Fecal matters

I was fascinated by the Table of Contents for a book called Scatology, the Last Taboo: An Introduction to Fecal Matters in Early Modern Literature and Art, edited by by Jeff Persels and Russell Ganim:

The ‘Honorable Art of Farting’ in Continental Renaissance Literature
Barbara C. Bowen

‘The Wife Multiplies the Secret’ (AaTh 1381D): Some Fortunes of an Exemplary Tale
Geoffrey R. Hope

Dr. Rabelais and the Medicine of Scatology
David LaGuardia

‘The Mass and the Fart are Sisters’: Scatology and Calvinist Rhetoric Against the Mass, 1560-1563
Jeff Persels

Community, Commodities and Commodes in the French Nouvelle
Emily E. Thompson

Pissing Glass and the Body Crass: Adaptations of the Scatological in Théophile
Russell Ganim

Scatology as Political Protest: A ‘Scandalous’ Medal of Louis XIV
Jeanne Morgan Zarucchi

Foolectomies, Fool Enemas, and the Renaissance Anatomy of Folly
Glenn Ehrstine

Holy and Unholy Shit: The Pragmatic Context of Scatological Curses in Early German Reformation Satire
Josef Schmidt, with Mary Simon

Expelling from Top and Bottom: The Changing Role of Scatology in Images of Peasant Festivals from Albrecht Dürer to Pieter Bruegel
Alison G. Stewart

Tamburlaine’s Urine
Joseph Tate

‘The Wronged Breeches’: Cavalier Scatology
Peter J. Smith

From the Introduction:

Discussion of excrement is generally relegated to one of two extremes: the objective, clinical discourse of medical and social sciences (e.g., gastroenterology, psychology, anthropology) or the subjective, gross indecency of infantile insult or juvenile jest (e.g., South Park). The contributors to this volume reconsider this last taboo in the context of Early Modern European artistic and literate expression, addressing unflinchingly both the objective reality of the scatological as part and parcel of material culture – inescapably a much larger part, a much heavier parcel then than now – and the subjective experience of that reality among contemporaries.

If students of literature and the arts have hitherto and in the main been reluctant to tackle, or squeamish about addressing, scatology in earnest, a slowly growing number of recent works (e.g., Vigarello, Monestier, Inglis) have articulated for them and modeled, to varying degrees, socio-historical interpretations of excrement as process, product and experience. …

Evoking reactions of disgust and/or ribald delight, the texts and illustrations under examination unleash creative forces and responses that alter our perception of what the form and function of art actually are. Cultural suppression becomes subcultural revelation as what was once rejected as waste is now valued as inspiration. Or, rather, as at least one critic has likewise argued in a corrective to Bakhtin, the distinction between high and low culture, like the rejection and subsequent recuperation of waste, actually corresponds more to the way we have chosen to recover the past than to any real separation acknowledged among Rabelais’s contemporaries. As is the case in many of the Amerindians studied in Lévi-Strauss’s L’Homme nu, their excrement was always already useful, recyclable, both literally and figuratively; part of the effort of the following essays is to make that point.

If academic B.S. isn’t your style, a much more (ahem!) down-to-earth approach to excrement can be found in the Humanure Handbook. Its TOC includes such chapter titles as Crap Happens, Waste Not Want Not, Deep Sh*t, A Day in the Life of a Turd, The Tao of Compost, and The End is Near. According to the introduction, the author, Joseph Jenkins, had the rare honor of being censored by Howard Stern:

The Humanure Handbook … was roundly vilified on Howard Stern’s radio show where I was censored – twice! – for daring to utter words that no one must ever hear on the airwaves, including the “s” word (when I honestly asserted that one of Stern’s fake call-in people was “full of shit”). More surprisingly, however, Stern censored out the following statement I made during the interview: “I have composted all of my family’s humanure in my backyard for 20 years, and have grown a food garden with it the entire time.” These words were not allowed to reach the tender ears of Howard Stern’s audience. As soon as my interview was over, however, the listeners were instead titillated with playful songs about anal intercourse. Funny world, this. Funny creatures, humans.

Posted in
Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

Leave a Reply