Contemporary American Literature and Excremental Culture: American Sh*t [1st ed.] 9783030465292, 9783030465308

Contemporary American Literature and Excremental Culture: American Sh*t analyzes post-1960 scatological novels that util

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Contemporary American Literature and Excremental Culture: American Sh*t [1st ed.]
 9783030465292, 9783030465308

Table of contents :
Front Matter ....Pages i-ix
Introduction: On the American Standard: Post-1960 Scatological Fiction (Mary C. Foltz)....Pages 1-51
Soiling the Black Body: Ishmael Reed Engages White Shit (Mary C. Foltz)....Pages 53-95
Battling the Excremental Self: Western Civilization and Its Decomposition in Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections (Mary C. Foltz)....Pages 97-137
Fleeing the Excremental Stain Through Acquisition: Getting to the Bottom of Black Suburban Splendor in Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills (Mary C. Foltz)....Pages 139-178
Waste as Weapon: Fecal Bombing in Don DeLillo’s Underworld (Mary C. Foltz)....Pages 179-218
Shit and Other Forms of Dynamite Refuse: Samuel R. Delany’s Provocative Excremental Eros (Mary C. Foltz)....Pages 219-256
Conclusion: Decay as Gift: Composting American Shit (Mary C. Foltz)....Pages 257-265
Back Matter ....Pages 267-272

Citation preview


Contemporary American Literature and Excremental Culture American Sh*t Mary C. Foltz

American Literature Readings in the 21st Century Series Editor Linda Wagner-Martin University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, NC, USA

American Literature Readings in the 21st Century publishes works by contemporary critics that help shape critical opinion regarding literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the United States. More information about this series at

Mary C. Foltz

Contemporary American Literature and Excremental Culture American Sh*t

Mary C. Foltz Lehigh University English Deptartment Bethlehem, PA, USA

American Literature Readings in the 21st Century ISBN 978-3-030-46529-2    ISBN 978-3-030-46530-8 (eBook) © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the ­publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and ­institutional affiliations. Cover illustration: © Ricardo D. Ochoa / EyeEm This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland


As I wrote this book, I revised the term “frenemy” to create “frenema,” which I playfully used to refer to those who loosened my intellectual constipation and moved me forward with the work. Frenemas, of which there are many, know that this work would not exist without you. American Sh*t began its digestive journey at SUNY Buffalo with the support of a beloved mentor, Tim Dean. At every step or misstep along the way, Tim’s generosity and unwavering support propelled the work; his faith in me as a scholar and the project provided sustenance during the trials of revision and movement toward publication. When you cruise intellectual queer underworlds with Tim, you run into some beautiful and weird sh*t; thank you, Tim, for inviting me to be a part of your queer academic family tree. So, too, Hershini Young provided expert guidance on developing the project. Hershini, thank you for working with me; your time and engagement with my scholarship are some of the greatest gifts in my life. I also thank David Schmid for supporting this project with enthusiasm and critique. Other faculty at SUNY Buffalo also deserve mention here for their support of my scholarly work in the early years; I offer thanks to Carrie Tirado Bramen, Diane Christian, Mili Clark, Joseph Conte, Joan Copjec, Nathan Grant, Graham Hammill, James Holstun, Stacy Hubbard, Carine M. Mardorossian, Carla Mazzio, Cristanne Miller, Steven Miller, Christina Milletti, Ramón E.  Soto-Crespo, and Margarita Vargas. I am indebted to a number of colleagues from Buffalo who read early drafts of material, including my writing group members, Chris Leise, Kevin Pelletier, and Angela Szczepaniak. They gave me the name “Merry Flotsam” and reminded me of the joy that comes with scholarly v



production. My thanks also go out to my friend, Christopher Madson, for helping me through as well as Lorna Perez, Ken James, and Ben Joplin. I especially am grateful to Ken James for working with me to co-chair the Samuel R.  Delany conference in 2005, where I shared rough material from this manuscript, and his subsequent engagement with my writing on Delany. Thanks also to Chip and scholars of this work for kind feedback during the conference. My community in Buffalo made life full of joyous adventures; I am grateful for the Amy’s Place family, Jill Glowniak, Josh Briggs, Robin Brox, Todd Matina, Tatiana de la Tierra, and the Del Priore family. I maintain love and gratitude for all my Buffalo kin. Upon moving to Lehigh University in 2009, I found a rich community of scholars invested in literature and social justice and awake to the power of the humanities to take the lead in addressing urgent issues in our communities. My colleagues provided guidance at every turn in the development of this project, helped me to secure research leave, and navigate difficult situations. My thanks go out to departmental chairs Barry Kroll and Scott Gordon, who saw me through the tenure process. I forever will be grateful to Scott who answered a “ridiculous” question during a difficult time with a snort and a “no.” This work exists in print because of his generosity. I offer heartfelt thanks to Seth Moglen for always believing in the monograph and Suzanne Edwards for seeing me to the finish line. I also thank Beth Dolan, Dawn Keetley, Barbara Pavlock, Amardeep Singh, Ed Whitley, Kate Crassons, Lyndon Dominque, Michael Kramp, Jenna Lay, Ed Lotto, Stephanie Powell Watts, Bob Watts, Ed Gallagher, Barbara Traister, Donald Hall, and Betsy Fifer. I extend thanks to my Lehigh colleague Breena Holland for keeping the faith and being my partner in civic engagement and public research. The monograph was enriched by participants in my graduate level seminars, especially students in “Contemporary U.S.  Literature of Environmental Crisis.” Friends in the Lehigh Valley also deserve mention here. I offer thanks to the TR family and my other LGBTQ groups for keeping me on track as well as Carol Moeller, Gerry Jacobs, and Mary Ann Wert. This project also benefitted from research funding from Lehigh University’s Faculty Research Grant and Paul J. Franz Pre-Tenure Research Fellowships. I am grateful to Alan J. Snyder, Vice President and Associate Provost for Research and Graduate Studies, for supporting humanities research with funding and advocating for the humanities broadly. Additionally, I am grateful for funding to participate in the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Summer Institute titled “Rethinking the



Land Ethic: Sustainability and the Humanities.” Organizers Joan McGregor and Dan Shilling created rich interdisciplinary conversations with scholars in the environmental humanities; I was lucky to develop portions of this book at their Institute and to benefit from feedback given by other participants, including Valerie Padilla Carroll, Kristen J. Jacobson, Kyle Whyte, and many others. As I completed the manuscript, I also benefitted from guidance about publication offered by the Northeast Modern Language Association team, especially Maria DiFrancesco. Waste studies panels along the way enhanced the research; I am grateful for colleagues’ feedback at ASA, ACLA, ASLE, and NeMLA conferences. American Sh*t lives because of the expert editorial team at Palgrave; thank you Allie Troyanos, Shaun Vigil, Lina Aboujieb, and Rebecca Hinsley. I also extend my gratitude to series editor Linda Wagner-Martin for support during the submission and review process. To the anonymous reviewers of the manuscript, thank you for providing constructive criticism and expressing enthusiasm for the project. Two copyeditors deserve mention here as well; thank you Kim Singletary from Humanities First and freelance editor Peter Coyne for your assistance as I prepared the manuscript for publication. Finally, I want to thank my family for emotional support throughout this process. In her 70s and 80s, my mother, Margaret A. Foltz, read and reread the full manuscript and maintained enthusiasm from start to finish. My father, Richard D. Foltz, provided unending stories about perseverance and ceaseless cheerleading. My spouse, Danielle Del Priore, lived through the turbulence of writing with love and undying belief in the work; thank you, love, for sharing your life with me. To the motley crew (Heather, Moonie, Snowman, Little Bit, Carter, Puck, Cutie, Mama, Daisy, and Foxy), thank you for keeping my lap warm, walking by or over my keyboard for a needed distraction, and reminding me to take breaks. Family, you give me life and help me to thrive; your love made this work possible. As Erykah Badu says, “I’m sensitive about my shit,” but my colleagues, friends, and family have made me less so. The gift of their time, criticism, and enthusiasm has blessed this mess. And as the work goes out into the world to be composted in whatever way readers may choose, I remain indebted to all of those listed here and many more for helping me through this intellectual exertion and excretion.


1 Introduction: On the American Standard: Post-1960 Scatological Fiction  1 2 Soiling the Black Body: Ishmael Reed Engages White Shit 53 3 Battling the Excremental Self: Western Civilization and Its Decomposition in Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections 97 4 Fleeing the Excremental Stain Through Acquisition: Getting to the Bottom of Black Suburban Splendor in Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills139 5 Waste as Weapon: Fecal Bombing in Don DeLillo’s Underworld179 6 Shit and Other Forms of Dynamite Refuse: Samuel R. Delany’s Provocative Excremental Eros219 7 Conclusion: Decay as Gift: Composting American Shit257 Index267



Introduction: On the American Standard: Post-1960 Scatological Fiction

In his 1987 special titled Raw, Eddie Murphy reflects upon his early days in comedy clubs where his adolescent routines consisted mainly of material discovered while contemplating his bodily movements and straining on the household toilet.1 He states, My whole act back then was about taking a shit because that was all I had done at fifteen. That was my life experience. But it sounded like Richard Pryor. I’d be going, “Sometimes you get on that toilet and the water splashes up on your ass. Don’t that make you mad?… You know what really make me mad, though, is afterwards, right?… You done all the shitting you gonna do for the whole day, right? You finish shitting and you flush the toilet and wait a second and one chunk come back. What does that chunk want?”2

The audience’s resounding laughter to Murphy’s recollections results from titillation at encountering the abject self that won’t simply go down the drain. While daily engagements with excreta may be distasteful for some, worthy of only a clinical and diagnostic gaze for others, or generally unworthy of serious attention, Murphy gives us room to acknowledge shame, discomfort, and adolescent pleasure by exploring the wastes of the self. By separating his adult identity from the youthful comic of days gone by, Murphy acknowledges the distance that he has traveled from adolescence and gives audience members permission therefore to indulge—if © The Author(s) 2020 M. C. Foltz, Contemporary American Literature and Excremental Culture, American Literature Readings in the 21st Century,




only momentarily—in a return to the youthful thrill and repulsion of the body. Beyond focusing on a maturation process whereby adolescent humor is transcended, Murphy’s comic bit presents a subject who sees excrement as enemy to the ideal self. Reflecting upon a common shame surrounding the human connection to waste, Murphy’s joke, like Julia Kristeva’s work, depends upon the knowledge that few “would agree to call himself abject, subject of or subject to abjection.”3 Entering the space of the bathroom, Murphy erects his identity in opposition to the excremental self even as he is haunted by the bodily waste that serves as reminder of his status as organic matter. The shocking splash of water displaced by excreta leaps in aggression within Murphy’s humor as if to mark the enthroned subject with that which he decisively longs to suppress. Further, the cleansing waters of the bowl betray the excreter, for rather than placidly consuming and diluting the loathsome gift of the body, they roil forth in revolt, perhaps confirming the subject’s fear that his waste is too heinous even for the waters designated for disposal. The final joke in his recollections of adolescent comedy focuses on the threatening agency of excreta; the loamy eye of the returned “chunk” seems to “want” something. Although the comic does not know its desires, he suggests in the concluding open-ended question that the “chunk” wants something from him, lingers cagily for him as if to claim the body from which it came. The comic moves quickly from the adolescent vignettes and thus flushes away the encounter with the re-pressed excreta as surely as the push of the toilet handle on the second attempt. Like most who live in the United States,4 Murphy decides not to follow the excremental self further. As Gay Hawkins notes, water flows in, shit flows out [of our toilets], where from and where to we hardly care. The thing is that the flows are maintained, that our bathroom works to protect us from encountering our waste, so that certain ethical and aesthetic sensibilities that are fundamental to the making of the purified private self will not be threatened.5

Marking a momentary disruption of the flow of waste away from the subject and into sewers, Murphy’s bathroom humor highlights the desire for the purified self and the threat to this erection of identity by peristaltic movements of the body as well as the inevitable glitches in systems of sanitary engineering. Despite inviting audience members to contemplate encounters with waste, Murphy ultimately confirms cultural beliefs in the



ethical import of negating the excremental self in a humorous performance that celebrates an aesthetic sensibility in which “our particularity as a waste-making organism” is disavowed.6 I begin this book with Murphy’s reflections upon adolescent scatological jokes as multiple works of the post-1960 period exhibit this kind of juvenile bathroom humor. As their characters converse with personified feces, tumble into toilets, and slip into rivers of effluent, many prominent contemporary authors indulge in parodic play with subjects that abnegate their status as bodily and excremental beings. Like Murphy’s humor, their works utilize crass comedy to point out the disgust and fear of contamination that encounters with excremental inspire. For example, Jonathan Franzen’s 2001 National Book Award-winning The Corrections comically and painfully presents one character’s battles with the excremental self as he confronts Parkinson’s disease and becomes incontinent.7 In stunning rendering of struggles with an unruly body, the novel’s Alfred Lambert faces off with the excrement of his own body as his “turdish rebel” comes to life in the form of a hallucinatory scatological philosopher in order to critique the construction of white masculinity that denies its excremental nature and projects bodily exuberance and filth onto the bodies of people of color within the nation.8 Alfred’s debates with the turd about systems of sanitary engineering prompt consideration of the project of the suburban enclave and white flight from the bodies of those demarcated as threatening waste. This work shares a similar pitch with the opening pages of David Foster Wallace’s celebrated novel of “waste displacement,” Infinite Jest, in which tennis star Hal Incandenza is dragged out of a college interview to the restroom when he exhibits inarticulate sounds and noises like “a goat, drowning in something viscous,” “a strangled series of bleats.”9 Pinned beneath administrative heavyweights, Hal asks “why U.S. restrooms always appear to us as infirmaries for public distress, the place to regain control.”10 This question from the beginning section sets the tone for Hal’s movement in the novel in which he struggles to become an exceptional athlete who flushes away excessive desires and controls bodily comportment in order to achieve a perfected form free from bodily and subjective waste. When he claims that he is “not just a boy who plays tennis … not just a creatus, manufactured, conditioned, bred for a function,”11 his administrative audience cannot understand him for they seek to admit a body manufactured for perfection that will bring prestige to the university as well as a mind that won’t leak nonsense about excessive feelings, unrelated experiences or histories that don’t conform to the



functions required. Using the setting of the bathroom and “rickety alphabets of exposed plumbing” as the backdrop for contemplation of elite educational systems and the engineering or rearing of exceptional children, Wallace highlights the pressure placed on the white masculine child to overcome his excremental nature and to project instead a perfected hologram lacking bodily excess and shining in his extraordinary difference from the base humanity of others.12 The child may begin as the excrement of the mother, but he can be “conditioned” to “function” as a white light beneath which the base body seems to disappear. Both of these novels are influenced by Thomas Pynchon’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated Gravity’s Rainbow, which takes readers beyond the floor of the restroom and into the toilet with Tyrone Slothrop as he hallucinates a journey through American sewerage.13 Terrified as he encounters waters polluted in effluent and struggles to keep excreta from clinging to his flesh, Slothrop also discovers bodies wasted by the historical westward movement of the nation. His vision of systems of sanitary engineering that contaminate waterways are connected to the erection of purified national identity through the eradication of or removal of indigenous populations viewed as human waste. Beyond his journey through sewerage, Slothrop’s primary aim in the novel is to understand his connection to weapons systems as well as the excremental nature of bombs that are equated with “droppings of the Beast.”14 As in his visions of American sewerage that makes precious waterways into rivers of excrement and of indigenous populations treated like refuse, Slothrop comes to see the deployment of fecal bombs in WWII that turn humans into “shit … just zero, just nothing” as the product of a national anal sadism.15 Linking sanitary engineering to militaristic movements, Gravity’s Rainbow invites readers to reflect upon war as another system of disposal in which those demarcated as excessive human matter are wasted. Lacking the extensive exaggerated bodily comedy of Pynchon’s work, Don DeLillo’s National Book Award-nominated Underworld16 also explores the fecal nature of bombs when the adolescent Nick Shay defecates in front of a group of neighborhood kids while reading comic books about the triumph of good over evil; with the beginning of the Cold War as historical backdrop, the splash of his excrement into the toilet as the climax of one comic superpower over another points toward a subjective desire to overcome the bodily degradation of a shared excremental nature and to produce instead powerful shit that will reduce an enemy other to nothing. With a larger focus on the variety of forms of late



twentieth-century waste from consumer culture, industrial production, and weapons manufacturing, Underworld moves past the depiction of the anal sadism of war to explore how waste becomes weapon against marginalized and impoverished communities selected as sites for disposal because of their abject status. Following the global waste trade, Underworld depicts the struggles of individuals and communities living in degraded and polluted landscapes in order to undermine a privileged abnegation of the impact of toxic waste on human others and bioregions.17 While these four authors may be the first that come to mind when thinking about the presence of excremental culture in contemporary fiction, they are not the only renowned authors who dabble in fictional renderings of defecation, discourses of sanitation, and systems of waste disposal. Indeed, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-nominated Ishmael Reed and National Book Award-winner Gloria Naylor have delved into metaphoric play with excremental culture within specific works in order to explore the construction of race and the impact of racism. For example, in the text that Kathryn Hume argues inspired Pynchon’s play with fecal matter in Slothrop’s swim through sewage,18 Ishmael Reed’s first novel, The Free-Lance Pallbearers,19 opens with a character named Harry Sam, who animates civic and national policy from his position on a toilet throne and leaches his toxic effluent into the waters that surround his home.20 While the novel accurately depicts the environmental costs of the dumping of sewage into waterways that cities like New York faced during the time of the novel’s publication in the 1960s, it also uses systems of sanitary engineering as metaphor for the way in which African American citizens are flushed to the margins of civic life and demarcated as excessive organic bodies. Like Reed’s novel, Naylor’s Linden Hills deploys scatological humor to identify the ways in which black characters in the text are besmirched and stained by the excess of whiteness, thereby associated with degraded and excessive humanity that opposes productive citizenship.21 The novel follows two characters, nicknamed White and Shit,22 as they move through a wealthy African American community on a quest to evaluate the processes of confronting racism with material acquisition and financial success in late capitalism. In the affluent enclave of Linden Hills, White and Shit encounter successful citizens like Maxwell Smyth, who overcomes the association of blackness with unproductive citizenship by controlling the body to such an extent that his excrement no longer stinks. Even as Naylor’s work is an earnest critique of capitalism exhibiting the hallmarks of black feminist literary engagement with race and gender, the



text’s comic rendering of Smyth’s obsession with eliminating any trace of the excremental self powerfully engages with psychoanalytic theories of the fecal nature of money and the bodily schema of Homo Economicus. Beyond these comic examples, other contemporary novelists also include renderings of excreta and metaphoric play with systems of sanitary engineering in prominent works. Although Toni Morrison’s Sula lacks the humorous tone of Reed’s novel as well as the focus on affluence of Naylor’s Linden Hills, this novel also engages with racism by exploring how African Americans within the United States are treated like shit, threatening biological matter in need of careful treatment in the forms of segregation, surveillance, or policing.23 The black community in Sula inhabits a section of the Ohio town Medallion called “the Bottom,” a tract of land in the hills that white farmers thought to be useless for agricultural production.24 The excessive organic wasteland seems an “appropriate gift” to black community members demarcated as human waste, designated as impure and abject bodies “worthy” of living apart and away from “productive” white citizens upon land also identified as useless excrement. The full novel describes the community’s challenges as they seek to survive and to support each other in a city and a nation that positions them as wasted citizens at the bottom—the ass-end—of civic and national life. Indeed, one peripheral character in the novel, veteran Shadrack, highlights this struggle upon returning from World War I when he sees his face in a prison toilet in a scene that calls readers to evaluate the various ways that Shadrack, like the community of the Bottom, has been seen as disposable.25 With emphasis on World War II, Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony also examines the impact of war on human beings using sanitary engineering as metaphor when veteran Tayo contemplates a foul toilet in the bathroom of a bar and ponders the ways in which militaristic movements made the lush landscape in which he fought into a wasteland “ripe with death” littered with bodies of men, like his beloved cousin Rocky.26 Tayo’s stateside search for healing takes place in the Laguna Pueblo community surrounding the Jackpile-Paguate Uranium Mine; the novel thereby connects the ruination of distant landscapes to the pollution of indigenous lands, left toxic by the refuse of mining to support the creation of nuclear weapons. Tayo’s vision of men and land turned to excrement in battle also addresses how the Laguna Pueblo people live at the bottom of national movements, inhabiting a region of the American southwest impacted by the waste of weapons production.



To these texts that focus upon the “shit field” of combat, we also might include Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried as well as Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter-House Five, both of which contemplate militaristic movements with reference to excrement in specific scenes that depict the reduction of living bodies to status of waste.27 O’Brien’s novel, described as an “excremental assault” by critic David R. Jarraway, bombards readers with depictions of soldiers wading through fields of human waste that “ooze[s] up” and threatens to “suck” their bodies down into soil. The narrator notes, “the field had embodied all the waste that was Vietnam, all the vulgarity and horror” of war that promote the reduction of life to valueless organic matter, stinky excess.28 In Vonnegut’s work, readers witness Billy Pilgrim’s suffering in a boxcar on the way to a POW camp where a simple cough causes him to release “shit thin gruel”; Pilgrim’s experience of incontinence gives the narrator room to reflect on the aims of military “rocketry” that turns human bodies into excrement.29 As with Silko’s Ceremony, there is a trend in contemporary fiction to document failures in waste management with depictions of pollution. Cormac McCarthy, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Road,30 depicts an impoverished community that lines the banks of the polluted Tennessee River on the margins of Knoxville in his novel Suttree.31 As characters find ways to live from fishing in waters used for the discharge of sewage and scavenging along the banks of the river, they provide insight into the impact of the city’s waste disposal practices upon the ecosystem. In this “doomed version” of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,32 Suttree puts pressure on the ways in which effluent society threatens a way of life that depends on the health of waterways. While marginalized populations may be the first to feel the impact of such pollution, the novel invites all readers to ponder the tragedy of the pollution of waters upon which we all rely with “gouts of sewage … gray clots of nameless waste and yellow condoms rolling slowly out of the murk.”33 Like McCarthy, Annie Proulx, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-­ winning author of The Shipping News,34 explores the impact of the mismanagement of excreta—albeit agricultural waste—in That Old Ace in the Hole.35 In this literary text, factory pig farms pollute the landscape with porcine excreta that befoul a region of the Texas Panhandle. As agribusiness sets its sights on expanding factory farming in the region, the local community confronts the ways that agribusiness and waste mismanagement impact the health of both the community and the larger ecosystem. Lacking a focus on the effluent produced by civic and agricultural



practices, Ruth Ozeki’s All Over Creation nevertheless also engages with excremental culture when a child named Poo ingests soil from a farm made poisonous by pesticide usage and becomes ill; representative of the possible fecund power of human excrement for agricultural production, Poo and his illness speak to a damaged relationship between humans and soil when our health may be threatened by the toxic remnants of chemicals utilized in growing food and by agricultural practices that refuse to think through how the byproducts of production will impact bioregions and the well-being of human and other animals that live within them.36 This short overview of excremental culture in contemporary US literature is not exhaustive; instead, it puts us on the scent of a fictional fecal phenomenon and serves as an invitation to acknowledge the way that waste and systems of disposal haunt some of the most well-known novelists of the post-1960s period, appearing in texts with varied styles, aims, and contexts. Although representations of excretory bodily functions clearly appear in 1960s and 1970s era works that embrace low culture and delight in the shock value of profanity, they are not only deployed by writers like Pynchon, Reed, and Vonnegut as well as their generational peers such as Norman Mailer and Robert Coover or post-postmodernists like Wallace and Franzen whom they influenced. More than a trend that we might attribute to postmodern literary obscenity and its legacy at the end of the twentieth century, fictional depictions of excremental culture and waste more broadly also appear in texts that are inspired by and contribute to the late twentieth-century environmental justice movement whether they concern themselves with the pollution of indigenous lands like Silko, the disposal of the rejectmenta of war and consumer culture as does DeLillo, or the impact of effluent society on waterways and impoverished communities like McCarthy. Further, excremental visions appear in parodic novels, earnest investigations of the construction of race and the trauma of racism, and queer fictions as a means through which to address the experience of abjection. While I focus primarily on depictions of human waste in this book, all of the novels listed above are part of a larger phenomenon in which post-1960 authors document the multiple wastes of consumer culture. As John Blair Gamber shows in Positive Pollutions: Waste and Contamination in Contemporary U.S. Ethnic Literature, many authors of the contemporary period highlight the toxicity of our waste stream and create works that reflect littered landscapes in the United States.37 Analyzing “trashy” works by Octavia Butler, Alejandro Morales, Louise Erdrich, Karen Tei Yamashita, and Gerald Vizenor, Gamber shows



the pervasiveness of literary attention to the deficiency of contemporary systems to disposal as well as aesthetic consideration of how communities might respond to waste. So, too, critics like Rachele Dini addresses the pervasiveness of “manufactured waste” in works by Samuel Beckett, Donald Barthelme, J.G. Ballard, and William Gaddis, to name a few; in her account, literary presentations of waste grapple with “capitalist ascriptions of value” and “[resist] the norm” of cultures of disposal.38 Literary representations of excrement and sewage systems should be positioned within a larger literary field in which authors are calling us as readers to address multiple forms of waste that impact communities and bioregions. By opening American Sh*t with this stream of literary representations of excremental culture, I hope to lure readers into the literary loo with me by showing that many contemporary authors are making much ado about “shit,” “just nothing.” In a whimsical way, I imagine these texts to be a part of a literary conversation about systems of disposal akin to Pynchon’s W.A.S.T.E. network in The Crying of Lot 49;39 these filthy “letters” posted to readers invite investigation into the ways in which bugling cries, albeit muted in their literary form, from and around various fictional toilet bowls speak to each other and to us. Providing close-reading of filthy “chunks” of text that intimately engage with the nuances of excremental culture, American Sh*t ponders what these chunks of text want, or rather, what these chunks help us to see about contemporary processes of disposal and the bodily schemata of citizens shaped by twentieth-century discourses of sanitation. This work asks: Why do some of the most celebrated authors of the contemporary period refuse to flush away excreta and instead float it back to the reader in vivid scenes of bodily expulsion? Or, to phrase this with more precision, why do the pages of some of the most important novels of the post-1960 period indulge in base bathroom humor, detailed renderings of the impact of sanitary engineering, or metaphoric play with sewage systems? In short, why are some of the most renowned authors of the contemporary period producing works that are so shitty? American Sh*t focuses upon five key “novel” engagements with excremental culture, providing detailed close-readings of the larger stakes of a few texts within this network, thereby moving beyond a broad cruising of literary bathrooms and sites of disposal into a deeper evaluation of a few powerful ways that the fictional depictions of the dirty drama of drainage reflect upon the ideals or American Standard(s)—what one manufacturer of toilets uses as slogan and corporate name—of the post-World War II



sanitary city. While many of the novels listed above are influenced by a shift from a celebration of the modernist triumph over excrement through innovation in sewerage toward despair in the pollution produced by effluent society, American Sh*t focuses on novels that engage with psychoanalytic theory in their characterization of the sanitary city. While analysis will explore texts that mimic and undermine systems of sanitary engineering that provide the fantasy of liberating seated subjects from their excremental nature even as failing public works of the period countered such illusions and fueled political debate about solutions to the relentless contamination of waterways by such systems, each chapter primarily concerns itself with how authors utilize and expand upon psychoanalytic theory to critique the sanitary city and citizen. Analyzing excremental scenes that appear in Reed’s The Free-Lance Pallbearers, Franzen’s The Corrections, Naylor’s Linden Hills, DeLillo’s Underworld, and Samuel R. Delany’s The Mad Man, American Sh*t engages with how these authors mobilize depictions of defecation and sanitary engineering to explore the construction of the purified white masculine subject, to engage with civic and national movements in which bodies demarcated as excessive citizens are flushed to the margins, and to critique militaristic movement that dispose of human Others. It’s not just systems of sanitary engineering that they mimic, but discourses of sanitation that inspire fantasies of racial difference, clean and unclean bodies, civic organization, segregation, and suburban development, as well as larger narratives of the nation threatened by the contaminating power of foreign bodies. By linking harmful forms of waste disposal to human communities deemed disposable or appropriate sites for dumping unwanted material, these authors follow Zygmunt Bauman, who also links forms of waste disposal to “wasted lives”; he writes of modernity, The production of ‘human waste,’ or more correctly wasted humans (the ‘excessive’ and ‘redundant,’ that is the population of those who either could not or were not wished to be recognized or allowed to stay), is an inevitable outcome of modernization, and an inseparable accompaniment of modernity.… To cut a long story short: the new fullness of the planet means, essentially, an acute crisis of the waste disposal industry. While the new production of human waste goes unabated and rises to new heights, the planet is fast running short of refuse dumps and the tools of waste recycling. As if to make the already troublesome state of affairs even more complex and threatening, a new powerful source of ‘wasted humans’ has been added … [with globalization].40



Beyond connecting discourses and systems of sanitation to the production of “wasted lives” and the pollution of marginalized communities, these novels also imitate mid-century psychoanalytic accounts of subject development with a particular focus on the repression of polymorphous perversity and anal pleasure, anal sadism, and the anal character of Homo Economicus, which prominent thinkers like Norman O. Brown addresses in Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History. However, rather than ridicule psychoanalytic accounts of subject development, these authors utilize and revise them to showcase the violence of subjects for whom waste is an affront to identity and to explore alternative ways of engaging with the excremental self. As I will discuss below, some critics have turned away from the import of psychoanalytic theory for addressing literary works that depict waste. For example, Gay Hawkins, a prominent scholar of waste studies, has been critical of psychoanalysis as she argues that it “doesn’t help make sense of the shifting place of waste in everyday life and material culture; how our ordinary encounters with it are implicated in the making of a self and an object world. It reduces waste to a phobia, understanding it only as a threat to self-certainty.”41 The texts that I analyze in this book show otherwise; psychoanalysis certainly can think through phobic responses to waste, but also can be utilized to understand why phobic subjects and their communities produce and participate in ruinous systems of waste disposal as well as how they might transform as they face and embrace their status as waste-producing organisms. Even if some scholars find psychoanalytic theories of waste old-fashioned or useless for today’s challenges with pollution, it is nevertheless the case that mid-century literary authors in the United States saw them as a resource and engaged with prominent popular psychoanalytic theories proffered by Brown, Frantz Fanon, and Marcuse as they crafted their filthy fictions. Thus, to understand their larger “ethics of waste,” to use Hawkins’s term, we need to think through how authors used psychoanalysis, played with its ideas, and revised those ideas to address excremental culture, systems of disposal, and the subjects that produce and participate in that culture and utilize those systems. Other literary scholars of waste have produced outstanding monographs that rely on other methods; for example, Dini’s Consumerism, Waste, and Re-Use in Twentieth-Century Fiction: Legacies of the Avant-­ Garde, mentioned above, draws on Marx, Appadurai, Michael Thompson, and Bauman and other theorists of commodities and labor to explore the



“economic dimension of waste” and how authors “parody the economistic tendencies in Western capitalism—that is, its tendency to reduce all social phenomena to exchange values and to view (human) life as merely a process of producing, selling, and acquiring things.”42 While Dini’s work is essential for understanding how contemporary authors think through economic systems via waste products as well as the formal strategies that authors use to tackle cultures of disposal, Gamber powerfully uses work by Michel de Certeau to explore “issues of waste and pollution as they relate to abnormality, deviance, and illness” as well as the “agency, tactical navigation, and adaptability of marginalized and disenfranchised individuals and communities.”43 Further, Gamber illuminates how ethnic literature that focuses on waste and pollution frequently “move[s] beyond the isolating nationalisms that have bound them in order to recognize broad communities (which herein are both interspecies and interethnic)”; this particular argument influences my own sense that authors addressed here are invested in thinking about a shared status as waste producing organisms, a shared connectivity to ecosystems, and a shared responsibility to address ruinous waste disposal practices even as marginalized communities carry the burdens of such systems in ways that affluent, white communities do not.44 Susan Signe Morrison’s groundbreaking The Literature of Waste: Material Ecopoetics and Ethical Matter provides a masterful overview of the power of “the thematic affinities Western literature contains with regard to waste, such as its link to humor, from Chaucerian scatology to Jonathan Swift’s vicious use of excrement with the Yahoos.”45 American Sh*t connects with these previous studies by focusing solely on post-1960 scatological fiction and emphasizing a different aspect of contemporary fecal fiction, namely its indebtedness to psychoanalytic theories and its use of psychoanalytic theory to address systems of disposal. Comic and earnest riffing upon psychoanalytic theory with graphic renderings of toiletry, which I am using here in a playful way to mean both the action of cleansing the self (of association with waste) and the mechanisms for disposing of excreta, is a form of scat that is invested in how psychoanalysis can be used to analyze and to counter the kind of subjectivity that fuels the pollution of the environment with multiple forms of waste and that treats human Others like filthy refuse.



