Magazine article The Spectator

Art and the Raging Bull

Magazine article The Spectator

Art and the Raging Bull

Article excerpt

Into the Arena: The World of the Spanish Bullfight

by Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Profile, ?5.99, pp. 284,

ISBN 9781846683350

In these days of growing concern at the methods of factory farming and the welfare of the animals which are raised and killed for our consumption, it is instructive to compare the life of domestic beef cattle with that of a Spanish fighting bull.

The cattle may have less than two years of life in cramped conditions, while the toro bravo roams free and unmolested on pasture for five years. Alexander FiskeHarrison makes the comparison succinctly: 'Five years on free-release and then the arena, or 18 months in prison and then the electric chair'. He maintains (there is some evidence for this, to do with beta-endorphins) that the fighting bull's suffering is reduced because, once in the ring, it feels no fear, only aggressive anger. Ban the bullfight and this magnificent breed of animal would cease to exist. It is not a good converter of grass into protein, and anyway far too dangerous to be bred only for meat and milk.

The case for what in Spain is called la corrida de toros is well made in this entertaining account of two years which the author spent in Andalusia - following the bulls, caping young cows himself, getting to know a few matadors, attending ferias and flamenco parties. An initially reluctant convert to this Spanish cultural tradition, he comes to accept that 'part of the justification of the suffering is the art'. Whenever he sees a bad and bloody corrida, however, his doubts over the cruelty surface again. Every aficionado has seen fights which are both shameful and plain boring.

But when everything goes right, the spectacle can be absorbing, uplifting, even emotional.

What Fiske-Harrison seeks, as someone wrote of the great torero Antonio Ordonez, is 'a demonstration of the values which distinguish bullfighting from butchery'. Those values are concerned with technique, artistry, grace under pressure from a highly dangerous animal which is doing its best to kill its adversaries. In conversation with one of Ordonez's matador grandsons, Cayetano, the author learns of 'the warmth a great bull could inspire in him, of his sadness at killing'. …

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