Toilet philosophy

Le Fantôme de la liberté – (1974) Luis Buñuel [Amazon.com]

In a famous scene from Buñuel’s Phantom of Liberty, the roles of eating and excreting are inverted: people sit at toilets around a table, chatting pleasantly, and when they want to eat, sneak away to a small room. So, as a supplement to Lévi-Strauss, one is tempted to propose that shit can also serve as a matière-à-penser: the three basic types of toilet form an excremental correlative-counterpoint to the Lévi-Straussian triangle of cooking (the raw, the cooked and the rotten). In a traditional German toilet, the hole into which shit disappears after we flush is right at the front, so that shit is first laid out for us to sniff and inspect for traces of illness. In the typical French toilet, on the contrary, the hole is at the back, i.e. shit is supposed to disappear as quickly as possible. Finally, the American (Anglo-Saxon) toilet presents a synthesis, a mediation between these opposites: the toilet basin is full of water, so that the shit floats in it, visible, but not to be inspected. No wonder that in the famous discussion of European toilets at the beginning of her half-forgotten Fear of Flying, Erica Jong mockingly claims that ‘German toilets are really the key to the horrors of the Third Reich. People who can build toilets like this are capable of anything.’ It is clear that none of these versions can be accounted for in purely utilitarian terms: each involves a certain ideological perception of how the subject should relate to excrement. —LRB

In our most elementary experience, when we flush the toilet excrements simply disappear out of our reality into another space, which we phenomenologically perceive as a kind of a netherworld, another reality, chaotic primordial reality, and the ultimate horror of course is if the flushing doesn’t work, if objects return, if remainders, excremental remainders return from that dimension. —subject-barred

And Sloterdijk says:

‘The arse seems to be condemned to live in the dark. Among the different parts of our body, it leads the life of a tramp. It truly is the idiot of the family. Yet it would be a miracle if this black sheep of the body did not have a ready opinion of the events taking place in higher regions, just like those who have been rejected by society often express the most sober views of it.’ —Critique of Cynical Reason (1983) – Peter Sloterdijk

2 thoughts on “Toilet philosophy

  1. Benicek

    Ah, excellent. I saw this film on TV years ago but didn’t know the title. I was trying to describe the toilet scene to some colleagues at work recently and they just looked at me as if I was insane.

    Those German-style toilets do give me the creeps a bit. I used one in the Czech Republic and was somewhat ashamed.

  2. Pingback: What does it mean to be a revolutionary today? by Slavoj Zizek’s @ Marxism 2009 « Jahsonic

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