But eating people is still wrong

Today Peter brought home the galleys of Sabina Murray’s novel A Carnivore’s Inquiry, forthcoming in July and described on the back jacket as “a gripping literary psychological thriller about a young woman and a peculiar taste for flesh.” Some of you will already know where this is going. Here is a not altogether random sample, page 39. (I have put asterisks in the naughty bits, to keep my blog from getting stuck in any more decency filters than it has to.)

“How’s Moby-Dick?” asked Ann.

“I’ve finished that,” I said.

“That’s right,” said Ann wearily. Conversation was becoming difficult. “What’d you think?”

“I read an essay by this guy at Columbia, Crain, I think. Anyway, I knew that Melville was a big queen, but Crain has this theory that, at the time, sex between men was the greatest taboo, so every time someone’s about to f*** someone else…”

“What?” said Ann.

“Well, instead they eat each other. There’s some incidence of cannibalism. The cannibalism stands in for the f***ing. It’s the lesser taboo.”

“Kind of like the other white meat?”

I nodded then reconsidered. “What are you talking about?”

So you see, kids, criticism and literature are one, after all. Criticism feeds on novels, and novels feed on criticism, just like . . . oh nevermind. For the record, I didn’t quite say that 19th-century homosexuals ran around ingesting one another like so many overstimulated paramecia. Not in so many words, anyway.

“Wet” food

After a month and a half of limping, four visits to the vet, and more than $700 worth of X-rays and blood tests, our poor dog turns out to have Lyme disease. First we thought it was glass in her paw, then arthritis, but it’s neither. Were there deer in Prospect Park in mid-March? The deer’s ticks seem to have been there, which is a little scary.

Even more scary is how the antibiotics must be administered. We tried the old-fashioned way (put the pill on the back of the dog’s tongue, close her mouth, massage her gullet), but she returns the pill to sender after fifteen minutes. So now, for the first time in my life, I must twice a day open a can of “wet” dogfood. This is hard on a part-time vegetarian. Not only must I open the can, but I must also take out a moist clump—it’s waxy rather than moist, actually—and form it into a bolus with the pill in the center. The idea is to maximize the chance that pill and bolus will be swallowed whole, without chewing or any other form of reconsideration.

In the swallowing without chewing category, we are batting a thousand. But I am not so sure about the new intimacy with canned dogfood. Of what substance are the pale granules that stand in relation to the surrounding pink matter roughly as vermiculite stands to potting soil? Is there any way to sculpt boluses out of dogfood without smelling it?

The East Midlands diet

Peter writes:

I am reading Sons and Lovers, by D. H. Lawrence.

On page 37 of the Cambridge "unexpurgated text," the character Morel, an East Midlands coal miner, gets ready for a day of work:

He toasted his bacon on a fork and caught the drops of fat on his bread. Then he put the rasher on his thick slice of bread, and cut off chunks with a clasp knife, poured his tea into his saucer, and was happy. … At a quarter to six he rose, cut two thick slices of bread and butter, and put them in the white calico snap-bag … He never took more than two slices of bread and butter to eat in the pit, so an apple or an orange was a treat to him.

Bacon aside, how can Morel do such hard work as mining coal on three pieces of bread and, sometimes, a piece of fruit?

On page 51, Lawrence writes:

Walter Morel was, at this time, exceedingly irritable. His work seemed to exhaust him. When he came home, he did not speak civilly to anybody.

Now it becomes clear. Morel is having a carb crash.

I think I’ve discovered a new school of literary interpretation.

Where do newspapers go when they die?

A couple of weeks ago, the third-largest Spanish-language newspaper in New York, Noticias del Mundo, ceased publication. It’s been around since 1980. I learned about its demise from a brief mention in the City section of the New York Times, 25 April 2004; there’s another report here.

Since I spend a lot of time tracking down obscure New York newspapers of a century and a half ago, it occurred to me to wonder whether Noticias del mundo was something that a researcher would be able to find centuries and centuries hence, as Whitman might say. The answer seems to be: some of it but not all. Fordham and the Brooklyn Public Library did subscribe, but it was their policy to discard the papers after a month or so. Scattered issues are on microfilm at the New York State library, which runs a preservation program called the New York State Newspaper Program, but that’s it for holdings in New York. Unexpectedly, UCLA has 1984 and 1985 on microfilm, and UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz have a single day of the paper on microfilm.

It’s the Library of Congress who has made a heroic effort. A librarian there emailed me that they have on microfilm “April, 1982-February, 1985; January, 1988-December, 1999” of Noticias del mundo but noted that “We have received no further issues since 1999.” So it looks as if the newspaper’s coverage of 9/11 will not be available to historians.

The glass remained in a half-full, half-empty state after further spot checks of foreign-language or community newspapers that I’ve sighted people reading recently on the subway. Novoe Russkoe Slovo has been assiduously microfilmed by the New York Public Library since the significant date of 1917, and the New York State library seems to be saving the Mirror International, an Islamic paper published in Greenpoint. But no one seems to be saving the Park Slope Courier, a giveaway paper in my neighborhood, which covers such topics as the development of Red Hook with a level of detail not available elsewhere. (And of course, as Nicholson Baker could tell you, the saving of any recent newspapers in paper form is almost unheard of, so that the one thing we know for sure about future historians of our era is that if they consult our newspapers, they will develop terrible migraines.)

Digital evidence

Regarding the torture by Americans of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, yesterday’s New York Times quoted a White House official as saying, “When you see the pictures, it takes on a proportion of gravity that would require a much more extreme response than the way it was being handled” (6 May 2004 p1).

That’s dismaying. Mere knowledge of the torture seems to have reached President Bush as early as January, General Taguba’s report was complete in early March, and the Red Cross has apparently been trying to draw the attention of senior administration officials to the problem for months. But it’s only once photographs were leaked that the knowledge became, as it were, actionable.

In this case, the technology that has shifted the United States from a text-based to an image-based culture has also offered compensation, by making possible a new kind of evidence. The most recent Iraq war is the first to have been waged since digital cameras became cheap enough for the military to put them in the hands of a wide range of personnel, and bureaucratic control has not yet caught up with the ease with which the photographs can be taken and distributed. Nor have journalists, who were surprised to discover that soldiers’ coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base had been photographed not only by amateurs but by the military’s own combat photographers, most of whose work is deposited in archives. Although to my knowledge no mention has yet been made of it, the editors and journalists at the Washington Post, CBS, and the New Yorker who have been given digital photos of the torture in Iraq probably know the exact date and time of day, down to the split-second, that every one of those photographs was taken. Digital cameras automatically store time information, along with camera model, aperture settings, and other technical details, in the file with every picture, and it’s unlikely that the amateurs who took these photos would have known how to strip that information out or would have wanted to.

Is it a fluke, or a permanent new state of affairs? In the next war, will there be fewer cameras and a new skittishness about using them?

Update (5/9). To support his claim that the torture was instigated by rogue officers acting without the knowledge of their superiors, Lt. Col. Jerry L. Phillabaum says that timecodes indicate that the photographs were all taken “between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.” over a two-week period. If reporters with access were to open the image files with the software that came with their own digital cameras, they would be able to confirm or deny Phillabaum’s statement. Further update (5/12). In his second report on Abu Ghraib for The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh puts a group of photos into narrative sequence by using the “time sequence embedded in the digital files”; he is able to determine that the photos were “taken by two different cameras over a twelve-minute period on the evening of December 12, 2003.”