• • • SCATOLOGY WEEK • • •
THE PSYCHO-SOCIAL BASES OF SCATOLOGICAL HUMOR:
THE UNMASKING OF THE SELF
The existence of scatological humor is as a tension between two terms of a dialectic structure. The first term of this dialectic is the hidden and the disgusting, which upon being revealed contribute to the loss of self-image, with a resulting and often ambiguous shame. The second term is the fascinating and visible, with the assertion of the most secret, private, and individual self and the illogical and often brutal claim to the values of that very organic self. Excretion is a universal characteristic of the human; as such, its existence approaches the ontological. Thus, in the combined disgust and fascination it provokes, the public turd is a restatement on the most basic level of the confrontation of the self with society, of a kind of shameful pride the private self knows when faced with the Other; it is the artifact left by a self uncertain whether it is a sacred individual or merely a social event, deposited with a mixture of defiance and shame.
We are beset by certain inevitabilities. We must breathe, eat, drink, sleep, and excrete, and die. That we must partake in such private excretory revelries on a more or less daily basis, indicates an organic throttle on our mischief-making activities. The lifelong implications at once stagger the imagination, from the sheer quantity of the material we create and expel, (some much more than others), to the nature of the sense of humor of our Creator. Think about this the next time you— well, you know.
If power is the basis of all human interaction (as Bernard-Henri Lévy eloquently insists in his Barbarie à visage humain) . . . then it is an unavoidable conclusion that scatological humor and perhaps all humor is a function of power and that our laughter is a political act. The reduction of human freedom to the en-soi, to flesh, is the definition of sadism for Sartre. In the Arabian Nights, Abu Hassan “brake[s] wind” during the marriage feast, an act for which he exiled himself and gave up his wealth, his bride, and his native city. “Behold, he let fly a great fart,” reads the translation. Do we find that amusing because it is merely literature, or does our amusement come from a more suspicious source? If we do not find scatology always funny it is because we must encounter it in the political situation which is congenial to our preconceptions.
Perhaps more than anything else, the humble act of excreting the residue of the material existence on a regular basis, becomes the cosmic stool upon which all our existential musings must sit. So laugh it up, shit bags; time is short on the World of the Cross; you never know which dump will be your last. Thank God.
See the Bristol Stool chart.