.'
The men about to land on the beaches on D-day against
machine gun fire were preparing for war too, but with the odds
not nearly so favourable.
In Chapter 15, he recounts a visit to an army base on Salisbury
Plain. He arrives in the office of a lieutenant-general, where finds
the office 'running at unusual speed to deal with the fact that a
record number of British servicemen had died earlier that day in
Afghanistan.' The main incident had killed five men at once and
'involved a secondary attack with improvised Explosive Devices
(IEDS).' On the same page, ' ... what struck me most was the
calm manner with which everyone - and I include the rank and
file I met - dealt with the death of comrades and the risk of death
to themselves. It contrasts a great deal with the way people talk
about matadors, and sometimes the way matadors talk about
themselves, even though no torero has died in the ring in Spain
since 1992.' His book is a dramatic confirmation of this. He
indulges in the flagrant exaggeration of danger again and again.
The restraint of these soldiers is conspicuously lacking.
In my section The courage of the bullfighters above I compare
the fatality rate of bullfighters and fatality rates in some other
activities, and point out that bullfighting is much, much less
dangerous than these activities. Alexander Fiske-Harrison
records injuries to bullfighters, and here, his argument has
apparently more substance. Bullfighters would seem to risk
injury, sometimes severe injury. I maintain that accusations of
'cowardice' against them can't be sustained. But I also point out
that the injuries sustained in modern warfare have been and are
much more severe, very often.
There's evidence - not evidence which aficionados share with
those outside their circle, for obvious reasons - that most of the
injuries in the bullring are due to recklessness or negligence. An
'aficionado,' Andrew Moore, writing for 'La Divisa,' published by
the Club Taurino of London, provides a perspective in his piece
'José Tomás in Madrid' which was intended to be read by
bullfighting supporters but which has obvious importance for
bullfighting opponents. He relates some criticisms made of this
bullfighter, including his ' "excessive” daring ... the ragged,
unorthodox kills. This is not what toreo is all about, they are
saying, reminding us that Pedro Romero killed over 2,000 bulls
without ever getting scratched, and that Marcial Lalanda always
said that, “good toreros don’t get gored”.' The information is
given that José Tomás earned 720 000 euros for his two
performances in Madrid.
Avoiding injury isn't completely within the control of the
bullfighter, but avoiding recklessness reduces the risk a great
In Chapter 6, the author gives a graphic description of the scars
left on the body of Padilla, a bullfighter who has suffered severe
injury more than any other in modern times. He has been
severely injured since the book was published. This is a reckless
bullfighter by any standards, as this account from 'Into the Arena'
makes clear:
'At one point, when the bull refuses to charge, he approaches it
and leans down asking it why. He leans his head between the
points of the two semi-circular horn arcs and asks again. The
crowd holds its breath. Then, with a flash, he head-butts the bull
between the eyes and steps back to receive the inevitable
charge. The applause is loud, but even louder when he does it a
second time.' Anyone who shows this degree of recklessness,
who head-butts a bull, has only himself to blame if he gets hurt.
On this occasion, he isn't.
At the end of the chapter, Padilla is described as a 'showman'
and 'a man who fits the old Roman description of what makes a
great gladiator ...' Many of the arguments for bullfighting are also
arguments for gladiator-fighting. Both activities, despite the
differences, are morally beyond the pale, I claim.
In Chapter 13, it becomes even clearer that if bullfighters are
injured, it may well be due to their own flaws. Padilla follows the
bullfighter Jose Tomás, and is aware that he's regarded as a far
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bullfighter Jose Tomás, and is aware that he's regarded as a far
less accomplished bullfighter, so he tries to compensate:
'Padilla went into the ring to impress, and doing so, and in
contrast to the images of Tomás still replaying in my mind's eye,
he came across as reckless and artless. He brought the bull so
close to his body that it was constantly buffeting him ... Every
audience member seemed to be thinking the same thing
simultaneously: 'Padilla, we forgot about Padilla! And he took his
revenge on our nerves, forcing us to the edge of our seats with
his ludicrously dangerous caping, staring up at the crowd rather
than at the bull with accusing eyes, the jilted lover standing at the
cliff's edge.'
For such reasons as these, the dangers of bullfighting have to be
put into context, a context concealed by the bullfighting
apologists who have a vested interest in exaggerating them and
making them part of the bullfighting mythology but unwittingly
revealed here by the author.
The only strength to have emerged so far at this early stage in
the book is a strength, a comparative strength, which has
nothing to do with the ethics of bullfighting, the rendering of
sights and sounds. These descriptive powers have nothing to do
with the ethics of bullfighting. A moral case isn't won if one side
has superior skills in writing. As for Alexander Fiske-Harrison's
skills, he's obviously a stylist, although not a stylist with any
noticeable individuality. 'As Fandi's sun-blinded eyes stared into
the darkness he heard the distant protest of heavy steel bolts
sliding into their housings, followed by muffled shouting and the
hollow sound of unshod hooves skittering on concrete. Then
came the dull crash of horns against steel. The sounds repeated
closer as further doors were opened, followed by more crashes.
Then, from within the darkness, came a rearing, jolting black
head, eyes focused, nostrils flaring, ears forward, a foot and a
half of horns tapering to fine points above it. And behind it came
a half-ton of pulsing muscle propelling it at a steady twenty-five
miles an hour.'
The set-piece is over very quickly and gives way to some trite
observations, trite observations disguised as penetrating
observations and trite observations which are undisguised. He
writes, 'A final word about El Fandi. It turns out he was indeed
unusually good. The next day the national newspaper ABC said
of that fight: 'El Fandi saved the honour of Seville.' Any city of
this size which regards its reputation as bound up with one
activity to the exclusion of all others must have a fragile self-
confidence and very limited horizons - to say nothing of the
worse than disreputable activity it embraces. This is a variant of
the Lorca error, of course - the deluded belief that bullfighting is
uniquely important. After quoting the newspaper, Alexander
Fiske-Harrison concludes his Prologue: 'There was a lot I didn't
know back then.' Some things never change.
Chapter 1 contains samples of high-flown language, and of the
basic, simple-minded language. After the killing of one bull: 'I
turn to Tanis [an aficionado] and say, 'Cojones.' He has balls.'
'Cojones' is what I call a 'cliché word' (not all clichés are
phrases). After this not so interesting observation, there's
bathos. Tanis replies, 'Si, mi amigo, pero no dos, cuatro.'
Translation: 'Yes, my friend, but not two, four.' Presumably the
bravest bullfighter who ever lived had, or does have, an even
larger number of balls - eight. sixteen, thirty-two or whatever.
In some later chapters, Alexander Fiske-Harrison's enthusiasm
for bullfighting is tested by events he witnessed in the bullring.
His reaction is disturbing. Anyone who thinks that there is any
Acceptable Face of Bullfighting should consider his reaction and
reconsider. The post of Acceptable Face of Bullfighting is now
vacant again, and can't be filled. Alexander Fiske-Harrison
reverted to type.
'Not only did this "matador" ... have to go in three times with the
killing sword, but then, when the bull was clearly insufficiently
wounded for death, his use of the descabello sword to sever the
spinal cord was execrable. I lost count of the number of times he
stabbed the poor animal - twenty, thirty? [the critic from El
Mundo counted seventeen] - by then its neck began to resemble
a dish you might serve on a plate ... when it finally died, I asked
my girlfriend if she wanted to leave, but now, her perspective on
bullfights changed for ever, she felt she had a duty to see it
He makes a comment about the need for matadors to be
regulated, for withdrawal of their position as matadors to be
possible, but in the meantime, with any such regulation far off, if
it ever happens at all, with stabbings at the spine of the bull with
a sword embedded in its back commonplace, if not usually so
many stabbings, with all the hideous cruelty inflicted by the most
prominent bullfighters at the most prominent bullrings and the
hideous cruelty inflicted by the amateurish - or amateur -
bullfighters at the small arenas, he continued to attend bullfights
and he continues to oppose the abolition of bullfighting. He
seems oblivious of the fact that any system of regulation would
have to prohibit people such as himself from attempting to kill a
He describes the reaction of a woman, Geri, who 'had been a
regular attendee at bullfights in her youth.' After an operation,
'she contracted 'the flesh-eating bug' of newspaper horror
stories. She survived, but says that to now see the bull with the
sword in its back, as the banderilleros flash their capes in front of
it to make it turn so that the blade will sever a major blood vessel
within and hasten its death, was now almost unbearable for her.'
This is a moral advance which Alexander Fiske-Harrison feels
unable to follow in this book.
In various places, I draw attention to the linkage between the
depraved world of the Roman amphitheatre - the gladiators and
the killing of animals - and the depraved world of the bullfight. At
one bullfight he attended, the bull gained the approval of the
crowd. 'First of all one or two white handkerchiefs came out, then
it spread throughout the crowd
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'They are asking for an indulto, they want the bull to be
pardoned.' [The author's photographer.]
At this point Fandi let his muleta drop down by his side and the
bull, only two feet away, duly stopped its charginhg, its focus
remaining on the limp cloth. Then he looked up at the president
in exactly the same manner as thousands of gladiators had
looked up to Caesar over the still living form of a defeated
opponent, and waited to see if he would be condemned to death
or spared.
The mob [the author's name for the bullfighting audience, himself
included, but a suitable one] bayed for mercy, the matador
indicated he followed their opinion with a small gesture of his
hand and an inclination of his head, but the president merely
rolled his fingers, giving the universal gesture of 'carry on'. Carry
on and we shall see. The bull was eventually spared, but this
was no more a demonstration of the humanity of bullfighting than
the sparing of some gladiators as a demonstration of the
humanity of gladiator-fighting.
The author records the monotony or mediocrity of most
bullfighting, the cruelty of bullfighting, but claims that a few, a
very few bullfights are transcendental (not his word.) But these
are workings of 'the same poem' (the phrase he uses), not the
endlessly varied forms of authentic art, and they are examples
of cruelty, like all the monotonous and mediocre bullfights.
David McNaughton, in his book concerned with ethics 'Moral
Vision' (1988), written from the perspective of particularist moral
realism, gives arguments which are surely very cogent, or
decisive, against the limitations of classical utilitarianism:
pleasure as a nonmoral aspect which is taken to have moral
relevance. The example he gives is of a government considering
reintroducing public executions. 'If reactions to public hangings in
the past are anything to go by, a lot of people may enjoy the
spectacle. Does that constitute a reason for reintroduction? Is
the fact that people would enjoy it a reason for its being right? It
would be perfectly possible to take just the opposite view. The
fact that spectators might get a sadistic thrill from the brutal
spectacle could be thought to constitute an objection to
reintroduction. Whether the fact that an action causes pleasure is
a reason for or against doing it is not something that can be
settled in isolation from other features of the action. It is only
when we know the context in which the pleasure will occur that
we are in a position to judge.'
The pleasure which people derive from the brutal spectacle of
bullfighting has to be examined in the same way. The pleasure
doesn't authenticate, make legitimate, the spectacle. The same
argument applies to all the ecstatic reactions to the bullfight
which are claimed to go beyond simple pleasure. These
reactions too have to be examined in the context of the action,
the bullfight. See also the examples I give in the section
'Bullfighting as an art form,' beginning with my discussion of a
comment made by Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra. Even if
it could be shown that bullfighters faced an enormous risk of
death every time they entered the ring, and this isn't the case at
all, courage wouldn't authenticate, make legitimate the
spectacle. The truth of Christianity isn't established by the
courage of the Christian martyrs. Nazism isn't converted from a
bad cause to a good cause because enormous numbers of
German soldiers and civilians showed enormous courage in
promoting and defending Nazism.
An appreciation of Neil White, an academic in the field of
computer science who had died recently, included this:
'One perhaps surprising sporting interest of Neil's was his love-
affair with bull fighting. Of course, as a Guardian-reading left-
wing socialist he was against bull fighting on principle, but as a
scientist he knew he should see at least one fight before
condemning it out of hand. He went only to have a Damascene
conversion. It changed his life. In order to keep up with the latest
bull fighting news, not much carried in the sporting pages of the
UK national papers, Neil determined to learn Spanish. In one
year he passed his GCSE and the following year his A Level in
This will seem very impressive, decisive not just to supporters of
bullfighting but evidence in favour of bullfighting to many
uncommitted people. In fact, it's not in the least impressive or
'Damascene conversion' is a reference to the conversion to
Christianity of Paul, the future St Paul, on the road to
Damascus. St Paul developed a theology of justification to faith
as opposed to justification by works. According to a theology of
justification by works, good deeds could allow a person to enter
heaven. According to St Paul, good deeds (such as a life
devoted to relieving suffering) were irrelevant. Only faith in Christ
counted. Anyone who has reservations about Christianity or who
opposes Christianity, many Christians who reject Pauline
theology, including justification by faith, will be unimpressed by
this Damascene conversion. Just because Paul had his intense
experience, his 'Damascene conversion' we have no obligation
to accept his views.
Bullfighting supporters have experienced momentous de-
conversions. The Colombian bullfighter El Pilarico turned
against bullfighting as decisively as Neil White turned in favour
of bullfighting, for example. A conversion and a de-conversion
have to be examined very carefully, from a variety of
perspectives. I think that multiple perspectives very much favour
the anti-bullfighting case. Someone 'converted' to bullfighting is
likely to see things from the partial - the selfish - perspective of
someone who feels a new form of pleasure and excitement. The
perspective of the horses and bulls suffering in the bullring is
likely to be overlooked.
In the twentieth century, many people accepted Communism
with the passion of converts. The book 'The God that failed'
records the disillusionment of ex-Communists, de-converted
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Alexander Fiske-Harrison ignores, at least in this book, all the
transcendental experiences outside bullfighting which involve no
cruelty. I think of the thrilling calm of a lake with a strong sun
beginning to beat it into gold, the lake beginning to dissolve into
darkness at dusk, the violence of the sea battering huge cliffs, a
conflict more titanic than anything to be witnessed in the bullring,
the sea as calm as a lake, seeming to stretch not to the horizon
but to infinity, the sea from sunrise to sunset and at night
Acknowledgments, photograph of the Aegean Sea:'s photostream (flickr)
the sea in great and authentic art: Homer's 'wind-dark' sea,
Turner's wild seascapes - the power and the fury - the North
Sea, the sea of the sea interludes in Britten's 'Peter Grimes,'
and as sombre and perplexing as Peter Grimes himself, the
Great Bear and Pleiades shining above this sea, the calm sea
conveyed with transcendental beauty in 'Soave sia il vento' in
Mozart's 'Cosi fan Tutte' as two of the lovers set sail, an opera
which is ambiguous, elusive, enigmatic, subtle, rendering an
astonishing range of human experience and far more complex
than any bullfight, the mastery of orchestral colour in this as in
Mozart's other great operas - the muted violins in thirds, the
bassoons climbing from their lower register in Soave sia il
vento' (David Cairns writes of 'the smooth, mellifluous sonority of
clarinets, horns, muted violins, and women's voices entwined in
long, lingering phrases full of half-suppressed longing in 'Mozart
and his Operas'), the transcendental technique of this and
Mozart's other great works and all the other works of developed
artistry of other artists, of a completely different order from the
technique of any bullfighter, books which may or may not be
about the sea but which reflect Kafka's 'a book must be the axe
for the frozen sea within us. '
To quarry stone, transport it, shape it, lift it and produce a work
of architectural art such as the fan vaulting of King's College
Chapel, Cambridge - and the other stonework of the chapel - and
the wood carving of the massive screen, and the stained glass
windows - obviously requires technique of a very high order,
completely eclipsing any bullfighting technique. Although images
of the chapel interior are very familiar, I include one below, as a
further reminder of the incomparable richness of the world
beyond bullfighting, including the incomparable richness of
performing art, such as musical performance, as well as non-
performed art. The image shows both.
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Acknowledgments: Vocalessence (Flickr)
To attend to one thing so many others must be neglected.
People who ignore or loathe the bullfight aren't unfortunates cut
off from the possibility of transcendental experience. I mention
just two other sources of deep satisfaction, and sometimes of
transcendental experience, for me. One is watching the swifts
during the summer months, their swooping flight and moving
cries, high overhead or dramatically close, shooting by, lower
than the rooftops. These are birds which fly all their lives, except
when they are nesting and feeding their young, mating on the
wing and sleeping on the wing. The other is the experience of
growing, which will be clear from two of the pages of the
gardening section of this site, Photographs 1 and Photographs 2.
