Saturday, February 28, 2009
The larger issue Johnson may well be contemplating the fact that a religion --Christianity--based, in most of it's varieties, on the premise of eternal life for the faithful depends almost exclusively on violence toward other species for the metaphors that power their theologies. Revulsion and a more extreme profession of faith seems to be the result on this narrator who seems to have considered the facts of man's participation in the food chain, a kind of faith bordering on denial. Perhaps it is, this subtext. The point, though, is that it's likely any of us and all of us would be willing to assume any kind of comforting narrative scheme to allow us a peace of mind , the equilibrium needed to meet our needs and perform our duties from morning 'til the lights are turned off in the evening.
What's remarkable about the poem is the canny way Johnson addresses our collective need to assign a narrative value to our industrialized, mechanized, institutionalized slaughter of animals for our well being as a competitive species; just as there is much trans-formative value in the lamb being sacrificed so that we can avail ourselves of the salvation that is God's eternal promise for us, we likewise distance ourselves from the entrails and viscera we've discussed with a more determined discussion of what this routinized slaughter makes possible in the greater scheme.
The argument becomes an economic one and, like the sacrifice of the lamb, it is a metaphor that assures us that a greater moral good-- the salvation our place in Heaven with the righteous practice of virtue on earth, supplying food and clothing and jobs for a population--is being served.
What I take from Johnson's poem is that the metaphors themselves serve a need perhaps larger than the ones promised, which is to disguise the brutal, food-chain nature of how species feed and prey, and to buffer us surely against a nauseating horror that would other wise make the assurances of spiritual and financial health seem a poor trade against the brutality our industries are based on. Johnson is aware of the power of metaphor and myth to elevate us and move us forward , and she recognizes as well the bloody facts these tropes are helping us transcend. If we weren't able to set these gruesome details aside, none of us would be able to get out of bed and conduct ourselves through the week in good faith.