Theorizing Parody, Signifying, and Abjection in Relationship to Post-1960 Scatological Literature American Sh*t argues that Pynchon, Reed, Franzen, Naylor, DeLillo, and Delany’s excremental works, like Murphy’s scatological jokes, depend upon the knowledge—or at least the hope—that readers will delight in taboo topics; yet, unlike Murphy, these novelists use titillation in base bodily play to inspire a deep engagement with the abject. As with Duchamp’s infamous “Fountain,” their novels imaginatively suggest that we immerse ourselves in what the engineering of the sanitary city and nation is designed to allow us to disavow.46 Building from Linda Hutcheon’s work on twentieth-century parody, Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s work on signifyin(g), and recent studies of abjection in US literature, this work is invested in the productive power of scatological parody in contrast to theorists who maintain a critical view of contemporary parodic works. Especially with reference to canonical postmodern novelists like Reed and Pynchon, literary critics of contemporary letters might argue that the scatological components of their work exemplify a postmodernist embrace of low culture; comic play with systems of sewerage and excreta may be read as a literary “mooning,” if you will, of the celebrated modernist tradition, a cheeky flashing of forefathers and mothers.47 Those critical of postmodern parody, like Fredric Jameson, might argue that the scenes from the aforementioned novels lack the “oppositional art” of the “older classical modernism” and merely repeat phobic interactions with excreta to inspire cheap laughter rather than cultural critique.48 Indeed, other prominent critics share a critical view of postmodern parody in contemporary art and literature with Jameson,49 arguing that it has lost the critical edge and become nothing more than pastiche: “the imitation of a peculiar or unique style, the wearing of a stylistic mask, speech in a dead language: but it is a neutral practice of such mimicry, without parody’s ulterior motive.”50 American Sh*t offers a different perspective of fictional engagement with excremental culture that addresses the post-World War II period. Because parodic scenes from these texts take advantage of an adolescent delight in excremental humor to move readers past shame, scorn, and disgust in order to explore methods of disposal and to interrogate the discourses of sanitation that influence individual, civic, and national identity formation and movements, they are much more than “a neutral practice” and much more than “ridiculing imitation mentioned in standard dictionary



definitions” of parody, as Linda Hutcheon notes in A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art Forms.51 In each chapter on selected novels, I show how their texts repeat, critically revise, and recontextualize both discourses of sanitation and psychoanalytic theory, following in the wake of Hutcheon who extensively has explored twentieth-century parody and the critical power of postmodern aesthetic strategies. Across multiple critical works, Hutcheon has countered theorists of postmodernism like Jameson and Terry Eagleton by providing detailed analysis of specific postmodern parodies and arguing that they “[work] to distance and, at the same time, to involve both artist and audience in a participatory hermeneutic activity. Pace Eagleton and Jameson, only on a very abstract level of theoretical analysis—one which ignores actual works of art—can it be dismissed as a trivial and depthless mode.”52 What Hutcheon highlights in her important theoretical work on postmodern parody is how such works imitate key texts or discursive conventions in order to engage readers in critical examination and interpretation of parodied material. Reed and Pynchon’s imitation of discourses and systems of sanitation do not operate to close the bathroom door in righteous confirmation of the import of washing away our association with excreta, but comically entice readers to identify with such discourses and then to explore what their normalizing power conceals. As Hutcheon argues, “parody sets up a dialogical relation between identification and distance”;53 recognizing the sanitary city of the post-1965 period in their works, readers also are invited to see the pollutant power of effluent society despite advancement in technologies meant to promote increased cleanliness. In her A Theory of Parody, Hutcheon calls for critics to move past a focus on the “black humor” of literary production of the 1960s as a shift from modernist experimentation to a “new golden age of satire” and instead to note shared aesthetic strategies across the full twentieth century, including the kind of imitation and revision discussed above.54 For her, definitions of contemporary parody become muddied with limited attention to comic ridicule or satire associated with the postmodern period, even as this clearly comes into play in specific works, thereby creating divisions between modernist and postmodernist texts that lend themselves to denigrating the latter. Defining twentieth-century parody as “a form of imitation, but imitation characterized by ironic inversion, not always at the expense of the parodied text,”55 Hutcheon highlights the inventive and productive power of aesthetic practices of “revising, replaying, inverting and ‘trans-contextualizing’” that I want to emphasize in Reed and



Pynchon’s works.56 As noted above, both novelists imitate discourses of the modern sanitary city, but ironically invert them so that characters come face-to-face with excreta that has not been eradicated, but discharged in waterways via sanitary sewer overflows producing pollution elsewhere rather than eliminating filth. So, too, celebratory psychoanalytic theories of subject development through the anal stage and toward adult disengagement from the excremental nature of the body are problematized; in Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, as I will show below, the repression of the excremental self in the erection of white masculine adult identity is connected to a disavowal of bodily life and worldly embodiment that fuels militarism and racism in the novel as well as pollution. Influenced by Norman O.  Brown’s notorious psychoanalytic work, Pynchon’s fictional critique of whiteness as the negation of bodily life in a desired transcendence from worldly entropy and excremental decomposition does not so much ridicule Freud, but utilizes his work to analyze the damage produced by both the sanitary city and its citizens. Like Brown, Pynchon simultaneously plays with Freud as problematic proponent of a certain kind of sanitary engineering of the subject in opposition to the abject and visionary prophet for unraveling a subjectivity that negates bodily life. His imitation and revision of psychoanalytic theory are “not at the expense of the parodied text,” whereby ridicule operates to reject; instead his parody productively troubles normative white masculine subject development and explores an inversion of it where subjects like Slothrop might embrace their porous excremental bodies, shared humanity, and worldly embodiment in ways that might counter the anal sadism of militarism and the pollution of effluent society. Hutcheon’s focus on “transcontextualization” also is significant for evaluating the import of these two postmodern scatological parodies; she defines this characteristic as “overtly borrow[ing] and recontextualiz[ing] compositional elements” of parodied texts and discourses.57 This focus also sidesteps an emphasis on ridicule in twentieth century parody as referencing, incorporating, revising, and riffing upon earlier literary works and discourses need not be dismissive or satirical. Instead, Hutcheon views twentieth century parody as a mode that can honor past aesthetic works and update them to address the specific historical moment in which the contemporary work emerges. With both Reed’s and Pynchon’s work, readers catch a whiff of Swift’s Yahoos so essential to Brown’s mid-century psychoanalytic “studies in anality”; yet, their scat or literary improvisation repurposes and expands upon such work to address civic segregation and



militarism in the mid-twentieth-century United States. Imitation and revision of Swift’s critical engagement with the dominant colonial power of the eighteenth century provide a background melody that is re-worked in such a way that the historical precursor becomes newly relevant for thinking about the roots and developments of empire into twentieth century. Within contemporary parody, readers are in transit, acknowledging the overt invocation of historical precursors and experiencing the jazz-like literary styling of the parodist who picks up where forbearers left off and takes their insights in new directions and contexts. More than intertextuality, more than a discussion of how “two texts interrelate in a certain way,”58 Hutcheon emphasizes transcontextualization in contemporary parody as a process of bringing influential literary, aesthetic, and philosophical precursors into new contexts. In Gravity’s Rainbow, melodies from texts by Swift, Freud, and Brown among many others are brought into contact with each other, even as imaginative play with their works generates new and different visions of anality appropriate for interrogation of the contemporary sanitary city. Although Franzen’s The Corrections lacks the extensive play with multiple narrative conventions that readers encounter in Pynchon’s novel, it does invoke Slothrop and Freud in Alfred Lambert’s debate with his turdish rebel and gives readers a different context—the suburb—through which to address the construction of whiteness in the United States. American Sh*t follows Hutcheon’s work with a focus on the productive power of imitation and creative revision, ironic inversion, and transcontexualization in post-1960 scatological parodies. While her project traces the formal consistencies in parody across the modernist and postmodernist period, this work’s scope is limited to a focus upon a specific kind of parody that engages with excremental culture through imaginative play with discourses of sanitation and psychoanalysis. Rather than make a broad claim about all scatological parody of this period, I engage with a network of writers who both “authorize and transgress” psychoanalytic theories of subject development to target key issues of the post-World War II period: the pollution of effluent society and consumer culture, militarism and the byproducts of war, and the construction of race and the impact of racism.59 This attention to both the revision and transcontexualization of psychoanalytic theories of anality in choice post-1960 literary works allows for the recognition of a pattern across texts that we might not usually group together. For example, Naylor’s depiction of an affluent black community in Linden Hills does imitate and revise Dante’s Inferno



and Freudian theories of the filthy lucre in ways that are similar to Pynchon’s postmodern works; still, her text has not received the same type of criticism as a “complicit critique” of the texts parodied. The earnestness of her parody of multiple texts to critique racism, sexism, and capitalism makes it exemplary of what Hutcheon might identify as using postmodern aesthetic strategies to promote black feminist aims. Despite the contextual and tonal differences of these texts, both reference and revise psychoanalytic theory to address racism in different historical contexts and therefore they fruitfully can be read together. So, too, Samuel R. Delany’s The Mad Man, with which I end this book, shares an emphasis on recontextualizing and playing with Freudian theory and discourses of sanitary sexual play in this deeply moving account of diverse queer men’s sexual subculture during the early years of the AIDS epidemic.60 Because of its joyful exploration of sexual subculture and painful depiction of the psychic trauma caused by homophobic responses to AIDS that denigrated the value of such subculture, Delany’s work could seem far from the realm of Pynchon and Reed’s literary efforts. However, by unlinking parody from satire as Hutcheon does, I show in this final chapter how Delany’s vibrant renderings of excretion in sexual play operate to queer Freudian works and to redeploy them with similar aims to recognizable postmodern parodists. Lacking the ridiculing humor of Reed, Pynchon, and Franzen’s work, I argue that Delany’s work, like other novels in this network, authorizes and transgresses psychoanalysis as well as recontextualizes it with the ulterior motive of undermining and offering alternatives to discourses of sanitation that negate queer bodily life and worldly embodiment. Because of my emphasis on these specific scatological novels’ ability to utilize psychoanalytic theories of subject development to address racism, homophobia, militarism, and pollution in the world, I also follow Hutcheon in her exploration of the possible—although not inevitable— progressive political import of parodic texts. For Hutcheon, parody can be used at the expense of the original text’s ideology or can hold that ideology up as an ethical standard.… [P]arody [may act] as a consciousness-­ raising device, preventing the acceptance of the narrow doctrinaire, dogmatic views of any ideological group…[even as] many more ‘conservative’ parodists have proved, this need not be the case.61

Responding to Edward Said’s call to take into account the “text’s situation in the world,” Hutcheon is not interested in positing the fixed radical



power of parody as a mode, but rather insistent on its capacity to “impl[y] this need to ‘situate’ art both in the act of the énonciation and the broader historical and ideological contexts implied by that act.”62 Thus, “the ‘world’ does not disappear in the ‘inter-art traffic’ that is parody. Through its interaction with satire, through pragmatic need for encoder and decoder to share codes, and through the paradox of its authorized transgression, the parodic appropriation of the past reaches out beyond textual introversion and aesthetic narcissism to address” its situation in the world.63 My focus on specific scatological novels and their power to undermine discourses of sanitation and to revise and utilize psychoanalytic theory to counter the violence of normative identity formations that deny our shared humanity and bodily nature is not meant to apply to all scatological works of the post-1960 period. Instead, I have selected key texts that in concert riff on psychoanalytic theories of subject development and the abject to address specific historical moments, updating works that they reference to think through the kind of subjectivity that fuels civic segregation, suburban white flight, militarism, consumer culture and capitalist ideology, and homophobic responses to AIDS as well as queer male subculture. I argue that these authors, like Brown, are invested in the psychoanalytic meaning of history and how psychoanalysis can be deployed to interrogate and to counter violent civic and national movements. Despite Hutcheon’s work on twentieth century parody that has the power to “renew” or “revitalize” engagement with the world in her Theory of Parody,64 she is less hopeful in other critical works focused on postmodernism. While she does claim that “postmodern art cannot help but be political, at least in the sense that its representations—its images and stories—are anything but neutral, however ‘aestheticized’ they may appear to be in their parodic self-reflexivity,” she ultimately concludes that the “denaturalizing critique” of hegemonic discourses operates “to install and reinforce as much as undermine and subvert the conventions and presuppositions it appears to challenge.”65 Even as I am most interested in post-1960 works that authorize and transgress psychoanalytic theories of subject development in productive critiques of anal sadism and powerful visions of alternative subject formations, I concur with Hutcheon that some scatological parodies install and reinforce fear of the abject. For instance, her argument works well to address the bodily comedy and representations of anality in works like Coover’s The Public Burning.66 Despite this novel’s consistent mockery of nationalist rhetorical strategies that posit the bodily difference of white heteronormative politicians like the



text’s fictional Nixon from the fantasized licentiousness and filth of the Rosenbergs and foreign Communist threats, it simultaneously reinstalls abhorrence of queer sexuality in the climactic anal rape scene where Nixon’s ability to critically engage with such nationalism is overcome by Uncle Sam’s piercing phallus. Coover’s parodic treatment of Nixon throughout the text besmirches his desired clean image by representing him as a gaseous hairy ape—with shit on his shoes!—in a way that challenges nationalist fantasies of difference; yet, especially in the conclusion of the novel, readers are encouraged to enjoy the debasement of this despised presidential figure or to see him as a dupe symbolized by his anal penetration by the spirit of nationalism. This kind of parody exhibits kinship with the academic style of postwar America as defined by Michael Trask in Camp Sites because of its “competitive version of masculine agency distinguished by the ability to maintain a kind of equilibrium in the maelstrom of propaganda, institutional conflict, and mass hysteria that swept through Cold War America.”67 Coover both reveals his ability to see through the mass hysteria of the Cold War and makes those caught up in it feminized victims, or queers, thereby redeploying hegemonic discourses of bodily abjection utilized to degrade marginalized populations in order to demean those in power. The Public Burning creates a parody of Nixon, but not to engage in queer gender trouble as much as to emasculate him; like Trask’s mid-century academics who revel in their masculine ability to analyze political and social systems and to perform their positions in them in an ironic way, Coover’s detachment from and ironic engagement with Cold War political rhetoric and nationalist media depend on a disavowal of the effeminate queer who is imagined to be prone to desiring penetration by domineering men and to being swayed by their seductive language. While Hutcheon focuses on Coover’s denaturalization of hegemonic narratives of history and ability to showcase the “textuality of all representation,”68 I highlight here how the novel both denaturalizes political rhetoric that relies on fantasies of the bodily difference of clean, white, heterosexual, patriotic Americans and Others and substantiates homophobic fear of anal penetration in what is intended to be a comic rendering of Nixon’s “Iron Butt” ripped open. Even as scatological literature of the post-1960 period can operate to subvert and to reinforce discourses of sanitation, divide subjects into clean and unclean bodies, homophobia, or masculine subject formation that represses loathsome anality like The Public Burning, I show in each chapter how selected texts undermine the processes whereby certain bodies within and outside the nation are connected with



the abject. Thus, I am less interested in criticizing or celebrating all contemporary scatological parodies or their influence on later works and instead am keen to explore the nuances of a few connected texts that use psychoanalysis as a resource to address some of the more pressing issues of the post-1960 period. Because Franzen, Reed, Pynchon, and Naylor are particularly invested in analyzing constructions of race and whiteness in scatological works, their parodies also can be understood in relationship to Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s brilliant work on signifyin(g), even as his focus is upon the deep history of African American literary production. Building on Claudia Mitchell-Kernan’s work, Gates defines signifyin(g) as “the black rhetorical difference that negotiates the language user through several orders of meaning.… [T]he originality of so much of the black tradition emphasizes refiguration, or repetition and difference, or troping, underscoring the foregrounding of the chain of signifiers, rather than the mimetic representation of a novel content.”69 Expanding from this definition, Gates connects signifyin(g) to parody and pastiche, especially as elucidated by Mikhail Bakhtin as he argues that parody repeats and revises the “speech of another” but “introduces into that other speech an intention which is directly opposed to the original one.”70 With a particular emphasis on Bakhtin’s discussion of the “hidden polemic” in certain parodies, Gates highlights how works in the African American literary canon utilize revision and repetition to “critique” both “received literary conventions and … the subject matter represented in canonical texts of the tradition.”71 Although his attention in this prominent work remains upon how African American writers reference and revise literary precursors—how Reed’s The Free-Lance Pallbearers, for example, parodies Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man—he offers a compelling understanding of the power of parody to critique dominant Western fantasies of racial difference. For example, Gates argues that Reed “[wills] into being a rhetorical structure, a literary language, replete with its own figures and tropes, but one that allows the black writer to posit a structure of feeling that simultaneously critiques both the metaphysical presuppositions inherent in Western ideas and forms of writing and the metaphorical system in which the blackness of the writer and his experience have been valorized as a ‘natural’ absence.”72 To be clear, Gates claims that signifyin(g) can be “motivated or unmotivated,” but with analysis of a variety of works he showcases how repetition and revision can “[function] to redress an imbalance of power” and to “[rewrite] the received order.”73 Influenced by Gates’s theoretical



examination of signifyin(g), American Sh*t engages with Reed’s and Naylor’s polemical parodies that undermine discourses of racial difference by deploying scatological imagery with particular attention to the metaphoric usage of sanitary engineering as a means to explore the experience of abjection in the United States. As Gates argues in reference to multiple texts, Naylor and Reed “signify upon white racism through parody” to show how whiteness is constructed through an imagined transcendence from base bodily life, which in turn is projected out or excreted metaphorically onto the bodies of people of color associated with a closer connection to filthy organic matter.74 Because this book examines parodic treatment of psychoanalysis and discourses of sanitation rather than the combined and multi-layered revisions of literary texts within the African American literary canon, my focus is different from Gates’s work. Still, his work has influenced this project in at least two separate ways. First, because of his identification of the hidden polemic in specific works and the power of parody to challenge white racism, his work avoids the charge of “complicit critique” of hegemonic discourses within postmodern works that Hutcheon outlines. Viewing Reed’s work, for example, as part of a longer aesthetic tradition of the “revising text” that “is written in the language of the tradition, employing its tropes, its rhetorical strategies, and its ostensible subject matter, the so-called Black Experience,” he shows that such parodic play importantly undermines belief in a “transcendent signified, an essence, which supposedly exists prior to its figuration.”75 Gates’s analysis of Reed’s literary works points toward the author’s repetition and revision of both dominant discourses of racial difference and precursors in the African American literary canon like Ellison’s Invisible Man in order to show that “blackness exists, but ‘only’ as a function of its signifiers.”76 The political value of such parody then is to challenge constructions of blackness that posit the natural and fixed difference between bodies and which operate in the world to impact the lives of African American people. Parody like Reed’s work is a political force that undermines such constructions of racial difference and forwards alternatives to the division of bodies into racial categories even as it displays the impact of white racism. Bringing Reed’s work into conversation with Pynchon, Franzen, and DeLillo’s scatological works, American Sh*t shows how these authors also utilize parody to undermine the construction of whiteness; and, therefore, their “hidden polemical” literary treatment of racism connects with the excremental vision provided by Reed even as they focus more intently upon the toxic bodily schemata of



white subjects. Second, Gates’s emphasis on parody as a mode that builds from its source texts like Hutcheon’s focus on transcontextualization creates a space for the evaluation of the productive criticism and utilization of parodied material. Showing that Reed’s parodic works do not only operate to satirize the logic of hegemonic narratives of racial difference and to reject their logic, Gates primarily highlights the expansion upon forefathers and foremothers’ works and the movement and development of their insights into new historical contexts. American Sh*t addresses related excremental visions within three works in the African American literary canon of the post-1960 period and brings them into conversation with works by prominent white male authors to show how a variety of excremental visions of the period overlap with the similar aim of undermining individual, communal, and national identity formations that erect themselves in opposition to the abject by metaphorically excreting the excess of such identities onto Others, thereby demarcating them as dangerous biological excess. While both Hutcheon and Gates’s theoretical work on the formal structures and political power of parody influence my analysis of literary texts, American Sh*t also is indebted to recent work on literary representations of abjection by queer theorists invested in psychoanalysis and studies of race in aesthetic works. Kathryn Bond Stockton’s Beautiful Bottom, Beautiful Shame: Where “Black” Meets “Queer” has been particularly important, especially as she explores works like Morrison’s Sula and argues that this text “dares to value debasement” and “debases” Freudian theories of subject development.77 For Stockton, “to debase Freud is not to ignore but to engage his highly influential claims—so as then to bend them against the civilizations he embraced.”78 Although she does not use the word parody to describe this referencing of Freudian theories, her work shares a kinship with Gates’s The Signifying Monkey because of a focus on repetition and revision of discursive conventions even as Stockton’s emphasis is on destabilizing the universalizing and normalizing deployment of psychoanalytic theories of subject development. In analysis of the signs “black” and “queer” as well as in detailed analysis of aesthetic works that contemplate the value of debasement or abjection, Stockton argues that writers like Morrison trouble Freudian understandings of the movement from “primitive” enjoyment of anal pleasure to a sublimation of it in order to contemplate the potential power of claiming excessive bodily life.79 Because the signs “queer” and “black” in her account both have been linked to fantasies of regressive, underdeveloped, or primitive



investment in anal erotism and unproductive pleasure in contrast to white heteronormative masculine subjects, contemporary writers like Morrison committed to addressing racism, sexism, and homophobia play with the ideals of “civilized” subjectivity and ponder the kinds of bodily values that are eschewed in dominant renderings of Freudian theory and normative subject development. With careful attention to shame experienced by subjects demarcated as abject, Stockton tenderly outlines both the desire for “dignity” that normativity might endow and a critical recuperation of “bottom values,” which for her involves a reassessment of the worth of what has been cast off or understood as valueless.80 What Stockton highlights is how white herteronormative masculine subjectivity is created through an abnegation of anality which is projected out onto Others and how representations of abjection within key aesthetic works utilize debasement as a resource for countering the violence of such identity formation as well as for imagining other ways of being in the world that don’t depend upon the division of bodies into hierarchical categories. Further, Stockton debases Freudian theory in order to make a case for “perverse” desires that run contrary to longings for dominant white “civilized” masculine subjectivity, stitched up by its fantasized transcendence from “primitive” and excessive bodily exuberance and imagined impenetrability. Even as Stockton’s primary focus is not excrement, her tracing of the linkages between “black” and “queer” via abjection influences American Sh*t, especially because she productively reads psychoanalytic theory against the grain. Exploring the value of what has been cast off in the construction of whiteness, what has been disavowed in the construction of heteronormativity, and what is lost in rigorous defense of masculine phallic power, she makes room for the articulation of “bottom values,” which in the texts that I examine are promoted through restaging, revising, and riffing upon Freudian theories of subjects’ relationship to the excremental self. Because each of the texts addressed in American Sh*t returns readers again and again to the dissolution of self with critical renderings of defecation and systems of disposal, they replay Freudian accounts of the subject’s relationship to excrement to undermine a contemporary subjectivity that rages against bodily porousness and separates the self from the unruly mess of bodily life, human Others imagined to carry the excesses denied in the construction of clean and pure identity, as well as the threatening power of the entropic world. Thus, they debase Freudian theory in four separate ways. First, the texts examined undermine toxic bodily schemata that split the subject from the excretory body and come to identify the full



body as enemy to desired transcendence from the degradation associated with the porous flesh. Second, they link abnegation of embodiment and anality to aggression toward human Others demarcated as excessive organic matter denied; further, these novels show how such fantasies of transcendent non-bodily white subjects and filthy racialized others are utilized to justify violent civic and national movements. Third, the novels analyzed connect hostility toward the body to a desire to destroy the organic world because of its decomposing power to unravel subjects in death. Fourth, they depict subjects who come to embrace the debasement of bodily life—our excretory status, our shared humanity, and our dependence upon the world—as a means through which to counter racism, militarism, and environmental devastation. In revising Freudian accounts of engagement with the excremental self, each of the texts addressed undermines subjective triumph over polymorphous perversity and enjoyment of anality in order to connect the construction of clean and waste-free identity to human impact on the environment or upon Others associated with the excess denied in the construction of the sanitary citizen. Drawing on work by Brown, Frantz Fanon, and Leo Bersani, American Sh*t opens by situating arguments about the role of debasement in aesthetic works within mid-century psychoanalytic accounts of masculine subject development and abjection. Even as this work is influenced by groundbreaking feminist scholarship on the abject like Kristeva’s Powers of Horror, revelatory queer theoretical interventions in psychoanalysis like Tim Dean’s Beyond Sexuality,81 and Foucauldian inspired histories of waste like Dominque Laporte’s History of Shit,82 I position analyses of literary texts in conversation with works by Brown and Fanon in the opening of the book because they contributed to the historical moment in which radical reinterpretations of psychoanalytic thought and applications of it were forwarded to understand motivations for violence in the world as well as ways to counter it. As critics like Luc Herman, Steven Weisenburger, and Lawrence C. Wolfley have shown,83 Brown’s works circulated among leftist writers and directly influenced Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow as did other texts by Herbert Marcuse and Erich Fromm. Still, because of Brown’s infamous “studies in anality” and focus on excrement in Swift’s work, he is one of the most important figures through which to interrogate excremental parody produced in the United States during the 1960s and beyond as he promotes the important role that literature—scatological literature in particular—can play in revealing the neuroses of Western civilization. Further, his Life Against Death remains one of the seminal



texts that explores what Pynchon calls “shit, money and the Word”;84 like the novelists addressed in this work, Brown’s celebrated text utilizes Freudian theories of the subject’s relationship to excrement as a starting point to think through the calculating nature of Homo Economicus, the desire for transcendence of the body at the heart of Lutheranism and Calvinism, and the anal sadism of war. As I will show in Chap. 2, because Reed’s excremental novel connects Harry Sam’s toxic excrement to his warmongering and promotion of consumer culture, Reed samples and remixes filthy psychoanalytic tunes sung by Brown and taken up by the New Left. In Chap. 3, I argue that Franzen’s The Corrections, inspired by Pynchon’s scat that riffs on Reed’s novel, soaks up Brown’s influential ideas from these predecessors even as they move Franzen into new arenas of suburban anal sadism. With Chap. 4, I argue that when Naylor invites us to travel with White and Shit through an affluent community to meet a patriarch named Luther, she revises mid-­ century psychoanalytic melodies that link the disavowal of the fullness of bodily life to religious mythology and capitalist ideology in ways that resonate with the wide-reaching excremental vision in Brown’s work. Analysis of DeLillo’s work in Chap. 5 shows how he drops readers back into the early years of the Cold War to think through the anal sadism of war with reference to psychoanalytic thinkers from the period like Brown for whom studies in anality could challenge the desire that promotes death-­supplying military advancement. All of the novelists addressed share Brown’s emphasis on how psychoanalytic theories can lead back to an embrace of the fullness of bodily life and unravel a fantasized subjective transcendence from the world and other beings. In this way, I argue their works re-­ circulate the hopefulness that appears in Brown’s work for social change even as they also maintain the urgency of his call to address the “psychoanalytical meaning of history” in the face of human destruction of the world and each other. While these authors’ novels connect with Brown’s influential excremental visions that floated through the New Left and the larger culture, Pynchon, Franzen, and DeLillo revise the phrasing of his psychoanalytic arias to address the construction of whiteness with particular attention to how fantasies of subjective transcendence from bodily life inspire ruinous civic and national movements. All three authors maintain a primary focus on using psychoanalytic theory to understand whiteness and to counter it with depictions of the bodily waste denied in the erection of non-porous masculine identity or the wastelands produced by militarism or consumer



culture. Thus, like queer theorist David L. Eng, Pynchon, Franzen, and DeLillo are invested in how “psychoanalysis as a philosophical body of thought helps authorize and reinforce the (re)production of social hierarchies, such as sexuality and race, as the essentialized and naturalized order of things” while simultaneously revising it to explore visions of transformed subjects that refuse to negate bodily life, shared humanity, and worldly embodiment.85 Although Naylor and Reed share a critical engagement with psychoanalysis, they also “creatively deploy [psychoanalytic theory] to leverage a more thorough understanding of the psychic burdens and material costs imposed upon” racialized and queer Others.86 Because of the focus on the impact of racism on the bodily schemata of characters, I position analyses of their novels within discussion of Fanon’s Black Skins, White Masks. As in Fanon’s work, both Reed and Naylor document the way that the erection of whiteness pollutes the black body via association with regressive and filthy corporeality. For both authors, like Fanon, the critique of fantasized transcendence from bodily life in the construction of whiteness is the gateway through which to engage with the psychic trauma caused by the soiling of the black body with the wastes of whiteness. Characters in their texts attempt to flee the debased body and to signal their value by “secreting a race,” as Fanon puts it, or by re-­ signifying the black body through association with masculine power or wealth.87 In Reed’s Free-Lance Pallbearers, Doopeyduk attempts to take the toilet throne so that he might excrete toxic power that lays waste to bioregions and human Others. Naylor’s Linden Hills presents characters that cover their debasement by racist discourses and institutions by highlighting consumer goods and financial success as the powerful excess of the successful black body. While both of these novels explore the impact of abjection, they also posit, like Fanon, that the antagonistic relationship to the body created by racism can be countered by reaffirming the value of organic body, shared humanity in defiance of divisive biopolitical understandings of difference, and our connection to the world. By bringing Fanon into conversation with Brown through analysis of literary revision and repositioning of psychoanalytic theory in scatological parody, American Sh*t showcases how contemporary excremental fictions move psychoanalytic theory in queer directions to undermine racialized understanding of masculine subjects and to forward a perverse reclamation of anality and our excremental bodily nature as a means to come together in excess and to imagine alternative community formations that refuse anal sadism and its pollutant destructive power.