I've never had the money to travel extensively and frequently.
I've no envy of people taking long-haul flights for pleasure year
after year, several times a year. I've travelled far more than
Thoreau, who remained close to Concord, Massachusetts,
except for one visit to Canada, but his rapt observations of
nature and landscape, including the lake he has made famous,
Walden, are incomparable. From his essay 'Walking, on what he
saw not in the summer months or the time of the brilliant autumn
foliage but when the trees were leafless, in the unpromising
month of November:'
'We had a remarkable sunset one day last November. I was
walking in a meadow, the source of a small brook, when the sun
at last, just before setting, after a cold, gray day, reached a clear
stratum in the horizon, and the softest, brightest morning sunlight
fell on the dry grass and on the stems of the trees in the opposite
horizon and on the leaves of the shrub oaks on the hillside, while
our shadows stretched long over the meadow eastward, as if we
were the only motes in its beams. It was such a light as we could
not have imagined a moment before, and the air also was so
warm and serene that nothing was wanting to make a paradise
of that meadow. When we reflected that this was not a solitary
phenomenon, never to happen again, but that it would happen
forever and ever, an infinite number of evenings, and cheer and
reassure the latest child that walked there, it was more glorious
Authentic art offers more than transcendental experiences, of
course, but a range of experiences and a range of insights vastly
wider than anything available at a bullfight, evading no aspect of
human experience - harshness, ugliness, the everyday, desolate
urban life, streets and commerce and factories as well as
sunsets lighting up unspoiled countryside or the Aegean. It would
obviously be completely impossible to list them, to do the least
justice to them. I simply mention the spare and unsparing
insights into human life of Samuel Beckett, in such novels as
'Malone Dies,' and provide this image, of Van Gogh's 'Two
women in the Moor,' of work, of bent backs. Van Gogh lived at
Arles for a time. Arles can be proud that Van Gogh chose to live
there, if not in the least proud of its ignominious status as one of
the main centres of bullfighting in Southern France. Van Gogh
was, of course, an artist of the utmost seriousness, but there
have been innumerable serious painters and other serious
artists since his time with serious themes - more evidence that
Lorca's description of bullfighting as 'the last serious thing in the
world' (quoted with approval by Alexander Fiske-Harrison) is a
Acknowledgments: Creative Commons BY-SA license
These images of nature, architecture and painting, and the
examples I give, are no more than reminders, of course - other
people can come up with reminders of their own - of the world
beyond bullfighting. The wider world can seem distant when one
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beyond bullfighting. The wider world can seem distant when one
is within its narrow confines, even if only, temporarily, as a
reader of bullfighting works. Contact with a narrow religious sect
might give rise to similar feelings, the need for similar simple
reminders of the wider world beyond the sect. I know that
Alexander Fiske-Harrison has wider cultural knowledge (I don't
have any evidence of wider cultural interests, which is a different
matter) but it's striking that in his book, they seem so distant.
Nobody who had an adequate view of the world outside
bullfighting could possibly repeat as he does, as if by rote,
Lorca's rubbish about bullfighting being the last serious thing in
the world, or the rubbish he perpetrates in other places.
Alexander Fiske-Harrison's parents went to see him kill a bull
and attended one or more 'professional' bullfights before that.
After watching Padrilla kill his bulls in the arena, together with
his parents, he describes their reaction: 'We walk back to the
hotel and my parents are excited and alive [unlike the bull, of
course]; Padrilla's display has invigorated them ...' His parents
are wealthy. (His father founded Fiske plc, the stockbrokers.)
They could afford the fees for Eton College, the exclusive school
which Alexander Fiske-Harrison attended. If they like to travel,
they can travel to many interesting and beautiful places, if they
like fine wine, they can afford to buy it, if they like fine food, they
can afford to eat in fine restaurants. There are so many other
pleasures available to them, including ones that cost nothing at
all, the riches of the world which are free. With such riches, why
the need to see these killings? They should be ashamed.
All over the world, villages, towns and cities have festivals and
other events, small and low-key or large and ambitious, which
can be a complete delight and which are untarnished by cruelty.
Arles is the only bullfighting town I've ever visited, and all its
obvious attractions were overshadowed for me by bullfighting. I
travelled from there to Northern France and across the border to
Belgium, setting up camp at Ieper / Ypres. In the square in front
of the cloth hall, there was an event taking place, or rather many
small events, all of them unpretentious, not dramatic, but such a
pleasure to watch - singing, Flemish street theatre, people in the
costume of the area, and a band of pipers in Scottish highland
dress - Flemish pipers! With, in the cafes around the square,
wonderful Belgian beer.
Another example, the festivities at Hartland in Devon - not much
more than farmers and other local people using their imagination
to construct floats pulled by tractors and other scenes, but in its
good humour and sense of occasion, like the event at Ieper
impressive as well as enjoyable.
The Munich Oktoberfest, the Carnival at Cologne and other
German cities, opera performances in the Roman arena at
Verona, are far bigger and more ambitious, of course, but are
further evidence, if evidence is needed at all, that people who do
without bullfighting aren't in the least reduced to a an
unsatisfactory state of existence. None of us are reduced to an
unsatisfactory state of existence because we do without
Alexander Fiske-Harrison's abilities as a stylist are evident
throughout the book, sometimes intermittently, sometimes for
long stretches - these have to be considered separately from
what he's trying to express. It has to be acknowledged that bad
causes sometimes have personable advocates, that bad causes
may be supported by gifted organizers, notable intellectuals,
good or great writers and artists, and other people of note.
Bullfighters have to show courage, some, such as Jose Tomás,
much greater courage than others (subject to the severe
qualifications I make above), bullfighters have to show skill,
some, such as Jose Tomás again, show much greater skill than
others (but the levels of skill in many human activities are
stratospherically high). Gladiator fighting (very different from
bullfighting, but with too many linkages with bullfighting for
comfort) called for courage and skill of a high order too. The fact
that bullfighting demands courage and skill isn't a reason for
condoning it, supporting it or failing to ban it.
To return to Jose Tomás, the author agrees with the admirers,
not with the detractors, and uses superlatives profusely in a long
section on him. What would he answer if asked these questions:
how does the best bullfighter, in your view and the view of many
others, compare in importance, skill, courage, and other ways,
with 'the best' in very different fields? The author's failures of
perspective seem overwhelmingly obvious to me.
This film shows Jose Tomás in the third phase of the bullfight. It
shows how long he takes to kill a bull: the cruelty of Jose
Tomás. Even when he has killed a bull at once, then the death
always follows multiple woundings: the cruelty of Jose Tomás.
After running with the bulls, Alexander Fiske-Harrison attended a
bullfight in Pamplona, vowing never to attend another there. It's
cause for great regret and cause for moral condemnation of
Alexander Fiske-Harrison that he didn't decide never to attend
another bullfight anywhere. This is the most heartfelt and most
sustained description of the plight of a bull in 'Into the Arena' by
'It was a strangely moving experience running side-by-side with
a bull, close enough to touch, although I have been warned that
that was frowned upon ... he was pure brown in colour and
apparently totally ignorant of my existence at his flank, his whole
being determined only to keep with his herd and get clear of this
mass of humanity. The kinship I felt with him was purely
physical, locomotory, experience, but it was still more than
'Later that evening I watched the one and only bullfight I will ever
see in Pamplona. The party atmosphere from the streets was
magnified in the ring. Not one, but six bands were in operation,
each one from a different fan club celebrating. The fans
themselves danced and shouted and swore and drank, half the
time with their backs to the sand. The matadors valiantly tried to
get their attention by fighting, but the bulls were so distracted by
the noise - and being run through the streets that morning - that
they were almost impossible to make charge. It was an ugly,
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they were almost impossible to make charge. It was an ugly,
barbaric thing. And then the bull I had run beside came in, and
although he was fought well, he refused to die, despite the sword
being within him. As the crowd cheered and booed, swayed and
screamed, he walked over to the planks and began a long slow
march around the ring, holding on to life as though with some
internal clenched fist, refusing to give up, refusing to die. I had
run next to this great animal, had matched myself to him as best
I could, and in doing so felt some form of connection to the
powers that propelled him. Now I watched them all turned
inwards in an attempt to defy the tiny, rigid ribbon of steel within
his chest, and having been blinded by no beauty, tricked by no
displays of courage or prowess by the matadors, I just saw an
animal trying to stay on its feet against the insuperable reality of
death. I left the plaza de toros with tears in my eyes after that.
And there was nothing good in all that place.'
This is far from being the only instance of confusion in the book,
but here the confusion is particularly acute: heartening and not in
the least heartening at the same time. The plight of the animal is
memorably shown, but at variance with this is the implied
criticism of the crowd for disregarding the bullfight, for ignoring
the matadors 'valiantly' trying to gain their attention, and the
drawing of attention to the 'failure' of the bulls to charge. Worst
of all, he overlooks that fact that the plight of Conséjote, the bull
he fought, was the same as this bull at Pamplona - he too
'refused to die, despite the sword being within him,' the sword
thrust in this case delivered by one Alexander Fiske-Harrison. He
doesn't record whether or not the matador at Pamplona struck
bone before thrusting the sword in deep, as Alexander Fiske-
Harrison did, twice. His parents and the others who watched him
can have seen 'no beauty ... or prowess' in this amateur
bullfighter's performance, and as for 'displays of courage,' the
young age, undersized development and blunt horns of the
animal largely excluded any possibility of extraordinary displays
of courage or anything very special. There was nothing good in
the small arena where Alexander Fiske-Harrison gained the
material for Chapter 20 of his book, entitled 'La Estocada,' (the
killing sword, and the sword thrust made with it.)
For many or some of the people who attend the running of the
bulls at Pamplona and the bullfights, it seems, the events are
secondary, having a party primary. It may well be that bulls die in
other places so that people can get out of the house, improve
their social life, meet new friends, talk with old friends, have a
focus in their life. There are many other interests which would
serve just as well, without the devastating consequences.
A few lines later, he starts a new chapter, travels from
Pamplona to Ronda to watch more bullfighting, the tone quickly
brisk and matter of fact, callously matter of fact. From this point
on, he records practically no misgivings about bullfighting. Of the
first bull of the bullfight in Ronda, ' ... when Manzanares goes in
with the sword, I seem to see the bunched muscle of the
shoulders actually preventing the blade from going in, catching
the steel as though in a clenched fist. However, it does go in the
second time and [unlike the majority of the bulls' deaths
described in the book] the death is quick.'
'The crowd seem an eager bunch, silent when necessary, but
generous with applause for good work. They demand an ear for
the performance, but the president is more sober than they and
ignores the appeal.' Another bull's death is dedicated 'to the
plaza with style, and to roaring applause. The appreciative
audience, without the boorishness of the Pamplona audience,
gains his approval.
His descriptions are sometimes vivid, including his descriptions
of the most harrowing scenes, the dialogue is often well done,
but the omissions are glaringly obvious too. In the book, too
much of importance is left unexamined. For one thing, he
doesn't examine at all deeply this society which has welcomed
him. He's sufficiently objective and independent to criticize
individual bullfighters, including ones who have become his
friends, but he doesn't examine at all deeply this society of
Southern Spain. He describes his visits to bull breeding and bull
rearing farms but no matter how well he describes his
experiences, the perspective is a limited one. His account has to
be supplemented, by an examination, for example, of the
finances of these places.
The European Union gives the bull breeders and bull rearers
something like 185 pounds per bull per year, 37 million pounds
per year in total subsidies. The European Union pays for the
renovation of bullrings as well.
The book is meant to be about bullfighting and is about
bullfighting, but it suffers (but that may not be the best word to
use in a book which gives so many instances of suffering) from a
lack of context. These bullfighting supporters, or very many of
them, are supporting not just the formal bullfight but a host of
different informal events, the 'blood fiestas.'
FAACE: 'The vast majority of Blood Fiestas use cattle as their
victims. Bulls, cows and calves from the bullfighting herds ...' In
Spanish law, 'Blood fiestas with cattle are classified as
A little information about the fiesta called the 'Toro de la Vega' in
Tordesillas, North West of Madrid, will convey the context of
cruelty and the context of finance.
The bull is driven by horsemen wielding spears from the town to
a meadow. During the run, the horsemen are only allowed to
wound the bull. It's only when the badly wounded animal reaches
the meadow that it can be killed. The person who finally kills the
bull cuts off the bull's testicles, impales them on the point of his
spear and parades them through the town, which gives him a
gold medal.
In an article in 'The Daily Mail,' an exceptional piece of
investigative and humane journalism, Danny Penman describes
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investigative and humane journalism, Danny Penman describes
the treatment of the bull which he witnessed:
'I watched as men on horseback tried to skewer it with their
eight-foot long spears. Spear after spear sliced open his back.
'Once his strength began to ebb, the men became increasingly
bold and moved in closer. This was the bit they clearly loved
most of all - a time when they could begin to play with the bull
without serious risk of injury to themselves.
'I watched as one horseman impaled the creature and twisted
and turned his spear deeper and deeper into him.
'This seemed to fatally weaken the animal and he fell onto his
front knees snorting and bellowing - his distress apparent. Within
moments, several more spears had pierced his body.
Marcos held aloft the blood-soaked bull's ears and bowed deeply
to the crowd. Moments earlier he'd sliced them off the young
bull, which now lay on one side, blood pooling beneath him.
'But the poor creature wasn't quite finished yet. In a pitiful act of
defiance, he mustered just enough energy to raise his head a
few inches off the ground ...
'Marcos responded by unsheathing a vicious-looking knife and
stabbing him in the back of the neck a second time. The bull's
head flopped back into the dust - he was finished ...'
Alexander Fiske-Harrison, like Giles Coren and others, gives
very great prominence to one particular argument: that whatever
the bull may suffer in the bullring, it's had a better life than
factory farmed animals. The bulls repeatedly stabbed and killed
in the bullring are the fortunate ones. He seems not to realize
that beef cattle haven't been subjected to factory farming in the
same way as pigs or chickens. In the United States, they often
spend time in feedlots, but without the close confinement of very
intensive farming.
The important point is this. Their argument would justify as well
the cruelty of this event at Tordesillas, the argument that the bull
has had a good life compared with factory-farmed animals and
that this outweighs any cruelties in the killing. Do Giles Coren
and Alexander Fiske-Harrison really believe that the bull
repeatedly stabbed and killed at Tordesillas is one of the
'fortunate' bulls?
Alexander Fiske-Harrison writes of Conséjote, the bull he
stabbed: 'Conséjote lived three years among his brothers, and
died within their call, in the country where he belongs.' Just as
much could be claimed of the bull speared at Tordesillas, and
this bull lived for longer than three years. By Alexander Fiske-
Harrison's arguments, this bull was even more fortunate than
Against this, it's essential to stress again and again this point,
which I've already made above. Minimum standards for the care
of domesticated animals which are eventually slaughtered are
(1) Conditions as humane as possible during the animal's
(2) Every effort made to ensure humane slaughter, by
comprehensive regulations governing slaughter and efforts to
enforce regulations.
Bulls killed in the bullring, bulls killed during this and similar
'blood fiestas' have the advantage of (1) but not at all (2).
Abolition of the blood fiesta at Tordesillas and the other blood
fiestas is necessary and abolition of the bullfight is necessary.
The farm that bred this bull, Platanito, is called Finca
Valdeolivas, Danny Penman reveals, and it's owned by the Gil
family. 'Judging by the number of expensive cars and pick-up
trucks parked in their driveway, they must be one of the richest
families in the area.
'Finca Valdeolivas is in the heart of Spain's fighting bull country
and it's clear the Gils are taking full advantage of it.'
'I tried to talk to Don Miguel Ángel Gil Marín, head of the family
that owns the finca, but he declined to answer my questions.
'I was, however, able to examine the EU's accounts and discover
that Finca Valdealivas received at least 139 000 pounds in
subsidies last year.
'The majority of the money flowing into Finca Valdeolivas is from
the Common Agricultural Policy's Single Farm Payment scheme.
This pays landowners a fee for managing the land, leaving them
free to farm it in anyway they choose.'
In Britain, landowners have often used the scheme to abandon
intensive farming practices. In Spain, many landowners have
used the money in a similar way, but many have used it to rear
animals for the bullring and the blood fiestas.
