Specious extinction (On decadence, caricature, and pedigree dogs)

The spider pug dreams only of gnawing her owner

Decadence is neither the winding down of an empire nor the wearing of fur in the summer while eating a whole bird who drowned in cognac. It's pedigree dog breeding. For decadence isn't a question of consumption, either burn-it-down excessive in a time of plenitude or weakly trying to still play the game of excess in a threadbare time of dwindling resources. Rather, true to its etymology (from decadere, to fall apart/down, i.e. to decay), decadence is a rotting off. Like near all things that interest me, it implies the persistence of what is already undone, or undoing. Not decaying, per se, but what happens otherwise during, or because of, the condition of decaying, the state of decay that itself produces not just the disappearance of this, but a whole host of patterns and trends, strange versions of that.

Hence the dandy, held up as decadence incarnate, isn't just the guy who owns an excessive number of suits or who owns suits made excessively well. No, he wears the signs of decadence: gaudy mockeries of good taste, silk-lined armor against Protestant usefulness. And in that case, it's usually talked about as artifice, playing dress up in costumes, style without depth or illusions of authenticity below the stripe and paisley surface. An artifice morbid, chafing, and strutting.

But something else going on in decadence, that finds its figure and hits its seriously horrifying stride in pedigree dog breeding. Watch as much of this video as you can handle before following below:

Documentary - BBC - Pedigree Dogs Exposed

bordercollie19 | MySpace Video

(it's near impossible to recreate in writing the effect this documentary had on me, the accounts of eugenics and intentional mutation to the point of organ failure. Full disclosure: I get weird, deep, intensely physical bonds to dogs - I am a "dog person." I didn't know about this BBC piece until a friend recommended it recently. An accurate version of my internal response would involve this entire blog swallowing itself and devolving, or evolving, into an inchoate string of words, bilious loathe, Oulipo without rules, just total day-eating black mouths of misanthropy, and a stream of, the end deserves to be extremely fucking nigh...)

"the cavalier's skull is now too small for its brain", and the bugging eyes, the scratch and constant pain, that frozen, sclerotic stupid terror. It goes on, the whole thing a near taxonomy of what's wrong with the entire project of civilization as registered by the demand that its companions, the "pure ones" in a time of hybrid mixing, register what is monstrous and can't be seen. Like a portrait in an attic marked by evil from afar, the evolution of purebred dogs is the inverse hypothesis of the advance of the human species: we live longer, get healthier, and all become capitalists, while the jowls of bulldog twist and sink, the head swells so large that it can only be born by caesarian.

Now and then

The central fantasies behind a "purebred"?

It's pure: no mongrel hybridity in this time of mixed and blurring world. It's total racism on the part of those who wouldn't admit that in the case of humans. But when it comes to their precious pooches, they need to see the papers, make sure nothing impure got in there. They go online and whine and fret over the prospect that their pet might have "a bit of mixed in him." And when the puppies don't have the correct characteristics (i.e. Rhodesian Ridgebacks with not quite enough ridge, they are "culled"/killed).

Nature can, and will, be infinitely tampered with: walking your pug around town is like walking a thesis from Dialectic of Enlightenment. It's talking a stroll with domination over nature and the capacity to make of it an enfeebled, constantly sick, dependent little monster whose infirmities you will then bemoan as if "impossible to foresee," cruel nature taking her revenge. Shaping a creature to the point that it becomes internally contradictory, as thought materially, corporeally, brutally presses against its shrunken skull.

It is singular and singularly expensive: Veblen (who hated dogs and hence shouldn't be trusted) wrote in The Theory of the Leisure Class:

This remains true, and all the more so for "purse dogs" to be carried by all who dream of being shitty shallow socialites. The dog isn't, in fact, just "one more accessory." It's a weird, bug-eyed, hotly panting version of reification, the portable commodity treated as a "little person" and vice versa. (What's lost in the equation is some dog-ness of the thing, and for any who've stared close at the face a pug as it grunts and farts and licks it own eyeballs, "thing" should be taken in its full Freudian horror.) More interesting is the particularity of breed. It's an insistence of a dog belonging to this breed, not that breed. Yet in such an operation, the real work is a perversion of the gap between breed and species. Singular comes to mean not the singularity of a mutt (the unreplicable combination that also leads to an actually healthy, potentially pleasure-taking dog) but the generic singularity of an instance of a breed that is no longer a member of its species. Drawing out the snout in a certain way takes precedence over both the consistency of the animal as a whole and over the genetic otential of future instantiations of that breed ever escaping total decline into congential disorders and recessive traits. In short, the characteristics for which the dogs are bred are those that distinguish them from the set of all other dogs. And so making into "boxer" now means making into "not-dog."

"the deformed, congenital dwarf"

For decadence is not slowdown and gluttony. It is the acceleration of caricature. Insofar as it is a rotting, it is a rotting away of the common. Not what is unnecessary. The first to go aren't the parasites of form, not the added flourish or the recent addition (that is, monstrous subtraction of utility) to the breed. Just a barely held together assemblage of parts at the expense of wholes, from the holes in the hearts to the throat that can't stop barking. Decadence is the roar of speeding toward a world in which all things are not equivalent, interchangeable, homogeneous, but desperate imitations of specificity. Of something not being like all things else, not transmissible. And in this pathetic flight toward the security of being special, what's left behind and actively denied is the prospect of something that might persist, the mongrel's vitality of some tooth and love and force.

What barer fact of the foggy and shrill stupidity of our species than to willfully breed another into obsolescence. That is our caricatural misanthropy, cast out onto the seemingly more minor and furry, held up and photographed, the blazing lights of the show and the judge checks the jaw line. Glossed fur wrapped over those failing joints and self-consumptive guts. Forced to be what we already are, a set of distinguishing characteristics without any referent, a forced secession from the species. We make the world in our own image. And in pre-selected couplings, stretch that image, pull it out. Ruin its teeth, close its breathing channels. Erase it, rearrange it, and cram it back together to make of its pathetic, whimpering collapse the present's loathing of itself and all it touches.


Tara Aveilhe said...

This post left me feeling eerily guilty/intrigued...as I sit here next to my loudly snoring pug, doing research on decadence for my dissertation/blog. I guess I need to reconsider my proclivities ;) I'm Tara, by the way -- James and Erik Bachman recommended I take a peek at your blog. Brilliant writing!

ECW said...

Thanks! Sitting with said pug writing on decadence: that's some serious commitment to interpenetration of research and everyday life. Of course, all good decadents feel eerily guilty: that's why they need a constant rush of sensual experiences.

(As long as you don't dress the pug up: that's basically punishable by death.)