With this focus on the pleasures that might be embraced in eroding heteronormative white masculinity, these novels share a kinship with queer thinkers like Leo Bersani, a theorist upon whom Stockton draws and for whom an embrace of masculine porousness and anal play marks the productive grave of masculine identity formation that wreaks havoc in the world. Turning from literary analysis rooted in mid-century psychoanalytic theory in the opening sections of this book, the final two chapters of American Sh*t embed close-readings of Underworld and The Mad Man within analysis of Bersani’s The Freudian Body and Homos. Both novels share with Bersani a desire to think through how fear of bodily penetration and porousness inspire violence in the world as well as his emphasis on how queer figures revel in the pleasures of coming together in excess of normative identity categories. Despite Bersani’s emphasis on the anti-­ social nature of “homos,” both authors depict characters that utilize the excessive pleasures of “self-shattering” in intimate contact with others to forward visions of alternative communities or subcultures. I show how “self-shattering” or decomposition of self are not the end game in these novels, but rather a process through which queer characters fertilize provocative forms of binding themselves to each other in excess. Bringing these three psychoanalytic thinkers together in literary analysis, American Sh*t argues that each of these novels offers detailed engagement with the excesses of the construction of subjectivity that critique the logic of standard processes of waste disposal, while also calling for an altered vision of human connectivity to excess. As they explore the subjectivity of violent excreters who disavow and abnegate the movement of their waste, these authors simultaneously construct alternative subjects who refuse to bury or to forget the abject. Avoiding the phobic desire for a cleansed human subject—free from his association with excreta, separated from excessive human Others, and liberated from the pull of the organic world—these writers show that allying the self with waste and claiming that which previously has been discarded may lead to the development of less violent and more sustainable communities in which decay is not seen as problem, but as gift to soil and marker of intimate human connection to ecosystems and each other. Rather than imagine utopian paradises free from the horrors of bodily decomposition and porousness, they create fictional communities and individuals who re-value the excesses of the body and our openness to the world and each other. These texts’ excremental ethics illustrate that the continuation of human life lies not in the discovery of a new Eden, but in allying ourselves with our excreta and refusing to imagine a separation



between the organic world and ourselves or a separation of “ideal” subjects from our own bodily lives or the fantasized impurity and filth of Others. Indeed, as these texts explore the violence of systems of waste disposal as subjects attempt to flee from personal bodily waste as well as their capacity to be wasted and overcome by human others and the organic world, they offer the ecstatic pleasures of bodily unraveling as a way to re-­ imagine the joys of embracing the wasted self. American Sh*t argues that representations of the excremental self and characters’ interactions with sanitary and social engineering are so much more than asinine anality in that they address grave issues of violence toward the body, human Others, and the world and provide serious commentary on ways that we might counter this violence by working through and with waste.

The Gravity of Psychoanalytically Inspired Scatological Fiction To provide an introductory case study of riffing on psychoanalytic studies of anality in contemporary scatological parody, I turn to Gravity’s Rainbow. With an eye toward how this work builds upon Brown’s theories of the anal sadism of war in Life Against Death as well as his exploration of the resurrection of the body as an alternative to it, I simply seek to set the stage for analyses in subsequent chapters of other novels that take up these themes in different contexts. Highlighting the vacillation between debasing psychoanalytic theory to showcase a toxic form of masculine subject development that abnegates bodily life and the literary exploration of a subjectivity that refuses to negate corporeality, this introductory analysis points toward the value of scatological psychoanalytic play for addressing the violence of Western civilization, especially with reference to militarism. From the beginning pages of Gravity’s Rainbow, German buzzbombs— V-1s—emit “farting sound[s] over the rooftops” of London.88 Still, US Army Lieutenant Tyrone Slothrop prefers the V-1 to the V-2 rockets deployed by the Germans that come quietly across the sky and then release, “sudden gases, a violence on the air and no trace afterwards, … a Word, spoken with no warning into your ear and then silence forever.”89 Revising an adolescent joke about human gaseous emissions, the text claims that the most terrifying rockets are “silent but violent” for they offer no auditory warning of their flight until they detonate and fill the air with the smell of decay. Because Slothrop’s wartime employment centers upon



“investigating V-bomb ‘incidents’” and “pok[ing]” through the “droppings” in order to discover valuable information about the construction of the fecal weapons, he visits detonation sites, searching for “fragments of German hardware that wouldn’t exist.”90 As little is left of the fecal rockets, he finds instead search crews looking for “survivor or casualty” in the wreckage.91 More often than not, the crews find no survivors as only rarely does “life … win out” against death. Rather than gathering information about the consistency and quality of German hardware, Slothrop encounters firsthand the ways in which the Germans display their power by metaphorically defecating upon their enemies. For Slothrop, the rockets signal a kind of superhuman enemy other—a mechanical Beast—who has overcome death in transcendence from worldly embodiment and who seemingly cannot experience erosion, but instead exhibits the power to obliterate threats by releasing fantastic toxic excrement out into the world. The rocket is the turd produced by a German superpower that Slothrop imagines “laughing” haughtily as the vulnerable bodies of human others become shit; it also is the fecal matter produced by a nation that with precision erects its imagined impenetrable national identity by excreting not organic waste, but mechanized weapons, fantasy turds that cover over the vulnerability of the human bodies that comprise the German state with explosive power, thereby seemingly avoiding bodily pollution and decay by exterminating others. In passages like these, Pynchon’s rendering of anal sadism fleshes out Brown’s theoretical work by combining the high culture of academic psychoanalysis with fart and shit jokes as well as with visions of rubble from the battlefield. While I will discuss Brown’s work at greater length in Chaps. 3 and 4, here, I simply want to mark a creative redeployment of his insights in Gravity’s Rainbow. Writing in the context of the 1950s and a larger national and global terror of nuclear weapons that have the power to obliterate entire cities and islands, Brown builds from, critiques, and revises Freudian works to address the desires that fuel technological advancements in weapons production. For him, militarism is inspired by a negation of the body, which in its natural processes of excretion consistently reminds the subject of his movement toward death: the ultimate loss of corporeal pleasure. In Brown’s account, even as the peristaltic movements of the body stimulate the child, they create a problem for the subject as the source of bodily delight drops away, thereby creating an antagonistic relationship between the child and his excremental body. Experiencing aggression toward the body that comes undone, Brown



argues that the child comes to equate the full body with excrement and to splinter the subject from such corporeal entombment. Sublimating anal pleasure and polymorphous perversity, the subject fantasizes transcendence from the excremental body and entropic organic matter of the world, ultimately unleashing aggression on threats that might challenge his imagined subjective difference. For Pynchon, drawing on Brown’s work, the adult masculine subject that abnegates his bottom nature consistently struggles to protect the boundaries of self by denying his own status as organic matter and projecting the filth that he denies out onto the bodies of Others. Like Brown, Pynchon connects individual subject development to civilization and its discontents by proposing that the anal sadism of the normative masculine subject operates on a grander scale as nations also protect their borders from penetrative threats in the production of fecal bombs that turn Others into organic waste. Inspired by a desire to destroy the body that brings an end to pleasure in death, longing to eradicate the earth that decomposes man, and a compulsion to distinguish the transcendent subject and his civilization from human kin with displays of military power, Brown and Pynchon’s anal sadism endangers all life on earth. The urgency displayed in both of their works is a response to the madness of weapons production that has the potential to destroy worlds and that both authors believe is a result of a neurosis within Western man who “bred technology out of his drive to dominance—sexual, social, and material,” as Wolfley notes.92 Following Brown, Pynchon proposes countering militaristic subjectivity with a return to eros in which the subject does “not negate anymore.” In response to the terror of fecal rockets and the death that they bring, Slothrop is filled with desire to feel the fullness of bodily pleasure through multiple sexual encounters with various women also inhabiting wartime London. While the rockets inspire terror, Slothrop counteracts this horror with a turn to bodily connection with others as a way to recall the goodness and beauty of bodily unraveling in sexual contact as opposed to the terror of bodily undoing in war. In order to document these experiences of eros, Slothrop maintains a map on his office wall upon which he places different colored stars to denote “moments” of pleasure amidst destruction.93 As the text notes, “Slothrop keeps his map up daily, boobishly conscientious. At its best, it does celebrate a flow, a passing from which—among the sudden demolitions from the sky, mysterious orders arriving out of the dark laborings of nights that for himself are only idle—he can save a moment here or there.”94 Slothrop charts the “flow”—the fluidity—of



bodies as they come together to share ecstatic excremental expulsion. In contrast to fecal weapons that make the bodies of those deemed enemy experience the suffering that comes with bodily vulnerability, Slothrop seeks to “celebrate” on his map and through bodily connection moments that remind him of the joy of bodily porousness. Indeed, the stars that glitter on his map are colorful reminders of the nearly inexpressible “feelings” that each encounter inspires in the face of the “sudden demolitions” that merge bodies and buildings in gray detritus. Even as Slothrop’s officemate, Tantivy, sees the map as a collection of conquests, a kind of cartographic reflex derived from past “fraternity-boy” games equivalent to marking notches on a belt, Slothrop is clear that what he seeks to document is not all the female bodies that he has plowed over and under, but instead all the brief moments of bodily joy in which he is overwhelmed by another, wasted and spent, but thriving in the self undone. Pynchon writes, The stars he pastes up are colored only to go with how he feels that day, blue on up to golden. Never to rank a single one—how can he? … “I know there is wilde love and joy enough in the world,” preached Thomas Hooker, “as there are wilde Thyme, of Gods owne planting; but we would have garden love, and garden joy, of Gods owne planting.” How Slothrop’s garden grows. Teems with virgin-bower, with forget-me-nots, with rue—and all over the place, purple and yellow as hickeys, a prevalence of love-in-idleness.95

Here, Slothrop seeks promiscuous contact that brings him back to the “wilde love” and “joy” of being a body in the world; in the face of bodily suffering, he obsessively pursues fleshy and worldly delights. In a (mis) reading of Hooker’s preaching on the subject of worldly joy, Slothrop’s carnal contact is viewed as a balm to the death that surrounds him as his sexual encounters bring him brief glimpses of edenic love before the fall into antagonism between man and woman, human and earth. Beautifully bruised purple and yellow, Slothrop carries the marks of times of wild abandon upon his body when the openness of the flesh to worldly suckling brings great pleasure, when the garden teeming over his flesh is not seen as threat to human distinction from earth to be avoided but instead a desirable positioning to be courted. As Herman and Weisenburger note, the novel plays with Brown’s assertion that humanity will either destroy itself or “will learn to banish repression from daily life, restart a new/old erotic way of living freed from guilt and alienated consciousness.”96



Although the map might have become a feature of sexist jocular army stories, it instead inspires the interest of a group devoted to “psychological warfare” named PISCES—“Psychological Intelligence Schemes for Expediting Surrender”—for this map of “wilde love” directly corresponds to other maps of the city that chart the areas struck by bombs.97 Experts in psychological warfare are interested in Slothrop as his erections seemingly forecast sites that will be attacked; delving into the connection between Slothrop and the bomb, they discover that experiments on his infantile body have led to his arousal when near Imipolex-G, a plastic used in the construction of German V-bombs. Learning of this connection, experts seek to control Slothrop, to use his erect penis as a kind of seeing one-eyed dog that can sniff out possible sites of attack and after the war be used to find German weapons systems that can be appropriated for the military. This correspondence between Slothrop’s erogenous zones and zones of impact provides the tension that continues throughout the novel between the polymorphous perversity of “wilde love” that exults in decomposing militaristic masculinity in ecstatic sharing of bodily waste and anal sadism that eradicates penetrative threats. Riffing on Brown’s work, the novel asks readers to shift through the shit of war, to look closely at and bemoan the human bodies reduced to dust and the fecal bombs that wasted them, to ponder why national identity is erected and celebrated through the wasted bodies of Others, and to explore ways that we might experience a different kind of erotic charge. While the experts on psychological warfare seek to explore Slothrop’s usefulness to Allied causes, they also put him under “light narcosis to help illuminate racial problems in his own country [the United States].”98 In this way, the novel uses the introductory exploration of the ways that the German’s make waste of enemy others to reflect upon the ways in which the United States has wasted indigenous as well as African American bodies and the landscape. Turning from depictions of the devastated portions of the London cityscape, readers follow Slothrop dosed with sodium amytal in a hallucination down an American toilet that reveals the sanitary and social engineering of the United States and calls readers to encounter bodies that have been recipients of American fecal bombardment. His reflections upon the ways that Americans make “shit” of racially marked others allow him to ponder the horrors of a nation that becomes erect— that gets turned on—by nationalist stories of the subduing of excessive Others. His hallucination takes Slothrop back to his days as a student at Harvard University in which he and other students visited the Roseland



Ballroom on segregated evenings reserved for the white dancers. Falling back in time, Slothrop becomes a voyeur or spy, witnessing “white college boys” rollicking to the music of British-born Ray Noble’s “Cherokee,” which he identifies as “one more lie about white crimes.”99 As Weisenburger notes, Noble’s song praises a “sweet Indian maiden,” imagines her “love [that] keeps calling,” and expresses a desire to “hold her.”100 Yet, beneath this melody of “love” is the history of Cherokee people marching toward death or to a “wasteland” “reserved” for their occupation. There is no “trail of tears” in Noble’s hit, but only an erection pointing through each verse at a body defined by its constant desire to be dominated by militaristic force. As the Harvard boys move vigorously to music, perhaps hoping that their gyrations will increase their chances of getting “lucky,” they celebrate a kind of American love for the disposal of bodies demarcated as waste. From Slothrop’s position as spy, he strays from the narrative melody of conquest in order to uncover “a lie about white crimes.” He begins to listen to the underside of the lyrical identity and to hear the groans of the bodies excreted in a cleansed narrative of history, in the erection of the nation. As Kyle Smith argues, Gravity’s Rainbow utilizes the spy genre’s uncertainties to reveal the imperial Self as the true enemy, and to show how the imperial Self constructs various Others using its own fears and fantasies. The enemy in GR might be termed variously the Raketenstaadt, the West, corporate America, the imperial Self, or the State. The encompassing, and yet most specific term to describe this is Whiteness.101

In addition, Pynchon utilizes Brown’s psychoanalytic theory to “spy” on the psychological make-up of masculine white subjects (erotically) charged up by their domination of Others and the imagined inherent pleasures of the submission of indigenous populations. As Slothrop begins to hear the underside of white history in relationship to the Cherokee body, he also comes to a deeper understanding of the racial dynamics of service and pleasure in the Ballroom. The dancers who “reel” and “roister” to the cleansed nationalist rhythm also enjoy the pleasure of “two bartenders, a very fair West Indian, slight, with a mustache, and his running-mate black as a hand in an evening glove, [who] are moving endlessly in front of the deep, the oceanic mirror that swallows most of the room in metal shadows.”102 Men tired from the dance can visit the upstairs bathroom where “Red” (a young Malcolm X) will shine their



shoes and sell them condoms. While their “prep-school voices” resound and their feet spin, the dancers are surrounded by black bodies flushed from the dance floor and into spaces of service: bathrooms and kitchens. If Slothrop enjoyed evenings at the Roseland Ballroom with Harvard chums before the war, he experiences nausea in the hallucination as the melody of American whiteness is broken apart by jazz-like improvisation that allows him to hear the suffering of excessive bodies on which “the lie” of biological difference is built as well as to see how ideological understandings of difference support a sexual sado-masochism in which white men get off on dominating those deemed “naturally” desirous of violent control. With Malcolm X as a witness, Slothrop vomits his lunch in a “loathsome toilet” in a bathroom of the Roseland Ballroom at the revelation of the violence of the erection of whiteness.103 As the text notes toward the end of the novel, Shit is the presence of death, not some abstract-arty character with a scythe but the stiff rotting corpse itself inside the whiteman’s warm and private own asshole, which is getting pretty intimate. That’s what the white toilet’s for. You see many brown toilets? Nope, toilet’s the color of gravestones, classical columns or mausoleums, that white porcelain’s the very emblem of Odorless and Official Death. Shinola shoeshine polish happens to be the color of Shit. Shoeshine boy Malcolm’s in the toilet slappin’ on Shinola, working off whiteman’s penance on his sin of being born the color of Shit and Shinola.104

Beyond the novel’s focus on fecal weapons systems resulting from anal sadism, it explores here the construction of whiteness through an abnegation of the excremental self; the shit of the white body is associated with the death of the subject and the white toilet allows for the burial or cleansing of the decay of the body so that the subject might rise from defecation free from the burden of his own filthy nature. Odorless and efficient removal of corporeal threats to the imagined subjective transcendence of white subjects is the triumph of technological advancement; further, sanitary removal of excess maps outward as the black body also becomes the site through which white subjects dump their fantasies of threatening biological organic matter. Associating blackness with organic waste and regressive humanity, Western civilization polices the labor of those demarcated with racial difference, ensuring that such labor confirms a



hierarchical social order in which transcendent white subjects enjoy the privilege of dominating those treated like shit. As with scenes of Slothrop’s experience of “wilde love,” his vision of domination and submission—wasted excremental bodies and transcendent subjects—in the Roseland bathroom is contrasted with the destruction caused by white subjects as well as alternative visions of an eros that might triumph over coprophagic sado-masochism. Following his harp down the toilet, Slothrop experiences a vision of the United States’s westward expansion in the form of Crouchfield, the “White Cocksman” who does “it with both sexes and all animals.”105 Crouchfield’s song is Noble’s “Cherokee” in that he erects his identity through the splayed and open body of racially marked others and through animal bodies associated with a wild, unruly environment. This vision of Crouchfield does not indulge in lyrics of love but instead shows “a shootout … bloody as hell. The wind will be blowing so hard blood will glaze on the north side of the trees.”106 Thus, the eroticism of Noble’s song is revealed to rise from a national celebration of masculine triumph over colonized peoples; what he “does” with the bodies of animals, indigenous people, and to the landscape is to turn all in front of him into waste. Through the death of others and ecological ruin, the Cocksman asserts his subjective difference from organic matter and fantasizes prevailing over death itself. The hallucination of historical slaughter of Native Americans is juxtaposed with communities that Slothrop encounters living in the sewage of the nation. Floating in the effluent tide, he also sees multiple bodies of those viewed as biological excess, flushed from the standard narrative of history, and united with the organic wastes of the world trashed by Western civilization. He finds himself outside the “communal rooms and spaces” of kin that call out to him to embrace a shared humanity, a collective status as organic matter. Even as he “feel[s] his isolation” and knows that they “want him” to “join them” in a different relationship to the entropic world, a transformed experience of eros in which the sado-masochism of whiteness is dissolved, Slothrop cannot acquiesce as “something prevents him.”107 He fears that “once inside, it would be like taking a blood oath. They would never release him. There are no guarantees he might not be asked to do something … something so ….”108 Slothrop knows that joining the community would require giving up his coherent identity for the undifferentiated self and to affirm his porousness, his fluidity, and his own excremental nature. He would become “something so” terrifying and so possibly pleasurable as becoming the



Freudian child pierced again and again by the pleasures of worldly stimulus. This same fear causes Slothrop to balk in the men’s bathroom as he worries that Malcolm X might anally penetrate him as he leans over the toilet: “If Slothrop follows the harp down the toilet it’ll have to be headfirst, which is not so good, cause it leaves his ass up in the air helpless, and with Negroes around that’s just what a fella doesn’t want, his face down in some fetid unknown darkness and brown fingers, strong and sure, all at once undoing his belt, unbuttoning his fly, strong hands holding his legs apart.”109 This passage can be read as a paranoid fear of the power of the black phallus to disrupt narratives of white power; yet it also hints at the kind of pleasure that might be known by embracing the role of “helpless ass,” open to the “strong and sure” fingers of another, and reveling in what Brown calls the resurrection of the (porous) body. In contrast to the Cocksman who gets off on wasting others, Slothrop entertains here—no matter how ambivalently—the bodily values of the Freudian child, a polymorphous perversity that might allow him to return to the pleasures of being overcome without turning with aggression to that which ecstatically decomposes the masculine self. The opposition of anal sadism to anal pleasure is clear toward the end of the novel when Pynchon returns readers to the Roseland Bathroom with an erotic fantasy: It is nice to think that one Saturday night … Malcolm looked up from some Harvard kid’s shoes and caught the eye of Jack Kennedy.… Did Red suspend his ragpopping just the shadow of a beat, just enough to let white Jack see through, not through to but through through the shine on his classmate Tyrone Slothrop’s shoes? Were they ever lined up that way—sitting, squatting, passing through?110

What if the white subject didn’t see “through to” erect his difference in opposition to blackness? Without building his identity by separating the self from his organic waste and projecting such waste out onto the bodies of people of color, the white subject might embrace a shared humanity and excremental nature. Tyrone and Jack might focus on the parts of themselves lost to the toilet grave; they might follow themselves down the drain and into the grave of white identity confronted by its own excremental nature. The anus might become the passage through to the pleasure of undifferentiated bodies in which the knowledge of death is countered by the bodily delight of porousness and penetrability. This vision of eroticism



is where readers end their journey with Slothrop; by the end of the novel he has abandoned attempts to understand weapons systems and instead “likes to spend whole days naked, ants crawling up his legs, butterflies lighting on his shoulders, watching the life on the mountain, getting to know shrikes and capercaillie, badgers and marmots.”111 Without acting as hunter, without a personal pesticide, he gives up the fight with the “organic” matter of self and finds pleasure in the porousness of his body open to worldly stimulus.112 The penetrated subject who revels in the body as hole and enjoys the multiple ways in which the world might pass through him is Pynchon’s ethical excremental subject, which opposes militaristic anal sadism. Herman and Weisenburger disagree with a reading of Slothrop’s final scattering into the wastes of the world in which Slothrop “has reckoned with the specter of Pernicious Pop and realized enough polymorphously perverse sexuality that he’s achieved a measure of de-Oedipalized mentality. He’s become a legend to the Counterforce. Which accomplishes what?”113 Acknowledging Brown’s influence on the work, they maintain that Marcuse’s analysis of “repressive tolerance” and his assertion that “power neutralizes subversion by seeming to accommodate revolutionary ideas” is the key to understanding what they argue is the novel’s critical stance toward Brown’s idealism.114 As I will show throughout this work, novelists’ utilization of psychoanalytic theory both to critique normative masculine subject development as well as Western civilization and to explore the import of “resurrecting the body” to counter violence in the world does accomplish the subversion of hegemonic nationalist narratives that celebrate the differentiation of citizens from Others. Like Pynchon’s jazz musicians and psychoanalytic thinkers like Brown, the aforementioned novels replay and revise standard narratives of whiteness, masculinity, capitalism, and nation to reveal the “weird shit” that inspires anal sadistic biopolitical fantasies of difference in contrast to imagined clean, non-bodily, and transcendent subjects. Further, with visions of undifferentiated characters that find “among the wastes of the world,…the key that will bring us back, restore us to Earth and to our freedom,” they provide seductive renderings of the pleasures that come with embracing our connection to each other and to bioregions.115 The political import of these studies in anality lays in their dual focus on the violence of anal sadism as it operates in the world and in their presentation of characters that seek out other ways of being. Because of the continued danger to planetary ecology and human Others of multiple forms of waste and pollution as



well as militarism, I argue that we should take their works and psychoanalytic insights seriously as they unravel a subjectivity that denies our shared humanity and dependence upon the health of the ecosystems.