The picture of sturdy independence which Alexander Fiske-
Hamilton implicitly conveys in his book is misleading. The reality
is much more awkward and much less impressive, involving the
receipt of handouts from the Common Agricultural Policy's Single
Farm Payment scheme.
John McCormick wrote of the book on bullfighting by Kenneth
Tynan, the theatre critic and bullfighting enthusiast, 'Although
Kenneth Tynan's instincts are critical and aesthetic, in his book
he was busy recording impressions rather than constructing
This is certainly true of Alexander Fiske-Harrison. The
arguments he does put forward are feeble. He studied
philosophy in the course of his higher education and has been
described as 'the bullfighter-philosopher' but this description is
patent rubbish, on the evidence of this book. He refers to 'the
slow construction of the philosophical edifice of how I made
peace with the idea of becoming a killer' but his reasoning is
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peace with the idea of becoming a killer' but his reasoning is
perfunctory and has nothing to do with philosophy. Anything less
like a philosophical edifice is difficult to imagine.
He read Peter Singer's 'Animal Liberation' and Tom Regan's 'The
Case for Animal Rights' and declares that 'the end point of all
their arguments is an unavoidable one. If man has a moral duty
to minimise the suffering of non-human animals in so far as he is
capable, then there is no way in this scheme, in theory, to
distinguish between domestic animals and wild ones. So our
duty would include, for example, stopping lions from killing
antelope in so far as we are capable.' Mark Rowlands disposed
of this erroneous argument in his review.
This 'argument' is worse than feeble, practically moronic.
Humanity has a general responsibility to domestic animals and a
general responsibility not to inflict unnecessary suffering on wild
animals, but no general responsibility to prevent the suffering of
a wild animal caused by another wild animal. There are no
responsibilities in cases where action is impossible, except for
token gestures. Making these token gestures would be a
ridiculous waste of time, energy and money. Are people with a
concern for animal welfare expected to fly to an African country,
equip ourselves with tranquillizing equipment and begin 'stopping
lions from killing antelope in so far as we are capable,' or send
money to people in Africa who can undertake the task on our
behalf? All the world's resources would be completely insufficient
to do more than make a start on such a grandiose and
nonsensical project.
It seems logical to Alexander Fiske-Harrison that opponents of
bullfighting should be opposing meat-eating instead, or as a
greater priority. He seems to have no conception of concrete
realities, of the choices to be made by people with an intense
concern for animal welfare but with obvious {restriction}: time,
money and energy. Many opponents of bullfighting will also
oppose meat-eating, but these people will realize that bullfighting
and meat-eating pose vastly different challenges. Two areas of
Spain have banned bullfighting, Catalonia and the Canary
Islands. No areas of Spain have banned meat-eating, of course.
Banning bullfighting in further areas of Spain is a difficult but
achievable objective. Modest reductions in meat-eating and even
significant reductions in meat-eating are an achievable objective,
but not the banning of meat-eating. Opponents of bull-baiting
and bear-baiting in this country in the early nineteenth century
had an achievable objective, an objective which was won in 1835
with the abolition of bull-baiting and bear-baiting.
The principle that 'ought implies can' is relevant to these two
matters, preventing killing by wild animals and preventing the
slaughter of farm animals by humans. The principle is often
ascribed to Kant. He never formulates it in these words, but it
appears in less epigrammatic form in many of his writings, eg in
'The Critique of Pure Reason:' '... since they [principles of the
possibility of experience] command that these actions [in
conformity with moral precepts which could be encountered in
the history of humankind] ought to happen, they must also be
able to happen.' (A 807, The Cambridge Edition, Paul Guyer and
Allen W. Wood.) Lewis White Beck gives a list of occurrences in
his 'A Commentary on Kant's Critique of Practical Reason,' which
includes: 'Critique of Practical Reason, 30 (118 - 19); Über den
Gemeinspruch, VIII, 287; Vorlesungen über Metaphysik
(Kowalewski ed.), p. 600. (Lewis White Beck op. cit. p. 200 n.)
This is very much 'supplementary material,' obviously. I advocate
symbolic representation in my page Introduction to {theme}
theory and explain the symbolism which I use. The established
symbolic representation of 'ought implies can' in deontic and
imperative logic is this (I use / ... / to indicate that the possibility
here is established logical possibility, not generalized possibility
and that '→' is the established material conditional, / ... /
constituting what I call a 'declaration, Dn):
/ O A → A /
O is a deontic operator which can be attached to imperatives,
forming deontic wffs.
The generalized possibility which I use in {theme} theory
includes the logical possibility here and also such instances as
physical possibility and psychological possibility. {resolution}:-
→ / ◊ / + ...
Kant held that what we ought to do is not only logically possible
but lies within our psychological and physical capabilites.
Compare the formalized statements of other Laws (which,
however, like Kant's law, are contentious), such as Hume's Law,
on the non-deducibility of an 'ought' from an 'is.' (Stated in 'A
Treatise of Human Nature,' Book III, Part 1, Section 1. Compare
G E Moore and the 'naturalistic fallacy.'') Hume's Law has wide
applicability, including arguments to do with bullfighting.
Banning bullfighting in Spain, although difficult, is certainly
achievable. Jason Webster lives in Spain and has defended
bullfighting. Some complimentary remarks about 'Into the Arena'
are given on the back cover of the book (although this is a minor
detail, Alexander Fiske-Harrison gives the mistaken information
on the blog that the quotation is given on the front cover.) Even
so, Jason Webster writes in an article entitled, 'Bullfighting - a
slow death?' on his own blog
'Interestingly the number of Spaniards watching
bullfights has been declining steadily for the past ten
years or more. The only thing that brought any
change in that trend was the return to the ring in 2007
of José Tomás, regarded by many as the greatest
matador of his generation - or perhaps ever.'
He asks, of bullfighting, ' ... could it disappear?' and
gives this opinion:
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'In part that process has already begun, but I find it
hard to see it vanishing altogether. At least not for a
while. This is a country that has a healthy disrespect
for 'laws', so the more legal pressure is put on
bullfighting, the more it will continue ... should the 'art'
fall into decline, as it was in danger of doing quite
recently, then bullfighting could well diminish until it
becomes a side-show, a museum piece, perhaps kept
going in a couple of cities for die-hards and tourists,
but essentially dead in any real sense.'
Alexander Fiske-Harrison has no insights that I can
detect into activism - or activism as I and many other
people, I think, understand it. There are objectives
which demand stamina, determination, with no end in
sight, seemingly, objectives against opposition so
powerful that the objective may seem unattainable in
the near or distant future - but there has to be realism.
No activist is going to take as an objective the
abolition of killing of animals by other wild animals. He
seems completely unaware of the importance of
success in activism, the attaining, if not of the overall
objective, of lesser objectives. Morale is as important
in activism as in other human activities, and obviously
benefits from successes, even partial ones.
My experience of working against the death penalty
confirms me in this. Activists in this field can take
heart from the many, many successes - country after
country has abandoned use of the death penalty in
law or practice. There are countries which are very
difficult ones, and they include the United States. In
the United States, Texas and some other states, to a
lesser extent, offer extreme difficulties, but even in
the United States, there are successes to report. To
add to the states which have been abolitionist for a
long time, there are others which have repealed the
death penalty in the modern era of capital
punishment: New Jersey in 2007, New Mexico in
2009 and Illinois in 2011.
I'm well aware that many, many people with a strong
interest in animal welfare / animal rights are indifferent
to the death penalty or support it. They can at least be
thankful that reform of the criminal law hasn't been a
matter of indifference to legislators in this country -
otherwise, as I note on my page Animal welfare:
arrest and activism there would presumably still be
the death penalty for property offences, and members
of the Animal Liberation Front who damaged
laboratories, butchers' shops, slaughterhouses and
other places might face public hanging. (By the end of
the eighteenth century, there were 220 offences
punishable by the death penalty in this country, most
of them property offences.)
He makes a very candid comment in Chapter 17:
'I've already heard all the arguments in favour of the bullfight and
they're usually bad, so I'd rather not hear people I like come up
with them.' (It's surprising that his editor didn't save him from
himself here, as in some other places. This quote can certainly
be used by opponents of bullfighting.)
This doesn't stop him from adding more bad arguments himself.
One of these dire arguments concerns the 'dehesas.' 'Dehesas,'
according to a document he quotes, 'a European Commission
environmental study on Mediterranean ecosystems' are 'typical
ecosystems in western and south western parts of the Iberian
Peninsula. They result from ancient methods of exploiting the
landscape, which are well adapted to Mediterranean ecological
The quoted extract which includes these words makes no
mention of bulls, but he immediately claims,
'The harsh economic reality is that if the bullfight is banned, the
breeders will have no choice but to convert their land to normal
agricultural use or sell it to those who will.'
I haven't been able to find the document quoted here. None of
the academic or other studies I've consulted mention bulls.
This is a document which originates with a Spanish animal
welfare organization which has relevance to the issue. It
mentions the lack of reference to bulls and bull rearing in studies
of the dehesas ecosystem and has great relevance to his claim.
Anyone interested in this issue will obviously want to take
account of a wide range of documentary evidence. I don't think
that anyone who does take the time to study the matter in a fair-
minded way is at all likely to conclude that bull breeding and bull
rearing is vital to the continued existence of the dehesas. Even if
it were otherwise, there would be advantages as well as
disadvantages in allowing the change to something nearer to
climax vegetation in this area. But these ecological arguments
can only be decisive for people who lack an interest in the other
dimensions of the issue, above all the ethical dimension.
In his review of 'Into the Arena' in 'The Sunday Times,' Brian
Schofield writes that bullfighting 'still has giant ethical questions
to answer. Fiske-Harrison’s responses to those questions never
convince. His claim that banning the fight would mean the
stunning dehesa (meadow) landscape of the breeding ranches
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stunning dehesa (meadow) landscape of the breeding ranches
“would be turned into farms for beef cattle” is just supposition
(75% of Spain’s dehesa is already being conserved without
bulls), and his stance that taunting a bull to death is
indistinguishable from eating a hamburger smacks of
He argues in Chapter 8 that if bullfighting were abolished, the
breeding ranches would be turned into farms for beef cattle and
that 'bullfighting is actually better in terms of welfare' than rearing
beef cattle, that replacing the bull-rearing farms with beef cattle
rearing farms would lead to 'massively diminished animal
It's obvious that if x million people in Spain are eating y
kilograms of beef per year, supplied by beef cattle, then the
abolition of bullfighting will do nothing to increase the amount of
beef consumed. The beef cattle on the converted bull-rearing
farms wouldn't be factory farmed. He gives the misleading and
erroneous impression that factory farming is routinely used for
the rearing of beef cattle.
There's not the least evidence that the vast majority of
bullfighting supporters have any concern at all about the welfare
of beef cattle. Bulls are killed in the bullring at an older age than
beef cattle, but bullfighting supporters have no objection to the
killing of bulls at a young age, either. Whilst bullfighters are
training, before they ever kill these older bulls, they kill younger
ones. The bull killed by the author was a year younger. Calves
are killed in large numbers at the bullfighting schools. In Mexico,
children are allowed to kill younger bulls not just in training but in
the bullring. By the time Michelito Lagravère was 11, he had
already killed 70 calves and young bulls.
The bullfighting areas of Europe and other countries aren't
leaders in the field of farm animal welfare or any other aspects of
animal welfare, of course, but areas where indifference to animal
suffering is rampant - but the exceptions, the individuals and
organizations anything but indifferent, are very heartening. He
claims that animal welfare in the bullfighting areas would be
severely compromised if bullfighting were banned. This is
laughably wide of the mark. Without this public spectacle of
animal abuse, it's far more likely that concern for animal welfare
would increase in these areas.
Only a very few barbaric aspects of the blood fiestas and the
formal bullfight have been abolished or moderated, all of them as
a result of pressure from people outside the bullfighting world.
Until a few years ago, blowpipes were used to attack a bull at
Coria until the bull was covered with darts. The mayor of Coria
has now banned the use of darts, after the protests of animal
welfare campaigners - not, of course, the protests of aficionados
with some humanitarian impulses. The protective mattress which
has reduced, but not entirely eliminated, disembowelling of
picadors' horses, owed nothing to the protests aficionados with
humanitarian impulses either. Above, I discuss injuries to horses
which the protective mattress doesn't stop and which it conceals.
What regulations govern the killing of bulls in the bullring?
Alexander Fiske-Harrison mentions only the Spanish law, under
which the bull must be killed within 15 minutes of the matador
going out to kill the bull in the third 'act' of the bullfight. Injuring
the bull with repeated stab wounds, multiple blows with the
sword, hacking at the spine 17 times, hacking at the spine 20 or
30 times, for that matter, isn't forbidden by the regulations.
Compare the mass of regulations governing the slaughter of
animals in the European community, and the real effort made to
enforce the regulations. There are cases where the regulations
haven't been enforced effectively, of course, but bullfighting
supporters can't possibly claim to be taking the moral high
ground here.
Alexander Fiske-Harrison refers to Jonathan Safran Foer's
'Eating Animals,' which gives instances of cruelty in
slaughterhouses. These are American slaughterhouses, where
conditions are generally worse than those in slaughterhouses of
the European Union. but intensive efforts have been made to
improve conditions in American slaughterhouses and to bring
poorer slaughterhouses up to the standard of the best ones.
There have been steady - or even dramatic - improvements.
Temple Grandin is one of the most important figures in America
working to improve the standards of slaughterhouses. Jonathan
Safran Foer remarks in his book that 'she has designed more
than half the cattle slaughter facilities in the nation.' These are
designed to minimize stress before slaughter and to make
slaughter instantaneous. In her book 'Making Animals Happy,'
she writes about taking visitors to the slaughterhouses which use
equipment and the methods she has designed. 'They all expect
the cattle to act crazy when they come off the trucks and they
are amazed when the cattle stay calm ... '
Her site contains a great deal of information
on ways of avoiding stress to cattle and other animals and on
humane slaughter, including this:
She gives data which show the extent of the improvements over
the years. In 1996, the USDA (United States Department of
Agriculture) survey baseline before welfare audits started
showed that only 89.5% of cattle on average were rendered
insensible with a single shot of the stunning equipment. These
would require a second shot, very soon after. In 1999, at the
start of the audits, the figure was 96.2 % By 2003, after the
slaughterhouses had been audited for some time, the figure had
risen to 98.6%.
The improvement has continued:
'Thirty-two federally inspected beef plants and 25 pork plants
were audited by third party auditing firms by two major restaurant
companies. In 2010, all the plants rendered 100% of the animals
insensible and passed the stunning audit. No willful acts of
abuse were observed. Compared to 2009, this is a definite
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The challenge now is to bring other slaughterhouses up to the
standard of these. The commitment being shown to making
these improvements is immeasurably greater than the
commitment being shown to make the bullring-slaughterhouses
more humane. To be mathematically precise, the commitment to
making them more humane is zero. Alexander Fiske-Harrison
has shown no commitment whatsoever to making bullring-
slaughterhouses more humane. Quite the opposite, by letting
himself loose with a killing sword on a bull, an amateur in a field
where killing by 'professionals' is routinely not in the least
instantaneous. It's impossible to make them humane, of course,
given that the killing takes place in uncontrolled conditions, and
given the structure of the bullfight.
In the European Union, existing regulation will be improved in
2013. This document describes the improvements to existing
regulations. Anyone convinced by the perfunctory treatment of
the issue in 'Into the Arena' would do well to study the new
slaughter regulations carefully.
The Postscript of 'Into the Arena' is assured in tone, with the
conviction not just that bullfighting is good but that nobody
should dispute that bullfighting is good, that nobody could
dispute that bullfighting is good. If they do, he gives them a
gentle reminder of their fallibility, as he sees it. So, he gently
admonishes the former bullfighter El Pilarico, who killed 150 bulls
in Colombia and Spain, until he broke his spine and turned
decisively against bullfighting: 'And he became an animal rights
protester for the same reason he became a bullfighter, because
other people told him to.' A single isolated quotation is produced
to make this clear beyond any doubt.
His own doubts about bullfighting may have caused a few ripples
on the calm waters of his assurance in the past, but the surface
is undisturbed now, it seems.
