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christa wusinich's picture

"not the master key"

"The cockfight is not the master key to Balinese life, any more than bullfighting is to Spanish"( Geertz top of 239). It seems strange that I selected this quote from the myriad of potential quotes that I might have extracted from Geertz's account, many of which are more central to G's claim that cockfighting provides a rich "cultural text" of Balinese society. Geertz elaborates that cockfighting is a Balinese artform, an aesthetic interpretation of caste and hierarchical realities. In his own words the cockfight is "a Balinese reading of Balinese experience, a story they tell themselves about themselves"(234).

Back now to G's disclaimer..."the cockfight is not the master key." First of all, it seemed to me that according to this account, cockfighting was the "master key." Before I finished reading this, I began to consider various cultural practices that involve animals as victims...I thought of the foxhunters I see in parts of Chester County riding their horses and surrounded by hounds...I thought about hunting in general...I thought about bullfighting and I cruised the web a little and found some horrifying footage of recent bullfights in Barcelona and in Portugal. I came back to the Geertz reading and was surprised to find mention of bullfighting in Spain; maybe I'm not that bad of a wanderer after all! There was relevance!

The Geertz reading could very well serve as a defense of cockfighting, if and when the practice comes under fire in Bali or elsewhere. I did notice that it was already outlawed, save for a few holidays. Remarkable...Geertz went to some 57 matches! It's frightening how we can intelligibly explain "why cruelty?" and somehow justify it...after all, they are only telling their story and ought not every society/ethnic group be permitted to tell their story? What are the limits?




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