(F)ecocriticism: The Sanitary City and The Ethics of Waste116 As I mention above, post-1960 scatological US fiction emerges in a time of increasing pollution of the nation’s waterways in what historian Martin Melosi identifies as the “water crisis” of “effluent society” in his book titled The Sanitary City: Environmental Services in Urban America from Colonial Times to the Present.117 In his account, from 1945 to 1970 waterworks multiplied in order to meet the increasing demands posed by urban expansion as well as intensified water usage in municipalities due to technological advancement like the automatic dishwasher, agricultural production with more expansive irrigation especially in the West, and industrial usage.118 In addition, as sanitary systems constructed in the early twentieth century were deteriorating, governmental action had to be taken to address such failing public works. As Melosi notes, “Postwar water-supply problems were exacerbated by several causes: uneven distribution facilities for storing, pumping, and transporting water from available supplies to areas of greatest demand; chronic shortages in places such as the arid West; and increased pollution of traditional sources of potable water.”119 On this last point, Melosi discusses the pollution of waterways by biological human waste as well as toxins from industrial production. He writes, “Groundwater pollution, caused primarily by industrial wastes, was of particular concern because it was much more difficult to abate than contamination of surface water. Aside from the known health hazards, there were unknown or little-­known dangers from thousands of new organic chemicals in such products as detergents and pesticides, from a variety of industrial processes, and from nuclear technology.”120 The growing evidence of the failure of sanitary systems to address the multiple forms of waste discharged into waterways could be seen with the burning Cuyoga River and popular publications’ claims about the death of Lake Erie, to name just two 1960s sites of pollution that Melosi addresses.121 In the face of such pollution, the Water Quality Act of 1965 passed, despite industrial opposition; the passage of the Clean Water Act of 1972 and subsequent amendments to it that aimed to “achieve zero-pollutants



discharge by 1995” show the continued concern with water quality, toxic sewage, and biological contaminants well into the late twentieth century.122 As Melosi notes, legislation tends to focus on technological fixes to waste management with an emphasis on secondary treatment by municipal waste-water treatment plants, thereby abnegating a critique of the production of toxic wastes: “The new legislation was guided by powerful historic forces in dealing with effluent, that is, a dependence on highly centralized, capital-intensive water-supply filtration and wastewater-­ treatment facilities designed to capture point sources of pollutants entering watercourses or returning to consumers via watercourses. These mechanisms alone were not capable of addressing water pollution in all its manifestations, and did little to address the problem of preventing pollution at its point of origin.”123 While Melosi is focused on the United States, authors like Jamie Benidickson remind readers that the problem of wastewater is global as “recent United Nations attempts to ascertain the impact of pollution on freshwater resources suggest that on the order of two million tons of human, industrial, chemical, and agricultural waste are disposed of daily into receiving waters.”124 To counter such pollution of precious waterways, Benidickson suggests the need for “psychological” and “cultural” transformation that overturns the usage of watercourses as sewers and re-evaluates the treatment of biological waste and the production of toxins.125 I end this introduction to American Sh*t with a turn to Melosi and Benidickson as Pynchon’s vision of Western civilization’s sewerage can usefully be read in connection to political discourse about pollution and the sanitary city that led to the aforementioned legislation as well as the irony of celebrated systems of sanitation that befoul the environment. Further, Gravity’s Rainbow addresses the evolution of Slothrop as sanitary citizen from participant in effluent society and militarism that wastes and pollutes both human Others and landscape toward a subject who values his connectivity to other beings and the ecosystem. Although Pynchon’s obsessive concern with waste in Gravity’s Rainbow only gestures toward polluted waterways while maintaining a primary focus on the danger of military production and its byproducts, Reed and DeLillo more pointedly focus upon the wastelands of American systems of disposal even as they similarly invite readers to explore how psychoanalytic theory provides a means to advocate for altered human relationships with each other and the world. Positioning representations of waste within the context of a fear of bodily contagion, Pynchon, Reed, and DeLillo’s works resonate with



these scholars’ focus on how a cultural abhorrence of bodily porousness leads to ruinous relationship to the environment. As Benidickson notes of nineteenth century sewerage, a widespread … belief that disease originated in the decay of organic materials suggested that great advances in public health might be achieved by using municipal water flow to flush household wastes into waterways…. Running water presumed to purify itself was not considered to be at serious risk from sewerage. This cluster of ideas, emerging as the common law faced growing pressure from intense river usage and before the role of bacteria in disease transmission was understood, nurtured flushing on a grand scale.126

More attuned to psychoanalytic understandings of waste, Pynchon, Reed, and DeLillo’s novels call readers to overturn a subjectivity that fears its waste products and Western civilization that creates disastrous military “droppings” to protect vulnerable borders, which in their deployment and disposal negatively impact human and other beings. All three authors suggest that repulsion of bodily life and fear of the penetrative power of the world and human Others fuel anal sadism, one result of which is pollution like that described by Melosi and Benidickson. As I argue that the novels addressed in this work call readers to explore an embrace of the excremental self and to critique movements of Western civilization that pollute the bodies of Others, waterways, and landscapes, I believe that these texts can be a resource for the kind of cultural and psychological changes for which Benidickson and others yearn. Although American Sh*t primarily is a work of psychoanalytic literary criticism that traces revision of psychoanalytic theory to address violent civic and national movements, there are connections between this book and ecocritical examinations of contemporary fiction like Lawrence Buell’s Writing for an Endangered World. Many scholars in environmental literary criticism would agree with Buell when he writes, the success of all environmentalist efforts finally hinges not on ‘some highly-­ developed technology, or some arcane new science’ but on a ‘state of mind’: on attitudes, feelings, images, narratives.… [I]t remains that acts of environmental imagination, whatever anyone thinks to the contrary, potentially register and energize at least four kinds of engagement with the world. They may connect readers vicariously with others’ experience, suffering, pain: that of nonhumans as well as humans. They may reconnect readers with places they have been and send them where they would otherwise never physically



go. They may direct thought toward alternative futures. And they may affect one’s caring for the physical world: make it feel more or less precious or endangered or disposable.127

While Buell’s Writing for an Endangered World offers a broad look at the environmental imagination in American literature, this monograph moves deeply into a few key contemporary texts with a focused examination of literary representations of excremental culture as they connect to human environmental impact; thus, I address a limited vision of the environmental imagination as I engage with literary sewage systems presented in contemporary American fiction and tease out a strand of the larger environmental imagination that Buell explores. The texts that I examine suggest that “attitudes, feelings, images, and narratives” about waste fuel systems of disposal, which negatively impact the ecosystems upon which we depend; in other words, literary play with sewage systems begins with the subjectivity of violent excreters, thereby suggesting that we connect detailed outlines of human impact to a deeper understanding of the subjectivity that befouls the environment. With analysis of Reed and DeLillo’s work in particular, I show how their excremental fiction undermines standard systems of disposal, calling readers to evaluate the kind of personal, civic, and national narratives that fuel sanitary engineering and waste management. Further, their texts call readers to follow the waste stream, thereby dropping us into “places where” we might not want to “physically go” and offering visions of the suffering that systems of disposal cause both to non-human and human Others. By connecting readers to the bodily schemata that fuel their daily participation in systems of disposal, these texts further invite us to ponder how we might create and promote new narratives about bodily waste and bodily connection to each other and the world. Scatological literature also “directs us toward alternative futures” by suggesting that we might care for excreta and detritus in different ways, avoiding the push to cleanse and to disavow the abject self and instead think through and work with bodily and other waste in different ways. As Greg Garrard notes, “The study of rhetoric supplies us with a model of cultural reading practice tied to moral and political concerns, and one which is alert to both the real or literal and the figural or constructed interpretations of ‘nature’ and ‘the environment.’”128 While scatological fictions invite us to investigate the “real” movements of waste in the world, they also examine the contemporary subjectivity of excreters, highlighting how ways of thinking and feeling about personal waste inspire



our dedication to certain practices of disposal and our relationships with Others. Because of my focus on metaphoric play with discourses of sanitation to address racism, the construction of whiteness, capitalism, militarism, pollution, and homophobia in multiple works of fiction, American Sh*t gestures toward the relevance of scatological fiction to the larger field environmental literary criticism. Like Gay Hawkins in her Ethics of Waste, I focus on “how waste is implicated in embodiment and styles of self, the norms and codes that underpin waste management, and how these might, or might not, register as ethical obligations.”129 All of the literary texts addressed in this work are invested in how characters’ interactions with the excremental self reveal problematic relationships to the organic body, to human Others, and to the world. Characters’ styles of self that abnegate their bodily waste and porousness as well as their normative understandings of masculine subject development away from corporeal entombment are diagnosed as toxic ways of being. Deploying psychoanalytic insights in representations of characters who come home to fleshy eros and explore the pleasures of being open to worldly stimulus rather than warring against human and worldly threats, these authors model different ethical obligations toward waste beyond those promoted by what Benidickson calls the culture of flushing. As I note above, Hawkins remains critical of psychoanalytic engagement with waste in her work as “the centrality of abjection in accounts of the self-waste relation seems too ahistorical and subjectivist; too blind to the social and political frames that mediate how all waste is subject to classification. The focus on waste as a threat to the psyche ignores how historical changes in the micropractices of the self influence unconscious orientations to the disgusting.”130 As I will show throughout this book, authors do not simply use psychoanalysis to explore abjection, but also to address the pleasures of corporeality that are repressed or disavowed in normative subject development. Further, they are attuned to the micropractices of self in connection to historical developments whether they focus on post-1945 era pollution of waterways and segregated civic spaces like Reed, suburban development and white flight from urban centers like Franzen, or Cold War weapons production and the resultant toxic military waste like DeLillo. They are invested in the social and political frames that shape how characters understand their bodily life, their connection to Others, and the decomposing power of the world; their reliance on psychoanalytic understandings of the abject and eros to undermine violent



forms of subjectivity and historical civic and national movements suggest that psychoanalysis is valuable for engaging with environmental pollution and human violence. Like Hawkins, I am interested in how these texts stage disturbances of norms and “use transgression” of them to suggest “new political responses and new ethical sensibilities” as well as “different engagement with the world, different ways of living with shit.”131 My hope is that this book inspires further engagement with excremental fiction and culture, further developments in (f)ecocriticism, that understand both literature and psychoanalysis as resources for helping us work through our status as waste-producing organisms as well as our corporeal connectivity to Others and the world.

Notes 1. Eddie Murphy, Eddie Murphy: Raw, DVD, directed by Robert Townsend (New York: Paramount Pictures, 2004 DVD release). 2. Eddie Murphy, Raw. 3. Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 209. 4. To be clear, my point here is that beyond a desire to rid ourselves of multiple forms of bodily excess through daily commitment to toiletry—both our usage of systems of sanitary engineering as well as daily methods for the preparation of self for entrance into civil society—that most citizens of the United States rarely think through the afterlives of sewage or the movement of waste. Other scholars of waste make this point as well; they point toward this phenomenon of daily usage of systems of sanitary engineering in so-­called first world nations with little thought about the impact or inner workings of such systems. For example, on the topic of sewerage, see Jamie Benidickson, The Culture of Flushing: A Social and Legal History of Sewage (Toronto: University of British Columbia Press, 2007), 325–326; Rose George, The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008), 6; Elizabeth Royte, Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash (New York: Back Bay Books, 2006), 210–234. Also, see Susan Strasser, Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1999), 18; and John Scanlan, On Garbage (Bath: Reaktion Books, 2005), 10. 5. Gay Hawkins, The Ethics of Waste: How We Relate to Rubbish (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006), 61. 6. Gay Hawkins, The Ethics of Waste, 56.



7. Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001). 8. Franzen, The Corrections, 282–286. 9. David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest (New York: Back Bay Books, 1996), 15, 14. 10. Wallace, Infinite Jest, 13. 11. Wallace, Infinite Jest, 11–12. 12. Wallace, Infinite Jest, 13. 13. Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (New York: Penguin, 1995). 14. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 21, 24. 15. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 25. 16. Don DeLillo, Underworld (New York: Scribner, 1997). 17. For a strong discussion of fiction associated with postmodernism and the wastes of consumer culture, see Rachele Dini, Consumerism, Waste, and Re-Use in Twentieth-Century Fiction (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), especially 99–142, which focuses upon Barthelme, Ballard, and Gaddis, and 143–179, which focuses upon DeLillo’s Underworld. 18. Kathryn Hume, “Ishmael Reed and the Problematics of Control,” PMLA, Vol. 108, No. 3 (May 1993): 514. 19. Ishmael Reed, The Free-Lance Pallbearers (Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1999). 20. Reed, The Free-Lance Pallbearers, 1–3. 21. Gloria Naylor, Linden Hills (New York: Penguin, 1985). 22. Gloria Naylor, Linden Hills, 24–25. 23. Toni Morrison, Sula (New York: Penguin, 1982). 24. Morrison, Sula, 3–6. 25. Morrison, Sula, 13. 26. Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony (New York: Penguin, 1977), 56. 27. Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1990) and Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (New York: Dial Press, 2009). 28. O’Brien, The Things They Carried, 161. Also, see David R.  Jarraway, “‘Excremental Assault’ in Tim O’Brien: Trauma and Recovery in Vietnam War Literature,” Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 44, No. 3 (1998): 696–697. 29. Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five, 101. 30. Cormac McCarthy, The Road (New York: Vintage Books, 2007), 14. 31. Cormac McCarthy, Suttree (New York: Vintage, 1992). 32. Jerome Charyn, “Doomed Huck,” New York Times Book Review, February 18, 1979, 4. 33. Cormac McCarthy, Suttree, 7. 34. Annie Proulx, The Shipping News (New York: Scribner, 1994). 35. Annie Proulx, That Old Ace in the Hole (New York: Scribner, 2003).



36. Ruth Ozeki, All Over Creation (New York: Penguin, 2004). 37. John Blair Gamber, Positive Pollution and Cultural Toxins, Waste and Contamination in Contemporary U.S.  Ethnic Literatures (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012). 38. Rachele Dini, Consumerism, Waste, and Re-Use in Twentieth-Century Fiction: Legacies of the Avant-Garde (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 2, 27. 39. Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (New York: Harper Collins, 1999). 40. Zygmunt Bauman, Wasted Lives: Modernity and Its Outcasts (Malden, MA: Polity, 2004), 4. 41. Gay Hawkins, The Ethics of Waste: How We Relate to Rubbish (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006): 4. 42. See Dini, Consumerism, Waste, and Re-Use in Twentieth-Century Fiction, 26. 43. Gamber, Postive Pollutions, 16. 44. For more about various excremental cultures as they are depicted in literary works, see early modernist Will Stockton’s Playing Dirty: Sexuality and Waste in Early Modern Comedy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), which explores filthy bodily humor in work by Ben Jonson, Shakespeare, and others. Also, see Susan Signe Morrison’s Excrement in the Late Middle Ages: Sacred Filth and Chaucer’s Fecopoetics (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), which is a bold exploration of the ways in which excrement appears in works of the Middle Ages and a call for contemporary readers to think through waste disposal practices within our own moment in order to address the contemporary environmental consequences of thoughtless disposal. Beyond Dini and Gamber’s work, see modernist Jani Scandura’s Down in the Dumps: Place, Modernity, American Depression (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008) for another exploration of the detritus of twentieth-century America. For an earlier transformative study of waste in US letters, see Patricia Yaeger, Dirt and Desire: Reconstructing Southern Women’s Writing, 1930–1990 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000). 45. Susan Signe Morrison, The Literature of Waste: Material Ecopoetics and Ethical Matter (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 9. 46. Marcel Duchamp, Fountain (1917), ViewWork?workid=26850. 47. Fredric Jameson, The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983–1998 (New York: Verso, 1998) 1. 48. Jameson, The Cultural Turn, 18. 49. For a comprehensive overview of critical examination and stances on postmodern parody, see Linda Hutcheon, A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction (New York: Routledge, 1988), especially 22–36,



37–56. See, also, Linda Hutcheon, The Politics of Postmodernism (New York: Routledge, 1989). For critical examinations of the lack of powerful political critique in postmodern parody, see Terry Eagleton, “Capitalism, Modernism, and Postmodernism,” New Left Review, Vol. 152, No. 1 (1985): 60–73, esp. 61. See, also, Terry Eagleton, The Illusions of Postmodernism (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1997), and Perry Anderson, The Origins of Postmodernity (New York: Verso, 1998). 50. Jameson, The Cultural Turn, 5. 51. Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art Forms (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2000), 5. 52. Linda Hutcheon, The Poetics of Postmodernism (New York: Routledge, 1998), 35. 53. Hutcheon, Poetics, 35. 54. Hutcheon, Theory of Parody, 46. 55. Hutcheon, Theory of Parody, 6. 56. Hutcheon, Theory of Parody, 11. 57. Hutcheon, Theory of Parody, 8. 58. Hutcheon, Theory of Parody, 22. 59. Hutcheon, Theory of Parody, 75. 60. Samuel R. Delany, The Mad Man (New York: Masquerade Books, 1994). 61. Hutcheon, Theory of Parody, 103. 62. Hutcheon, Theory of Parody, 109. 63. Hutcheon, Theory of Parody, 115–116. 64. Hutcheon, Theory of Parody, 115. 65. Hutcheon, The Politics of Postmodernism (New York: Routledge, 1989), 3, 1–2. 66. Robert Coover, The Public Burning (New York: Grove Press, 1998). 67. Michael Trask, Camp Sites: Sex, Politics, and Academic Style in Postwar America (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013), 33. 68. Hutcheon, Politics of Postmodernism, 92. 69. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of AfricanAmerican Literary Criticism (New York, Oxford University Press, 2014), 86. 70. Gates, The Signifying Monkey, 120. 71. Gates, The Signifying Monkey, 123. 72. Gates, The Signifying Monkey, 234. 73. Gates, The Signifying Monkey, 134–135. 74. Gates, The Signifying Monkey, 102. 75. Gates, The Signifying Monkey, 135, 255. 76. Gates, The Signifying Monkey, 255. 77. Kathryn Bond Stockton, Beautiful Bottom, Beautiful Shame: Where “Black” Meets “Queer” (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 72–73.



78. Stockton, Beautiful Bottom, 73. 79. Stockton, Beautiful Bottom, 81–82. 80. Stockton, Beautiful Bottom, 7. 81. Tim Dean, Beyond Sexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000). 82. Dominique Laporte, History of Shit (Boston: MIT Press, 2002). 83. See Luc Herman and Steven Weisenburger, Gravity’s Rainbow, Domination, and Freedom (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2013), and Lawrence C. Wolfley, “Repression’s Rainbow: The Presence of Norman O.  Brown in Pynchon’s Big Novel,” PMLA, Vol. 92, No. 5 (1977): 873–889. 84. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 28. 85. David L.  Eng, Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001), 5. 86. Eng, Racial Castration, 22. 87. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, (New York: Grove Press, 1967), 122. 88. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 21. 89. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 25. 90. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 24. 91. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 24. 92. Wolfley, “Repression’s Rainbow,” 883. 93. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 23. 94. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 23. 95. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 22. 96. Herman and Weisenburger, Gravity’s Rainbow, Domination, and Freedom, 44. 97. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 35, 34. 98. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 75. 99. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 63. 100. Steven Weisenburger, A Gravity’s Rainbow Companion: Sources and Contexts for Pynchon’s Novel (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006), 54. 101. See Kyle Smith, “‘Serving Interests Invisible’: Mason & Dixon, British Spy Fiction, and the Specters of Imperialism,” in Thomas Pynchon: Reading from the Margins, ed. Niran Abbas (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003), 187. 102. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 62. 103. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 63. 104. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 688. 105. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 69. 106. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 69. 107. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 67. 108. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 67.



109. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 64. 110. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 688. 111. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 623. 112. For a similar argument with reference to other novels by Pynchon, see Madeline Ostrander, “Awakening to the Physical World: Ideological Collapse and Ecofeminist Resistance in Vineland” in Thomas Pynchon: Reading from the Margins, 127. 113. Herman and Weisenburger, Gravity’s Rainbow, Domination, and Freedom, 48. 114. Herman and Weisenburger, Gravity’s Rainbow, Domination, and Freedom, 48. 115. Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 525. 116. The term “Fecocriticism” comes from  Susan Signe Morrison’s work on fecopoetics. See Morrison, Excrement in the Late Middle Ages: Sacred Filth and Chaucer’s Fecopoetics. 117. Martin V.  Melosi, The Sanitary City: Environmental Services in Urban America from Colonial Times to the Present, Abridged Edition (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008), 180–191. 118. Melosi, Sanitary City, 181–182. 119. Melosi, Sanitary City, 182. 120. Melosi, Sanitary City, 187. 121. Melosi, Sanitary City, 187. 122. Melosi, Sanitary City, 234. 123. Melosi, Sanitary City, 236. 124. Jamie Benidickson, The Culture of Flushing: A Social and Legal History of Sewage (Toronto: University of British Columbia Press, 2007), 322. 125. Jamie Benidickson, The Culture of Flushing, 323. 126. Jamie Benidickson, The Culture of Flushing, 4. 127. Lawrence Buell, Writing for an Endangered World: Literature, Culture, and Environment in the U.S. and Beyond (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), 1–2. 128. Greg Garrard, Ecocriticism (New York: Routledge, 2004), 14. 129. Hawkins, The Ethics of Waste, 3 130. Hawkins, The Ethics of Waste, 3. 131. Hawkins, The Ethics of Waste, 49.

Bibliography Anderson, Perry. The Origins of Postmodernity. New York: Verso, 1998. Bauman, Zygmunt. Wasted Lives: Modernity and Its Outcasts. Malden, MA: Polity, 2004. Benidickson, Jamie. The Culture of Flushing: A Social and Legal History of Sewage. Toronto: University of British Columbia Press, 2007.



Buell, Lawrence. Writing for an Endangered World: Literature, Culture, and Environment in the U.S. and Beyond. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001. Charyn, Jerome. “Doomed Huck.” New York Times Book Review, February 18, 1979. Coover, Robert. The Public Burning. 1977. New York: Grove Press, 1998. Dean, Tim. Beyond Sexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. Delany, Samuel R. The Man Man. New York: Masquerade Books, 1994. DeLillo, Don. Underworld. New York: Scribner, 1997. Dini, Rachele. Consumerism, Waste, and Re-Use in Twentieth-Century Fiction. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. Duchamp, Marcel. Fountain. 1917, replica 1964. Tate Modern, London. http:// Eagleton, Terry. “Capitalism, Modernism, and Postmodernism.” New Left Review, Vol. 152, No. 1 (1985): 60–73. Eagleton, Terry. The Illusions of Postmodernism. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1997. Eng, David L. Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001. Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove Press, 1967. Franzen, Jonathan. The Corrections. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001. Gamber, John Blair. Positive Pollutions and Cultural Toxins: Waste and Contamination in Contemporary U.S. Ethnic Literatures. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012. Garrard, Greg. Ecocriticism. New York: Routledge, 2004. Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism. 1988. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. George, Rose. The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008. Hawkins, Gay. The Ethics of Waste: How We Relate to Rubbish. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006. Herman, Luc, and Steven Weisenburger. Gravity’s Rainbow, Domination and Freedom. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2013. Hume, Kathryn. “Ishmael Reed and the Problematics of Control.” PMLA, Vol. 108, No. 3 (May 1993): 506–518. Hutcheon, Linda. A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction. New York: Routledge, 1988. Hutcheon, Linda. The Politics of Postmodernism. New York: Routledge, 1989. Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art Forms. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2000. Jameson, Fredric. The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983–1998. New York: Verso, 1998.



Jarraway, David R. “‘Excremental Assault’ in Tim O’Brien: Trauma and Recovery in Vietnam War Literature.” Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 44, No. 3 (1998): 696–697. Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New  York: Columbia University Press, 1982. Laporte, Dominique. History of Shit. Boston: MIT Press, 2002. McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Vintage Books, 2007. McCarthy, Cormac. Suttree. 1979. New York: Vintage, 1992. Melosi, Martin V. The Sanitary City: Environmental Services in Urban America from Colonial Times to the Present, Abridged Edition. 2000. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008. Morrison, Susan Signe. Excrement in the Late Middle Ages: Sacred Filth and Chaucer’s Fecopoetics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Morrison, Susan Signe. The Literature of Waste: Material Ecopoetics and Ethical Matter. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. Morrison, Toni. Sula. 1973. New York: Penguin, 1982. Naylor, Gloria. Linden Hills. New York: Penguin, 1985. O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1990. Ostrander, Madeline. “Awakening to the Physical World: Ideological Collapse and Ecofeminist Resistance in Vineland.” In Thomas Pynchon: Reading from the Margins, edited by Niran Abbas, 122–138. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003. Ozeki, Ruth. All Over Creation. New York: Penguin, 2004. Proulx, Annie. The Shipping News. New York: Scribner, 1994. Proulx, Annie. That Old Ace in the Hole. New York: Scribner, 2003. Pynchon, Thomas. The Crying of Lot 49. 1965. New York: Harper Collins, 1999. Pynchon, Thomas. Gravity’s Rainbow. 1973. New York: Penguin, 1995. Reed, Ishmael. The Free-Lance Pallbearers. 1967. Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1999. Royte, Elizabeth. Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash. New York: Back Bay Books, 2006. Scandura, Jani. Down in the Dumps: Place, Modernity, American Depression. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008. Scanlan, John. On Garbage. Bath: Reaktion Books, 2005. Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. New York: Penguin, 1977. Smith, Kyle. “‘Serving Interests Invisible’: Mason & Dixon, British Spy Fiction, and the Specters of Imperialism.” In Thomas Pynchon: Reading from the Margins, edited by Niran Abbas, 180–198. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003. Stockton, Kathryn Bond. Beautiful Bottom, Beautiful Shame: Where “Black” Meets “Queer.” Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.



Stockton, Will. Playing Dirty: Sexuality and Waste in Early Modern Comedy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011. Strasser, Susan. Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash. New York: Metropolitan Books, 1999. Townsend, Robert. Eddie Murphy: Raw. 1987. New York: Paramount Pictures, 2004. DVD release. Trask, Michael. Camp Sites: Sex, Politics, and Academic Style in Postwar America. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013. Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five. 1969. New York: Dial Press, 2009. Wallace, David Foster. Infinite Jest. New York: Back Bay Books, 1996. Weisenburger, Steven. A Gravity’s Rainbow Companion: Sources and Contexts for Pynchon’s Novel. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006. Wolfley, Lawrence C. “Repression’s Rainbow: The Presence of Norman O. Brown in Pynchon’s Big Novel.” PMLA, Vol. 92, No. 5 (1977): 873–889. Yaeger, Patricia. Dirt and Desire: Reconstructing Southern Women’s Writing, 1930–1990. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.


Soiling the Black Body: Ishmael Reed Engages White Shit

In episode thirteen of the second season of Chappelle’s Show, comedian Dave Chapelle reflects upon the Civil Rights Movement with a segment titled “Profiles in Courage—Toilet Pioneer.”1 Mimicking a documentary style, the vignette opens with a narrator’s discussion of the social “unrest” of 1954, the bus boycotts in Montgomery, and Brown vs. Board of Education. With this historical context, the skit turns to an interview with Cyrus Holloway, played by Chapelle. A steel worker in a rural Alabama community, Holloway is credited with taking “one of the most significant dumps in history.” During a day in which he worked a double shift, Holloway tells viewers about the unfortunate consumption of a roast beef sandwich that led to an “evil bubbling” in his stomach, which he recognized as the “early stages of mud butt.” Because the “closest Colored bathroom was located in the basement,” Holloway’s urgent situation forced him to use the white restroom. Introducing archival footage, viewers watch as police summoned by a white co-worker attempt to dislodge the diarrheic Holloway from his porcelain perch with the usage of a dog and fire hose. Chapelle’s irreverent usage of iconic visual references to imagery from protests of the 1950s highlights the insidious policing of black bodies. Utilizing scatological comedy, Chapelle showcases how segregation impacts the intimate aspects of black bodily life from consumption to defecation. As authorities capture the “offensive” “Negro feces” in a bag as proof of Holloway’s corruption of a white-only space, the skit powerfully comments upon the absurdity of the fear of contamination by © The Author(s) 2020 M. C. Foltz, Contemporary American Literature and Excremental Culture, American Literature Readings in the 21st Century,




the excremental black body. Even as the clip is haunted by state violence toward those transgressing laws that enforce segregation, the vignette’s “bag of feces” to be used in Holloway’s future court case mocks the segregation of bodies into racial categories as the excremental nature of each body and the inability to discern racial demarcation from bodily excess calls into question racist ideologies of bodily difference. As one judge who presides over Holloway’s Supreme Court case states when it is dismissed, “It is my opinion that no matter what the color of your skin, your feces will be brown, except for the clay colored ones and, of course, the spinach green. And no matter what the hue of your poo, it will undoubtedly stink.” Every character from Holloway to the white judge and police shares an excremental nature and the stench associated with it, which unites citizens in a shared experience of the abject. As the actors in the piece support Holloway’s plight by staging “shit-ins,” they certainly defecate upon fantasies of whiteness in acts of righteous aggression toward legal codes that support the division of bodies into clean and unclean subjects. When they ask, “why can’t my turd float next to yours,” they also point out the fecal matter of the white body hidden from view in spaces meant to validate racial difference. In this way, “Toilet Pioneer” unravels the construction of whiteness by undermining its association with cleanliness and returning it to a collective humanity signaled by mutual experience of excretion. Like Chapelle’s skit, Ishmael Reed’s 1967 The Free-Lance Pallbearers utilizes bathroom humor to decompose fantasies of whiteness.2 Readers’ first encounter with the satirical literary landscape involves a vision of the iconic Uncle Sam—renamed Harry Sam—animating civic and national policy from his position on a toilet throne located in metropolitan area akin to New York City. Because racial categorization depends upon fantasies of qualitative differences between bodies, Reed counters such myths by grounding whiteness in its hirsute and fecal base body. Further, because the novel also explores state violence against black people and institutionalized racism, it links oppression to a toxic white subjectivity that denies its own excremental nature, associates others with bodily filth, and ultimately utilizes categorizations of bodies into clean and unclean or orderly and disorderly to support civic and national movements that disenfranchise people of color. Both comedian Chappelle and novelist Reed engage with what the novel’s protagonist describes as the “relationship between” subjects’ engagement with “feces” or excessive bodily life and “certain organic



and/or psychological disturbances” at the heart of constructions of whiteness (10). Although Chapelle and Reed’s work utilize scatological humor to smear fantasies of racial difference, Reed’s novel goes much further in detailing the neurosis that fuels fantasies of whiteness by drawing upon popular mid-century psychoanalytic theories of subject development and anal sadism. Revising Norman O. Brown’s work on the “universal neurosis of mankind” to focus on the disease of white masculinity,3 Reed presents Harry Sam as a subject who exhibits an “organic repression” of bodily life as well as “a conflict between [his] animal body, appropriately epitomized in the anal function, and [his] pretentious sublimations.”4 Associating excretion with the death of bodily pleasure and the ruination of subjective difference from organic matter, Sam erects his identity in a “war between the ego and the body,” in which his own excremental nature is repressed and his dependence upon the organic world is disavowed.5 Sam’s abhorrence of bodily life begins with his mother’s death from diphtheria, and the advice that she gives from her deathbed motivates Sam’s sense that the “cruel, cruel world” seeks to decompose his difference from other matter (2). His mother’s illness fuels his rage at the filthy world that he sees as a “manure dump” that must be transcended (8). Witnessing his mother’s death, her final “cussing out of her connection” to the body, Sam heeds her advice to “always be at the top of the heap,” to fight against worldly entropy and the filthy masses that might infect him with death (2). She admonishes Sam in her dying breath to struggle for his place “on top” of the wastes of the world: “If you can’t whup um with you fists, keek um. If you can’t keek um, butt um. If you can’t butt um, bite um and if you can’t bite um, then gum the mothafukas to death” (2). In Sam’s mother’s account, it is the filth of the horrid world that has brought her low and the roiling masses of diseased humanity that infected her with death. The wisdom that she imparts is to flee from bodily life by sealing the subject away from the flesh, from human others, and the world. In the wake of his mother’s death, Sam commits himself to transcending the body, and yet finds himself afflicted with the excretion that reveals his status as organic matter. Thus, he places his faith in the practice of battling the excremental self, of cleansing the subject of the reeking decay of the body. Along with “Nazarene Bishops” who support his rule, Sam employs “attendants [who carry] hand-shaped bottles of colognes, mouthwash and enema solutions” in the attempt to rinse himself of waste, to become “master of HIMSELF,” in the hope of erasing bodily life and



therefore bodily death (3, 2). With the vision of Sam on his toilet throne surrounded by attendants, Reed shows how whiteness is made by repudiation of our excremental nature. Further, as Sam associates the organic world and human Others with threatening excrement that might erode his fantasized transcendence from base bodily life, Reed makes explicit how whiteness is constructed through anal sadism. Like Brown, Reed explores “feces as weapon,” but he does so by linking Sam’s attempt to flee bodily life to his ruinous pollution of the environment as well as the black body with his fantasies of racial difference.6 Thus, readers move past a white subject’s disavowal of the excremental self into an engagement with the violence that the construction of whiteness inflicts upon the surrounding world and human others. For example, Reed describes Sam’s toiletry not just in terms of a comic separation of the subject from the waste of the body, but also as a form of “bacteriological warfare” against the Black Bay: Sam has not been seen since the day thirty years ago when he disappeared into the John with a weird ravaging illness…. At the foot of [an] anfractuous path which leads to the summit of Sam’s island lies the incredible Black Bay. Crouched in the embankment are four statues of RUTHERFORD BIRCHARD HAYES. White papers, busted microphones and other wastes leak from the lips of this bearded bedrock and end up in the bay fouling it so that no swimmer has ever emerged from its waters alive. Beneath the surface of this dreadful pool is a subterranean side show replete with freakish fish, clutchy and extrasensory plants. (1–3)