In the final paragraph, he writes, with quiet but unearned and
spurious authority, 'I have given you everything you need in
order to decide whether or not you want to see a bullfight, and
hopefully something to help you understand a little better the
glittering confusion of emotion and danger and gold that will
unfold before you if you do.' The turbulent possibility of other
responses, such as disgust or outrage, is not so much denied as
never permitted to rise to the surface. He continues, as if with
infinite, false wisdom, 'And if you do, and your heart goes out to
the bull, as it should, let it also go out to the matador. For it is he
who is your brother [as he has decided in his delusion] while the
bull is not. Not unless you are in the ring itself' where, it seems,
the bull and the bullfighter are brothers.
Carlos, a bullfighter quoted by John McCormick in his
'Bullfighting: art, technique and Spanish society' thinks of the
bullfighter and the bull as 'friends' rather than 'brothers:'
'The torero and the toro are two friends, not 'enemies' as the
critics always write in the newspapers, one of whom must leave
the plaza dead' [concealing here the vast imbalance in the
'The noble toro has bravura, enthusiasm for life, and his
appearance in the ring is an explosion of happiness, of
willingness to fight and to live.' But ... 'his instinct for his own
death becomes increasingly apparent' until ' ... the magic
moment when he says, in effect, to the matador, 'Mátame' - kill
These musings of Alexander Fiske-Harrison and John
McCormick are semi-sentimental or completely sentimental.
They obviously liked the sound of the words. John McCormick's
'insights' into the inner life of a bull certainly go well beyond the
findings of animal ethology concerning animal instincts and are
obviously pure supposition.
If Alexander Fiske-Harrison wrote many more books about the
subject, I wonder how many of the people who praised 'Into the
Arena' would lose interest before he was far into the series,
would quickly feel that this is a limited world, far from
inexhaustible in its interest, far too monotonous and predictable,
the variety of passes, for example, such as the Veronica (holding
the cape up in front of the body with both hands) and the pase
natural (moving the cape across the bullfighter's leading eye in a
noseward direction) not varied enough, would feel that the
curtain rising on a darkened stage to watch drama, opera or
ballet gives the promise of greater enjoyment or more complex
experience, comedy as well as tragedy, perhaps, or would feel
that mountains, gardens, books, music, art and architecture,
flowers and living creatures, the endlessly varied animals of the
world, not just the bull, offer beauty, magnificence, an
immeasurably greater variety of emotions and experiences than
the bullfight, would realize that by concentrating attention on the
bullfights, Alexander Fiske-Harrison has neglected almost
everything that Spain has to offer. There's absolutely no reason
to follow him in his obsession.
In Chapter 10, in another of his unwitting gifts to the anti-
bullfighting cause, he writes, ' ... bullfights can actually be
monotonous. Yes, there is the terrible poetry of death, but it's the
same poem.'
Bad causes (of course there are degrees of badness, of an
extreme kind) often have at least one more sympathetic
character. Regimes which torture and execute their own people
and others they can lay their hands on may have as their public
face urbane and sophisticated types who disarm criticism
fluently, even charmingly. Saddam Hussein had Tariq Aziz as
the 'acceptable' face of mass massacre and other crimes.
Colonel Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam played a much lesser role,
becoming prominent only in the closing stages of the Colonel's
hold on power, but played a similar role. At least, he showed no
obvious traces of derangement in front of the cameras. Even the
Nazis had their less repulsive Nazis, in the view of some, such
as Hans Frank, despite the fact that he was at the head of the
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as Hans Frank, despite the fact that he was at the head of the
most extreme government of all the occupied countries.
William L. Shirer on Hans Frank in 'The Rise and Fall of the
Third Reich:'
'Nimble-minded, energetic, well read not only in the law but in
general literature, devoted to the arts and especially to music ...
his intelligence and cultivation partly offset his primitive
fanaticism and up to this time made him one of the least
repulsive of the men around Hitler. But behind the civilized
veneer of the man lay the cold killer. The forty-two-volume
journal he kept of his life and works, which showed up at
Nuremberg, was one of the most terrifying documents to come
out of the dark Nazi world, portraying the author as an icy,
efficient, ruthless, blood-thirsty man ... When once he heard that
Neurath, the 'Protector' of Bohemia, had put up posters
announcing the execution of seven Czech university students,
Frank announced to a Nazi journalist, 'If I wished to order that
one should hang up posters about every seven Poles shoct,
there would not be enough forests in Poland with which to make
the paper for these posters.'
'Himmler and Heydrich were assigned by Hitler to liquidate the
Jews. Frank's job, besides squeezing food and supplies and
forced labour out of Poland, was to liquidate the intelligentsia ...
Frank did not neglect the Jews ... His journal is full of his
thoughts and accomplishments on the subject. On October 7,
1940, it records a speech he made that day to a Nazi assembly
in Poland summing up his first year of effort.
'My dear Comrades! ... I could not eliminate all lice and Jews in
only one year. ['Public amused,' he notes down at this point.] But
in the course of time, and if you help me, this end will be
Alexander Fiske-Harrison took objection to my mention of
Nazism. His objections are made clear in this response which I
submitted for posting on his blog, together with my reply to his
'Alexander Fiske-Harrison’s comment of 5 December 2011
amounts to gross misrepresentation and falsification but is easily
explained – he read only a very little of my discussion of ‘Into the
Arena,’ and what he did read was read with insufficient care. The
material in question no longer appears at the beginning of my
discussion of ‘Into the Arena’ but at the end, since I felt that there
were more effective ways of opening the discussion.
'Alexander Fiske-Harrison writes [I quote his comments in full
below], ‘You actually open your discussion of my book by talking
about me as the acceptable face of Nazism.’ This, you feel,
makes it unnecessary for you take anything I write subsequently
with any seriousness. Your statement is completely unfounded. It
is Hans Frank, who governed occupied Poland, not you at all,
whom I name as one of the less repulsive Nazis ‘in the view of
some,’ such as the historian William L. Shirer (not the view of
myself.) This is what I write:
‘Bad causes (of course there are degrees of badness, of an
extreme kind) often have at least one more sympathetic
character … Even the Nazis had their less repulsive Nazis, in the
view of some, such as Hans Frank, despite the fact that he was
at the head of the most extreme government of all the occupied
‘Alexander Fiske-Harrison serves as the ‘acceptable face’ of the
vastly different bad cause of bullfighting (‘there are degrees of
badness, of an extreme kind’) to some people who are easily
pleased. This is someone who concedes that there’s a case
against bullfighting.’
'Whenever possible in my discussion of ‘Into the Arena’ and the
extensive page on bullfighting of which it forms a part, I attempt
to provide context, which includes reminders that there are other
issues besides bullfighting, some of which represent a far, far
worse evil than bullfighting, such as Nazism. In the introduction, I
write, ‘ … action against bullfighting should be with some
awareness of context, the context of preventable suffering,
animal suffering, such as the suffering of factory-farmed animals,
and human suffering.’
'There are very good reasons why writers on ethical issues
should often cite Nazism. It represents, in the view of many,
including myself, the worst evil of all. It’s also one which is far
more familiar to most readers than such evils as Stalinism. When
I’ve argued against pacifism or against the demonization of
Israel, and in other contexts, it has been natural to give evidence
and arguments which concern the Nazi regime.
‘Godwin’s Law,’ as you will surely recognize yourself, from your
advanced study of scientific method, is no law at all. It’s a
fatuous and arbitrary rule, a product of what I call ‘the
mechanical mind.’ It substitutes for free inquiry and responsible
debate the mechanical detection of a word and a mechanical
response: mechanically declaring an argument lost or declaring
that an argument is at an end.
'I argue that Roman Catholicism, Nazism and bullfighting have
linkages in one respect: they are very successful in their use of
appearances to hide the reality of the bad cause, as I see it:
attractive vestments, solemn ritual, often performed in
surroundings of great beauty, hiding for many people the bleaker
or more grotesque aspects of Roman Catholic dogma. Smart
uniforms, massive, choreographed parades and all the other
Nazi paraphernalia hiding for many people the disastrous and
despicable ideology. The very striking costumes of the matadors,
the parade before the bullfight, the spectacle of the bullfight
hiding for many people its cruel reality. This isn’t in the least to
claim that Roman Catholics are Nazis or bullfighting supporters
are Nazis. It’s simply giving instances of the contrast between
appearance and a reality, as I see it. In other respects, the
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appearance and a reality, as I see it. In other respects, the
contrasts are extreme.
'You condescendingly call for ‘a little more maturity’ in myself, to
benefit my thinking. Mark Rowlands, in his critical review of ‘Into
the Arena’ in ‘The Times Literary Supplement,’ mentioned your
use of ad hominem argument. You’re using ad hominem
argument yet again here.
'If this reply is deleted, like my questions to you concerning the
blunt horns of the bull you fought and killed (I argued that blunt
horns would make the fight far less dangerous to you), then at
least I have the option of publishing this reply on my own
It was deleted. Alexander Fiske-Harrison decided not to publish
these objections to what he'd written or to defend what he'd
Within a short time, the page on his site which gave his
misinterpretations was no longer available and an error
message appeared: 'The page you are looking for no longer
exists.' I was able to find a cached copy of the page and to
preserve his comments, evidence of his slovenly and evasive
approach to honest debate when it suits him. He wrote,
'Further to my previous remarks, I have actually read the part of
your blog dedicated to me. [Not all personal Websites are 'blogs.'
This site isn't a blog.]
'You seem to be completely unaware of Godwin’s Law (the so-
called reductio ad Hitlerum) which states that the longer an
internet discussion goes on, the more likely someone is to draw
an empty and unnecessary analogy with Nazism. It is generally
accepted that at this point the debate has become null and void.
You actually open your discussion of my book by talking about
me as the acceptable face of Nazism. As such I don’t feel the
need to take anything you write subsequent to that seriously. [He
feels no need to answer any difficult questions about the horns of
the bull he fought, for example.] A little more maturity and sense
of proportion would benefit your thinking greatly. AFH'
Alexander Fiske-Harrison's blog: The Anti-blog
This anti-bullfighting anti-blog is based on Alexander Fiske-
Harrison's pro-bullfighting blog, begun in October 2008: (The English version. In a
few places there are comment on his blog in Spanish:
This anti-blog will contain only a small number of entries -
enough to give some idea of his non-so-masterly use of the
tactics of concealment, evasion and distortion and (for students
of human nature) some idea of his vanity and conceit. Blogs, his
included, give the most recent entries first. This anti-blog uses
the reverse order. Alexander Fiske-Harrison's own words, and
any quotations he gives, are shown like this. My
comments are shown like this. Some entries referred to may
have been removed from his blog. He's explained that he
deletes some things 'for neatness.' I'd put it differently. He
obviously realizes that some things are ridiculous and shouldn't
be allowed to stay - but that leaves plenty of ridiculous material
in situ. I' ve often updated the anti-blog by extending older
entries as well as by adding new ones.
Alexander Fiske-Harrison is known as 'Xander' to his friends. To
his girlfriend (now ex-girlfriend) Antalya Nall-Cain, ex-model
trainee nutritional therapist elder daughter of Lord Brocket,
Xander, amateur male model ex-trainee-bullfighter youngest son
of Clive the Stockbroker is no ordinary man. He quotes the
whole of Richard Kay's article in 'The Daily Mail' (published
29.08.11) with the title, 'Antalya hits the bull's eye.'
It includes this (allegedly): He’s terribly handsome,
clever — and masculine. The article has some serious
deficiencies. One is that it doesn't give a photo of the handsome
'bullfighter-philosopher,' only of his girlfriend AN-C. AF-H
corrects the deficiency by providing a photograph of himself
directly after the article, allowing readers to appreciate the
accuracy of 'terribly handsome.' Another deficiency: according to
Richard Kay, Antalya says, 'He's terribly handsome, clever - and
macho' not 'He's terribly handsome, clever - and
masculine.' Alexander Fiske-Harrison may have misquoted
by accident, but this isn't at all likely. It's overwhelmingly likely
that he posted this by cutting and pasting the 'Daily Mail' article.
He gives the whole of the 'Daily Mail' piece and with identical
wording, except for that replacement of 'macho' by 'masculine.'
Perhaps he found the associations of 'macho' not too impressive,
perhaps he felt that some rewording of the published quotation
was called for. 'Macho:' 'manly' - fine - but 'domineering' 'over-
assertive,' 'aggressive' and 'chauvinistic' - no, not at all.
The article appears on his blog on the page News and Gossip.
A link to the original Daily Mail article.
He gives a short list of achievements:
Alexander Fiske-Harrison. Master of Arts
(Oxford), Master of Science (London), Matador de
Novillos (Seville)
'Matador de novillos' means 'killer of young bulls.' He doesn't
make it clear that by 'Seville' he's not referring to the 'Plaza de
Toros de la Real Maestranza,' the large, well-known killing
centre in Seville, but a completely different bullring, a small one
attached to a ranch outside Seville.
This is one of the entries which has since been deleted. All the
entries for January have been deleted, except for one. This
represents a very high attrition rate. The exception is an admiring
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represents a very high attrition rate. The exception is an admiring
book review and a comment from an admirer, a Dr Chris Blakey,
who writes, 'As an [East] Oxford resident I have
followed with much interest the debate in the
local press following your postponed talk at
Blackwells. I would very much like to offer you
my support and let you know that not everyone is
anti-bullfight. I am an aficionado of the corrida
and am member of a Club Taurin in a small village
in south west France. Every summer the village
has a week long festival which now includes 3
corridas with mise à mort ... [which means putting to
death, of the bull.]
His blog in Spanish has this beneath one of the publicity photos:
Alexander Fiske-Harrison, M.A., M.Sc.
This is the only blog I've seen where the author's academic
qualifications are put on display like this, just for the effect.
To mention some instances of Alexander Fiske-Harrison's vanity
doesn't in the least amount to 'argumentum ad hominem,' the
mistake of criticizing the person instead of addressing the
arguments (a common practice of Alexander Fiske-Harrison
according to the philosopher Mark Rowlands in his review of 'Into
the Arena' in the 'Times Literary Supplement.') On this page I
give many, many arguments against such arguments as
Alexander Fiske-Harrison uses. It's completely legitimate to
mention some personal details as well as giving the arguments.
In his 'History of Western Philosophy,' Bertrand Russell provides
philosophical arguments in his chapter on Schopenhauer, but
also personal information on some character flaws of
Schopenhauer. In his book 'Parerga and Paralipomena,'
Schopenhauer wrote with heartening and sometimes eloquent
indignation against cruelty to animals in various places, but
obviously defenders of animals can have character flaws.
Schopenhauer's character flaws are minor in relation to his
achievement in the history of philosophy and humane thought.
I regard argumentum ad hominem as an instance of
{substitution}. See the section, 'The importance of evaluating the
thing itself.'
The year before (13.09.11) he gave a talk at the Oxford and
Cambridge Club. I don't know anything about the quality of the
food served at this place, but if it's of a similar standard as the
talk, it's inedible. This Oxford graduate, talking to an audience of
Oxford and Cambridge alumni, serves up garbage - but the fact
that the presentation was evidently prim and proper may have
disguised it for most of the people present.
Now, I can – and have given – various relative
defences of bullfighting to Anglo-Saxon
audiences (in which loose tribe I count
myself) ... ' Anglo-Saxons are apparently
squeamish about bullfighting, but 'the British
don’t seem quite so squeamish about the brutal
and real death of animals contained in the
output of the BBC Natural History Unit.
The fact that lions kill and eat zebras becomes, according to his
sub-mediocre standards of reasoning, a reason to accept a very
wide range of human cruelties which it isn't in the least
'squeamish' to want to end.
Matador Juan José Padilla returns to the ring ... and so do I.
This marks a turning point in his blog. On the day before, he was
scheduled to talk at Blackwell's bookshop in Oxford about his
book 'Into the Arena.' The talk had been scheduled for an earlier
time and date. These were changed, because, he alleged,
animal rights activists had made threats, including death threats.
He'd made a comparison between himself and Salman Rushdie.
Later, he said that there had been a misunderstanding, that the
threats had been exaggerated - these were the fault of the
bookshop, according to him. In the section defending Freedom of
Expression, I include Alexander Fiske-Harrison's freedom of
expression in the defence.
The rescheduled talk was cancelled by Blackwell's. It was now
an all-ticket event, but there had been hardly any demand for
tickets. He blames the bookshop again, alleging that Blackwell's
exaggeration of the level of threats must have deterred people.
