Phalaris, tyrant of Arkagas (570 – 544 BC), was renowned for his cruelty and, in particular, for his deployment of the brazen bull, a torture and execution device in which human victims were burned alive in a hollow statue of a bronze bull, their screams of agony transmuted into music through a series of tubes leading from the bull’s stomach to its mouth. In this talk, Timothy Pachirat proposes Phalaris’ brazen bull as an organizing metaphor to provoke a series of questions about the relationships between pleasure, pain, and the (in)visible suffering of others in the contemporary era. In particular, he contrasts two seemingly opposite cases—1) the hidden kill floor of an industrialized slaughterhouse and 2) a dairy and pig factory farm that converted its concert walls to glass in order to generate tourist revenue—in order to explore the ambiguities of transparency and its capacity to serve both as a catalyst for political and social transformation and as a mechanism to reinforce relationships of domination and oppression.
Timothy Pachirat is assistant professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and author of Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight (Yale University Press, 2011).
Co-sponsored by Comparative History of Ideas (CHID), Geography, the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies, the Simpson Center for the Humanities, Political Science, and the Washington Institute for the Study of Inequality and Race (WISIR)
Image Caption: Perillus Condemned to the Bronze Bull by Phalaris, Copper Engraving by Pierre Woeiriot (c. 1575)