Here, Sam’s construction of cleansed white subjectivity refuses connectivity with the surrounding environment as he washes away the nutrient rich soil of the subject in the waters of the Bay. In tandem with a displacement of fertile human waste, Sam’s factories produce a variety of other waste products—including “white” toilet paper and microphones, but also “chemicals”—that impede the health of the ecosystem. In his desire to project a human song of progress and development away from worldly embodiment, Sam declines to think through how the products of the nation will fold back into the environment through the waste stream, aiding or impeding the health of the bioregion and therefore impacting the health of humans and other life forms. Reed posits here that pollution stems from a subject that utilizes his waste products to befoul the world in defiance of his status as organic matter rather than from subjects’ willful



ignorance of the impact of sewerage. “Dripping feces everywhere,” Sam and his minions make the Bay filthy in order to affirm their distinction from and transcendence of the organic world (114). Repressing his own bottom nature, he deploys excrement and other civic wastes as weapons that symbolically and literally lay waste to the Bay. The ailment that Reed describes—a white subjectivity that denies worldly embodiment and dependence—creates a toxic aquatic environment in which human and other life forms are threatened. Because Reed accurately outlines the damage by systems of sewerage to a variety of bodies of water such as the New York Harbor and Lake Erie that readers of the 1960s would have seen in major news media headlines, he connects his play with psychoanalysis to environmental crises of the period. As this chapter will show, Reed’s fictional account of the Black Bay echoes studies that detail the negative impact of the relentless release of multiple forms of waste products into waterways as nutrient rich and toxic effluent impact fish populations and other life forms even as the novel moves past outlining environmental pollution to identify the neurosis that produces it. Reed’s naming of the Black Bay alludes to its kinship with the black body as the novel links the pollution of waterways with industrial, agricultural, and municipal wastes to the experiences of African Americans who navigate civic life through the run-off of the construction of whiteness that leaches fantasies of racial difference onto the black body. Even as black citizens in the text are invited to join Sam in his warfare against the environment, they find themselves marked as inferior civic subjects, whose blackness signals a closer and more dangerous bodily connection to the excremental world. Thus, African Americans within Harry Sam—the city that bears the name of the excreter who supports its governmental officials—are caught in civic and national bodies that call them to cleanse themselves of excessive blackness that supposedly reveals an innate opposition to the ideal non-bodily, white, identity required for full citizenship in Sam. As one typical white citizen notes about the Civil Rights’ protests in the streets of Harry Sam, “You see we tink dey got too much already, running around in da streets like monkies. Why can’t dey behave demselves like da res of us ‘mericans…. Dey should help demselves like we did when we come over on da manure dumps” (7–8). Here, the white speaker believes that success within the nation occurs through labor to rise above the manure dump of the tired masses and the organic environment. Further, he demarcates the African American population with animality and declares



that national discussion about the desegregation of schools through busing policies “don’t … ‘mount to much for da very simple reason dat we don’t tink it’s too good” (7). Thus, he reveals a contradictory national stance toward the “problem” of black subjects; he understands black populations to be inferior Americans who should be segregated from white populations for the “good” of national health and yet he also believes that they should continue to strive for full citizenship even as that status will be challenged because of their “innate” difference from white Americans. It is the difficulty of navigating this position within the nation that the majority of Reed’s text addresses through the movements of the novel’s protagonist, Bukka Doopeyduk, an African American orderly employed in collecting the wastes of ailing Americans with the aid of a sturdy bedpan. The novel shows how white citizens and Sam himself pollute beautiful black bodies by associating them with despised organic wastes thereby highlighting the ways in which black subjects like Doopeyduk are impacted by white shit. By linking environmental crises and national racism, Reed roots violence against the environment and the black body in a white subjectivity that fantasizes a transcendence from bodily life and worldly embodiment, that opposes itself to the organic world and racially marked others who carry the bodily excess denied in the construction of a fantasized difference from other beings and an imagined independence from planetary ecology. Previous literary criticism of the novel powerfully showcases Reed’s usage of scatological prose to undermine propaganda that supports violence on the world stage and within the nation, especially against people of color. Michel Fabre, for example, explores “the dialectics of shit” in the novel as he argues that Reed makes nationalist metanarratives obscene; for him, “denounc[ing] … prostituted state-controlled communication” is “the major ideological achievement of the novel.”7 Kathryn Hume likewise argues that Reed’s excremental novel criticizes the “oral shit put out by government, [and] the filthiness of whites’ behavior toward members of minority groups.”8 Expanding from these scholars’ work,9 this chapter argues that the novel’s deployment of excremental prose not only degrades official state language, but also draws upon and critiques environmental devastation due to civic and national waste disposal practices of the 1960s. With the first section of this chapter, Reed’s satire of Harry Sam’s toiletry is positioned within this historical context in order to trace the environmental inspiration for Reed’s excremental vision.



The second section explores in greater detail how the novel creates kinship between contaminated bodies of water and the black body by connecting analyses of literary scenes to Frantz Fanon’s mid-twentieth-century work in Black Skin, White Masks to address the psychic trauma produced by symbolic association of blackness with excessive bodily life. Like Hume, this section argues that the novel critiques the “filthiness of white’s behavior,” but expands this argument to show how Reed, like Fanon, revises psychoanalytic theories to trouble toxic white subjectivity and to explore its impact. Because Reed ties trauma to literal pollution, this section also argues that his scatological satire should be included in discussion of literary texts that address environmental racism, a phrase deployed by environmentalists in discussions of the literal emplacement of waste disposal sites within communities of color, communities that historically and currently carry unequally the burden of national waste. The final sections of this chapter address the multiple ways that Reed’s Doopeyduk responds to association with excessive bodily life and revolts against pollution of the black body that echoes Fanon’s important contributions to psychoanalysis. In Reed’s account, Doopeyduk either can choose to repeat the process of white identity formation by erecting an ideal human subjectivity cleansed of bodily life, separated from worldly embodiment, and categorized as uniquely different from human others that he stains as excremental or can refuse to repudiate the body. Ultimately, I argue that the novel calls for the refusal to negate the body or our dependence on planetary ecology and to erode narratives of human progress beyond worldly embodiment. Following Doopeyduk’s transformation to a subject that embraces the fullness of bodily life, the novel undermines the fantasized differentiation from the organic world at the heart of whiteness that leads to environmental crises and the demarcation of other humans as excessive and therefore worthy of disposal. Reed’s work shows how attacks on the environment—a willful ignorance of the impact of human methods of disposal—stems from a disassociation of human subjectivity from the organic world that is also the root cause of the categorization of human life, the separation of some human subjects into clean, non-bodily identities while others are marked as closely associated with bodily filth and a deeper connection with the excremental world. The novel’s aim is to overturn a subjectivity that negates the soil of self in an imagined transcendence from the world and each other.



Rivers of Excrement: Placing Fictional Sewerage in Context The dominating force behind Reed’s narrative is the oozing mess of the city of Harry Sam, leaking out into waterways designated for disposal. In each of the five parts of the novel, the environmental impact of sewage systems is the background noise and smell that haunt characters as they move through the city. Characters learn from UH-O radio station that “SINISTER-LOOKING JUNKS DONE SNEAKED INTO DA EAST RIVER,” watch as the “pounding and crashing of the ugly effervescence of a sickly yellow color … [pours] into the bay,” and contemplate the resultant “smooth slime” that covers the water (8, 120, 117). While some citizens of Harry Sam are horrified by the city’s effluent and try to plug his toilet throne, many are like Doopeyduk in their support of civic pollution of waterways. Rather than critique the damage to the Bay by Harry Sam’s sewage, they wear commode buttons to show national pride, and glory in murals and statues that depict Sam on his toilet separating himself from wastes. Doopeyduk’s main complaint about antiracist activists throughout the text is that they register the foul stench of Sam’s movements and thus “criticize the state” (81). To be an orderly citizen is to ignore the havoc wreaked by Sam’s movements and to meditate on the “Nazarene manual” that gives worshippers insight into better ways for Sam to eliminate his waste and to maintain his position on the top of the heap. While activists in the text continue to remind citizens that “SAM has body odor” and that he makes the environment in which they live toxic, Doopeyduk and others refuse to acknowledge the damage to the ecosystem except as an affront to the justified and righteous sanitary engineering of the city and the nation (98). For example, after one encounter with Elijah Raven, a revolutionary figure from the Jackal-Headed Front who asks for his help with urban guerilla warfare against Sam, Doopeyduk returns quickly to his manual to think through the kind of commode that Sam should use, rather than the impact of its usage: What sort of commode should HARRY SAM be sitting upon? Should it be a pink plastic one or one made of mahogany? Should it be done in lavender with a beautiful ring of fur on the seat? I didn’t even want to get into the subject of tissues; that one stumped the best scholars in the movement. What about the sanitary, safe modern breeze style? (99)



In the majority of the text, Doopeyduk maintains a commitment to scholarship devoted to the continuation of the practice of laying waste to the environment. The betterment of sanitary engineering, in other words, involves making the seated excreter more comfortable with modern innovations instead of addressing how the treatment of sewage befouls the Bay. Even as Doopeyduk initially ignores the impact of Sam’s movements, he does witness the pollution of the Bay up close on a journey to meet with Harry Sam. Crossing the water by battleship, Doopeyduk listens as musicians put the poems of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Henry David Thoreau to music; while “songs such as ‘Look at Dat Waterfowl Bending its Skinny Neck in da Crick Ovah Dere,’ [and] ‘Ain’t Nature Grand?’” play for the guests of the ship, passengers are given a brief tour of the “infamous Black Bay” (117–118). Viewers do not encounter the grandness of the aquatic expanse, but rather the “nefarious waters,” covered in “smooth slime” (118, 117). Even more disconcerting for passengers is the “writhing odd life” that seems to protest the leaching of wastes into their habitat (118). As Doopeyduk stands on the deck of the ship, he overhears a conversation between two men about the history of the Bay that explains the development of such threatening aquatic life: Since SAM went up there about thirty years ago and took up residence in the er … er … er … way station, the material flushes into the bay from those huge lips has stirred even stranger forms of life. That sickness he has must be HORRIBLE. Now it’s only safe to cross the thing in a battleship. (119)

The conversationalists focus on the ways that Sam’s movements have produced “freakish” responses in animal life; still, even though they make the connection between Sam’s waste and resultant disturbances to diverse beings in the water, the speakers seem more interested in combating earthly responses to Sam’s flow than critiquing fountains of sewage. Telling the Bay’s history, one speaker remarks that “in the bad old days the sea was saturated with chemicals coming from the rows of cereal factories that lined the banks” (118). Citizens of Sam believe that there is “no cause for alarm” with chemical and nutrient rich effluent flooding the bay until “a bird rose from the waters and carried away [a man’s] head in its beak,” thereby attacking polluters of his habitat (118). The aggression of the bird against a citizen is met with great fury as Sam’s allies, staff at the British Museum, burn “its wings with napalm” and dissect it to find a cause for



aberrant behavior (119). In exaggerated play with the responses of wildlife to pollution, Reed creates an avian revolutionary that desires to strike back against humankind’s fecal and chemical bombardment of waterways. To uncover the reason for the aggressive bird’s behavior, Sam enlists the aid of scientists, not to rethink the flow of sewage that produces “revolting” animal life, but to separate himself further from the world around him, and to control or to eliminate the environmental threats that he has made without changing the movement of his wastes. While the scientists take water samples and study the slew of materials leaking into the Bay, they refuse to indulge in “crowd delusions,” a national panic about odiferous and polluted waters or resultant abnormalities in animal behavior or form (119). While they recognize that Sam’s “horrible” illness makes the Bay toxic, they ultimately turn with vengeance toward the residents of the Bay that writhe unpleasantly in his excreta. For example, when a giant tentacle attacks, the battleship “[swings] into action and [blasts] the tentacle to bits” (119). As in the use of napalm on the avian attacker, the battleship deploys the latest weapons’ technology to destroy environmental threats to the movement of the city. In Reed’s satirical rendition of environmental and animal responses to pollution, he highlights communal responses to civic and national waste that blame the “victim,” rather than the perpetrator. Indeed, the problem for Sam is not his own movements, but instead that the Bay and the beasts therein cannot endure his excreta without some kind of response. Even with scientific knowledge of the impact of his sewage, he refuses to overturn the logic of waste removal; thus, the novel re-imagines pollution, not as a naïve displacement of refuse, but as a continued attack on the world by the seated subject who abandons his emplacement within worldly ecosystems. The novel’s satire places the battle of humanity against the surrounding world at the forefront in passages like these, where animal life and the dreadful water itself threaten civic movements and thus deserve to be “blasted” to bits. Because the world is understood to be the manure heap that challenges the supremacy of human life, aberrant responses to whatever wastes Sam chooses to dispose are considered warfare against humanity and therefore deserving of not just floating in waste, but becoming it. In passages like these, Reed calls readers to investigate the impact of sanitary engineering on waterways and upon other beings. By opening the novel with a figure seated on a toilet throne, he alludes not only to US President Lyndon B. Johnson’s infamous bathroom meetings and interviews, giving new meaning to work performed in the “Oval Office,” but



also to the bodies of readers who will leave the space of the book upon feeling “nature’s call.” For most readers in the U.S., utilizing the water closet feels harmless—or perhaps righteous—as we are simply putting our waste in its place. Flushing away our excremental selves is part of the “civilized” movement of the body and warrants little attention beyond the early years of toilet training. What we want most from excreta is its absence. Reed does not allow readers to maintain this distance and highlights how little we think about the movement of our personal waste through pipes of underworld sewage systems. While we fret about the cleanliness of our porcelain thrones and the chambers that entomb them, we allow the vigilant purchase of anti-bacterial sprays, bleach lotions, toilet bowl cleansers, and other chemical agents to assure us that we have done our part to eradicate filth. As Reed points out in the discussions of the Nazarene manual, we are interested in the beauty or cleanliness of bathrooms, not the movement of our excremental selves. As we eliminate effluent from our homes, we leave the details of sewerage systems to sanitary engineers, governmental officials, and treatment plants and feel confident that the loathsome rot of self will be erased, cleansed to extinction in the processes of modern technology. We expect waste removal systems and their caretakers to obliterate the dirty secrets of humanity. As Jamie Benidickson notes in his book The Culture of Flushing: A Social and Legal History of Sewage, It is difficult to find any discernible interest in the flow of water into the tank—the storage, treatment, and delivery of water of drinkable quality—or anything that might happen after pulling the chain, pushing the button, pressing the handle, or stepping away from the electronic beam—the treatment of wastewater and the discharge of effluent. The deceptive immediacy and finality of flushing discourages both forethought and afterthought about its economic and environmental consequences.10

Sam—as the representative American excreter—is emblematic of an American standard subjectivity that cannot stand the organic body and that seeks to wash away bodily reminders of decay. Like environmentalist thinkers, Reed’s novel plumbs the depths of modern sewerage to show that the misplaced resource of our fertile abject selves pollute waterways, impacting ecosystems in lakes, rivers, and oceans, as well as the water supply on which we depend. As environmentalist and architect Sim Van der Ryn writes,



Mix one part excreta with one hundred parts clean water. Send the mixture through the pipes to a central station where billions are spent in futile attempts to separate the two. Then dump the effluent, now poisoned with chemicals but still rich in nutrients, into the nearest body of water. The nutrients feed algae, which soon use up all the oxygen in the water, eventually destroying all aquatic life that may have survived the chemical residues. Our excreta—not waste but misplaced resources—end up destroying food chains, food supply and water quality in rivers and oceans.11

Reed’s comic portrayal of toiletry encourages readers to see themselves participating in a costly and ineffective system whereby excreta flows from our homes to treatment centers and then back to waterways, which will be cleansed so that they can return to our homes. While sewage systems are designed to avoid the dumping of raw sewage into water, they frequently fail. Annually, the United States dumps billions of gallons of raw sewage into waterways.12 We literally are defecating in drinking water. If we move past an anthropocentric concern with human life, we find that we are excreting onto the bodies of nonhuman beings that inhabit rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans. As Reed notes in the above passages, humans are not simply dumping the residue of human waste into waterways. Through pipes, excrement rushes to collection centers for treatment and mingles with other wastewaters from kitchens and laundry rooms, public buildings, shops, and restaurants as well as industrial plants and agricultural lands. In older cities in the northeast United States, our excreta joins storm water in combined sewage systems thereby uniting with a slew of toxins washed from city streets: “polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons—a group of more than a hundred chemicals formed during incomplete combustion—industrial metals, volatile organic chemicals, motor oil, copper from brake linings, lead from paint, zinc from the corrosion of galvanized steel, [and] illegally dumped restaurant grease.”13 Even in the preferred contemporary sanitary sewers—which keep household, industrial, and commercial wastewaters separate from storm water—excreta are lumped together with a variety of toxic waste products. As Rose George notes, “By the end of the [twentieth] century [sewage] sludge contained far more than pure human excrement, and hardly any of it good.… U.S. industry is estimated to use 100,000 chemicals, with 1000 new chemicals being added each year. These chemicals can include PCBs and phthalates, dioxins, and other carcinogens.”14 Although states require some industries to pre-treat effluent washed to



treatment centers, oversight is limited and research into how certain chemicals may react once they join the waste stream is minimal. Because our sewage systems unite all kinds of effluent with excreta in our water-­ borne disposal systems, the fertile manure of humanity becomes toxic waste. Once human waste is filtered out of the water that transports it, the resultant sludge may end up in landfills, but some bio-solids are returned to soil as fertilizer. Although sludge does contain the nutrients for plant growth, it also houses remnants of the aforementioned toxins. These poisons leach into soil and groundwater, contaminating and impacting communities designated for disposal. One mystery of contemporary sewage systems is this persistent unwillingness to see excreta as different from other forms of waste, as a human contribution to the health of soil, not a shameful secret to be washed away in the nearest body of water. Another mystery of contemporary waste is our continued production and disposal of carcinogenic toxins that we have proven to impact the health of ecosystems and the beings—human and other animals—that inhabit them. Reed’s inspiration for his novel comes from the national discussion about waste disposal practices in the 1960s. In 1963, The New York Times ran an article on the national waste problem, “US in Peril of Losing Fight On Water Pollution,”15 by Harold M. Schmeck Jr. In this piece, Schmeck Jr. explores the United States’s “war against water pollution” on two separate fronts: the battle against water contaminated by “ordinary sewage” and the new fight against “chemicals that in drugs, detergents, plastics, fabrics, paints, pesticides and a whole catalogue of other products, are transforming American life.”16 While sewage treatment plants of the period did seek to separate sewage sludge from waters that return to the harbor, many of the new chemical compounds were “impervious to the present water and sewage treatment” and ended up returning to waterways, even though little was known about their “probable effects on living things.”17 Interviewing Thomas R. Glenn Jr. the Director of the Interstate Sanitary Commission, Schmeck focuses on the specific problem facing the New York Harbor: “Manhattan and part of Brooklyn still pour 400,000,000 gallons of raw sewage each day into the Hudson River,” which drains into the Harbor.18 To study the impact of “ordinary sewage” and chemically enriched sewage, Schmeck notes the expansion of the National Water Quality Network, founded in 1957, to include 125 research stations on major rivers and tributaries. As the federal government recognized water pollution as a major national issue of the period, so, too, states and cities sought to redress



water pollution with an increase in the number and quality of sewage treatment plants. New York City, for example, upgraded treatment plants so that by 1970, 75 percent of the city’s sewage (1.3 billion gallons per day) was treated by a dozen plants, according to the city’s commissioner of Water Resources, Maurice M. Feldman.19 Still, as The New York Times noted, despite gains in the treatment of sewage, New York City’s combined sewer systems continued to leach untreated sewage into waterways during storms when plants were overwhelmed by the influent, leading to “untreated water and human excrement caus[ing] a dramatic increase in bacteria and other pollutants for long stretches in the areas where it is discharged during and after rains.”20 As The New York Times reported in 1967, “Despite progress in up-grading sewage-treatment programs, two city beaches are expected to be closed again this summer. The coliform bacteria count, used as a bathing health standard, is still relatively high.”21 In addition, there was growing concern about one of New York City’s solutions to the problem of sewage sludge, the resultant matter left behind once separated from the chlorinated water that returns to waterways: ocean dumping. In the 1920s when pollution in the harbor had reached “grave” levels, city officials had determined that sewage sludge should be deposited twelve miles off the harbor in what became known as the 12-mile site.22 This practice of placing sludge on tankers and then dumping it in the ocean away from the harbor continued through the 1960s and into the 1980s; as the city’s population increased, so too did the amount of sludge dumped at this site. By the late 1980s, before the ban on ocean dumping in 1991, New York City dumped between 4,000,000 and 5,000,000 wet tons of sewage per year at the 12-mile site.23 While the movement of sludge to the ocean site that began in the 1920s and the increased effectiveness of treatment plants did improve the water quality of the harbor, there was growing concern during the 1960s about the impact of ocean dumping on marine life around the 12-mile site that led to the initiation of “comprehensive study of sewage sludge dumping in the mid-1960s” at the site by the Army Corps of Engineers and contractors including the Smithsonian Institute and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries.24 Investigative journalism about beaches closed due to continued contamination of waters, continued combined sewer overflows leaching into the harbor, and tankers moving sludge to the ocean dumpsite are reflected in Reed’s portrayal of Sam’s movements. Because the novel mentions a fictional mayor of Buffalo cavorting with Harry Sam (117), Reed’s text hints at the connection between the



pollution of the harbor and other bodies of water like Lake Erie that The New York Times also covered. For example, in 1965 the paper reported that “more than a ton of chemical contaminants now pours into the 240-mile-long lake each minute from points such as Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Erie, Pa., and Buffalo. The pollution has impaired municipal and industrial water supplies and recreation facilities of a basin population of 10 million and has disrupted the lake’s normal biological processes. It is possibly the worst case of large-scale waterway pollution in scientific annals.”25 Despite federal and interstate concern, use of Lake Erie for the disposal of industrial waste, overflows of municipal sewage, and agricultural run-off continued throughout the 1960s following the mantra of the day: “the solution to pollution is dilution.” Yet, by 1969, the impact of such a philosophy could no longer be ignored; the amount of pollutants sent into Lake Erie overpowered the health of the ecosystem, leading to declines in the fishing industry, unsightly and unpleasantly aromatic recreational beaches, and concern about the potential impact to human health of the water befouled with waste. While The New York Times and other major media reported on the pollution of the lake in the mid-1960s, the most famous article from the period appeared in Time Magazine, which pronounced “the death of Lake Erie” in 1969. “Each day,” Time reported, “Detroit, Cleveland and 120 other municipalities fill Erie with 1.5 billion gallons of inadequately treated wastes, including nitrates and phosphates. These chemicals act as fertilizer for growths of algae that suck oxygen from the lower depths and rise to the surface as odoriferous green scum.”26 These cities’ misplaced excreta filled the lake with nutrients that caused the proliferation of blue-green algae, leading to the decrease of oxygen in the water needed by fish and other organisms. The loss of biodiversity was not the only concern; with studies that showed the impact of industrial and agricultural wastes on wildlife like dioxins, PCBs, and DDT, the news media and concerned citizens wondered about the impact of consuming fish swimming in agricultural run-off and factories’ waste stream and upon human swimmers as well. On the other side of the state from New York City, water pollution also had reached a head during the late 1960s. This historical context offers insight into the inner workings of Reed’s excremental vision. While federal and state officials of the period scrambled to come up with solutions to the waste problem, Reed interrogates the kind of national subjectivity that unites human excreta with the toxic defecation of industry and washes both away in waterways. As the nation responds to waste from the backend, attempting to clean up polluted



waters flowing out of the nation’s underworld pipes, Reed begins with the seated subject, exploring why that subject separates himself from the surrounding ecosystems and produces toxic waste. The problem does not become waste per se, but the excreter who refuses the fertile power of excreta and bombards waterways with a variety of harmful chemicals. The novel presents readers with a subject whose fear of disease leads to an antagonistic relationship with the body’s waste and a desire to cleanse the body of an association with excrement. It is the soil of the self that challenges the pure identity that Sam seeks to create. This battle against the excremental self—both in the flushing of human waste to waterways and in the creation of a variety of chemicals to progress beyond the death-­ supplying world and human others in war—animates a policy of persistent pollution of external ecosystems. Tankers moving sludge to the 12-mile site are re-imagined as battleships in the novel, powering through the New York Harbor and out to sea in order to drop fecal and chemical “bombs” on aquatic life. With comic references to Thoreau, Reed hints at a subject who does not think, “Nature is grand,” but instead sees the world as a commodious space to be wasted by humanity. Reed’s text gives us the opportunity to highlight two separate but related problems with American shit: the inability to claim the excremental self and the creation of toxins that flow into the waste stream. To the first point, Reed astutely points out that contemporary sewage systems respond to concerns about the spread of infectious disease. The United States does not face the high rates of infant and child mortality due to water-borne illness that impacts impoverished communities without access to first world sanitation. As a 2005 Lancet report states, “a silent humanitarian crisis kills some 3900 children every day.… Far more people endure the largely preventable effects of poor sanitation and water supply than are affected by war, terrorism, and weapons of mass destruction combined.”27 According to the World Health Organization, 1.6 million people die each year due to preventable diseases spread through “unsafe water, poor sanitation, and lack of hygiene.”28 With a focus on access to clean water in the United Nations’ Millennial Development goals, sanitation has become one of the most important issues in the beginning of the twenty-first century within impoverished regions of the globe.29 These same reports focus on the creation of sustainable systems of waste treatment, which would protect waterways from an influx of sewage. As the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SunSanA) reports, “To qualify as sustainable sanitation, a sanitation system has to be economically viable,



socially acceptable, technically and institutionally appropriate, [and it should also] protect the environment and natural resources.”30 For community members, researchers, and non-governmental organizations, this means that costly water-borne waste removal systems like those used in the United States are not feasible solutions to the problem of sanitation because they pollute water—a precious resource—and then require the treatment of that water before returning it to communities. In the absence of already established large-scale water-borne sewage systems, especially in communities where water resources are limited, SunSanA and others provide case studies of successful composting of human waste in ways that protect human health by avoiding the spread of disease while also benefiting the health of soil used for agriculture. For example, one study of rural villages details the successful usage of urine diversion dehydration toilets; collected urine is used to aid in household gardening, while fecal matter is composted along with animal wastes for a period of at least one to two years before being applied to gardens in order to protect human health.31 Despite a communities’ belief that fecal matter is “dirty” and should be “forgotten as soon as possible,” the urine diversion dehydration toilet proved a success when communities experience an increase in agricultural productivity.32 The challenge for communities is to “treat” human waste as a valuable resource while ensuring the protection of human health and the avoidance of the spread of disease through adequate composting of excreta. Water-­ borne sewage systems like those used in the United States—and those that Reed critiques—are costly solutions to water-borne disease, both in terms of the incredible monetary costs of maintaining large-scale civic sewage systems and the environmental costs to bodies of water that are used as receptacles for sewage overflows. Reading through Reed’s depiction of a polluted fictional New York Harbor, readers encounter technologically advanced sewage systems built from a national subjectivity that refuses to see excreta as resource but rather as a problem to be shipped off to sea. Through darkly comic depictions of Harry Sam, readers are invited to re-­ think the pollution of bodies of water with human excreta and to ponder how we might strengthen our connection to ecosystems if we reclaim waste denied by the nation. What makes this difficult for the United States in Reed’s account is the second problem with sewage: chemical additives. As mentioned above, the sewage sludge from New York City treatment plants during the 1960s and in the decades following the novel’s publication was not applied to land,



but shipped out to sea. The danger of human waste to oceanic life was not only the nutrient rich soil of humanity, but also the chemical runoff of industrial and military production. With the ban on ocean dumping years following the novel’s publication, sewage sludge in the United States does return to landfills and some returns to land as bio-solids. Still, the chemical content of this sludge contains toxins that are potentially harmful to human and other animal life. As the United States reapplies sewage sludge to soil in the twenty-first century, we have made it potentially poisonous through the combination of human excreta with a variety of different additives. For Reed, the production of toxins that move into our waste stream stems from a national subjectivity that seeks to cleanse the body of waste through the creation of a variety of different innovative cleaning products and from a national body bent on producing weapons to eradicate external human threats to the national body. Because the climax of the novel takes place on August 6, 1945, the day of the bombing of Hiroshima, readers are able to trace the beginning of Sam’s illness thirty years back in time to the beginning of World War I and the usage of chemical warfare. What makes Sam’s excreta so toxic is a new kind of additive to national waste, a new byproduct of human movement in “the chemists’ war.” The beginning of chemical warfare that results in continued research into more powerful ways to obliterate human others, including napalm and nuclear weapons, marks a moment in which nations like the United States refuse connectivity to other beings and the organic world; a fever to produce the most powerful weapons disallows for consideration of how the waste of such production will impact not just the civilian populations of an enemy, but also the producer. The toxic waste of a white national masculinity that differentiates itself from other bodies by bringing death to others becomes the “destroyer of worlds” and ecosystems. The nefarious Black Bay upon which Doopeyduk reflects is polluted by industries that produce chemical weapons like napalm and “beneficent incapacitors”—Sam’s name for weapons. This desire to destroy human others is linked to a willful repudiation of the impact on non-­combatants— human and environmental—of national production and disposal into the waste stream of the byproducts of weapons of mass destruction. A disavowal of how Sam will be impacted by the waste produced in his warmongering as well as his inability to claim his excremental self leaves him entrenched within the walls of his own John, surrounded by the wastes that he has produced in his efforts to rise above the manure of the world,



to distinguish himself from those whom he obliterates and unites with the heap that he renounces.

