Bodily functions rarely get the spotlight in fiction and poetry. But for some writers, they drive action and help create indelible characters. The infamous men's room at the now-defunct music club C.B.G.B. in Manhattan.Credit…GODLIS Alfred Hitchcock once told François Truffaut he wanted to make a film that would examine a city entirely through food and, unusually, waste. He would show the arrival of meat and produce into a metropolis, “its distribution, the selling, how it's fixed up and absorbed. And gradually, the end of the film would show the sewers, and the garbage being dumped out into the ocean.” Samuel Beckett expressed this artistic vision on a more intimate scale. “Dish and pot, dish and pot, these are the poles,” his narrator says in “Malone Dies.” The dish, we discuss freely: Food, in literature and elsewhere, is part of what we talk about when we talk about culture. The pot, at the other end of the alimentary canal, remains a transgressive topic. Not enough is written, in this critic's estimation, about how our eliminations are described and theorized, and loved and loathed, in fiction and poetry. Their “here we are again” inevitability adds chaos, comedy, disgust, shame, irony, urgency and anguish to narrative. They drive action. They are life, as much as sex is life — maybe more so, because people's sex lives dwindle but this need does not. Fiction that avoids or denies feces, Milan Kundera has written, is kitsch. The English journalist Rose George called elimination “ the big necessity .” She also wrote, in an observation that's keenly felt when one is writing for a linguistically conservative newspaper: “There is no neutral word for what humans produce at least once a day, usually unfailingly. There is no defecatory equivalent of the inoffensive, neutral ‘sex.'” But we will do our best. There has been, for sure, scatological writing from the start, or at least since Don Quixote asked, in the funniest moment in what is arguably the first novel, “What noise is that, Sancho?” The flatulence in Chaucer is renowned, as is the weaponized feces, flung by […]
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