In 1999 acclaimed Scottish novelist A L Kennedy released a small book called On Bullfighting. Bullfighting is a “sport” which those living outside Spain have difficulty understanding. Yet for those who are reared on it bullfighting has an almost religious quality. Kennedy discovered that bullfighting has roots that extend way back into history, to ferocious bulls that were fought by gladiators back in the Coliseum of Julius Caesar. Her first bullfight was a terrible affair featuring amateur matadors engaging in little more than savage butchery. But when she watched the leading matadors of the day Kennedy saw another level, an intuitive understanding of the bull by the matador, a genuine engagement of human and beast.

In an interview Kennedy was asked what impression an unprepared person might gain from watching  a bullfight. Here’s her reply: “People have preconceptions—either that the audience will be full of blood-crazed Latin types engaged in some kind of orgiastic sacrifice, or the opposite cliché, that it will be fantastically beautiful and wonderfully choreographed, like a dance. Actually, there’s no bloodlust. And even with a very good matador and a very good bull, the nature of the thing is that it isn’t seamless and it can’t be entirely graceful. There will be spasms of grace. It’s a very odd, ramshackle thing. There are all kinds of strange pauses and clumsy bits, and patches of costume drama, and then patches of this very odd, sometimes beautiful communication.”

I like her description that there are “spasms of grace”. It seems an apt description for our experience of the world beyond the bullring. Just as there is much that is violent or painful or cruel in our world, just as there are odd, ramshackle things, somehow in the midst of such a world we still manage to see spasms of grace – moments of sheer goodness, beauty and generosity.

Source: Reported in interview with AL Kennedy, Atlantic Unbound 2001.

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