Excremental Whiteness as Pollution While the opening section of The Free-Lance Pallbearers introduces readers to the pollution of the Black Bay, it also juxtaposes the plight of the Harbor with Bukka Doopeyduk’s application to the housing projects in Harry Sam. The novel’s opening image of pollution blends quickly into literary exploration of the civic surveillance of black populations. In his movement through the projects’ administrative offices, Doopeyduk encounters a social worker who serves as gatekeeper for admittance into a rental unit. The interview begins with the social worker addressing Doopeyduk as a child and asking him about the origin of his name: “Where dat name com from kiddo, da Bible or somethin?” (9) In response, Doopeyduk briefly lashes out at the administrator by telling him that his name “came from a second cousin of my mother who did time for strangling a social worker with custom-made voodoo gloves” (10). The displeasure that this response invokes—a simple “I see” followed by a query about Doopeyduk’s employment status—signals that the interview may come to a rather abrupt end. Yet, Doopeyduk conceals his hostility toward the condescension of the gatekeeper and recites his commitment to his position as an orderly at a local hospital. He tells the social worker that his job involves the care of elderly citizens as well as those undergoing surgery by “clean[ing] out ear trumpets and empt[ing] colostomy bags” (11). As a result of his professional success, he has been rewarded with a position in the “preparatory surgery division of the hospital,” where he will shave “patients undergo[ing] … hemorrhoidectomy surgery” (10). Because of Doopeyduk’s mention of his employment as barber and disposer of bodily waste, the social worker’s disposition toward him changes from distaste to elation. In short, he is thrilled that Doopeyduk has accepted his place at “the bottom” of the ladder and desires to “work his way up.” The social worker expresses surprise in Doopeyduk’s commitment to “temperance, frugality, and thrift” when he incredulously states, “I didn’t know that there were members of the faith among your people” (10). Acknowledging the reference to “faith” in Harry Sam, Doopeyduk proceeds to state his commitment to national doctrine: “Why, I wanted to become the first bacteriological warfare expert of the race. That was when my level of performance was lower than my level of aspiration. Now I’m



just content to settle here on the home front. Wheel some of our senior citizens around” (11). Here, Doopeyduk acknowledges that the caseworker believes his “aspiration” to be involved in bacteriological warfare is beyond his status within the nation and further humbly commits to cleaning wastes from ailing civic subjects. Delighted with Doopeyduk’s humility and industry, the interviewer exclaims, “If there were more Negroes like you with tenacity, steadfastness, and stick-to-itiveness, there would be less of those tremors like the ones last summer, shaking SAM as if he had the palsy” (11). In the social worker’s eyes, civil rights activists and their protests are a national plague brought on by ungrateful “kiddos” who do not accept the kind of labor to which he believes they are suited. Stamping Doopeyduk’s application with “approval,” the social worker marks him as an orderly laborer because of his willingness to behave within the limits dictated by Sam, namely to clean bodily waste and to dispose of it. There are two separate levels on which the satirical comedy of this scene works. First, Doopeyduk is polluted with the excess of whiteness, demarcated as oppositional to the progressive movement of Sam’s nation. Second, as a consequence of this racial demarcation, Doopeyduk finds his “level of performance” limited to a position of disposer of bodily wastes. Frantz Fanon’s work in Black Skin, White Masks, like Reed’s novel, revises psychoanalytic understandings of subject formation in order to account for the ways in which black bodies are polluted by toxic whiteness. In particular, Fanon describes race as an injection in ways that illuminate the power of Reed’s metaphoric scatological work. He traces how “the white man injects the black with extremely dangerous foreign bodies,” imagining the black man to contain what white men renounce.33 In his account, the social construction of race in the interplay between whiteness and blackness encourages white subjects to contaminate the black body with symbolic association with the abject; as Kelly Oliver notes in her analysis of Fanon’s work, “a white child assimilating the white superego through which he abjects the black body … fortifies his own identity.”34 The white subject maintains a cleansed identity free of “biological” or “natural” associations by staining black subjects with excessive bodily life repudiated in the creation of whiteness. As Fanon writes, the white man imposes discrimination on me, makes me a colonized native, robs me of all worth, all individuality, tells me that I am a parasite on the world, that I must bring myself as quickly as possible into step with the white world, ‘that I am a brute beast, that my people and I are like a walking



dung-heap that disgustingly fertilizes sweet sugar cane and silky cotton, that I have no use in the world.’35

The injection of identity revolves around penetrating the black body with animality and dung. In Reed’s novel, racial demarcation is imagined to occur not through an injection, but instead through defecation. Doopeyduk is bombarded by racist assumptions about blackness such as the social worker’s “insights” into racial difference. As he delights in Doopeyduk’s “tenacity and steadfastness,” he affirms the interviewee’s exceptional status from the rest of his race, whom he fantasizes to be unruly, lazy, and disruptive of the progress of the nation. In other words, the interviewer builds whiteness by excreting what it does not contain onto the subject seated in front of him. As Doopeyduk finds himself ducking the wastes of whiteness flung from the interviewer, he faces a problem with identity formation: how can he present an identity that will allow the gatekeeper to recognize his application for housing, his right to live within the city? Since his body signals the dung heap of the world, human waste mobilized, he struggles to overcome the flesh made abject by the white subject. As Fanon notes, “in the white world the man of color encounters difficulties in the development of his bodily schema. Consciousness of the body is solely a negating activity.”36 Reed’s Doopeyduk experiences a double alienation from the self in his encounters with white subjects. His black skin is read as that which opposes pure, clean, productive whiteness, and thus he finds that he must rise above not only his individual excremental self, but also the excess of whiteness. As Kelly Oliver notes in her analysis of Fanon’s work, This identification of the colonized with his body—and, more specifically within racist culture, with his skin—leads Fanon to call the process of internalization of inferiority a process of epidermalization. The black man is reduced to nothing but his skin, black skin, which becomes the emblem for everything hateful in white racist society.37

Reduced to his skin, Doopeyduk flees the flesh through rhetorical strategies meant to show the interviewer that he is in league with Sam’s faith, ready to fight the immorality that his skin denotes through hard work. He accepts his status at the bottom of the ladder, commits to working off the stain of race, and supporting the national flow. Still, he faces a conundrum of “double alienation by which the black man identifies with white values



that make blackness bad, but then realizes that he is black and has to choose between denying his own blackness and identifying himself with the abject of white culture.”38 Doopeyduk refuses the identification with the abject in his interview and asserts his commitment to “bacteriological warfare” of the nation, even as he maintains a position on the home front. In his position as orderly where he cleans waste, he is associated with the “abject of white culture.” Thus, Reed presents the black body—like the Black Bay—as the receptacle for white shit; the black body is mired in the suffocating excess of whiteness as the black subject is relegated to “shit jobs.” The satire illustrates that the black body is the site through which white subjects unleash their excremental selves, polluting black subjectivity with the abject of whiteness, and also shows how the status of the excessive body inspires national policies of segregation as well as limitations on the kinds of labor available for black subjects. Reed’s parody of being “orderly” continues as Doopeyduk’s body becomes synonymous with the mechanisms of toiletry in the hospital; not only does he work with the wastes of citizens, he comes to be the receptacle for their waste.39 Because of his performance, his employer bestows “A GOLDEN BEDPAN WITH [HIS] INITIALS ENGRAVED ON THE BOTTOM” (57). Upon receiving this award, the charge nurse reminds Doopeyduk that he will need to “prove [himself] worthy” of such a gift by taking samples from a suspicious elderly man (57). By “chang[ing] the man every five minutes until the corner of the room was filled with sticky wet sheets … apply[ing] powder and giv[ing] him a rubdown,” Doopeyduk satisfies his employer; he has become the willing bedpan who hopes only to “justify [the nurse’s] faith” in him (57–59). Still, other orderlies find Doopeyduk’s acquiescence and even pride in his job comical: “I detected a snicker from the orderly who was helping me with the garment, but I ignored him, attributing it to jealousy on his part” (59). While others see humor in the celebration of the position of bedpan, Doopeyduk initially hopes to prove his commitment to the national movement of waste. Like “the millions who wear the great commode buttons,” which support Harry Sam, Doopeyduk only wants to do a good job. Indeed, because of his humble labor, he is given the nickname “make-um-­ shit Doopeyduk,” a reference to the ways in which his skin causes white subjects to drench him in excess as they encounter his black body, but also his acceptance of his role as cleaner of excess (4). The novel presents blackness as the excrement of whiteness that leaks over the black body; Doopeyduk becomes a bedpan, his body—his



skin—coated in shit, like the images in artist Kara Walker’s work. While he may have originally hoped to participate in the “bacteriological warfare” that begins the novel and is associated with white civilization, Doopeyduk has come to “[identify] himself with the abject of white culture”: shit or, more specifically, a container for white excreta.40 For Reed, in the opening sections of the novel, if Sam builds a national identity through a sloughing of excess, the same cannot be true of Doopeyduk. He is barred from the creation of the ego identity—the fantasized wholeness—that white men in the novel can achieve. Instead, Doopeyduk’s ego is compromised so that he becomes all body: But, rather than work to form the ego through an identification with another person as in Freudian or Lacanian secondary narcissism, racism makes an identification with the white oppressor both necessary and impossible for people of color. More than this, Fanon suggests that rather than solidify the ego, racist identifications undermine the ego. So, unlike the identifications with the other formative to the ego in secondary narcissism, the identification with the oppressive other in the reversed mirror stage works to compromise the ego and its agency.41

Doopeyduk in his position as orderly has lost the aspirations of his youth as he comes to identify himself with waste; his agency is depleted to the point that he only longs to be the best receptacle possible, the most available and “open” mouth for “white shit.” Still, Doopeyduk’s labor at the bottom of the heap allows him a unique insight into the inner workings of national flow. Thus, he becomes a scatological philosopher of sorts, thinking through the movement and creation of waste. In discussions about his work, he claims that he is “psychiatric technician” (10). While he initially shows a commitment to being an orderly subject in Sam’s realm, by the end of the novel Doopeyduk challenges Sam’s pollution of black subjects with the abject of whiteness and questions how black bodies are segregated and policed within the national body. Because the novel links the soiling of the black body with the abject of whiteness to the pollution of the Black Bay, the text illuminates how excessive bodies are demarcated as appropriate receptacles for various national wastes. Although the novel does not discuss the literal emplacement of landfills or other toxic dump sites within communities of color, it does suggest that the excessive status of black bodies and other people of color within the national imaginary can lead to the pollution of human



communities in ways that are similar to the pollution of the Black Bay. Thus, the novel is an astounding precursor to discussions of environmental racism and justice that began in full by the late 1970s. Environmental activists use the term environmental racism to identify how “government and industry pursue policies that disproportionately expose racial minorities to hazardous wastes.”42 While Tesh and Williams argue that this third wave of the environmental justice movement began in the 1980s, famed environmentalist activist and scholar Robert D. Bullard places the movement’s origins in the 1960s and 1970s as civil rights leaders began to make the connection between racial discrimination and toxic exposure.43 He suggests that Martin Luther King Jr. made this connection when he supported the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis, GA.44 Still, for Bullard and many others, the landmark case that introduces the focus on racism in environmental activism is the 1979 Houston lawsuit: Bean v. Southwestern Waste Management Corp. In Bean, a middle-class African American community fought local government and Browning Ferris Industries (BFI) using civil rights laws and research into the “random” placement of landfills; although ultimately unsuccessful, plaintiffs found that “the all-white, all male city government and private industry targeted Houston’s black neighborhoods for landfills, incinerators, garbage dumps, and garbage transfer stations.”45 The same was true for other African American communities including residents of Warren County, North Carolina, who, in 1982, became the recipients of a landfill dedicated to the incineration and burial of soil contaminated with PCBs. Accredited as a key early case in the environmental justice movement, the county’s African American community fought the “quick fix” of governmental officials, as they knew that “the PCBs would eventually leak into the groundwater and wells.”46 Although the protesting began in 1982, the land was not “detoxified” until 2003. Both of these cases and others led to the 1987 publication of the Warren County United Church of Christ’s report Toxic Wastes and Race; this study “found race to be the most significant independent predictor of commercial hazardous waste facility locations when socioeconomic and other non-racial factors are taken into account.”47 Commissioned again in 2007, the new report revealed similar findings: People of color make up 56 percent of the residents living in neighborhoods within two miles of the nation’s commercial hazardous waste facilities, nearly double the percentage in areas beyond two miles (30 percent). People



of color also make up 69 percent of the residents in neighborhoods with clustered facilities.48

Although some environmentalists argue that socio-economic class is the dominant factor in the selection of a site for waste disposal, Bullard is quick to point out that “regardless of their class status, [African Americans] have been considered compatible with garbage dumps, transfer stations, incinerators, and other waste disposal facilities.”49 In his discussion of the environmental justice movement, Bullard argues that “the environmental justice framework attempts to turn the dominant environmental protection paradigm on its head: it seeks to prevent environmental threats before they occur.”50 Reed’s novel searches for something similar; by showing how Sam denies his connection to the ecosystems around him and negates his abject excremental self, the novel critiques a human subject who splinters himself from the body and larger ecosystems upon which he depends. Further, this white subject, who denies connectivity to the world, is the same subject who creates categories of human life: races designated as clean and productive as well as races demarcated as abject and excessive. In this way, the novel critiques a white subjectivity that creates toxic environments through both the misplacement of fertile human waste and the production of toxic chemicals meant to eradicate threats to human life or the national body. By building a kinship of shared trauma between African American communities and the Black Bay, Reed creates a bridge between human life and ecosystems, calling for the erosion of a subjectivity that negates our connection to each other and the world. To prevent environmental threats before they occur, the novel suggests the need to overturn subjects like Harry Sam—to re-evaluate national movements that produce toxic waste.

Revolutionary Responses to Sam’s Effluent in Two Movements: Plugging the Anal Orifice or Taking the Toilet Throne While Bukka Doopeyduk labors as orderly, revolutionaries in the novel roam the streets of Sam, seeking to counter the violent movement of his excrement out into the Black Bay as well as his treatment of the African American community named “Soulsville.” Attempting to challenge national racism and toxic white masculinity, the protesters successfully



“jam up” Sam’s works by shoving “bantam rooster feathers” into the pipes that unleash Sam’s flow.51 Unable to push out excess from his toilet throne, Sam finds himself threatened with the return of the waste that he has unleashed on the world. This causes “A NATIONAL EMERGENCY OF HIGHEST IMPORTANCE” for when “THE HARRY SAM JOHN IS STOPPED UP” Sam—the representation of the national body—will need to come to terms with the kinds of waste products that he has produced (46). The wastes that Sam will encounter should he be disallowed to release his effluent include not only “humanure,” but also the byproducts of the creation of weapons that the national body produces, such as the two that the novel specifically mentions: nuclear weapons and napalm. Sam’s dedication to distinguishing himself from threatening human others leads to the creation of weapons that will annihilate human threats; yet, in his commitment to the production of weapons of mass destruction, he denies that the waste products of his fear-infused and motivated factories emit byproducts that can potentially impact ecosystems. By plugging up Sam’s anal orifice, the protesters seek to bring his waste home to “roost,” to unite Sam’s body with the toxic effluent that he denies. Indeed, the protesters’ strategy of pushing waste back into the body that has produced it would force Sam and his constituents to experience the kind of searing pain that they caused abroad and perhaps encourage them to challenge a national subjectivity that produces such devastating impacts in foreign locales. If forced to surround himself with the byproducts of his hatred for human others, Sam might question why he has created steaming piles of toxic waste. Alas, the national body rallies to unplug Sam’s pipes. Inspired by wartime propaganda aired by UH-O radio and television, citizens of Sam understand the attacks on his body within the context of international threats to the nation. Thus, the protesters within Harry Sam are linked with reports of “DEM CHINAMENS [WHO] DONE GALLOPED INTO THE SUBURBS ON WEREWOLF SANDALS” and “FREELOADEN COMMUNISTS TAFFYPANTS SISSES” at home on campuses like the University of California at Berkeley (7, 24). Collapsing internal and external threats to the nation as well as the various wars in which the nation participated during the twentieth century, the text highlights how nationalist propaganda remains consistent, demarcating human others as threatening bodies in order to support violent national movements abroad and at home. Should protesters push the nation to think through violent movements abroad, nationalist media returns to remind



listeners and viewers of the imminent threat to national security that requires continued production of toxic weapons as well as their byproducts. Fear of “Chinamen” and various enemy Others, as well as the connection of protesters to enemy bodies who seek the destruction of the nation rather than an end to its violence abroad, leads citizens to disavow the actions of Sam’s rioters. While chief officials of Harry Sam don “gasmasks” and flee down his island and through his fecal moat, citizens build “convoys of plumbers,” “armed with monkey wrenches and pliers and hammers” (46). Because of a belief in imminent threats to Sam, citizens refuse to ponder why his body produces toxins that threaten the lives of the community that supports him. Instead, they vigorously attempt to cleanse the pipes so that his toxic excrement might be re-deployed in further attacks against human others and the organic world. They support Sam’s philosophy that human threats require decisive militaristic action, even if that action produces potentially harmful toxins. As Sam states, My philosophy is when they act up or give you some lip, bomb the fuken daylights out of um. When my ol man’s roosters give him some cackle, that would fix um every time. That’s the only thing they understand. And that goes for spicks and gooks and all the rest that ain’t like us. Why, it would be no skin off my nose if all the Chinamen in the world got stuck in a dumbwaiter…. If you don’t stop the others where they are, before ya know it, they’ll be surrounding NOTHIN’ which is ME like a bunch of Free-Lance Pallbearers. (132)

Sam’s and white citizens’ racism and xenophobia allow for the disavowal of how they are like other human beings in their vulnerability to toxic exposure and the chemical run off of militaristic production. The denial of the connectivity between human life—the imagined distinction of white American subjects from other human bodies—and the fantasized transcendence from dependence on healthy ecosystems for survival results in the plumbing of Sam’s sewage rather than a plumbing of the depths of the subjectivity that produces polluted waters and landscapes as well as human suffering at home and abroad. Indeed, the reference to the free-lance pallbearers here signals a national fear that death will come to everyone, even American subjects, if those citizens don’t support a national movement that eliminates any “cackle” of dissent. It is by obliterating human threats abroad that the nation affirms its difference from other bodies in a fantasized avoidance of death by making human Others sink into soil. The



irony here is that when the national toilet is stopped up, citizens find themselves mired in the toxicity produced in their erection of militaristic national identity, and yet they still cannot critique such horrendous productivity of the national body. Despite all the civic plumbers plunging away at Sam’s pipes, it is the Reverend Eclair Porkchop from Soulsville who ultimately unplugs Sam’s John, unleashing his toxic effluent from the dams produced by protesters. As UH-O reports: “LATEST ATTEMPT TO JAM UP THE WORKS FOILED. ECLAIR PORKCHOP A HERO AS HE ACTS AS A HUMAN PUMP DISLODGING THE BANTAM ROOSTER FEATHERS CONSPIRATORS USED TO PLUG THE PIPES” (54). Thus, the novel returns to how some black characters—like Doopeyduk before his transformation to revolutionary—support the national militaristic movements abroad fueled by a nationalist fervor while experiencing the effluent of toxic white masculinity within the national body. Porkchop, like Doopeyduk, wants to be a valued citizen of Sam through labor on behalf of the nation and support of the national commode. Yet even as Sam celebrates Porkchop’s heroic action with a parade and the title of Bishop of Soulsville, Porkchop’s position within the nation remains at the anal orifice of Sam. Indeed, what makes his labor as “human pump” so exceptional is his willingness to take into his body the reeking effluent of Sam’s body, to accept with humility his bodily association with filth. Like Doopeyduk with his golden bedpan, Porkchop is asked by the nation to represent the ideal black subject who accepts his position at Sam’s bottom, carrying on and within his body the excess that whiteness pumps out in the creation of racial difference. The novel presents Porkchop’s acceptance of Sam’s waste through a “dignified” sound recording of the two men’s encounter in the John, sold at the parade under the title “A Meeting of Titans”: “AWWWWW, DO IT TO ME.  AWWWWWW BABY.  DO IT TO ME.  WHERE DID YOU GET THAT LONG THING? MY MY O LORD, DON’T STOP, DON’T STOP. HELPLEASE DON’T STOP. DO IT THIS WAY. DO IT THAT WAY.  OOOOOO MY MY MY YUM YUMMY OOOO…” (65). This recording eroticizes the relationship between white and black bodies within national narratives, where the white subject dumps his excreta into the “desirous” orifices of the black body. Always on top of the heap, Sam asserts his difference from Porkchop by pushing the excremental self away and out into the black body; like the excreting statues of Rutherford Birchard Hayes, Sam maintains his pure white identity by disavowing his



connection to waste and bombarding racially marked others with what he has renounced. This “meeting of Titans” is not the union of human lovers, embracing each other in homosexual longing, but instead is a national melody whereby white America drenches the black body in the excrement of whiteness, the bodily waste denied in the erection of pure, productive white identity. Porkchop, delighting in the approval that he finds by taking up the position beneath the national body, encounters the same conundrum that Doopeyduk faces; even as he is an orderly citizen, he is valued by the national body only when he accepts the national flow, the segregation of the nation into full citizens, and excessive bodies. Just as Porkchop’s undamming of Sam continues the marking of black bodies as waste, it also re-starts the fecal bombing of enemy others abroad. Looking out his window in the dawn light following Porkchop’s heroism, Doopeyduk sees “an object [appear] at the mouth of one of the statues of the nine-teenth President of the United States resting upon the imposing slope of Sam’s Island. It is a white coffin which plunks into the bay. Another coffin appears. Then 4-5-10-14” (54). Although Doopeyduk is unable to identify the bodies contained within the coffins, readers may identify these corpses with those obliterated within the Pacific theater of World War II or Vietnamese civilians scorched in the usage of napalm during the time period in which the novel was written. As readers learn at the end of the novel that Sam is eating African American children (144), these coffins might be the bodies of black American soldiers lost in battles for a nation that segregates and polices black men and women at home. What the novel makes clear in this presentation of the deathly costs of Sam’s movement is the connection between racism within the nation and foreign military movements, between the bombardment of black bodies with the toxic effluent of whiteness in the construction of racial difference and the construction of national identity that sings melodies of American exceptionalism from other distant human life that inspire and support violent movement on the world stage. The novel underscores how the Civil Rights Movement within the states continues to link internal racism endured by people of color to violence abroad, and therefore calls for not only the inclusion of African Americans in full national citizenship, but an overturning of nation-building that relies on the categorization of and degradation of human others as waste and the devastation of ecosystems on which all of us depend. Ultimately, Doopeyduk and Porkchop undergo transformations within the novel as they witness the horrors of Sam’s movements during a visit to



his island John. Having been fired from his job because of lack of funding for orderlies, Doopeyduk becomes a successful actor and thus earns a trip to visit with Harry Sam, who tentatively offers him a position as promulgator of the national faith with the title of Bishop, a position previously held by Porkchop (133). In particular, Sam wants Doopeyduk to be a model for “stick-to-itiveness” by preaching a religious doctrine—“IT’S GOIN’ BE ALL RIGHT, BY AND BY IN THE SKY”—that promises relief in an afterlife to the “frustrated, anxious, and despairing” community of Soulsville (133). The sound recording of Porkchop’s acceptance of national excretion in Sam’s opinion no longer has “that certain spark” and therefore Sam calls on Doopeyduk to remind black citizens that enduring his movements with humility will be rewarded in a heavenly afterlife (133). Doopeyduk, initially thrilled with his new assignment, cannot sleep after his meeting with Sam and upon hearing pained groans during his sleepless night picks up a musket and goes forth to rescue the wounded body belonging to the echoing voice coming from the bowels of Sam’s dwelling (135). With horror, he uncovers a basement room that “smelled of the very putrescence of mass graves” (136). Faced with the human refuse of bodies obliterated by the “strange and exotic recipes” of Sam’s faithful Nazarene apprentices in attacks on human Others, Doopeyduk can no longer support the national religion and decides to flee the compound to tell others in Soulsville about the horrendous results of Sam’s movements (131). Fleeing from Sam’s supporters who surge to stop his escape, Doopeyduk races to another room where he encounters, “hundreds of tiny skulls” (139–140). Fueled by images of the dead, Doopeyduk, aided by Porkchop, sorrowful for his participation in Sam’s reign of terror, escapes the island by swimming through the Black Bay. Finding a sign for a Soulsville community meeting, Doopeyduk bursts into the crowd to announce that Sam “HAS A RARE DELICACY THAT YOU OUGHT TO KNOW ABOUT,” namely that “SAM IS EATING [THE COMMUNITY’S] CHILDREN” (144). Having caused a stir among attendees at the community meeting, Doopeyduk leads a party of angry black citizens toward Sam’s Island in the hopes of removing Sam from his throne. Unlike the protesters who seek to stop up Sam’s toxic effluent and to bring him face to face with the horror of his wastes, Doopeyduk is overcome with a desire not to overturn the logic of the nation, but instead to take Sam’s place on the toilet throne. As the leader of the civic group, he finds himself fueled by a rage to obliterate Sam so that he might become



the leader who has the power to annihilate others with his own toxic excretion. Running into Sam’s John, he discovers that Sam has escaped from the mob through the toilet throne and out through the pipes toward the Black Bay. Because the harbor is filled with toxic waste, Sam’s escape is stunted until he flags down a battleship on which to cross the waters. Doopeyduk finds him hanging from the lips of a statue with a gas mask covering his face and begins swiftly to “[stomp] up a storm on my man’s fingers” in the hopes of dropping Sam into the waters that he polluted (150). When a lightning bolt strikes and shatters Sam’s gasmask, Doopeyduk succeeds in pushing Sam into the poisonous waters, where he perishes (150–151). The displacement of Sam as motivating force of the civic and national body, however, does not overturn the philosophy by which he lived. Instead, Doopeyduk desires to emulate Sam, to rule the commode with the same ruthlessness as his predecessor. He states, “NOW I WAS DA ONE…. I WAS GOING TO RUN THE WHOLE KIT AND KABOODLE.  ME DICTATOR OF BUKKA DOOPEYDUK…. AND NOW I WOULD BE DA ONE SURROUNDED WITH DEM TENDENTS WHO WOULD WAIT ON ME HAND AND FOOT AND EVERYONE DIDN’T LIKE IT WOULD BE SLUGGED.… THE GOLDEN BEDPAN WAS MINE NOW AND I WOULD BE DA ONE” (151).52 This attempt at the reversal of the flow of excreta, the movement of the black body from the position of bedpan to the role of dominant excretor who pushes excess out onto the white body, proves to simply repeat the process whereby an excremental bombing unites an “enemy” with death.53 Doopeyduk imagines his new role as dictator to involve the servitude of others in the maintenance of his “sanitary engineering”: attendants will help him clean his body of the wastes that he creates as he obliterates human threats to his rule. In this depiction of the triumph of Bukka Doopeyduk in an imagined ascendance to the Nation’s Great Commode, the novel highlights how one response to the trauma of the pollution of the black body is the understandable desire to annihilate the crouched excreter, to turn back on the powers that be to exterminate them. As Doopeyduk easily takes up Sam’s rhetoric and comes to imagine all the power that he might wield from the top of the heap, readers encounter the repetition of the logic of Sam’s nation, albeit with a black body in the head, separating his distinct bodily self from the human others that he now seeks to waste. This is not to say that Sam’s end in the Black Bay is not a wonderfully satisfying moment in the novel. His toxic effluent is that which brings him



death. But the novel moves so quickly from Sam’s death to Doopeyduk’s imagined dictatorship that readers are disallowed a celebration in his demise. Instead, readers are left with an image of a subject who has carried the toxic run-off of white masculinity and desired not to stop the flow, but to become the producer of toxins, bombarding both those who suffocated him in excreta and any other human threat to the health of his domination. Doopeyduk’s fantasy is to be Sam, washed clean of his connection to other beings in the denial of his excremental self and in an erection of an exemplary difference from others. He will be the one to lay waste to others with weapons built during Sam’s empire. He will be the one to bring those demarcated as excessive into servitude at the national bottom. Still, the novel does not end with Doopeyduk’s effective mounting of the throne, but another vision of ways to avoid the repetition of Sam’s national philosophy. In the final section of this chapter, we turn to Doopeyduk’s final transformation from a desire to become like Sam to another way of undermining national policy that brings so much pollution to the organic world and suffering to human populations at home and abroad.