In the period leading up to the rescheduled talk, his attempts to
distance himself from bullfighting were obvious. He was
stressing the nuances and complexity of his attitude to
bullfighting in 'Into the Arena.' As my discussion in the previous
section shows, his approach to bullfighting in the book was never
very complex and as the book progressed, he identified more
and more closely with the bullfighting world.
After the talk was cancelled, he reverted to type. He's now
stressing once again his identification with the bullfighting world:
I will be at Padilla’s side in training on the
ranch – my own return to the ring with cattle -
and in the callejón - the bullfighter’s alley – at the plaza
de toros itself.
I think it's very likely that he expected a difficult time, a very
difficult time, if the talk had gone ahead, not from extremists but
from questioners, and that he was relieved when the talk was
cancelled. I can't of course prove this. I'd reserved a ticket for the
event, and I was set to travel from the North of England to
Oxford to attend. I was informed that questions and debate
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Oxford to attend. I was informed that questions and debate
would follow the talk and I wanted to ask some very probing
questions. I intended to ask him about the blunt horns of the bull
he killed, to get an answer to the questions I'd already put to him
by email, and which he'd refused to answer. I wanted very much
to ask him a further question, along these lines: 'In your book
'Into the Arena' you acknowledge that bulls suffer in the bullring -
but I'd say that you pay hardly any attention to the suffering of
the horses - but you claim that the 'artistry' of bullfighters can
justify the suffering. When you were preparing to fight and kill a
bull yourself, you knew that the picador's lancing of the bull and
your killing of the bull couldn't be justified by any 'artistry.' You
knew in advance that you just didn't have the experience to show
any 'artistry' with the cape or in any other way. The fight
confirmed that. There was no 'artistry.' You also knew in advance
that again and again, professional bullfighters don't kill a bull
with the sword quickly. It was very likely that your bull would die
slowly. The fight confirmed that too. When you tried to kill the bull
with the sword, you struck bone twice, then the sword was
embedded in the bull. As the bull was still alive, you tried, with
help, to get the bull to move this way and that so the sword
would move and cut a vital organ. When this failed, the bull had
its spine cut. Would you like to comment?'
He supplies captions for pictures from 'The Times.' The first one
shows Juan Belmonte next to a bull he has just killed. According
to Alexander Fiske-Harrison,
from 1914 to 1920 was bullfighting's Golden Age
I comment on this in the section Bullfighting's Golden Age. The
context is harrowing - and astonishing. In this 'Golden Age' as
many as 40 horses were disembowelled or otherwise killed - not
during each bullfighting season in Spain but during each bullfight
The Man of the Moment: Juan José Padilla
He announces the matador's forthcoming return to the ring in
Olivenza on March 4th, following his horrific injuries ...
This follows Padilla's loss of an eye after being injured by a bull.
Padilla is a heroic, larger than life figure in the blog. 'Into the
Arena' supplies this context:
'At one point, when the bull refuses to charge, he approaches it
and leans down asking it why. He leans his head between the
points of the two semi-circular horn arcs and asks again. The
crowd holds its breath. Then, with a flash, he head-butts the bull
between the eyes and steps back to receive the inevitable
charge. The applause is loud, but even louder when he does it a
second time.'
Is this heroism, or reckless stupidity?
And this (of a bullfight in which Padilla and Tomas both
'Padilla went into the ring to impress, and doing so, and in
contrast to the images of Tomás still replaying in my mind's eye,
he came across as reckless and artless. He brought the bull so
close to his body that it was constantly buffeting him ... Every
audience member seemed to be thinking the same thing
simultaneously: 'Padilla, we forgot about Padilla! And he took his
revenge on our nerves, forcing us to the edge of our seats with
his ludicrously dangerous caping.'
He provides a photograph of Padilla with an eyepatch over the
left eye. Not many days afterwards, the media show photographs
of Marie Colvin, with a patch over the left eye. She had lost an
eye in Sri Lanka in 2001, reporting on the conflict there, after
being hit by shrapnel. Now, it was her death that was reported.
She had been killed, with the French photojournalist Remi
Ochlik, by Syrian army shellfire.
I will appearing [sic] on BBC Radio Oxford for an hour this
morning to discuss my book Into The Arena: The World
Of The Spanish Bullfight. It begins at 10am, on Bill
Heine’s show ...
This was posted just before he was due to speak. Why he didn't
give the information earlier, so that his many admirers and
detractors had plenty of notice, is difficult to understand. He's a
blogger but not in the least a tireless or even moderately
conscientious one. Perhaps he's too busy practising bullfighting
technique with one of those contraptions on wheels with bull's
horns, or practising artistic cape-waving. I wouldn't know.
Other people had been invited to speak as well. On the same
side as Alexander Fiske-Harrison was someone introduced
simply as 'David,' the secretary of the Club-Taurino of London.
Very early on, Bill Heine made it clear that Alexander Fiske-
Harrison had received no death threats from animal rights
activists. If 'David' had requested minimum publicity - only the
mention of his first name - to protect himself then this was
ridiculous. His full name is David Penton, and he's in no danger
of being lynched or otherwise harmed by animal rights activists. I
can't guarantee that some of the people who know David Penton
but don't know about this reclusive individual's life as an
aficionado won't think less well of him once they find out.
The anti-bullfighting case was put by someone from the animal
rights organization PETA, which is a liability as well as an asset.
Its campaigning techniques are sometimes impressive,
sometimes ludicrous and excessive and sometimes despicable. I
can very easily give an example of ludicrousness and excess.
The representative from PETA who appeared on the show was
someone called - wait for it - Ms
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She wasn't introduced by this name but by her prevous name,
Abi Izzard.
From the section Three Spanish Restaurants:
'Abi Izzard of PETA changed her name officially to
'' (changes to
documents like her driving licence were necessary) to publicize
the fact that the store Fortnum and Mason still sells foie gras.'
I think she's probably had second thoughts about the wisdom of
the existing name change, though, and now sees one obvious
disadvantage: potentially, a lack of gravitas in certain situations,
for example debate with a defender of bullfighting.
Abi Izzard, if I can call her by her previous name, wasted the
opportunity. PETA, as an organization which opposes
bullfighting, ought to have made certain that their representative
was well informed and had read 'Into the Arena.' That ought to
have been done at an early stage, soon after the book's
publication. I don't know when she was invited to appear on the
programme. Even if it was the day before, a Saturday, there was
enough time to go out and buy the book and read the thing. She
obviously hadn't read it. If she had, she would have had so much
material to use against Alexander Fiske-Harrison's arguments.
That should be 'arguments.' I've demolished all the 'arguments'
used by Alexander Fiske-Harrison in the radio programme in the
material on this page. Presentation was at a much higher level.
The arguments were presented with great fluency. It was quite
something to hear him in full flow. This was the triumph of
presentation over substance. The sophists of ancient Greece
could make the worse case appear better. Alexander Fiske-
Harrison can be regarded as a contemporary sophist.
One member of the public, a hunt saboteur and anti-bullfighting
vegan, gave his opinion. This was quite a heartening contribution
but it was far less substantial than it seemed: anti-bullfighting
'standard stuff.' It took no account at all of the approach used by
Alexander Fiske-Harrison in 'Into the Arena' and consequently
could do nothing to demonstrate its multiple flaws.
No moral argument can be demonstrated by citing public opinion
polls. I don't make use of these surveys anywhere to establish a
case. They can be useful in tactics - politicians are more likely to
oppose bullfighting if they know that majority opinion doesn't
favour bullfighting - but not to establish the case against
bullfighting. Public opinion can be fickle and wrong-headed. The
methodology of public opinion surveys is often suspect. It's a
notorious fact that the phrasing of the questions can easily
influence the results obtained.
Even if the methodology is as sound as it possibly can be, under
the circumstances, it's a complete mistake to suppose that giving
the public what they want is morally right. Opinion polls carried
out in some Islamic countries by the 'Pew Global Attitude Project'
gave these results for the statistical samples studied:
82% support in Egypt and Pakistan for stoning to death people
who commit adultery.
84% support in Egypt for the death penalty for apostates (people
who leave the Moslem religion.)
76% support in Pakistan for the death penalty for apostates.
54% support in Egypt for making segregation of men and women
in the workplace the law.
85% support in Pakistan for making segregation of men and
women in the workplace the law.
Both the anti-bullfight advocates quoted opinion polls which
show that the majority of Spanish people either have no interest
in the bullfight or oppose it. Again, this is helpful tactically, but
not in the least helpful in arguing the case against bullfighting.
Alexander Fiske-Harrison is at his weakest in the realm of ideas -
which is surprising, given his academic background, but not
completely surprising. He didn't give the results of opinion polls
but used arguments which had just as little relevance. He
painted a vivid picture of Southern Spain, pointing out just how
embedded in the life of Southern Spain were the bulls, and
bullfighting. Again, the analogy from traditional Moslem belief is
relevant here. An apologist for stoning to death for adultery, for
punishing apostates with the death penalty and for segregation
of men and women in the workplace could paint a vivid picture of
a traditional Moslem society, in which these convictions are
deeply embedded.
At least the presenter, Bill Heine (the author of 'Heinstein of the
Airwaves') impressed.
Yesterday I spoke on BBC Radio Oxford with Bill
Heine about my book Into The Arena: The World Of
The Spanish Bullfight. The other guests were a hunt
saboteur, a representative of People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals – PETA – and the secretary of the Club Taurino of
London – CTL.
(The hunt saboteur he mentions wasn't a 'guest' but, as I've
explained previously, a member of the public who phoned to give
his opinions.)
He then gives a link to the recording of the programme. That's
all. No triumphalism, no comment of any kind. Recently, the
entries on his blog have been far more terse than they used to
be, in general.
I read this W. B. Yeats poem while walking in
the library just now.
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the library just now.
An Irish Airman Foresees his Death
I've a substantial interest in the poetry of Yeats, so I'm interested
to find this poem on Alexander Fiske-Harrison's blog - but his
reasons for including the poem are mysterious. He doesn't give
any explanation. If he's implicitly claiming a linkage between
Major Robert Gregory the pilot and himself, a bullfighter - both of
them exposed to danger - then the claim is gross. The average
life expectancy of a pilot in Italy at this stage in the war could
probably be measured in months. Air combat here was less
intense in general than over the Western Front, where life
expectancy could be a matter of a few weeks, but these
operations were still intensely dangerous. As I point out again
and again, bullfighters - professional as well as amateur - are
almost never killed by bulls.
Surprisingly, a critical comment from a reader, 'CarolinG,'
passes the blog's selection process: 'Very profound [the poem,
that is] - the difference being, those poor soldiers had a duty to
fight, you on the other hand do not.' The decision to allow
publication of this critical comment could have something to do
with the admiring and heartfelt remarks which this same reader
makes: 'You're too precious to lose, also one wants to read more
of your magic on other subjects.' CarolineG seems actually to
believe the self-serving romanticized myth-making, seems
actually to believe that bullfighters can so easily be taken from
them in the bullring and lost to the world.
Alexander Fiske-Harrison gives a comment in reply, none of it in
the least illuminating, and including this: 'Major Robert Gregory
was an Irish nationalist.' It would need a much longer comment
for him to do the least justice to the issues. It would need a much
longer comment from me to do the least justice to the issues. I've
written on aspects of Irish and Northern Irish history and
literature. See, for example, my concise examination of Irish
nationalism on the page Ireland and Northern Ireland: distortions
and illusions. Irish nationalism and the world of the aficionado
have this in common. They are both accomplished purveyors of
myths, seducing the susceptible, convincing them that the
hideous episodes in their national histories aren't the truest
expression of the harshness of reality but that bullfighting, or the
history of Ireland, is the truest expression.
On one particular point of fact in this particular posting,
Alexander Fiske-Harrison is mistaken. Despite anything he may
have read on the Internet, Major Robert Gregory wasn't an Irish
nationalist. From 'W B Yeats: A Life Volume II: The Arch-Poet
1915 - 1939' by R F Foster:
'By early 1918 feeling in Ireland was setting hard against the
endless war; this would be sharply exacerbated by the
government's move towards imposing conscription on Ireland in
the autumn. Since the executions of 1916, opposition to the
British war effort had spread widely even among political
moderates, while the tone of nationalist propaganda was vitriolic.
These feelings were not shared by Robert Gregory; his views
had long been anti-Sinn Féin and he seems to have fully
supported the war effort, joining the Royal Flying Corps with
alacrity early in the war.'
In his Everyman edition of the poems, the editor, Daniel Albright,
includes in his notes on the poem this quotation:
'Major Gregory [said] ... that the months since he joined the Army
had been the happiest of his life. I think they brought him peace
of mind, an escape from that shrinking as from his constant
struggle to resist those other gifts that brought him ease and
friendship. Leading his squadron in France or in Italy, [he was
killed in Italy] mind and hand were at one, will and desire.' This is
quoted by the editor Daniel Albright, who adds in his note to the
poem, 'Yeats thought that Robert Gregory, whose paintings were
full of subjective moodiness, had welcomed military service
because the life of common action helped him to flee from his
solitary world of reverie ... But in this poem his military mission
seems less and escape from solitude than the epitome of
it.' (Uncollected Prose by W. B. Yeats, vol. II, ed. John P. Frayne
and Colton Johnson (1975), P. 431.)
Daniel Albright's notes are very detailed and informative in
general, but not as useful as they could be in the case of this
poem, despite the provision of this quotation. His annotation for
Yeats's words 'Those that I fight' is 'the Germans, in Italy.' Robert
Gregory was fighting against forces of Austria-Hungary. His
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
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Gregory was fighting against forces of Austria Hungary. His
annotation for 'Those I guard' is 'the English, in whose army he
fought.' This is the common blurring of 'England' and 'Britain.' At
this time, Ireland was a constituent part of the United Kingdom.
Robert Gregory was a member of the Royal Flying Corps, which
was a part of the British army.
Marion Witt comments on the poem:
'So instantly palpable a poem seems to demand no exegesis;
but the process by which it came into being and the elements
united in it are extremely complex.' (Modern Philology, Vol. 48
No. 2)
On assignment for GQ magazine in Spain.
No other information given.
Mark Simpson, writing in 'The Independent' on GQ magazine
and similar outlets: 'The promotion of metrosexuality [he
introduced the word] was left to the men's style press,
magazines such as The Face, GQ, Esquire, Arena and FHM, the
new media which took off in the Eighties and is still growing....
They filled their magazines with images of narcissistic young
men sporting fashionable clothes and accessories. And they
persuaded other young men to study them with a mixture of envy
and desire.'
Despite this, I wouldn't prejudge the finished article. It may even
show Alexander Fiske-Harrison without a trace of narcissism.
Two matadors, one destination: Juan José Padilla & José
María Manzanares
These two are due to appear at the same slaughter facility (at
Olivenza) in a few days time. I've already discussed Padilla, the
head-butter of bulls and described by Alexander Fiske-Harrison
as 'the now one-eyed matador Juan José Padilla.'
José María Manzanares is described as Spain’s current
number one matador. Alexander Fiske-Harrison provides a
photograph of the matador fighting - or 'testing' - a cow. If this
sounds humdrum, no effort has been spared to make fighting a
cow a whole new cow-fighting experience, the most glamorous
cow-fighting experience ever. The matador is shown fighting the
cow on the sand - not the sand of a bullring but the sand next to
the great ocean.
I'd strongly recommend a visit to the slaughterman's own
Website. This page
shows him fighting an animal in the ocean surf. Is this an
unlikely place to be practising cow-fighting, or cow-testing ? But
of course, glamour photography demands glamorous locations
and for this purpose the surf is better than the bullring of some
unstylish ranch.
The same page shows the slaughterman relaxing whilst looking
stylishly stern on a luxurious-looking bed.
Another page likely to be hilarious for people not too impressed
by posing (except for the small photographs showing the
bullfighter with a bull):
Another page gives information about José María
Manzanares in the Special Men’s Fashion edition
of Hola Magazine.
Alexander Fiske-Harrison's attempts are completely eclipsed by
these minor masterpieces of self-promotion. The objection could
be made that José María Manzanares' Website lacks subtlety,
perhaps, that it could even be accused of blatantly pandering to
moronic style-obsessed people. I don't think in all honesty I could
disagree with that criticism.
But there's realism too. Consider this answer to the question
'Recently you have been defending the
Fiesta outside the bullrings.
