spacer
The Vacuum - Issue 18 - Waste spacer The Vacuum - Issue 18 - Waste
The Healthy Stool
by Jason Mills
spacer
'By nature's law every man is at once a producer and a consumer, and if he consumes, he produces' - Paul Theroux
spacer
By this measure, the often trundled out maxim of the health-conscious, 'You are what you eat', can be neatly inverted and thus interpreted, 'You are what you shit'. This was certainly a line of thought vigorously pursued in 19th and early 20th century medicine, with turds of all shapes and sizes being poked, prodded and exhaustively examined on both sides of the Atlantic. The basic premise for these endeavors was that as much as 90% of illness was believed to originate in the bowel, where the stagnation of faeces provided the opportunity for a full-on orgy for all manner of bacteria and toxins, which would subsequently crash through the gut wall and invade the body en masse. This led to the due application of pseudo-scientific terms such as 'colonic putrefaction' and 'intestinal autointoxication', as well as the ostracizing of the colon, which was thenceforth treated with much suspicion. Indeed, the leading Scottish surgeon William Arbuthnot Lane (lucky enough to have a syndrome characterized by colonic inertia named after him) regarded it as utterly superfluous and potentially dangerous, and began pulling out his patients' colons left, right and centre. However, the most famous exponent of the theory that a healthy pooh equals general wellbeing was the somewhat eccentric Dr. John Harvey Kellogg of breakfast cereal fame. As well as developing rich fibre foods such as Cornflakes to aid regular bowel evacuation, Kellogg plied the colons of visitors to his Battle Creek health farm with gallons of water from every conceivable angle. Then, as humorously epitomized by Anthony Hopkins, he would cast a critical eye tirelessly over their respective stools to ensure they were not 'mushy, formless and foul-smelling', but, like his own, 'perfect, gigantic, and with no more odour than a hot biscuit' (cf. The Road to Wellville).
spacer
Of course, contemplation of crap has not been limited to medicine. Broadly speaking, scatology is a branch of anthropology that places it at the very forefront of theory, examining culture through a lens of shit, so to speak. Purveyors of this excremental vision have included, unsurprisingly, Sigmund Freud, Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin (whose plays teem with a multitude of symbolic arseholes and fecal matter), Jonathan Swift (the hapless Gulliver was dumped upon and bore witness to literal arse-licking in Part 1 of his Travels), and James Joyce (whose infamous letters to lover Nora Barnacle reveal him to be a raging coprophiliac 'Do you come in the act of shitting or do you frig yourself off and then shit?' Dublin, Dec 1909). However, far from embracing the preoccupations of the literary elite, society (publicly anyway) more often treats shit abjectly. The exclusion and rejection of this perfectly natural bodily function is somehow seen to mark the creation of a civilized self. Clearly though, these psychic mechanisms which furnish shit with such negative status underplay the fluidity of the body's patterns of ingestion and excretion.
spacer
It is widely believed (although disputed by some enthusiasts on the subject) that it was a former plumber by the name of Thomas Crapper who finally provided society with some form of absolution by inventing the flushing toilet during the reign of Queen Victoria (he was later bestowed the title of Sir Thomas Crapper after installing one in the Palace). His masterpiece holds undisputed cultural and historical significance; a shining porcelain symbol for the entire complex process of human waste management, a place of sanctuary and contemplation for the individualist, not to mention being the birthplace of Charles V and the scene of Elvis's last breath.
spacer
Perhaps it is an indictment of our over-industrialised food production systems, with their emphasis on consumer convenience, that isolates us from our own place within the cyclic, agricultural sequence of events of which food and waste are a major part. A lack of knowledge about the history and origins of what we ingest, not to mention the consequences of its final destination via large-scale water-based sewage systems, creates a sense of separation of shit and self, ultimately allowing a veil of shame to descend over the whole scenario. Contrast this, for example, with the endangered South African vulture which eats and smears its face in its own faeces in order to attract a mate. Most nightclubs in Belfast won't even allow you in with shit all over your face these days, so the chances of copulation via such methods are instantly diminished. We can only hope for a day when man is willing and able to re-engage with the actions of his bowels (a 'colon'isation of the mind?) and immerse himself fully in the pleasures of nature once again.
spacer
spacer
home | information | issues | artists & writers | columns | reviews
spacer