Embracing the Self as Soil: Refusing to Repeat Sam’s Pollution of the World and the Bodies of Human Others Through Doopeyduk’s adventures in the novel, readers “learn” about the “psychological disturbance” at the center of whiteness, but also the trauma produced by being demarcated as abject. Sam’s toxic excreta is linked to a neurotic and violent bodily schema in which he seeks to transcend kinship with the world and other human beings in a denial of bodily life. Doopeyduk’s painful encounters with “white shit” also lead to psychic strife as his body’s association with excess leads to a desire to follow in Sam’s footsteps in the John where he might become the subject that lays waste to whiteness. Through Doopeyduk’s transformation from supporter of Sam to protester of national movement, the text brings us through the traumatized fictional black subject’s desire to obliterate violent white governance that treats people of color like human waste. Yet, the novel presents this movement as a repetition or continuation of Sam’s reign of terror on the world and human others, albeit with a different body at the toilet throne. As Doopeyduk fantasizes mounting the Commode, he, too, would become another separatist, like Sam, unable to fold himself



intimately into the world or to embrace with tenderness his own excremental body or those of other beings. The novel does not end with Doopeyduk’s successful dictatorship, but instead turns to an embrace of the self as soil, the erosion of a subjectivity bent on separating the self from the organic world and Others. Following Doopeyduk’s annihilation of Sam, he returns to the island to take what he believes is his rightful place on the Commode. Yet, the citizens of Sam refuse his leadership. As the next member of civil service in line is sworn in, eager citizens identify Doopeyduk as Sam’s assassin. Captured by national supporters, Doopeyduk is hung from meat hooks in the local park. Like Christ, he hangs for three days before he goes through another transformation; this time, his body becomes excrement. Reed writes, On the night of the third day, the darkness surrounding out-of sight became a horrifying yellow. Hundreds of eyeholes encircled NOW-HERE.  It was the Free-Lance Pallbearers. (Better late den never). They had come to cut me down. But you see they couldn’t get through. There was this great ball of manure suspended above Klang-a Lang-a Ding-Dong. Held down by spikes and rope it stank to high heaven. (155)

Doopeyduk cannot be found by those who seek to bury his flesh nor does he rise to join a heavenly father. Instead, he sinks and becomes fertilizing manure. In his avoidance of the free-lance pallbearers, Doopeyduk abandons subjective difference from the organic world and human others by experiencing decomposition not as death, but as union. The erosion of the body so feared by Sam—the excremental self denied in national sanitary engineering—is not a filthy reminder of organic unraveling, but a reminder of how our erosion pushes beyond the identity categories that we might claim and that others might impose. To accept all bodies as excremental allows for an embracing of each other beyond taxonomies of race that demarcate some bodies as clean and others as filthy. In this argument, I follow Julian Cowley, who suggests that Reed seeks “disorder” in the rupturing of visual culture based on seventeenth-century taxonomies and draws upon Foucault’s work in The Order of Things. For Cowley, As a black American writer, [Reed] needs to address the history of black people in America; at the same time, courting the confusion of realms, he needs to subvert the authority of classificatory labeling, which means dismantling ‘black’ as a coherent category…. Reed’s objection to the militant



movements of the 1960s was essentially an objection to facile identification grounded in surface visibility. This was not to forget the victims of racist violence, nor blandly to forgive its perpetrators, but his conviction was that the way out of the impasse of racial polarity would be forged by modes of representation that could rescue human beings from the stark labeling of the taxonomic table.54

While Cowley explores the circus as the space through which to challenge these taxonomies within Reed’s work, I argue that Reed imagines waste— the self undifferentiated from excess and decomposing through the power of the world—to be a space that refuses classification. The free-lance pallbearers cannot classify his individual remains because he is let loose into the flux of the excremental soil. Thus, Doopeyduk overturns the logic of Sam not by taking his place but by refusing the subjective renunciation of bodily waste that separates humans from unruly environment and whiteness from blackness. Affirming the excremental nature of each body or the self as soil is a way to come out from our isolation and to share in the fertile goodness of our excremental selves. The novel, therefore, concludes with a contemporary ethics that revolves around “stinking to high heaven” or embracing the excrement, the “manure,” that whiteness denies.55 For Reed, as for Fanon, resistance to toxic white masculinity involves embracing the world; Fanon writes, “I embrace the world! I am the world! The white man has never understood this magic substitution. The white man wants the world; he wants it for himself alone. He finds himself predestined master of the world. He enslaves it. An acquisitive relation is established between the world and him.”56 Here, Fanon argues that Western civilization denies its connection to the world and fears the overpowering potential of the world to disrupt narratives of mastery; in order to defeat the power of the world, civilization attempts to control it or to “enslave” it in a process whereby civilization consistently articulates its difference from matter. In Fanon’s theoretical play with Freudian thought, he shows how the black body and the world share the wrath of civilization: both have been “owned,” worked over for profit, and scarred as the “civilized” make use of organic matter. Fanon counters the abjection of the black body and the world when he writes, I feel myself a soul as immense as the world, truly, a soul as deep as the deepest of rivers, my chest has the power to expand without limit. I am a master and I am advised to adopt humility of the cripple. Yesterday, awakening to



the world, I saw the sky turn upon itself utterly and wholly. I wanted to rise, but the disemboweled silence fell back upon me, its wings paralyzed. Without responsibility, straddling Nothingness and Infinity, I began to weep.57

Here, like Reed, Fanon moves past the black body’s association with the abject and refuses to accept with humility black skin’s association with filthy, bodily exuberance. He claims to be a “master,” equal to those who assume to know him, who claim mastery of the world. Still, this passage quickly turns to a re-evaluation of the world around him, the sky that turns upon itself, the rivers that run deep. Thus, the passage begs for a way of being in the world without the impulse to “acquire” or to “enslave,” without claims to mastery. Embracing “nothingness” involves giving the self up to “infinity”; the sky that cannot be contained, turning upon itself, the deepness of the rivers and the immensity of the world come to be the sources of inspiration for an altered being. Like Fanon, Bukka Doopeyduk has embraced “nothingness,” but the death of the subject is a false end, for in the spreading self he has found “infinity”; in altered form, he goes on in the world or he lives on as undifferentiated matter, giving up subjective difference to loaf, and perhaps weep, in the face of the knowledge that we are nothing but waste, no different from any other worldly body, and yet in this connection we fold back into the beauty of the world, fold back into matter to go on with each other in altered form.58 Like Reed, Fanon returns to the body at the end of Black Skin, White Masks as he prays, “O my body, make of me always a man who questions!”59 In Kelly Oliver’s analysis of this final incantation, she argues “[I]t seems as if transcendence comes only through the body and the liberation of its psychic space. Fanon concludes … with his provocative ‘final prayer’ that suggests that it is the body, or more precisely his body, even his black body that makes transcendence possible.”60 Here, Oliver suggests that the body is the site through which the subject coated in the abject may “transcend” this marking, where the subject may be liberated from scarring by the “racial epidermal schema.”61 Rather than transcendence, I want to emphasize a sinking into the body—descending into the body and into the world. For Fanon, the body, like the world, is always “turning” upon itself, “wholly and utterly” escaping meaning as matter cannot be contained in language; the body and the world fall apart, shift, leak, and rot and it is in this knowledge of “decomposition” that he places his hope. If I push this reading of Fanon too far, I do so in favor of “Reeding” him;



for Reed, the final “prayer” of the novel has everything to do with the body. However, unlike Christian mythology that calls for the final relief of the physical burden in ascension—transcendence—from the horrors of the world, Reed’s Doopeyduk descends into the world. If whiteness is ultimately about “transcending” matter, Reed suggests that embracing the world—celebrating humanity’s vulnerability and porousness—may offer an end to attacks on each other and on the “rich soil” that surrounds us all. To close, Reed’s novel attempts to work through a “new humanism” that embraces the self as matter that might potentially end our attacks on the world and each other. In the final scene of the novel, Doopeyduk abandons a simple repetition of white civilization, albeit with a new body seeping its excesses out onto the bodies of Others. If environmental threats stem ultimately from a contemporary subjectivity that denies human connection to the world and each other, Reed lets go of the subject in the overpowering waste of the world. This, for Reed, is the way to pass through the violence of identity formation that depends on the disavowal of bodily life; the acceptance of the excesses of the body as a fact of each human subject is a way that we intimately move beyond our limited subjectivity to fertilize the health of the world around us.

Notes 1. Chappelle’s Show, Season Two, Episode Thirteen, directed by Andre Allen, Neal Brennan, Rusty Cundieff and Scott Vincent, aired April 11, 2004, on Comedy Central, 2. Ishmael Reed, The Free-Lance Pallbearers (Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1999). All page numbers for quotations pulled from the primary text will be noted in the body of the chapter. 3. Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1959), 186. 4. Brown, Life Against Death, 186–187. 5. Brown, Life Against Death, 129. 6. Brown, Life Against Death, 191. 7. Michel Fabre, “Ishmael Reed’s The Free-Lance Pallbearers or the Dialectics of Shit,” in The Critical Response to Ishmael Reed, ed. Bruce Allen Dick (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1999), 3. 8. Kathryn Hume, “Ishmael Reed and the Problematics of Control,” PMLA Vol. 108, No. 3 (1993): 514.



9. Also, see Jack Byrne, “White Men with Three Names; or If Sam Has Kidnapped Checkers, Then Who Is in the John: Reed’s Journey from Scat to Scatology,” The Review of Contemporary Fiction Vol. 4, No. 2 (Summer 1984): 237–244. For a discussion of Reed’s excremental vision in relationship to other novels of the post-war period, see Blanche Gelfant, “Residence Underground: Recent Fictions of the Subterranean City,” The Sewanee Review Vol. 83, No. 3 (1975): 406–438, especially 431–436. 10. Jamie Benidickson, The Culture of Flushing: A Social and Legal History of Sewage (Toronto: University of British Columbia Press, 2007), 325–326. 11. Sim Van der Ryn, Toilet Papers: Recycling Waste and Conserving Water (Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing House, 1999), 11–12. See Benidickson, The Culture of Flushing, 291–332, for a detailed exploration of post-1945 water pollution. 12. See Rose George, The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008), 31. She writes, “Nationwide, according to the EPA, the wastewater industry discharges 1.46 trillion gallons … into the country’s waterways and oceans” (31). See, also, U.S.  EPA 833-R-01-003, “Implementation and Enforcement of the Combined Sewer Overflow Policy, Report to Congress” (2001), which reports, “National projections of annual CSO discharges are estimated at 1260 billion gallons per year. CSOs discharge into the following receiving waters: rivers (43 percent); streams (38 percent); oceans, estuaries, and bays (5 percent); lakes and ponds (2 percent); and other waters (ditches, canals, etc.) (12 percent).” 13. Royte, Garbageland: On the Secret Trail of Trash (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2006), 203. 14. George, The Big Necessity, 156. 15. Harold M. Schmeck, Jr., “US in Peril of Losing Fight on Water Pollution,” The New York Times, Feb. 28, 1963, 5. 16. Schmeck, Jr., “US in Peril of Losing Fight on Water Pollution,” 5. 17. Schmeck, Jr., “US in Peril of Losing Fight on Water Pollution,” 5. 18. Schmeck, Jr., “US in Peril of Losing Fight on Water Pollution,” 5. 19. Bayard Webster, “Pollution Ebbing in City’s Waters: 12 Treatment Plants Now Process 75% of Sewage,” The New York Times, Feb. 25, 1970, 59. 20. Webster, “Pollution Ebbing in City’s Waters: 12 Treatment Plants Now Process 75% of Sewage,” 59. 21. Webster, “Pollution Ebbing in City’s Waters: 12 Treatment Plants Now Process 75% of Sewage,” 59. 22. R.  Lawrence Swanson, et  al., “Science, Policy and the Management of Sewage Materials. The New York Experience,” Marine Pollution Bulletin 49 (2004): 680.



23. Swanson, et al., “Science, Policy and the Management of Sewage Materials. The New York Experience,” 681. 24. Swanson, et al., “Science, Policy and the Management of Sewage Materials. The New York Experience,” 681. 25. Gladwin Hill, “States Agree to End Lake Erie Pollution,” The New York Times, Aug. 13, 1965, 1, 18. 26. “America’s Sewage System and the Price of Optimism,” Time, August 1, 1969. 27. Jamie Bartram, et  al., “Focusing on improved water and sanitation for health,” Lancet Vol. 365 (2005): 810. 28. World Health Organization, “Health Through Safe Drinking Water and Basic Sanitation,” en/ (accessed July 15, 2013). Also, see Jamie Bartram, et al., “Focusing on improved water and sanitation for health,” 810. 29. United Nations, “The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013,” 4–5. 30. Sustainable Sanitation Alliance, “What is sustainable sanitation?,” https:// (accessed February 17, 2020). 31. “Case Study of Sustainable Sanitation Projects: Rural Urine Diversion Dehydration Toilets (after 6 years) Hanahai and Paje Villages, Botswana,” in Compilation of 25 Case Studies on Sustainable Sanitation Projects from Africa, ed. E. von Münch and R. Ingle (Germany: Sustainable Sanitation Alliance and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale, 2012), 3–4. 32. “Case Study of Sustainable Sanitation Projects: Rural Urine Diversion Dehydration Toilets,” 2. 33. Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 36. 34. Kelly Oliver, “Alienation and Its Double” in Race and Racism in Continental Philosophy, eds. Robert Bernasconi with Sybol Cook (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003), 184. 35. Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 98. 36. Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 110. 37. Oliver, “Alienation and Its Double,” 181. 38. Oliver, “Alienation and Its Double,” 184. 39. For more on parody, see Henry Louis Gates, Jr., “‘Blackness of Blackness’: A Critique of the Sign and the Signifying Monkey,” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 9, No. 4 (June 1983): 685–723. In this article, Gates references The Free-­ Lance Pallbearers as he argues that the novel is a “pastiche of the classic black narrative of the questing protagonist’s ‘journey into the heart of whiteness’; but it parodies that narrative form by turning it inside out, exposing the character of the originals and thereby defining their formulaic closures and disclosures” (710). See also Neil Schmitz, “Neo-HooDoo:



The Experimental Fiction of Ishmael Reed,” Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 20, No. 2 (April 1974): 126–140, especially 126–127. 40. Oliver, “Alienation and Its Double,” 184. 41. Oliver, “Alienation and Its Double,” 187. 42. Sylvia N.  Tesh and Bruce A.  Williams, “Identity Politics, Disinterested Politics, and Environmental Justice,” Polity, Vol. 28, No. 3 (Spring 1996): 287. Tesh and Williams cite Benjamin Chavis for coining this term in 1987, while environmental activist Robert D. Bullard attributes the first use of the term to African American community members in Warren County, North Carolina, who in 1982 fought against the installation of a landfill that would dispose of PCBs. See Robert D. Bullard, “Dismantling Toxic Racism,” The Crisis, Vol. 114, No. 4 (July/August 2007): 20. 43. For more on environmental racism, see Robert D. Bullard, ed., The Quest for Environmental Justice: Human Rights and the Politics of Pollution (San Francisco; Sierra Club Books, 2005) and Robert D. Bullard, Confronting Environmental Racism: Voices from the Grassroots (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1993). Also see Robert Gottlieb, Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1993), especially “Ethnicity as a Factor: The Quest for Environmental Justice,” 235–269. For a discussion of global environmental racism, see Laura Westra and Peter S. Wenz, eds., Faces of Environmental Racism: Confronting Issues of Global Justice (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1995). 44. For a critique of this timeline, see Kimberly K Smith, African American Environmental Thought: Foundations (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2007). In this book, Smith counters the claim that the environmental justice movement “appeared” in the 1980s. Instead, she argues that the roots of the contemporary movement has nineteenth-century origins through figures like W.  E. B.  DuBois, Martin Delany, and Booker T. Washington. 45. Bullard, “Neighborhoods ‘Zoned’ for Garbage” in The Quest for Environmental Justice: Human Rights and the Politics of Pollution, ed. Robert D. Bullard, 44. 46. Bullard, “Neighborhoods ‘Zoned’ for Garbage,” 39. 47. Bullard, “Dismantling Toxic Racism,” 24. 48. Robert D. Bullard, et al., “Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty, 1987–2007: A Report Prepared for the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries,” (Cleveland, OH: United Church of Christ, 2007), 24. 49. Bullard, “Neighborhoods ‘Zoned’ for Garbage,” 81. 50. Bullard, ed., The Quest for Environmental Justice: Human Rights and the Politics of Pollution, 5. 51. Reed, The Free-Lance Pallbearers, 54.



52. This may be the inspiration for Thomas Pynchon’s Roseland Ballroom toilet scene in Gravity’s Rainbow; see Kathryn Hume, “Ishmael Reed and the Problematics of Control,” 506–518. 53. See Schmitz, “Neo-HooDoo: The Experimental Fiction of Ishmael Reed.” In this article, he argues that Reed is trying to find a way of writing that both challenges the “self-reflexivity” of his “White contemporaries” and the separatism of authors like Baraka; Schmitz writes, “For Reed the problem is to get outside the ‘Euro-Am meaning world’ (Baraka’s term) without getting caught in a contraposed system” (127). In The Free-lance Pallbearers, this critique is clear: Doopeyduk at first simply wants to take the place of SAM, thereby recreating the system with a new body at the “head.” 54. Julian Cowley, “What If I Write Circuses?: The Space of Ishmael Reed’s Fiction,” Callaloo, Vol. 17, No. 4 (Autumn 1994): 1239. 55. For another interpretation of this final scene, see James Lindroth, “Images of Subversion: Ishmael Reed and the Hoodoo Trickster,” African American Review, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Summer 1996): 185–196. For six of Reed’s novels, Lindroth finds the protagonists to be the embodiment of the Hoodoo Trickster who is “driven by a mocking wit that subverts white authority and destroys white illusions of superiority while simultaneously promoting numerous value-laden symbols of black culture” (185). 56. Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 127–128. 57. Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 140. 58. See Schmitz, “Neo-HooDoo: The Experimental Fiction of Ishmael Reed.” In his reading of Yellow Back Radio, Schmitz makes a similar argument: “In its syncretistic composition, its diversity of gods and forms of worship, its avoidance of dogmatic structures, voodoo is Reed’s reality-­model, the known world forever hidden from the gaze of Westerners. Within it Loop is invulnerable; sheltered by ritual, aided by the endless resources of Nature, and empowered by the full possession of his body” (131–132). See also Peter Nazareth, “Heading Them Off at the Pass: The Fiction of Ishmael Reed,” Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Summer 1984): 208–226. He explores Reed’s environmentalist aesthetic in The Last Days of Louisiana Red where the main character Loop “changes into a wolf … to try to rescue the earth from the mess men of power have made in their blindness, greed, and alienation from nature” (224). 59. Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 232. 60. Oliver, “Alienation and Its Double,” 192–193. 61. Oliver, “Alienation and Its Double,” 192.



Bibliography Allen, Andre, Neal Brennan, Rusty Cundieff and Scott Vincent, dir. Chappelle’s Show. Season 2, Episode 13. April 11, 2004 on Comedy Central. http://www. “America’s Sewage System and the Price of Optimism.” Time, August 1, 1969. Bartram, Jamie, Kristen Lewis, Roberto Lenton, and Albert Wright. “Focusing on improved water and sanitation for health.” Lancet Vol. 365, Issue 9461 (2005): 810–812. Benidickson, Jamie. The Culture of Flushing: A Social and Legal History of Sewage. Toronto: University of British Columbia Press, 2007. Brown, Norman O. Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History. 1959. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1985. Bullard, Robert D. Confronting Environmental Racism: Voices from the Grassroots. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1993. Bullard, Robert D. “Dismantling Toxic Racism.” The Crisis, Vol. 114, No. 4 (July/August 2007a): 22–25. Bullard, Robert D., ed. The Quest for Environmental Justice: Human Rights and the Politics of Pollution. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books, 2005. Bullard, Robert D., et al. Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty, 1987–2007: A Report Prepared for the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries. Cleveland, OH: United Church of Christ, 2007. Byrne, Jack. “White Men with Three Names; or If Sam Has Kidnapped Checkers, Then Who Is in the John: Reed’s Journey from Scat to Scatology.” The Review of Contemporary Fiction Vol. 4, No. 2 (Summer 1984): 237–244. Cowley, Julian. “What If I Write Circuses?: The Space of Ishmael Reed’s Fiction.” Callaloo, Vol. 17, No. 4 (Autumn 1994): 1236–1244. Fabre, Michel. “Ishmael Reed’s The Free-Lance Pallbearers or the Dialectics of Shit.” In The Critical Response to Ishmael Reed, edited by Bruce Allen Dick, 3–14. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999. Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove Press, 1967. Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. “‘Blackness of Blackness’: A Critique of the Sign and the Signifying Monkey.” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 9, No. 4 (June 1983): 685–723. Gelfant, Blanche. “Residence Underground: Recent Fictions of the Subterranean City.” The Sewanee Review, Vol. 83, No. 3 (1975): 406–438. George, Rose. The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008. Gottlieb, Robert. Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1993. Hill, Gladwin. “States Agree to End Lake Erie Pollution.” The New York Times, Aug. 13, 1965.



Hume, Kathryn. “Ishmael Reed and the Problematics of Control.” PMLA, Vol. 108, No. 3 (1993): 506–518. Lindroth, James. “Images of Subversion: Ishmael Reed and the Hoodoo Trickster.” African American Review, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Summer 1996): 185–196. Nazareth, Peter. “Heading Them Off at the Pass: The Fiction of Ishmael Reed.” Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Summer 1984): 208–226. Oliver, Kelly. “Alienation and Its Double.” In Race and Racism in Continental Philosophy, edited by Robert Bernasconi with Sybol Cook, 176–195. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003. Reed, Ishmael. The Free-Lance Pallbearers. 1967. Normal, Il: Dalkey Archive Press, 1999. Royte, Elizabeth. Garbageland: On the Secret Trail of Trash. New  York: Little, Brown and Company, 2006. Schmeck, Harold M., Jr. “US in Peril of Losing Fight on Water Pollution.” The New York Times, Feb. 28, 1963. Schmitz, Neil. “Neo-HooDoo: The Experimental Fiction of Ishmael Reed.” Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 20, No. 2 (April 1974): 126–140. Smith, Kimberly K. African American Environmental Thought: Foundations. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2007. Sustainable Sanitation Alliance. “What is sustainable sanitation?” Accessed February 17, 2020. sustainable-sanitation. Swanson, R.  Lawrence, et  al. “Science, Policy and the Management of Sewage Materials. The New  York Experience.” Marine Pollution Bulletin 49 (2004): 679–687. Tesh, Sylvia N. and Bruce A. Williams. “Identity Politics, Disinterested Politics, and Environmental Justice.” Polity, Vol. 28, No. 3 (Spring 1996): 285–305. U.S.  EPA. “Report to Congress: Implementation and Enforcement of the Combined Sewer Overflow Policy,” 833-R-01-003. Washington, D.C., 2001. United Nations. “The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013.” New York, 2013. Accessed February 17, 2020. pdf/report-2013/mdg-report-2013-english.pdf. Van der Ryn, Sim. Toilet Papers: Recycling Waste and Conserving Water. Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing House, 1999. Von Münch, E. and Rahul Ingle, editors. “Case Study of Sustainable Sanitation Projects: Rural Urine Diversion Dehydration Toilets (after 6 years) Hanahai and Paje Villages, Botswana.” In Compilation of 25 Case Studies on Sustainable Sanitation Projects from Africa, 2–4. Germany: Sustainable Sanitation Alliance and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale, 2012. Webster, Bayard. “Pollution Ebbing in City’s Waters: 12 Treatment Plants Now Process 75% of Sewage.” The New York Times, Feb. 25, 1970.



Westra, Laura and Peter S.  Wenz, editors. Faces of Environmental Racism: Confronting Issues of Global Justice. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1995. World Health Organization. “Health Through Safe Drinking Water and Basic Sanitation.” Accessed July 15, 2013. health/mdg1/en/.


Battling the Excremental Self: Western Civilization and Its Decomposition in Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections

Relationships with co-workers, friends, and lovers are threatened by something horrendous about bodily life, at least according to an advertisement for Poo-Pourri. A commercial for this product opens with the vision of white woman—dressed for a cocktail party in a 1950s inspired blue dress with white crinoline peeking out at the hem—seated upon a toilet with an open stall door as she discusses the recent “birth” of “a creamy behemoth from her cavernous bowels.”1 Despite the actress’s delight in giving details about her “delivery,” she reports that this rectal nativity disrupts the vision of herself that she presents to others. For her, “nothing is worse than stinking up the shared toilet at work, or the toilet at a party, or your lover’s apartment.” At the mention of each location, the woman’s fears come to life as the image changes so that she appears on her toilet in the middle of an office with co-workers standing around her, at a party as well-dressed friends mingle above her, and in her boyfriend’s apartment in front of the television. Suffering from her excremental body, the actress declares that although “flushing removes the graphic evidence” of bodily life, she still worries about what to do with “that subtle scent of a three hundred cow dairy farm” that emanates from her body during defecation. The problem of aromatic fecal afterbirth leads the woman to ask, “So, how do you make the world believe your poop doesn’t stink or in fact that you never poop at all?” The answer lies in Poo-Pourri, which produces a film on the surface of toilet bowl water, “trap[ping] those embarrassing odors at the source” © The Author(s) 2020 M. C. Foltz, Contemporary American Literature and Excremental Culture, American Literature Readings in the 21st Century,




and ultimately “sav[ing] relationships.” Advertisers promise viewers that their product will replace the stench of the excremental self with the “pleasant aromas” of a “refreshing bouquet of essential oils.” Yes, as Swift notes, “Celia, Celia, Celia shits,” but she doesn’t have to embrace it; instead, she can hide unsavory aromas with perfume and thus become a body whose fecal matter never shatters the image of herself as a non-­ excremental being. Following one of the slogans of Poo-Pourri, she can promote the fantasy that “girls don’t poop!” To achieve this feat, the upwardly mobile woman need only visit a select salon, local upscale gift shop, or pharmacy where she can purchase a two ounce bottle for around ten dollars. Like other aspects of regimes of toiletry, this product covers over the unsavory aspects of bodily life to conquer the proof of the body’s movement toward decay. Because of its specific focus on eradicating the smells of defecation, it offers a glimpse into larger fantasies about the construction of idealized white femininity. While Poo-Pourri advertisers do exhort women “to better learn to keep those ‘secrets of the hoary deep,’” they also target the masculine body. A second advertisement features the same actress, who turns her aggression toward her boyfriend.2 The actress sits upon a bed in preparation for a sexual encounter with her lover, but having “slip[ped] into something a little more little,” she is disgusted by the odor emanating from an open bathroom door through which viewers can see her defecating partner. Because he “let[s] a dirty little secret slip through the crack,” she is no longer interested in sex. She remarks, “nothing turns me off like a heaping dump, or some freshly churned colon sausage, or an intestinal cigar recently rolled and still smoking.” Further, she avers that she, like “10 out of 10 women,” believes her “fellow’s feces” are “unbearably foul.” Still, there is an escape from the “suffocating stench” of his “man manure” as advertisers assert that sex can return to the heteronormative bedroom once the proof of decomposition is hidden beneath cedarwood and citrus and the bowel is reimagined to release manly musk instead of feculent rot. As Sigmund Freud notes in Civilization and Its Discontents, “All neurotics, and many others besides, take exception to the fact that ‘inter urinas et faeces nascimur’ [we are born between urine and faeces].”3 Both commercials utilize the exception to excrementality as they promise freedom from the olfactory revelation of our shared excremental nature. Taken together, the advertisements speak to the erection of white heteronormative masculinity and femininity through the repudiation of the body and the consumption of products like Poo-Pourri that create a barrier



between the subject and the abject matter of the self. Because subsequent advertisements feature diverse casts of dancers and singers also benefitting at the office and on the dating market from Poo-Pourri, the usage of the updated 1950s white woman as a vision of idealized control over the feminized body and the disciplining of white masculinity is overwritten to confirm that various subjects can succeed in marketing the self to employers and lovers by overcoming odiferous emissions. As sales of this product now total over thirty million dollars annually, its success depends upon and reveals a larger cultural phobic subjectivity that supports the repression of our anality and the belief that upward mobility depends upon imagined eradication of excessive bodily life.4 Although the base humor of all of Poo-Pourri’s advertisements revels in excremental comedy, they ultimately deploy cheeky jokes—not to celebrate shared humanity—but to use embarrassment about it as the fuel for consumption of a product that can alleviate shame in spaces where excretion is no laughing matter. Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections also comically examines, albeit critically, the fear of corporeality and the desire to be liberated from the excremental body with a particular focus on fantasies of white masculinity.5 The novel opens by introducing readers to Alfred Lambert, a character who might respond affirmatively to advertisements for a product like Poo-­ Pourri, as he struggles with Parkinson’s disease that has led to difficulty controlling his aging bladder and his bowels. In his basement workshop, Alfred is surrounded by the smells of past labor and current incontinence: [T]he only dust-free objects in the room were the wicker love seat, a can of Rust-Oleum and some brushes, and a couple of Yuban coffee cans which despite increasingly strong olfactory evidence [his wife] Enid chose not to believe were filling up with her husband’s urine, because what earthly reason could he have, with a nice little half-bathroom not twenty feet away, for peeing in a Yuban can? (8)

