BULLISH ABOUT LIFE & DEATH

Most people would agree that running in front of a 600 kg animal for no compelling reason must be crazy. Every July, when the count of the injured –and sometimes the dead– begins, the question arises in the international press: why do they do it?
Miguel Anxo-Murado, The Guardian, July 9, 2015
H

emingway witnessed a man being gored by a bull in 1924, the very first fatality in the modern history of the encierro, as the running of the bulls is called in Spanish. He retells the story in “The Sun Also Rises”, where the main character is trying to come to terms with the death he has just seen. A waiter cuts his agonising short: “A big horn wound all for fun -he says dismissively-. What do you think of that?”. Most people would agree that running in front of a 600 kg animal for no compelling reason must be crazy. Every July the question arises in the international press: why do they do it? This most dangerous type of jogging must be a tribal, atavistic, perhaps inherently Spanish rite of passage.  Right? However, there’s nothing tribal or atavistic about it. In its present form, the encierro is a relatively recent creation. Hemingway transformed it from what was basically a male contest of courage at a local level into a universal metaphor of sex, life and death. This does not mean that the encierro is not a tradition; only that it is a modern tradition. Its brutality and pointless courage is not a remnant of medievalism but a very modern obsession with the boredom of life and our fear of death. It fits well into the spirit of this age too: the youth cult of the unique experience, the recordable personal feat, the Instagram moment. The encierro is now seen as an extreme sport – adrenaline and nostalgia.

What could be more 21st century? Most people only try the bull run once; veterans run time and again. You see them there, year after year, braving bulls and growing old. It proves that lust for danger can be sustainable, and that you can turn a deathwish into a lifelong endeavour, almost a routine. No, I can’t agree with Hemingway’s waiter. It cannot be all just for fun. Maybe it is true, after all, that for good or ill, the encierro is a metaphor for sex, life and death.

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