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Putting the Horse before Descartes: Sensibility and the War on Pity

Putting the Horse before Descartes: Sensibility and the War on Pity

Chapter:
(p.44) Chapter Two Putting the Horse before Descartes: Sensibility and the War on Pity
Source:
Precarious Partners
Author(s):
Kari Weil
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226686400.003.0003

It was often said that Paris was paradise for women, purgatory for men and hell for horses. This hell is the focus of chapter 2 which opens with what had become an all too common scene of horse beatings on the streets of the city, also depicted by the popular novelist, Eugène Sue in his fictional biography of the first thoroughbred sire, Godolphin Arabian (1838). Especially striking in Sue’s tale is the apathy of the onlookers, offering an illustration of what Jacques Derrida has called an ongoing “war on pity” that had its origins around the time of the French Revolution. In order to “think this war” (and why Derrida finds it also to be about “thinking"), this chapter examines a range of texts from Rousseau to Baudelaire asking what pity was thought to be, and what role it was said to play in our relations to other animals. It also questions the role that pity for the suffering of animals played in the eventual founding of the French animal protection society and passing of anti-cruelty laws in 1850. Good for some animals, pity (like empathy) we also find, was good for business.

Keywords:   pity, empathy, idéologues, Jacques Delille, Eugène Sue, Charles Baudelaire, Jacques Derrida

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