Animal Suffering

G. writes in Ferdydurke of the “metaphysical pain” of a fly with its legs pulled off in the bottom of a trashcan. Various places in his Diary he writes of the pain of animals, and of the confused, deeply troubled human response to animal pain. (The farmer’s dying dog; the beetles on the beach, etc.) One of the things I like about Eastern European writers is that they all seem to make sympathy with animals a marker of our humanity (strong hints of this in Kundera, for example, and Hrabal was as much an animal lover as he was a writer).

G’s meditations on animal suffering have made me wonder whether that suffering isn’t sometimes at the heart of our alienation from them, particularly in people’s fears and phobias. I retain a silly childhood phobia of crickets, for example. I think in our unconscious we retain memories of our own or a parent’s destruction of an animal pest, which may have given us our first taste of death and pain and mortal suffering. Fear of a hated animal is fear of its pain, fear of it dying or dead — and thus, indirectly, a fear of our own destruction, our own mutilation.

It is like a fetish, really: In your mind you fix on the last thing you saw before the thing you couldn’t bear to see. You hate and fear an alive, intact snake because you can’t face the picture of a headless snake or one cut in half, writhing on the driveway; you fear an alive, intact spider because you’ve irrevocably buried the memory of one struggling with its legs pulled off; you maintain a foolish phobia of alive, intact crickets because you can’t bear the memory of one you saw once that was struggling, only half alive — only still alive — dragging its smooshed-out insides across the basement floor. (Still alive is the worst, most awful kind of alive. Insects disturb us because they may persist in their struggles, their movements, with only half a body, or without a head)

The ongoing hatred and fear of certain creatures that we carry into adulthood is an acausal loathing. An acausal reaction. Maybe all phobic reactions to things are acausal or have an acausal aspect: I hate you because I hate what will become of you after I have attacked you (attacked you because I hate you), etc.

Instead of hating death and suffering, which are too painful and abstract to think about, we hate the being that first made us aware of such surpassing, metaphysical pain in the universe.

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