-Yes, that is the objective. To promote and protect.
First we fought for the Fiesta to be managed by the
Ministry of Culture, and now we want to concentrate
on Barcelona.' The site isn't updated often enough.
Barcelona (and the rest of Catalonia) was lost to the
bullfighting cause some time ago, of course.
Alarm and defensiveness are spreading in the
bullfighting world. What none of them seem able to
do, Alexander Fiske-Harrison included, is to answer
or even acknowledge the difficult questions. They
won't be answered by fashion photography.
Another question and answer from the site - note the
lack of contrast between the old Spain (bullfighting
and the hold of the Roman Catholic Church) and the
new Spain (bullfighting and the continuing hold of the
Roman Catholic Church.)
Do you travel with a chapel?
Yes, and it keeps growing. I can’t reject any of the
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-Yes, and it keeps growing. I can’t reject any of the
religious cards given to me.
And another:
-And during the winter you seclude
yourself in the countryside with your
-The public see us in the bullring, and a bullfighter has
an image of being a party animal, but the reality is
that I spend the whole winter here in the countryside,
and we don’t go out
This is misinformation, surely, no doubt intended to
foster the image of the dedicated artist. In fact, like so
many other Spanish bullfighters, he spends some of
the winter in Latin American bullfighting countries.
This year, according to the 'Agenda' on his site, he
was bullfighting in Mexico on February 5, then he
went to fight in Colombia, then he was back in
Also added to the blog today by Alexander Fiske-
Harrison, a comment from a reader, 'Jenny' on a post
from the previous month. Spelling and grammar as in
the original. 'Sport' as in the original. Supporters of the
corrida don't like to see it described as a mere 'sport.'
Juan José Padilla may just be the sexiest man I have
ever see. I just read about him for the first time in my
life today.
The passion he has for this sport can be literally seen
in him. I think he is amazing and wish him the best in
his next endevour.
Which involves putting to the sword two animals
I have never before seen such valour.
Juan José Padilla, with one eye, takes
one ear from each bull. More soon. Still
in the ring…
Compare and contrast events on October 8 of last
year in the bullring in Zaragoza, where Padilla was
injured and lost an eye: on that occasion, Padilla took
no ears whilst the bull took one eye. In a fairer world,
the bull would leave the ring alive and victorious, but
this didn't happen, of course. The bull died, whilst
Padilla didn't. This is the kind of combat in which one
side has an almost guaranteed hope of success.
The published coments include this, from
So Brave ! So thrilling like he’s twice
the Guy… if that is possible.
Amazeing! [sic] CHE TORERO!
and, for once, a hostile comment:
Valour, are you real. Mr Harrison? this
excuse of a human being, is a cowrdly
sadist. Who enjoys torturing and killing
bulls,who have the odds stacked against
them,before entering the ring. He is in
no danger,as his retarded helpers,in
poncy clothes,all gang up on the bull if
he is in any way threatened. Why do you
give such timen and publicity to this
evil scumbag? If something, yo should be
protesting and calling for this
barbarity to be banned. utterly sickened
and shocked.
If Alexander Fiske-Harrison publishes any comment
which clearly opposes bullfighting, it can be taken
that he doesn't feel uncomfortable with it, that it poses
no real threat to his views, that it's harmless, from his
point of view. Anti-bullfighting activists would do well
to give some thought to this military analogy: find out
what the enemy very much wants and doesn't in the
least want. If a tactical move gives the enemy just
what he wants, then this is counter-productive. It can
be assumed that Alexander Fiske-Harrison doesn't
feel that this particular comment poses any sort of
difficulty for him. The best arguments against
Alexander Fiske-Harrison's views are likely to be the
ones he can't answer and would never publish on his
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blog. They have to be published on other sites.
Activists could gain a great deal by the study of 'The
Art of War,' the ancient Chinese book attributed to
Sun Tzu - a short and, despite the seriousness of its
subject matter, an attractive book. It contains a wealth
of insights, stressing such matters as the intelligent
choice of tactics and psychological penetration: 'If you
know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will
succumb in every battle.' (Translation of Lionel Giles.)
Carl von Clausewitz, 'On War,' is a very different kind
of book and far longer. Like 'The Art of War,' many of
its insights can be applied to the choice of tactics in
conflicts very different from military conflicts, such as
conflicts between opponents of bullfighting and
defenders of bullfighting. Obviously, it's impossible to
give adequate coverage here, but I have in mind such
sections as this (quoting only the title, my translation):
'Attack and defence are things of different kind and of
unequal strength, so polarity cannot be applied to
them.' (Chapter 1:16.) (an outstanding, very
comprehensive site on Clausewitz and his seminal
work, which includes the German text)'The principal
importance of Clausewitz's approach to strategic
theory is its realism. By this we do not mean
"Realism" in the terms of certain political science
theories or of mere cynicism about politics and naked
power, although the latter is not lacking in On War.
Rather, Clausewitz's approach is profoundly realistic
in that it describes the complex and uncertain manner
in which real-world events unfold, taking into account
both the frailties of human nature and the complexity
of the physical and psychological world.'
Sun Tzu and von Clausewitz are alike in stressing
human factors, such as morale. In sports, there's
'home advantage.' In bullfighting and many other
conflicts, there's 'established advantage,' the
advantage of having an established - or entrenched -
place in certain societies, to which are added the
advantages of having physical facilities in 'bricks and
mortar,' and financial advantages, such as the grants
of the European Union. There's evident lack of
polarity here. Opponents of bullfighting don't have
these advantages. I'm sure, however, that they do
have the moral advantage - not an automatic
assumption of moral superiority, but the outcome of
moral argument and evidence. The moral advantage
gives an advantage in morale, I believe. There's
abundant evidence that the morale of bullfighting
supporters has been significantly weakened.
I can't possibly do justice here to the subject of activist
tactics and strategy and the linkages and (immense)
contrasts with military tactics and strategy. Similarly
with all the other topics I discuss on this page.
Although it amounts to well over 60 000 words, this
isn't nearly enough to make possible a detailed
To go back to the return of Padilla, I discuss the
courage of the bullfighters above, in detail. It can't
possibly be maintained that Padilla is a coward -
confining attention only to physical courage. If he's in
no danger in the ring, since his helpers 'gang up on
the bull if he is in any way threatened,' how is it that
he was injured at Zaragoza? But it is true that usualy,
or very often, the bull is drawn away with capes so
that the immediate risk to a bullfighter is removed.
Alexander Fiske-Harrison's admiration for the 'valour'
of Padilla is grotesque, ignoring all context and
Padilla had powerful financial reasons for going back
into the bullring. If he took early retirement, he would
lose his income. He had powerful personal reasons
for going back into the bullring. If he took early
retirement, he would be without the adulation and the
He shows courage, reckless stupidity and an obvious
overwhelming feeling of inferiority. The feeling of
inferiority explains the undeniable courage and the
reckless stupidity. Alexander Fiske-Harrison gives the
evidence in 'Into the Arena.'
In Chapter 13, he describes Padilla and Tomás in the
same bullfight. Amongst aficionados, Tomás ranks far
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same bullfight. Amongst aficionados, Tomás ranks far
higher and Padilla is vastly inferior. He writes,
'There is something awful in watching a friend twist
his pride and his undeniably great courage into a
single corrupted knot and risk his life out of something
as small-minded as jealousy. Padilla went into the
ring to impress, and in doing so, and in contrast to the
images of Tomás still replaying in my mind's eye, he
came across as reckless and artless ... there was no
beauty in the movements, and there was only petty
ugliness in the motives. Every audience member
seemed to be thinking the same thing simultaneously:
'Padilla, we forgot about Padilla!' '
In making his come-back at Olivenza, Padilla was
showing not so much courage as a small-minded and
corrupted urge not to be eclipsed.
Alexander Fiske-Harrison adds a comment of his
own, which includes comment on courage. I've
discussed this already. And this: As for
tampering with the bulls, I was on the
ranch a week before and photographed
them extensively. The horns were
identical in the ring ...'
It can be assumed that he's comfortable with the
objector's comment, just as it can be assumed that he
was very uncomfortable with the comment I
submitted, in which I gave evidence that the bull he
fought himself and killed had been tampered with.
This is a matter in need of clarification. I hope he'll
eventually provide it.
As for Padilla being awarded two ears - does
Alexander Fiske-Harrison, do other bullfighting
devotees, have any idea how primitive this sounds -
how primitive it is? ( has a video which
shows an ear being cut off a bull, named 'Bright Eyes,'
which despite being stabbed in the spine is still alive.)
This photo is not what it seems
Alexander Fiske-Harrison discusses a photograph
showing a bull with a sword half-embedded in its back
and the matador sitting near it, in some sort of
emotional state. He gives convincing evidence that
this isn't the Colombian Álvaro Múnera Builes, who
became an animal rights/welfare activist. 'Nor do I find
it likely that the matador in the image is actually being
affected by the dying bull at all, but is in fact making
the sign of the cross as I have seen matadors do
hundreds of times, thanking God that he is still alive
as the bull dies.' The linkage between bullfighting and
religiosity is very strong. This has plausibility.
He publishes a comment by Koleman Zander which
puts him right on a number of things (Punctuation as
in the original.)
there is nothing wrong with a sword at
that depth. a media estocada, even a
pinchazo profondo if accurately placed
is no cause for shame. if it follows an
excellent faena sophisticated audiences
in sevilla or madrid will award ears.
you read far too much into the photo. it
is just as likely he is brushing sweat
from his brow. the sword in this case is
a bit caida but the matador’s pose,
seated on the estribo as the bull
agonizes is a desplante and desplantes
of this kind are usually reserved for a
triumphant performance. after a failed
faena he would be standing, surrounded
by his cuadrilla as they seek to hasten
the bulls death. you’re a semi-famous
taurine author, AFH. you should know
this stuff.
He doesn't put him right on his moral state. Koleman
Zander's assurance that there's nothing the matter
with his own moral state either is fortified by the usual
aficionado's reliance on technical information. Since
the aficionado knows about such things and most
anti-bullfighting writers don't then, he assumes the
aficionado must be right about other aspects of
bullfighting, such as its morality.
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bullfighting, such as its morality.
Alexander Fiske-Harrison concedes his mistake and
adds this glimpse into this spectator activity in
contemporary Europe, The bull looks to me
to be doing the walk of death along the
tablas, and I’ve hear that whistled many
a time…
533 professional bullfighters killed in
the ring since 1700.
I discuss this figure near the beginning of the section
The courage of the bullfighters.
He gives a link to two very brief Youtube video on the
return of Padilla to the bullring in Olivenza. A much
longer video is available on Youtube, showing Padilla
and other matadors in the ring at Olivenza. None of
these show what happened to any of the bulls after
any of the matadors stabbed the bull with the sword.
It's obvious that the bulls weren't killed
instantaneously, but how long the bulls took to die
isn't recorded anywhere, to the best of my knowledge.
One appreciative comment is recorded, from a
bullfighting supporter called Kay Bryan. The Youtube
comments on bullfight films are more often than not
very different and there are large numbers of them - a
healthy contempt for bullfighting and bullfighters,
hatred for bullfighting and bullfighters, revulsion
against the suffering and death of the bulls and the
vile mistreatment of the horses.
Capote y Toros, 157 Old Brompton Road,
London, SW5
... when a production company asked for a good
venue in which to talk about bulls, this is
where we ended up, under the photos of all the
great matadors alive today from Curro Romero to
Morante de la Puebla (its name is capote after
While I was there, the restauranteur-aficionado Abel Lusa came
along to say hello. He recently opened CyT and also owns the
more formal tapas restaurant Tendido Cero across the road, and
the justly famed Cambio de Tercio a few doors down, a favourite
of the likes of Rafa Nadal when he’s in town and most recently
graced by the Duchess of Cambridge.
The section Three Spanish Restaurants gives further
information about the aficionado Abel Lusa's business
He discusses his talk at the University of Seville on 20
April 2012. Everyone who attended the talk later went
to the bullring. He provides a photograph which
shows himself and his father in the audience. He
gives the information that his mother and girlfriend,
Antalya Nall-Cain, were in the audience as well. A film
of the bullfight (it lasts for nearly three hours) is
available. Of all the visual records of a bullfight known
to me, this film gives the most extensive coverage of
the reactions of the audience to the events in the
arena, including the applause when the bull has been
stabbed with the banderillas and the sword. I haven't
seen the whole film, and I've no intention of seeing
the whole film, but in the parts I have seen, the bulls
all die slowly. This is what so many of the people of
Seville pay to see, then - the shame of Seville.
Anyone who not only feels that the scenes are
exciting or interesting and that the excitement and
interest also justify the continued existence of
bullfighting could reflect on one thing, amongst others.
The film shows the parade which takes place before
the bullfight. It includes the picadors' horses. What
fear must these horses feel? They will already have
experienced terror in the bullring, even if they have
not been injured, if they have been in the bullring
before. The 'protective mattress' protects them only
against puncture wounds (but not invariably) not
injuries caused by the force of the bull, the bull's bulk.
The reliance only on the pleasure of the onlooker or
the experiences of the onlooker - an instance of what
I call the autocentric view - is no substitute for moral
questioning which involves a fuller ((survey)).
Some questions about the University of Seville and
other Spanish universities. Alexander Fiske-Harrison,
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like Lord Tristan Garel-Jones and so many other
bullfighting supporters, are evidently in the grip of a
deficiency theory. British and American culture and
the culture of most countries are allegedly deficient
because bullfights don't take place in these countries.
What about the deficiencies of Spain? Are Spanish
universities, including the University of Seville, among
the leading universities in the world, in scientific and
technological research and the many branches of
scholarship? Not at all. Every available measure of
their success suggests otherwise. Even the best
Spanish universities don't enjoy a high reputation
when compared with the better British and American
universities. (Without ever forgetting that a university
can be undeservedly neglected and that there may be
excellence in some areas, without attaining the wide
excellence which registers highly in the rankings.) I
wouldn't put too much emphasis on this point, but I
think the next point is very significant -
Spanish universities, like most other universities,
apart from specialized technological institutes, and so
on, have departments of literature. It's recognized that
the study of literature has more than enough
complexity and importance to justify scholarly study.
Some continental universities have departments of
oenology, or wine and wine production, since wine
has a very extensive subject matter. Does the
University of Seville or any other Spanish university
have a department of bullfighting studies, a
department of the corrida? Does any Spanish
university consider that bullfighting has the extensive
subject matter, has the importance, to justify
academic recognition and proper academic study of
bullfighting and bullfighters, except incidentally, in
sociological study, for instance?
I fully acknowledge that there are a fair few
errors in my book, Into The Arena: The World Of
The Spanish Bullfight , although it is a long
way from having one on “nearly every page.”
There are several causes for those that there
are, but no excuses ... the rush to publication
and improper fact-checking by myself and my
Jock Richardson of the Club Taurino of London had accused
Alexander Fiske-Harrison of poor standards of factual accuracy
and a poor attitude to the fiesta brava, the toros bravos (although
not of poor standards of moral reasoning.) I deal with this battle,
or rather minor skirmish, in the section on the Club Taurino.
In the comments section, there's an exchange of views with the
bullfighting supporter Matthew Clayfield, who writes, in
connection with the use of banderillas, 'Interesting that your
critique of the banderillas is both aesthetic and ethical ...'
Alexander Fiske-Harrison responds, “Ethik und Aesthetik
sind Eins” [Ethics and aesthetics are one and
the same], proposition 6.421,Tractatus Logico-
I give a quotation below from the blog of Zachary Bos which
comments on Alexander Fiske-Harrison's use of Wittgenstein's
proposition in the 'Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.' In this post,
Alexander Fiske-Harrison quotes the original German correctly.
When he used it in an earlier post, he misquoted, giving 'Ein'
instead of 'Eins.'
Wittgenstein's claim is a general one, and subject to a very large
number of difficulties and objections. It can't possibly be used to
justify a particular act - to claim that an act which is beautiful is
also ethical. The use of the claim in connection with the 'planting'
of banderillas is philosophically inept, worse than inept. If the
Romans had devised an 'artistic' method of 'placing' banderillas
in the backs of victims to be executed in arenas like the
Colosseum (used for executions as well as gladiatorial combats
and the killing of wild animals), then the 'beauty' of the scene, for
the spectators, would have {separation} from any ethical
The Wonder Reflex Blog of Zachary Bos isn't primarily an anti-
bullfighting blog (it addresses a wide range of issues, with great
intelligence) but it does include these comments on bullfighting,
Alexander Fiske-Harrison and Wittgenstein's proposition:
'The first organized bull-based entertainments, in
medieval Spain, were horrid affairs. Bulls were
slathered in gunpowder and set on fire, drowned in
water, and hurled to their deaths from the tops of
cliffs. In nineteenth-century Seville, a city grown rich
as the port of the Americas trade, young bourgeois
men began to refine these peasant rites, and
elaborated bullfighting as a three-act ritual. Its very
form, Hardouin-Fugier notes, was designed to mirror
public criminal executions, down to the period of time
that the bull was secluded before the event.
-- Ben Wallace-Wells, in his review for The New
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Ben Wallace Wells, in his review for The New
Republic of Elisabeth Hardouin-Fugier's Bullfighting: A
Troubled History.
'In September 2008, Alexander Fiske-Harrison
published in Prospect magazine a defense of
bullfighting, in which he answered affirmatively the
question he posed: can aesthetics justify the suffering
of the animal? I and others took him to task in the
now-disappeared comments thread at a now-defunct
Prospect blogs site. I'm prepared to reiterate all of the
arguments I published there, including a rejoinder to
Fiske-Harrison's proposal that bullfighting be
defended on the grounds that Wittgenstein wrote that
"[e]thics and aesthetics are one," Ethik und Ästhetik
sind Eins (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1999
[1922]: 6.421). Put briefly, aesthetic arguments may
not be given as constraints to ethical arguments, as
the terms are different. Just as, we can analogize,
weight in pounds cannot be used to describe height in
inches. Wittgenstein's is a throw-away statement,
quoted more often as aphorism than as principle. How
beautiful must something be in order to justify the
discomfort of the creator, the pain of the audience, or
the injury or death of some participant? This kind of
question might, really must, be asked of many
calculations -- how much convenience is worth a
poisoned ecosystem; how much profit is worth the
exploitation of certain classes; how much comfort
justifies our demure failure to challenge injustices and
indignities. When I asked Fiske-Harrison where the
pageantry of the bullfight begins to justify the suffering
of the animal, he evaded any answer. That at least is
honest; there can be no answer to such a question.
Ethics and aesthetics are not one. Can there?'
The literature on Wittgenstein's proposition is extensive, as might
be expected, for example Diané Collinson's article 'Ethics and
Aesthetics are one' in the 'British Journaly of Aethetics,' Vol. 25,
No. 3, Summer 1985.
After announcing to the readership of his blog that he has
contributed to the T.V. programme
World's Scariest Animal Attacks:
The Spanish Fighting Bull
This neatly coincides with my blog receiving its
one hundred thousandth hit.
I forwarded a comment on the significance of 100 000 hits (I
explain below why I chose to comment on this subject of 'hits,'
one with no importance in assessing the moral objections to
bullfighting.) The comment was published on his blog and he
added some outspoken criticisms of me.
What does it feel like to be subjected to Alexander Fiske-
Harrison's outspoken criticisms? All I can convey is my own
personal experience. Let me say this to begin with:
To be subjected to Alexander Fiske-Harrison's criticisms isn't
very pleasant.
To dispel any impression that I was left trembling and shaking, I
have to add straight away that to be subjected to his criticisms
isn't mildly pleasant either, or very unpleasant or mildly
unpleasant. The experience left no impression at all but a trace
of mild surprise and incredulity (not very great surprise or
incredulity, because I'm very familiar with his reactions). Can he
really have thought he was putting forward devastating
criticisms? If I'd been encountering for the first time in this
comment section his claim that I'd classed him with the Nazis, I
would have have been incandescent with anger at the injustice
of his remarks, but this wasn't the first time I'd read his
monstrous-puerile claim, and I knew so much about his
carelessness in reading, his casual interpretations.
World's Least Scary Aficionado Attacks: The Writer on
Spanish Bullfighting Alexander Fiske-Harrison
To me, confining attention to this issue. Alexander Fiske-
Harrison represents mimicry. Think of a picnic, and one of the
people there terrified by a wasp, having been badly stung in the
past. But no need to worry - this is a hoverfly, not a wasp. It
looks like a wasp but it's harmless. If Alexander Fiske-Harrison
seems to be a formidable opponent, he's no such thing. He's
Alexander Fiske-Harrison can write vividly about his personal
experiences and he can talk very fluently, but this is a matter of
style rather than substance. He addresses anti-bullfighting
arguments more rarely than is often supposed, and when he
does argue the case for bullfighting, he shows that he's no
thinker in this field - not just harmless as a thinker but ridiculous
as well, sometimes. Take this, for example, an argument of his
which I discuss above. He writes,
'If man has a moral duty to minimise the suffering of non-human
animals in so far as he is capable, then there is no way in this
scheme, in theory, to distinguish between domestic animals and
wild ones. So our duty would include, for example, stopping lions
from killing antelope in so far as we are capable.'
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from killing antelope in so far as we are capable.'
Mark Rowlands disposed of this erroneous argument in his
review in the 'Times Literary Supplement.' I add,
'This 'argument' is worse than feeble, practically moronic.
Humanity has a general responsibility to domestic animals and a
general responsibility not to inflict unnecessary suffering on wild
animals, but no general responsibility to prevent the suffering of
a wild animal caused by another wild animal. There are no
responsibilities in cases where action is impossible, except for
token gestures. Making these token gestures would be a
ridiculous waste of time, energy and money. Are people with a
concern for animal welfare expected to fly to an African country,
equip ourselves with tranquillizing equipment and begin 'stopping
lions from killing antelope in so far as we are capable,' or send
money to people in Africa who can undertake the task on our
behalf? All the world's resources would be completely insufficient
to do more than make a start on such a grandiose and
nonsensical project.'
If I put forward a comment for his approval, I thought it very, very
unlikely that there would be such a thing as a 'meeting of minds,'
'constructive dialogue,' any possibility of scholarly - but robust-
exchange of argument. I decided that I might as well write about
a peripheral matter, Web statistics, 'hits' on his blog, since he
seemed completely unwilling to debate more central matters, but
I did draw to his attention the existence of this anti-blog.
In general, his criticisms are answered by reference to the
guiding principles I've attempted to follow on this page: attention
to detail, attention to significant contrasts, avoiding the blurring of
significant contrasts, fuller discussion and analysis rather than
emphasis on very short but potentially misleading statements.
Although Web statistics are peripheral here, the distinctions
between the numbers of hits, number of visits, number of visitors
and number of page views is central to the interpretation of Web
Statistics, and for very good reasons. To call the number of page
views the 'hits' abandons some of these distinctions.
I'd already explained to Alexander Fiske-Harrison why it was
completely mistaken to suppose that I'd ever referred to him as a
Nazi. I oppose completely irresponsible use of this word - as in
'feminazi' or 'fashion Nazis,' any use of 'Nazi' as a general term
of dislike or disapproval. A full discussion of the matter can be
found in my review of 'Into the Arena' on this page.
Alexander Fiske-Harrison writes,
the man with such a paucity of historical
references that he has to fall back on the
Before I explain my views on the importance of context, including
historical context, I make it clear that Alexander Fiske-Harrison
can't possibly have read with any care, If he had, he would have
found not a shortage of historical references but a wide range of
historical references - to the Napoleonic Wars, including the
French retreat from Moscow, the Spanish Civil War, the
American Civil War, the First World War, the history of Irish
nationalism, the industrial history of this country, and the history
of Rome: the Colosseum and the gladiatorial games.
A few quotations from this page:
The Spanish Civil War: 'Paul Preston is the foremost British
historian of the Spanish civil war. His books include 'The Spanish
Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century
Spain,' which documents the slaughter and torture of those
years. He estimates that at least 130 000 people were executed
by the nationalists during the war but the total is likely to have
been much higher. He estimates that just under 50 000 people
were killed by the Republicans. Compare the attention given to
the 533 bullfighters killed in the ring since 1700 by Alexander
Fiske-Harrison. When the town of Badajoz was captured by the
nationalists on August 14, 1936, the prisoners were confined in
the bullring. Hundreds were killed in the executions which began
that night. Soon, as many as 4 000 people were killed.' I cite the
Spanish Civil War in various other places, in connection with the
poet, dramatist and aficionado Lorca.
The American Civil War: 'Between 1863 and 1869, no deaths
are recorded for matadors. During the American Civil War in just
one prison (Salisbury, North Carolina) during a four month
period (October 1864 - February 1865) 3,708 prisoners died out
of a total of about 11 000. (Information from the 'Civil War
Gazette.') This is about a 33% mortality rate. If a similar mortality
rate applied to bullfighting, then in one single bullfighting season
in Spain there would be markedly more bullfighters killed than
have been killed in three centuries of bullfighting.
The industrial history of this country: My poem Mines is
about child-labour in coal mines. It mentions the rock falls and
explosions which have caused so many deaths and injuries, but
there were other ways of dying horribly, such as drowning when
the mine workings were flooded, or a fall to the bottom of the
mine shaft when the cage fell uncontrollably. A very few statistics
(for single incidents, not the total for the year) from an
enormously long list: the 439 deaths at Senghenydd in Wales in
1913, the 290 deaths at Cilfynydd, the 388 deaths not far from
here, near Barnsley in Yorkshire in 1866, and the 1 549 miners
killed at Benxihu in China in 1942.
As for injuries, in mining as in bullfighting so much more
numerous than the fatalities, it isn't obvious in the least that a
horn wound in the leg is worse than the crushing of legs by a
rock fall. And there's a very significant difference. An injured bull
fighter is taken out of the bull-ring in a minute or two and is
immediately treated in the bull-ring infirmary. The crushed coal
miner had, and still has, no such benefit. Even with modern
equipment, reaching the miner after a rock fall may be very
difficult and may take days, or may be impossible. A severely
injured high-altitude mountaineer also faces a prolonged and
agonizing wait for rescue and medical treatment, if rescue and
medical treatment are practicable at all.
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medical treatment are practicable at all.
'A L Kennedy, on bullfighting plazas: '...all first-class plazas have
fully equipped and staffed operating theatres standing ready,
next to the ring.'
This Anti-blog contains a discussion of Irish nationalism during
the First World War, prompted by Alexander Fiske-Harrison's
quoting and discussion of a poem by Yeats.
My page Ireland and Northern Ireland: distortions and illusions -
and many other pages on this site - doesn't have a 'paucity of
historical references' either. These are the headings for the
separate sections, after the Introduction: The Troubles (that is,
the period of terrorist activity involving the IRA, other republican
organizations and loyalist organizations, The Second World War,
1916, The Great Famine, The rebellion of 1798, the Vendée and
Napoleon, The earlier period. There's a great deal about the time
of the Troubles on this site - I lived in Northern Ireland when
terrorist action was at its most intense. The bombing and
bloodshed left an indelible impression on my mind.
I write on this anti-bullfighting page,
'Whenever possible in my discussion of ‘Into the Arena’ and the
extensive page on bullfighting of which it forms a part, I attempt
to provide context, which includes reminders that there are other
issues besides bullfighting, some of which represent a far, far
worse evil than bullfighting, such as Nazism. In the introduction, I
write, ‘ … action against bullfighting should be with some
awareness of context, the context of preventable suffering,
animal suffering, such as the suffering of factory-farmed animals,
and human suffering.’
'There are very good reasons why writers on ethical issues should
often cite Nazism. It represents, in the view of many, including
myself, the worst evil of all. It’s also one which is far more familiar
to most readers than such evils as Stalinism. When I’ve argued
against pacifism or against the demonization of Israel, and in other
contexts, it has been natural to give evidence and arguments
which concern the Nazi regime.'
He now uses the word 'obliquely' in connection with his completely
unjustifiable claim. I didn't compare him with Nazis directly or
I drew his attention to this passage quite a time ago.
After making claims for the courage of bullfighters, he adds this,
However, almost anything pales in comparison,
though, to extreme military valour, such as – for
example – my cousins at several degrees of
remove, the Goughs, who were awarded three
Victoria Crosses in two generations.
He establishes a distant link with military courage - 'cousins at
several degrees of remove' - but misrepresents the situation. It's
important not to compare 'extreme military valour' with 'almost
anything' but to compare 'everyday' military valour with the
courage needed in bullfighting. Millions of men and women in the
Second World War, and in earlier and later conflicts, and not just
the ones who won medals, faced a far, far greater risk of death
than Alexander Fiske-Harrison facing his bull with blunt horns,
Jose Tomas facing his bulls with sharp horns, and all the other
bullfighters - often carried 'on shoulders' through the 'puerte
grande' of the bullring, in the traditional diseased spectacle of
mass adulation. The soldiers who approached the Normandy
coast in their landing craft on D-day, about to face intense fire, just
got on with it, and in general resumed their quiet lives.
Here's a short film, lasting a little over half a minute, which shows
the adulation of the bullfighting audience. The matador carried
through the gates of the bullring is El Juli and the bullring is Las
Ventas, Madrid:
He writes,
As for comments – something which I note you
lack the courage to allow on your own “website”,
(I use inverted commas as, since it is clearly
being constantly updated to mirror this blog, it
is actually a blog)
I've every reason for believing that withstanding the collective
comments of defenders of bullfighting would be akin to
withstanding a shambling group of vague-minded innocents
armed with rolled up newspapers and would require no courage
at all. I believe I've more than adequate supplies of ammunition -
evidence and arguments - to hold my own. The dealings I've had
with aficionados and other defenders of bulfighting, my
communications with them, give me every confidence.
Anyone who has the patience to read the comments from
supporters of bullfighting on Alexander Fiske-Harrison's blog will,
I submit, find reasons for thinking that these supporters have
only modest resources as opponents, that they aren't in the least
opponents to be reckoned with. This comment, from Barbara
Ritchie, an aficionado and member of the Club Taurino of
London (she may be an ex-member by now, after her differences
with Jock Richardson of the same club) is below the average
standard, but even the 'best' comments are nothing special at all.
She writes,
'And what’s this about cricket J.R. p.44) ????????? (never, to
my knowledge EVER to have mentioned it, I am mystified).'
From the section on Lord Tristan Garel-Jones: ' I've drawn the
attention of many individual bullfighting supporters and
bullfighting organizations to this material and received replies -
the most common responses amount to 'I'll see what I can do,' -
but silence has followed. Not one defence of bullfighting against
these arguments.'
I've every reason for believing that if I implemented a comments
facility, there would be far more comments from supporters (and
opponents of bullfighting) than people who oppose me
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opponents of bullfighting) than people who oppose me
(supporters of bullfighting.) Although I regard this page as an
outline of the issues rather than a very detailed treatment, there's
sufficient detail, the issues are discussed at sufficient length, to
deter very quick reading. There are many people who lack the
time or the inclination to read even discussions of modest length.
Very brief comments might well attract attention, such as, to give
a hypothetical example, 'I agree with everything you say, the
bullfighter is a coward, who tortures bulls to death.' In my
discussion, I'm careful to distinguish the danger of death from
the danger of injury in the bullring, and to make it clear that in
view of the danger of injury - although this is very much
increased by the recklessness and stupidity of bullfighters,
motivated in large part by their wish to enhance their own
reputations - it isn't reasonable to suppose that bullfighters are
cowards. It would be impossible to add to this page the lengthy
comments which I think are needed in general to do justice to the
issues. If I make it as easy as possible to find comments which
are critical of me or this page, hostile to me and this page, I don't
see what cause there is for complaint.
In the past, I've not been the least bit perturbed when a circus
worker said that he'd break every bone in my body (at a
demonstration against the use of animals in a circus), and I'm
sure that the collective outrage of aficionados would cause me
not the least worry.
The useful distinction ( a useful starting point at least in
classifying material on the internet) between a Website and a
blog is another one which Alexander Fiske-Harrison erodes.
There can be hybrid forms but it should be obvious to anyone
examining the other pages of this site, or at least some of them,
is that this is a personal Website, not a blog. There's only one
page with any blog-like features, the Anti-Blog on this page, and
most of the content isn't in the form characteristic of a blog.
Blogs, such as Wordpress blogs, come with a comments facility
which is part of a blog. The writer doesn't have to set up a
comments facility. The creator of a Website has to implement a
facility such as the one provided by Disqus. Alexander Fiske-
Harrison has a Website as well as his blog on bullfighting
(there's also a blog concerned with his play 'The Pendulum.' (the
blog concerned with the play is a good one, honest and
informative.) The Website www dot intothearena dot co dot uk
doesn't have any facility for comments! It doesn't have any
contact information of any kind. Anyone wanting to email
Alexander Fiske-Harrison to comment on the information is out
of luck. There's no contact information of any kind for his blog
concerned with 'The Pendulum.' http:// thependulumplay dot
wordpress dot com
His blog on bullfighting does have a comments facility, but no
email address. An email address, which I provide on virtually
every page, is very important for forwarding comments. -
otherwise, a person can only submit a comment to be published.
He has stated that comments will be published, provided they
are 'civil.'
My policy has never been so restrictive. I've been publishing
comments critical of me for a long time, whether civil or not. Take
this example, which had its origin in an issue to do with
bullfighting. It was published in a newspaper: 'You've met Mr
Hurt's type: not thick exactly, just a bit impervious to nuance, a
bit cognitively impaired, like Sarah Palin maybe.' I didn't respond
with anger, I didn't attempt to vilify the writer. I sent the journalist
a courteous email, providing him with my home phone number
and suggested that if he wanted to talk about the matter then he
was welcome to phone me. (My phone number is in the Sheffield
directory, for people who prefer to contact me in that way.) I
didn't demand an apology from the journalist and he didn't give
one, but that didn't stop me from praising him and quoting from
some of his writing. We've had a friendly exchange of emails
since then. The quotation can be be found on this page, in the
section Freedom of Expression. If Alexander Fiske-Harrison
cares to look, he'll find quite a number of choice insults directed
at me which I quote in this site, such as 'dickhead' and
'philistine.' My response to criticism is varied, not invariable. If I
respect the writer, then I'll respond amiably. If I don't, then I may
write in very forceful terms - but this isn't possible, or desirable,
in every case. It would be impossible to find the time. The
comment may simply be ignored.
I consider Alexander Fiske-Harrison a very petulant opponent - I
do have to consider him an opponent - and not an opponent I
respect in general. (But I respect his talents as a literary stylist, if
not a stylist of great individuality, and even to some extent his
flair in speaking, his fluency - but this is a matter of style rather
than substance.)
He writes,
I publish, change and delete posts for my own
reasons, for which I offer no explanation or
apology. If I do not “conform” to the behaviour
you expect of a blogger then all I can say is
It's his blog, and he can do what he likes with it. Nothing on this
site contradicts that idea. In the same way, this is my site, and
I'm entitled to make a policy and follow it. But he published a
completely different policy - that 'civil' comments would be
published. Soon after, I submitted a 'civil' comment, including a
polite question about the horns of the bull he killed, and it was
In my anti-bullfighting blog I mention the fact that he accused me
of being a liar, accused me of making up a quote and very
quickly deleted all reference to these accusations. It was
contemptible weakness for him not to publish a retraction, to hide
his errory in this way.
He writes,
I mean, over 180 mentions of my name in what would be, were it
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printed as a book, about 180 pages is just weird.
There are sections on this page with comments on various
'defenders of bullfighting.' It will come as no surprise that in the
section concerned with A L Kennedy I mention A L Kennedy's
name often. In the section concerned with Lord Tristan Garel-
Jones I have cause to mention his name often. Alexander Fiske-
Harrison (I hope I'll be excused for mentioning his name again)
has two sections, longer than the ones for other people. This is
understandable. It can be claimed that he's the most prominent
present-day defender of bullfighting in the English-speaking
world (which isn't in the least a compliment, to me.) If he
welcomes the prominence, he has to expect more frequent
mentions, greater scrutiny, the possibility of more frequent
criticism. As they say, 'If you can't stand the heat, get out of the
I've written far more about the poet Seamus Heaney than about
bullfighting (and Alexander Fiske-Harrison) and I've had cause to
mention Seamus Heaney's name far more often than his. It isn't
'weird' to mention Seamus Heaney's name in discussions of the
poet and his poetry. I've mentioned the names 'Rilke' and 'Kafka'
very often in my page on Rilke and Kafka, the name 'Nietzsche'
very often in my page on Nietzsche and the name 'Jared Carter'
very often in my page on Jared Carter's poetry. Further
examples would be superfluous, I'm sure.
His comments don't do justice to the issues even remotely. To
mention just one issue. I hope that he will be able to find the time
to comment on this claim I make above:
'In the Prologue of 'Into the Arena' he writes of bullfighting,
'When it was done well, it seemed a good thing; when done
badly it was an unmitigated sin.' On his blog, he gives great
prominence to this: 'I can't think of many spectacles in the world
which are evil when done badly but good when done well.' 'But
he knew for certain that his own performance would be without
'artistry,' the people who came to watch him - nearly a hundred
of them, including his parents - knew that it would be without
artistry. In the Prologue, he writes of bullfighting, By this
principle, he has to regard his own fight and killing as an
'unmitigated sin' or 'evil.' '
A reader guided only by his comments would very likely gain a
completely erroneous view of this site, and would suppose that
it's a site with one aim, opposition to bullfighting, with an almost
exclusive emphasis on Alexander Fiske-Harrison. This
misconception would be dispelled very quickly by a glance at the
Home Page and the Site Map (links provided at the top of this
I've no fixed intention to denigrate Alexander Fiske-Harrison at
every opportunity. If I ever write about his play 'The Pendulum,'
for instance, it will be uninfluenced by my opinion of his
bullfighting writings, just as my review of A L Kennedy's novel
'Paradise' was uninfluenced by my critical review of her book 'On
Bullfighting.' The complete review of 'On Bullfighting' (there are
extracts on this page), the review of 'Paradise' and other works
can be found on my page A L Kennedy. My review of 'Paradise'
begins, A L Kennedy's 'Paradise' is an outstanding novel.' it
includes this, 'Its insights are very often superb.' (I don't confine
myself to generalities, of course.)
These are my comments on 'A L Kennedy in person' on the
same review page. I quote the whole of the section:
'An evening with A L Kennedy,' an event at a literary festival I
attended recently, was a complete delight. She's self-
deprecating, almost self-effacing, but has very great presence, a
very attractive presence, impressive in her professionalism, but
with the enthusiasm of an amateur, seriousness conveyed with a
light touch. For once, the person can give an enhanced
appreciation of the writing - it's easier to appreciate the
individuality, amounting to uniqueness, of the writing, after
hearing her in person. I regretted more than ever her disastrous
excursion into the world of the bullfight.'
I give this as evidence that if I find good reason for criticism, I
criticize and if I find reason for praise, I praise. I obviously think
that Alexander Fiske-Harrison's excursion into the world of the
bullfight was disastrous too, but doesn't amount to anything like
a general failure.
A major flaw of his book 'Into the Arena' is its failure to give
context, its failure to make any use of the comparative approach
in some crucial areas - occasionally, of course, not throughout.
The repeated references to the dangers of the bullring tend to
give the impression that the danger of death in the bullring is
very high. Once context is given - and I do give context on this
page, in some detail - then it's apparent that this isn't so. Here
again, he ignores important distinctions. The danger of injury in
the bullring is appreciable, the danger of death in the ring is
negligible. He ignores such important issues as 'contributory
negligence,' such as the idiotic recklessness of Padilla.
He records on his blog his astonishment at the section in my
review of 'Into the Arena' which concerns 'transcendental
experiences outside bullfighting,' the section which includes
images of the sea, an architectura masterpiece and a Van Gogh
painting. There are various reasons why I included this section.
Immediately after the section, I write, 'These images of nature,
architecture and painting, and the examples I give, are no more
than reminders, of course - other people can come up with
reminders of their own - of the world beyond bullfighting. The
wider world can seem distant when one is within its narrow
confines, even if only, temporarily, as a reader of bullfighting
works. Contact with a narrow religious sect might give rise to
similar feelings, the need for similar simple reminders of the
wider world beyond the sect.'
I write in the Introduction, 'So much writing in support of
bullfighting is suffocating in its exclusion of the world beyond
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bullfighting is suffocating in its exclusion of the world beyond
bullfighting. I see no reason why my anti-bullfighting page
should follow this example. The supplementary material I
include goes far beyond the limited world of bullfighting. For
example, I give reminders of human courage and artistic
achievement which owe nothing to bullfighting and discuss or
mention natural beauty, wildlife, wildlife conservation and other
Just a paragraph or two, just a few lines, perhaps, would have
left the book less vulnerable to criticism. I didn't expect him to
write about sunsets over the sea, but I did expect to find some
indication that he has some capability for aesthetic experience
outside bullfighting.
Hemingway, the barbarian, had one thing in his favour: if his
aesthetic awareness was deficient, and it was, it wasn't deficient
in breadth. Alexander Fiske-Harrison is evidently offended by my
pointing out the narrowness of 'Into the Arena,' although
obviously I didn't expect him to write about the Aegean sea, one
of the illustrative examples I used. He should read Chapter 20 of
'Death in the Afternoon,' which offers a striking contrast with the
narrow focus of 'Into the Arena,' its impoverished aesthetics.
Alexander Fiske-Harrison decided to write a book for publication
about bullfighting and some aspects of its world and decided to
do just that, no more, or not much more. Chapter 20 of 'Death in
the Afternoon' begins 'If I could have made this enough of a book
it would have had everything in it.' This is obviously impossible,
but what he does include is striking in itself and striking in its
contrast with Alexander Fiske-Harrison's parsimonious
procedure. Hemingway gives a wealth of scenes and sights,
experiences and insights with nothing to do with bullfighting
which he thinks should be in a book about bullfighting.
In this book - on bullfighting - 'There ought to be ... the chestnut
woods on the high hills, the green country and the rivers, the red
dust, the small shade beside the dry rivers and the white, baked
clay hills; cool walking under palms in the old city on the cliff
above the sea, cool in the evening with the breeze; mosquitoes
at night, but in the morning the water clear and the sand white;
then sitting in the havy twilight at Miro's; vines as far as you can
see, cut by the hedges and the road; the railroad and the sea
with pebbly beach and tall papyrus grass.'
But it's impossible to do justice to the riches of the world, to do
more than sample them, that is, for people who don't live lives of
the utmost privation. (Anyone with the leisure and the means to
afford a ticket to a bullfight is one of this more privileged group.)
To concentrate on some experiences is to neglect others.
People who live without watching bullfights aren't deprived - to
suppose otherwise is to accept what I call the deficiency theory.
Alexander Fiske-Harrison's narrowness, his avoidance of the
comparative approach, doesn't succeed in suppressing the
obvious questions.
A L Kennedy, in her book 'On Bullfighting' and Hemingway, in
'Death in the Afternoon,' do use the comparative approach, do
attempt to give context, to put bullfighting's artistic claims in
context, to compare bullfighting with other artistic activity. In
each case, it amounts to only a few lines, but it makes a
substantial difference. A L Kennedy writes,
'The corrida can sometimes create the effect of art (as can, for
that matter, a voodoo ceremony, a funeral or a high mass) but it
is divided against itself, because of the unpredictability of the
bull, because of the numerous abuses of its own laws, because it
hopes to weaken the bull, but leave it glorious, to defend the
matador, but give him something to overcome. The corrida,
although it has its own rigours and remarkable individual toreros,
currently lacks the overarching discipline, creative economy and
communicative breadth of an art. It could also be said that its
levels of cruelty and violence prevent it being an art, that an art
cannot exceed certain parameters of damage, that it cannot
cause death.'
This comment of Hemingway's is very brief but very significant:
' 'If it were permanent it could be one of the major arts, but it is
not and so it finishes with whoever makes it.'
The nearest that Alexander Fiske-Harrison comes to providing
context in this regard is his admission that bullfights can be
boring and tedious. A very brief comment on the 'performance' of
a bullfighter who impresses him and other aficionados
immensely - is this major art or minor art? I make my own views
very clear on this page.
Nobody can complain if a book about the financial problems of
the Bank of X is mainly about the Bank of X, but the book would
be seriously deficient if it ignored all context. How does the Bank
of X compare with the Bank of Y or the Bank of Z? It may be that
giving a much wider context, making comparisons with the
financial problems of the non-banking sector, for instance, would
benefit the book very much.
If someone wrote a book about the matador Padilla, then to
concentrate attention on Padilla would be reasonable, but not to
the exclusion of context - for example how does Padilla compare
with other matadors? (Not to accept for one moment the
bullfighting activities, of course.) To write about matadors, in a
book for a wider audience, one which isn't made up only of
bullfighting supporters, without the least attempt to put the
'artistry' claimed for some bullfighters in an artistic context, to
mention other examples of artistry, seems very unwise.
In this post, he finally sheds some light on the matter of the blunt
horns of the bull he fought and killed: ' ... you ask about the blunt
horn in the main photo of the bull I fought, Consejote. I have no
idea why that was. Given the noise before he exited the corrals, I
am guessing he charged the steel gate before he enterred. The
other horn wasn’t all that sharp either, but not nearly so blunt that
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Bullfighting: arguments against and action against

Page 80
I don't treat information and discussions on the site
mundo.taurino as definitive, but I quote some of the site's
comprehensive discussion of afeitado, horn shaving: 'Why do
bullfighters want to fight shaved bulls? The answer is that
shaving a horn, even very discreetly, removes the naturally
hardened tip. Bullfighters call it the "diamante", and this term
reveals their concern. Just as diamonds are one of the hardest
natural substances, the diamante of a horn has the greatest
penetration potential. When this "edge" is removed or dulled,
even though the horn is "re-sharpened", the horn becomes less
dangerous. Toreros know there is a reduced chance of
penetration from a shaved horn, much like a juggler might prefer
to perform with butter knives rather than scalpels. It is really that
If this account of the matter has validity, then the blunt-horned
bull fought by Alexander Fiske-Harrison wasn't as dangerous as
a bull with sharp horns would have been, other things being
equal. See also my comments on the animal whose horn tips
were removed by boltcutters, left unexplained in 'Into the Arena.'
On a matter unconnected with his comments on me, he adds this
slogan to his blog page: Viva la Fiesta Brava! This
seems to be a rousing endorsement of bullfighting. The slogan
means 'long live bullfighting,' since 'la Fiesta Brava' is a
reference to bullfighting. Anyone who has followed his
'investigations' will realize that there have been some very
marked changes of heart and changes of emphasis. It isn't being
too hard on him to have certain reservations and suspicions.
Before his scheduled talk at Oxford, the one that was cancelled,
he was transformed into a person with far more reservations
than he had been expressing.
This photo is not what it seems
This photo, already shown and discussed in his entry for
08.03.12 makes a return now, at the top of the page, for the time
being, with further comments, including this comment of his
Bullfighting is indeed cruelty to animals. So is
killing them and eating them. So is letting them
kill and eat each other.
This is an abysmal and ignorant ignoring of significant - all-
important - contrasts. I discuss his claim that opponents of
bullfighting have a duty to intervene in the killing of prey by
predators, above, and what it reveals about his fitness to be
regarded as a bullfighter-philosopher, including the Kantian
principle that, in summary, 'ought' implies 'can.' I also discuss
above conditions of slaughter, vastly different in abattoirs and
He makes a big thing of the Nobel prize winning poet Seamus
Heaney's writing on bullfighting. He includes, for example, this,
on Seamus Heaney's experience of attending a bullfight: ' ,,,
gradually I would find myself in a kind of trance: the
choreography in the ring and the surge and response of the
crowd with the music going on and on just carried you away. And
your focus stayed tight on the man and the bull. There was
something hypnotic about the cloak-work, something even
vaguely Satanic about that black crumpled-horn killing-cap on
the matador’s head – when it was over, you blinked and asked
yourself ‘Where was I?’, then back you went like a sleepwalker
for a second time. And this: 'You'd been taken up to a high
mountain and shown things in yourself and the world, things you
couldn't deny because - like Hemingway - you had been there.'
He doesn't include this:
'When he [the poet W H Auden] faced the bull of reality, he was
more a banderillero than a picador or matador: he made nimble
dashes at the neck muscles, conspicuously rapid and skilful
forays that were closer to the choreographer's than to the killer's
art, closer to comedy than tragedy.
'Yet in the beginning, this metaphor invoking the panache of the
corrida would not have served.'
I've written great deal on Seamus Heaney and the bullfight.
Bullfighting and seduction on t