As he attempts to keep up with household maintenance by painting a wicker loveseat, Alfred finds the projects that used to take days now fill months of time; thus, his identity as a skilled masculine laborer within the home is challenged by the disease that erodes his ability to maintain focus on mundane tasks. Still, it is more unnerving for both husband and wife to acknowledge that Alfred’s bodily expulsion cannot be entirely controlled; although Alfred can enclose his urine within an empty coffee can, he no longer can make it twenty feet to the restroom. The ban on the



leaking self—the urinary “you ban”—has been breached, as Alfred no longer can labor efficiently in the maintenance of home or body. Additionally, his experiences with his diseased body tarnish his relationship with his wife. She is not only critical of his inability to complete tasks associated with maintenance of the home, but also is frustrated by the “olfactory” proof of his diseased body that wafts through the lab. Alfred shares his wife’s critical view of his body; even if he cannot maintain their home with the vigor of bygone years, he does maintain her commitment to correcting the leaking body. Like the commercials discussed above, Alfred connects the revelation of his excremental self to incompetence as an adult (masculine) subject. Yet Alfred’s antagonistic relationship to bodily life is tied to the larger problem of being an organic body in the entropic world that decomposes human subjects’ imagined and desired transcendence from worldly embodiment. The problem of the excremental body for the white masculine subject is connected to the communal or civic problem of worldly entropy that batters away at and consumes human structures.6 From the beginning pages of The Corrections, Franzen links Alfred’s troubles with his body to his complaints about the unmanageable world as encountered in his affluent and meticulously cultivated neighborhood. Within the “gerontocratic suburbs” of the Midwestern town of St. Jude, the retired engineer Lambert understands his own movement toward death, his body’s quickening walk toward the erosion of self, within the context of an autumnal cold front that surrounds his home (3).7 Rather than highlighting the beauty of the cyclical movement of seasons from autumnal decay to the spring of new growth, the fall is seen as “madness,” the proof that “something terrible was going to happen” (3).8 The pull toward decomposition seems to mock Alfred as “gust after gust” of wind speaks only of “disorder” while trees shedding their leaves and spilling acorns illustrate “the whole northern religion of things coming to an end” (3). While he listens to the sounds of human activity in the face of the march toward the death of winter, all seems to suggest the futility of human desire for order; storm windows “shudder” and a leaf blower “contentiously” complains against the tide of decay (3). As Alfred’s body seems to revolt against his desire to participate in conquering worldly threats to pristine lawns and perfectly maintained exterior landscapes, he begins to wonder about the effectiveness of such activity even if he found the energy to partake in the battle against the world; with each action against organic entropy, another gust of wind brings another spattering of



leaves to taunt Alfred and his wife, Enid, in their efforts to keep up with their fellow homeowners in their maintenance of a neighborhood that appears to have been lifted from the glossy pages of Alfred’s wife’s favorite magazines: House Beautiful and Good Housekeeping (6). Like the horrific excremental body, the world around the Lambert home insists upon disrupting human designs for order. This scene from the opening section, titled “St. Jude,” vacillates between industry and incontinence, progress toward the control of various types of disorder and failure to conquer entropic movement. Using the explosive excretory body and autumnal decomposition as a starting point, Franzen pulls readers into reflections on the battle against both the excremental self—the excessive “you” to be repeatedly flushed—and the surrounding world that offers decay. For Alfred and Enid, incontinence challenges their identities as upstanding, productive, and controlled citizens and calls them to reflect upon the goals of civil society and suburban enclaves.9 For both husband and wife, Alfred’s inability to control his bladder causes a flurry of anxiety around failure to participate in the suburban project of keeping waste at bay, creating order from chaos, and extracting value from matter through vigilant maintenance of home and body. As Alfred can no longer maintain the fantasy of a body free from the burden of excreta, so, too, Enid struggles to reproduce the ideal familial spaces of her lifestyle publications, which provide visions of immaculate rooms and bolster her devotion to the creation of a home that exudes the “fiction that no one lived there” (5). While Enid’s job as woman of the house is to remove signs of human existence from magazine quality interior design, Alfred’s job as patriarch is to secure the outside of the house from seasonal threats. Both recognize their gendered roles as revolving around the elimination of bodily excess, material clutter, or worldly decay; yet, in their twilight years, Enid recognizes that she “lack[s] [the] temperament to manage such a house and Alfred [lacks] the neurological wherewithal” (6). For both characters, acknowledgment of the disruptive body as well as the malevolent consuming maw of the organic world around them lead to more aggressive counter strikes against that which would mark them as waste and remind them of their own inevitable decomposition. Thus, the novel’s title points toward the two characters’ attempts throughout the remainder of the text to correct the “revolting” masculine body and to evade decay and death. Alfred’s disease is the occasion for literary play with contemporary white masculine subjectivity that



attempts to separate itself from the organic matter of the body and the larger affluent suburban community from the threat of decomposition. Franzen’s representations of battles with the excremental self critique a hegemonic subjectivity like that offered in the Poo-Pourri commercial that battles corporeality; further, he connects the inability to embrace the excremental body to the construction of whiteness that wars against worldly embodiment. In the following analysis, I trace this aggression toward the excremental self and show how a phobic relationship to the filth of the body fuels a contemporary subjectivity that struggles against the ecosystems of which we are a part. Like Freud, Franzen suggests that, “We are threatened with suffering from three directions: from our own body, which is doomed to decay and dissolution and which cannot even do without pain and anxiety as warning signals; from the external world, which may rage against us with overwhelming and merciless forces of destruction; and finally from our relations to other men.”10 Rather than posit the inevitability of struggles against the body, human others, or the world, The Corrections debases such understandings of universal subject development. As Kathryn Bond Stockton notes, “To debase Freud is to respect his claims enough to bend them against the dominant sense of the civilizations(s) that Freud embraced (though embraced with ambivalence).”11 With Franzen’s text, such debasement involves a parody of white masculinity that wars against bodily life, excessive human others, and the world itself. Because the novel presents normative white masculine subjectivity—not the excremental body—as the problem to be addressed, the literary text undermines dominant renderings of Freudian understandings of progressive subject development and calls upon readers to examine critically a white masculine subjectivity that denigrates bodily life and that imagines a separation of the subject from worldly embodiment.12 Indeed, The Corrections suggests it is this type of subjectivity that leads to violence against the self, others, and the environment upon which we depend. As Franzen notes in an interview, “I’m polluting everywhere I go. I’m flushing the toilet. I’m an evil person on the face of this clean earth.”13 The goal of his novel is to analyze and critique this polluting subject. Ultimately, this chapter shows how Alfred’s struggle with the excremental self reveals that Western civilization’s discontents stem from the decomposition offered by the world; as he struggles against the decomposing self, he connects his battle to civilization’s attempts to overcome death that ultimately leads to an antagonistic relationship to the surrounding world,



a desire to destroy the planet on which we depend. Using key Freudian texts and Norman O.  Brown’s Life Against Death: The psychoanalytical Meaning of History in this opening analysis of Franzen’s work,14 this chapter sets the stage for later interrogations of the kind of subjects who participate in and produce systems of sanitary engineering that refuse to see decay as part of our fertile connection to soil and whose war against decomposition leads to discontent with our bodies and the world that ultimately turns outward in violence to control or destroy that which threatens a cleansed ego narrative of self and Western civilization.15

Correcting the Horrors of the Leaking Body: Repudiation of the Body While the introductory passage from the novel highlights Alfred’s secretions in his studio, in later passages the family patriarch known as “the governing force” finds that his ailing body causes him to reflect on times when he had utmost control of body and mind. He recalls with longing those points in his life when he had successfully renounced bodily desires and when he had shown himself to be an ideal man who had repressed excessive longings and inappropriate imagined or actual ejaculations of the excremental self in favor of dedicating his body and his subject to virtuous and productive labor as assistant chief engineer at Midland Pacific, a regional railroad company. In charge of assessing railroad structures, Alfred recognizes in his reflections on his past career the importance of a solid foundation for the movement of civilized progress; without a “sturdy track” he knows the train to be “ten thousand tons of ungovernable nothing.” For Alfred, the “will was in the track” (242). As a young man, he viewed the track as an unsubtle metaphor for his powerful will—“his moral vitality”—that had kept him on the straight and narrow as a hard-working, no-nonsense laborer. Because of his will, Alfred is able to erect his masculinity by “standing no-handedly on high narrow ledges, … working ten to twelve hours without a break, and cataloguing the eastern railroads effeminacies” (243, 244). In contrast to the generation of “easy-going” men who surrounded him on the railroad, Alfred recollects that he was a man who took pride in “commitment to maintaining quality service,” to connecting “a thousand towns and small cities across the central tier of states” (243). The laissez-­ faire workers whom he remembers idling on the track are representative of



an “effeminate” turn in men of his generation who could “smoke cigarettes with insinuating relish while a once-solid railroad fell to pieces all around them…[and who could ignore] the filth they worked in” (243). More of a man than these “effeminate” and “worthless” fellows, Alfred believes in the importance of sublimating excessive desire and committing to the progress of the nation, which can only be achieved by men who have “discipline” (244). One sign of the failing nation that he encounters on his travels as engineer is the motel neighbors “who fornicat[e] like there was no tomorrow” (244). Laying awake and listening to the sounds of “thudding and groaning,” Alfred blames “God for allowing such people to exist,” “democracy for inflicting such people” upon him, and “humanity for insensitivity” toward a man, such as himself, who has renounced excess in favor of right labor (244). Seemingly taunted at every turn, Alfred does recognize “how the world [seems] bent on torturing the man of virtue,” and still finds “power” in his ability “to refuse” libidinal delights, to claim that “no man worked harder than he”—“no man was more of a man” than he—in the refusal to succumb to the undisciplined effeminacy of the age (245, 244). In his reflections on past labor, Alfred understands the effeminacy of other men as an embrace of excess, a celebration of porousness. While the men whom he encounters on the road “loaf and invite” their weary soles to rest rather than powering through the day’s labor, they affirm a relationship to the body and the world that signals an acceptance of undisciplined bodily movement. Ignoring the decomposing railroad track in front of their eyes, these “easy going” men seem unnerved by the potential erosion of civilized commerce and at peace with the decomposing “will” of the track as it is battered by the pull of worldly entropy. Their pleasure in loafing around the line speaks to complacency in the face of the need for vigilance in the name of progress over the pressing mouth of a world bent on consuming human structures and folding them back into soil. Worse, for Alfred, are the women who litter the small towns and depots along the track and whom he imagines to lure traveling men like himself from the labor of the day. One particular memory of his travels along the line haunts him: a group of “varsity cheerleaders [doing] the splits on the ball field … the blondest girl actually bouncing a little at the very bottom of her split, as if she had to kiss the cleat-chewed sod with her cotton-clad vulva, and the caboose rocking saucily as the train finally receded up the tracks” (245). Here, Alfred seethes at the sinful splendor of a young woman seductively slapping herself against the ground where



young men labor at sport, besmirching the productively “cleat-chewed” lawn with a labial smooch that threatens to take the men off track. Sodden panties also signal a ruinous relationship to soil; rather than labor in marking the field in competitive display of manly vigor, the cheerleader’s movements suggest a different relationship to earth that involves rolling in filth, rather than over it. In such a world of rampant temptation to relax from labor for progress or to indulge in bodily satisfaction, Alfred finds himself “tortured” by nightmare visions of succubae come to suck him off the track of righteousness; yet, while others might enjoy the pleasures of worldly embodiment, he stays the course of the sublimation of bodily life, refusing even masturbation in the face of erotic dreams, cleaning up the “scalding nothing” of wet dreams, and triumphing in the fact that he did not manually aid the phantasmal temptresses in their nighttime visitations (245). The recollections of his triumph in his career and success in the rigid formation of an—almost!—un-leaking masculine subjectivity appear prior to a scene in which Alfred experiences another kind of aggressive nocturnal emission—“a sociopathic turd, a loose stool, a motormouth”—while on a Nordic Pleasurelines Cruise with his wife (280). Thus, memories of his industrious labor occur after the retirees have set sail to enjoy the fruits of his labor and careful monetary investment, but Alfred’s progressing disease makes it difficult for him to relax into retirement. Instead, his nocturnal emissions suggest that housed within his own body is the effeminacy that he cursed in other men, a porousness that he abhorred in women, a more hated “scalding nothing” that reeks of uncontrolled and misplaced bodily excess. In his retirement as in his youth, Alfred believes that masculine identity and subject formation depend on the appropriate and perpetual “disappearance” of waste in order to maintain a cohesive identity. By understanding Alfred’s strict cultivation of masculine subjectivity dedicated to hard labor and abnegation of useless pleasures while a younger man, readers are better able to see why disease—especially one that results in uncontrollable bowel movements—inspires pathos in Alfred. When he awakens to the aforementioned fecal escapee, he hallucinates a philosophical battle with the vexingly vocal excremental self as the turd reminds Alfred of his nether regions with an aggressive whisper: “Psst! Asshole!” (280) Rising in fear, Alfred glimpses a small animal, a mouse, scurr[ying] in the layered shadows at the foot of Enid’s bed. For a moment it seemed to Alfred that the whole floor consisted



of scurrying corpuscles. The mice resolved themselves into a single more forward mouse, a horrible mouse, squishable pellets of excreta, habits of gnawing, heedless peeings. (280–281)

At first, Alfred cannot admit that the filth that he encounters comes from his own body and instead imagines his bodily waste to be vermin that disrupt order, gnaw at structures, and roam willy-nilly. Yet, he quickly realizes that feces emerging from his own body prey upon him. His disobedient bowels counter the ordered subject of his adulthood and return him to the status of an infant, producing excreta without care for an appropriate receptacle. The turd taunts Alfred by honing in on his uncooperative “asshole,” a name repeated throughout the scene. When Alfred asks “who is there?,” the turd delights in base humor by responding “Urine trouble now.” The taunt is both a threat—“you are in trouble now”—but also is a reminder of Alfred’s problem with urinary incontinence. After he asks it to leave, the turd remarks, “Splat chance of that, fella” and proceeds to outline his attack on Alfred: “Gonna get in your clothes and touch the upholstery. Gonna smear and leave a trail. Gonna stink so bad” (282). With the turd promising to mar his flesh and befoul his clothes and linens, Alfred resorts to reason and attempts to correct the turd’s behavior and to invite him to leap into the toilet, the place where he belongs. Alfred whines, “Why? Why? Why would you do such a thing?… Civilization depends upon restraint” (282–283). To which the turd responds, Because it’s right for me…. It’s who I am. Put somebody else’s comfort ahead of my own? Go hop in a toilet to spare somebody else’s feelings? That’s the kinda thing you do, fella…. Me personally, I am opposed to all strictures. If you feel it, let it rip. If you want it, go for it. Civilization? Overrated. I ask you what’s it ever done for me? Flushed me down the toilet! Treated me like shit! (282–283)16

In his conversation with the excremental self, Alfred becomes an unwilling Freudian child, unable to perform a waste-free subjectivity and yet immersed in the knowledge that upstanding men and the civilization that they inhabit require a release of connection to organic filth, the careful cultivation of the fiction of a body without (ass)holes. Franzen’s vibrant passage evokes a retiree’s horror at the body that threatens to become the waste that the ego has excreted in order to form a stable, coherent narrative of self. As Julia Kristeva notes in Powers of



Horror: An Essay on Abjection, “Excrement and its equivalents (decay, infection, disease, corpse, etc.) stand for the danger to identity that comes from without: the ego threatened by the non-ego, society threatened by its outside, life by death.”17 Although we might follow Kristeva in the delineation of a contemporary suburban subject who consistently battles excrement, Freud reminds us of an original desire for play in the excess of the body. Even if Alfred has moved past what Freud imagines in Civilization and Its Discontents to inspire an initial “convulsion” or ecstasy of being in anality, he still retains a forbidden desire to unite with his excrement; the threat of the speaking turd, for Alfred, is the possibility that he might be convinced “to let it fly,” to reveal a denied desire and pleasure in the body’s wild deviation from control (285). The turd reflects the aimlessness of the “easy going” effeminate men that Alfred so despised in his work on the railroad as well as the bouncing exuberance of women whom he images to be prone to useless pleasures outside of reproductive mandate. While Alfred reveals a commitment to restraint, the turd represents his body released from “organic repression” and returned to the status of the Freudian child. In his discussion of the cleanliness of the adult and the lack of organic repression in the child, Freud writes, The incitement to cleanliness originates in an urge to get rid of the excreta, which have become disagreeable to the sense perceptions. We know that in the nursery things are different. The excreta arouse no disgust in children. They seem valuable to them as being a part of their own body which has come away from it. Here upbringing insists with special energy on hastening the course of development which lies ahead, and which should make the excreta worthless, disgusting, abhorrent and abominable.… Anal erotism, therefore, succumbs in the first instance to the organic repression which paved the way to civilization.18

Alfred’s fear of the speaking turd points toward an anxiety about those bodies—mice—for whom excretion is not abhorrent, but instead a value neutral process of the body. Through the conversation with the turd, Alfred re-imagines “squishable pellets of excreta” and “heedless peeings” as value-laden experiences of anal erotism, a kind of delight in the movement of the bowels and the resultant decay. The turd, therefore, speaks in favor of the “valuable” experience of pleasure in release and thus counters Alfred’s commitment to the on-going control of the flesh. Because the speaking turd has come from his own body, Alfred highlights an organic



repression of the flesh and reveals a separation of the subject from the body that cannot be restrained. Civilization supports the organic repression by creating systems of sanitary engineering, which maintain the fantasy of the erasure of waste and assure the denial of the body. When the turd complains about being “flushed down the toilet” and being “treated like shit,” he suggests that child development mimics civic development in the denial of the value of excreta and the erasure of worthless pleasures. With his focus on restraint, Alfred confronts the turd as an adult corrects a child, calling the wandering excreta toward the cleansing waters of the toilet. The turd, like Freud’s polymorphously perverse child, stands in opposition to the rigidly anal structures imposed by civilization. It states “tightasses like you been correcting every fucking word out of my mouth since I was yay big. You and all the fascist schoolteachers and Nazi cops” (283). To have a “tight ass”—to be a controlled subject—requires letting go of the possible pleasures of excretion and behaving in a consistent manner that denies bodily unraveling as well as bodily pleasure. The turd, on the contrary, asks Alfred to remember a time when he was “yay big,” and experienced enjoyment in the loosening of the bowels, which, in the turd’s account, is forgotten as the child acquiesces to regulating parents and normative teachers. Thus, the turd suggests that the infant and child know something important about the flesh that the adult Alfred chooses to forget: pleasure in the holes of the body. In Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, he argues that individuals must sublimate an original pleasure in the porous nature of the body and in the immensity of worldly stimulus that overpowers the burgeoning subjectivity.19 His development of the concept of polymorphous perversity asserts that every infant begins life with an overwhelming sensitivity to earthly stimulus where any touch from the outside or any movement on the inside of the body, such as the bowel movement, may be felt as erotic: “Any other part of the skin or mucous membrane can take over the function of an erotogenic zone, and must therefore have some aptitude in that direction.”20 A Freudian reading of this scene shows that although the child experiences pleasure from the movement of waste through the body, the caretaker’s impulse is to condition the child to “forget” a polymorphous perversity and to focus instead on the cultivation of pleasure in the experience of corporeal wholeness. For the turd, here, the parents and teachers call for the regulation of the body and the denial of anal erotism. As Freud writes, “The retention of the fecal mass … is thus carried out intentionally by the child to begin with, in order to serve, as it



were, as a masturbatory stimulus upon the anal zone or to be employed in his relation to the people looking after him.”21 The child’s first experiences with loss from the body involve a pleasure in the sensation of the body that falls apart. By playing with this waste, holding it in, and delighting in the pressure before release, the child refuses entrance into the fiction of corporeal wholeness. By giving up excrement to the desiring parent and witnessing the caretaker’s joy and repulsion in receipt of this gift, the child enters the process that Freud calls “the damming up” of an original pleasure in the porous nature of the flesh. This then, for Freud, is the child’s first sublimation: the gift of a perverse enjoyment in the body that reveals rot for the pleasure of the fiction of a body without a hole, maintained through the caretaker’s quick disposal of excrement. For the turd as psychoanalytic thinker, it is the regulating parent and teacher that inspire the child’s aggression in their mandate to stop playing with his own waste, to place it in the appropriate receptacle, and to differentiate the self from the organic excess. Still, the turd misses something important about Alfred’s fear of excrement: his association of filth with death. Alfred’s connection of excrement to gnawing mice and scurrying corpuscles recalls an earlier scene in the novel in which Alfred associates his unraveling body and mind with an opossum carcass, teeming with hungry insects (11). Thus, for Alfred, the “rectum is a grave.”22 As the turd begins to “roll and tumble on his pillow, spreading a shiny greenish-brown film with little lumps and fibers in it, leaving white creases and hollows where the fabric was bunched,” Alfred “cover[s] his nose and mouth with his hands to mitigate the stench and horror” (282). Still, his “horror” revolves around not only the filth of his body, but also the “tickling mouselike feet” of the turd that later dance across his upper thigh, which are reminiscent of the “black ants” charging over and through the carcass of the opossum (11). Excreta thus signals the ultimate end of the body in death. In Brown’s account, organic repression is not so much an infantile response to interaction with parental figures as it is a result of infantile anxiety about the loss of bodily pleasure, the separation from that which brings pleasure and thus the experience of a kind of death. He writes in the fourth section of Life Against Death, “Studies in Anality,” The death instinct is the core of the human neurosis. It begins with the human infant’s incapacity to accept separation from the mother, that separation which confers individual life on all living organisms and which in all



living organisms at the same time leads to death. It is in the nature of finite things, says Hegel, that the hour of their birth is the hour of their death. Hence the incapacity of the human species to die, and therefore to live, begins at birth, in what psychoanalysis calls the birth trauma. Thus the Platonic argument for immortality really amounts to a denial that we were ever born. Humanity is that species of animal that cannot die.23

Here, the infant’s experience of polymorphous perversity is connected to the loss of that pleasure, the denial of pleasure in the experience of separation from the material substance that brings enjoyment. To be separate from the body of the mother and to lose the pleasures of the excremental self counters the burgeoning ego’s desire for endless connection to the world. Disconnection from the excremental self and mother creates a double association of the body with the delights of the flesh and also the painful loss of pleasure. For Brown, the loss of continuous bodily pleasure leads to infantile fantasies of a “narcissistically contained and self-­ replenishing immortal body,” a body that would not fall apart or decompose.24 In Brown’s account, the fantasy of a self without loss involves a repudiation of the full body, which daily hints at the dissolution of self. The experience of losing the excremental self animates a: narcissistic project of becoming father of oneself [that] is at the deepest level the result of [an] incapacity to accept death which is also the incapacity to live. All sublimation as such presupposes repudiation (negation) of the body. The repudiation of the body does not alter the fact that life in the body is all we have, and the unconscious holds fast to the truth and never makes the repudiation.… Hence the net effects of the ego’s repudiation of bodily life can only be the diversion of bodily Eros from the natural task of sustaining life of the body to the unnatural task of constructing death-in-life for the body. Thus the morbid attempt to get away from the body can only result in a morbid fascination (erotic cathexis) in the death of the body. In the simple and true, because bodily, language of the unconscious, Eros can be deflected from the life of the body only by being deflected onto the excremental function.25

Here, Brown outlines the loss of anal pleasure produced by excretion as a constant reminder to the infant of the inevitable end to pleasure; the movement of the excremental self outside of the body enacts the movement of the full bodily self toward dead matter. To lose the excremental



self repeatedly signals an ultimate loss of the body that provides pleasure. Thus, the ego turns with aggression toward that flesh which erodes. The fantasy of fathering oneself is the fantasy of a subject never threatened by loss or death, a subject that never has to give up the source of pleasure. The physical body opposes this fantasy, as continued excretion attests, and the child continues to develop in line with the fantasy of corporeal wholeness by sublimating the knowledge of his own erosion through a repudiation of the body. As Brown notes, the child attempts to rise above the endless loss of self and comes to equate the full body with “excrement,” that organic dead matter that marks his decomposition. While the regulating parent may teach the child how to cleanse the self of waste and how to make the organic rot of the self disappear, the battle against excreta stems from an earlier problem with ego formation, in which the ego refuses the body that falls apart and that challenges the fantasy of an immortal self that can never erode, never be lost.26 Alfred has constructed his masculine identity through the “diversion of bodily Eros from the natural task of sustaining life of the body to the unnatural task of constructing death-in-life for the body”; he recognizes his successful career to be a triumph in avoiding the lure of the body and in transcending the degrading eruptions of the excremental self. To accept bodily life is to encounter the “sinister decay” of self, “a twilight of corpuscularity” in the molecular unraveling of the body (11). To avoid the pleasures of the body—to repudiate the full body—is connected to rising above the death of the subject, to creating an impenetrable masculine subject free from becoming wasted earth. Through his conversation with the motormouth stool, readers encounter the tragedy of a man who refuses to succumb to bodily delights in the belief that his virtue would be rewarded with a subjectivity that could not erode. Readers also encounter the tragedy of a man who has renounced bodily pleasure throughout his life, refused the ecstatic erosion of self, and yet secretly longs to renounce the subject’s imprisonment away from fleshy delight in imagined immortal impenetrability. Alfred cannot see in the turd’s oration a way to return to the pleasures of bodily life that he has so long renounced. Faced with the horrors of his bodily erosion, he seals himself further away from the body and turns with greater vigilance to impose order on the disorderly flesh. Faced with the body that disallows the repression of the organic self, Alfred comes to understand the problem of his own waste as representative of civilization’s attempts to order the chaotic world that threatens to erode human transcendence from matter. Thus, his hallucination shifts



from the personal problem of maintaining “death-in-life” of the body to white America’s struggle with human threats to “civilized” movement. The next section explores how he turns with hatred to those human others whom he imagines to be in league with the turd, whom he imagines to befoul white men’s attempts to create order, to erase excess, and to labor in the creation of civic spaces cleansed of the wastes of bodily life.

Whiteness and Turdish Rebels: The Imagined Excessive Bodily Enjoyment of Racial and Ethnic Others While Alfred’s opening conversation with the speaking turd revolves around a shameful personal failure to erase his connection to the decaying body, he finds himself empowered in his battle against excreta when he comes to see the turd as representative of racially marked and ethnic others who he believes threaten “productive” citizens like himself. In his later conversation with the hallucinated turd, his rage at the intrusion of his excremental self calls him to assert the power of civil society to eradicate filth. Unable to claim his own dissolution, he imagines the turd to represent not only threats to his own ego-narrative of cleansed subjectivity but also to ordered society; convicts as well as racialized and ethnic others come to stand for an enjoyment of deviant sexual expression that he has denied in order to be an upstanding member of civilization. While he attempts to “trap the turd inside the fabric of his pajamas,” Alfred “suddenly underst[ands] that the turd [is] an escaped convict, a piece of human refuse that belonged in jail. That this was what jail was for: people who believed that they, rather than society, made the rules. And if jail did not deter them, they deserved death! Death!” (283) As the masculine subject cannot recognize waste that challenges his identity, he pushes excess out from the self and toward a fantasized undesirable human element. The drippings from his body flow from his anal orifice and metaphorically slide down the bodies of those deemed worthless, as the turd notes, Seems to me…you anal retentive types want everything in jail… Negroes (sore topic Fred?), I’m hearing rambunctious shouting and interesting grammar, I’m smelling liquor of the malt variety and sweat that’s very rich and scalpy, and all that dancing and whoopee-making and singers that coo like body parts wetted with saliva and special jellies: what’s jail for if not to toss a Negro in it?… Slam the cell door, eat the key. And the Chinese, man,



those creepy-ass weird-name vegetables like home-grown dildos somebody forgot to wash after using … and pork bung, by which we’re referring here to the anus of a swine … What say we just nuke a billion point two of ‘em, hey? Clean that part of the world up already…. Hey, funny thing, Fred, the only people that don’t belong in your jail are upper-middle-class northern European men. (284–285)27

The excremental figment of Alfred’s phobic imagination reveals to the reader the absolute importance of controlling the elimination of the excess of the body. In tandem with the desire to cleanse the self of the proof of excess by burying it in underground sewage systems or by projecting it onto the bodies of others is the desire to cleanse the suburban space and national body of those who wear that excess like a coat of paint. For Alfred, the African American body and the Chinese body are marked by those characteristics that Alfred longs to slough off from himself, including sexual desire and excretion. “Negroes” are associated with saliva, wet body parts, and sweat while the “Chinese” are tied to the anus: “creepy-asses, dildos, and the anus of a swine.” As his body hints at his personal perpetual decomposition, Alfred quickly turns to mark the bodies of Others as deviant and to imagine the “correct” placement of those bodies within jail cells or beneath the ground. Alfred uses his excrement, the excess of his fantasized cohesive and clean identity, to paint racial difference on the bodies of others. For Alfred, white men are distinguished from others by the renunciation of anality and the abnegation of full bodily pleasure. Thus, his hatred for racial others stems from a fantasy that they are enjoying the body that he has renounced. As Marxist psychoanalytic thinker Guy Hocquenghem writes: [T]he repression of the desiring function of the anus … is the precondition for their [man’s] playing an important role, for preserving their “goods” (in the legal sense), their property, their individuality and their anal cleanliness. Control of the anus is the precondition of taking responsibility for property. The ability to “hold back” or to evacuate faeces is the necessary moment of the constitution of the self. “To forget oneself” is the most ridiculous and distressing kind of social accident there is, the ultimate outrage to the human person. In contemporary society, total degradation is to live in one’s own waste, which only prison or the concentration camp can force us to do. “To forget oneself” is to risk joining up, through the flux of excrement, with the



non-differentiation of desire. Homosexuality is connected with the anus, and anality with civilization.28

Alfred’s consistent association of the anus with racially marked others allows for an extension of Hocquenghem’s argument. Because Alfred constructs his white masculinity through repression of his excremental nature, he feels the “total degradation” of his illness that disallows him to control the release of excess. His struggle to master the “control of the anus” incites a flurry of racism as he pushes his lack of control of the anus onto communities of color. Thus, Franzen uses comedy to show the white bourgeoise’s obsession with dividing bodies into racial categories based upon fantasies of cleanliness and filth; while Alfred imagines that he is a subject who is not an excremental body, he demarcates others under the flag of rampant enjoyment of filth and further uses these fantasies to imagine violence toward those assumed to be more closely tied to the excremental body. Further, in Alfred’s hallucination of the speaking turd, he is haunted by bodily fulfillment that he imagines racial and foreign others to enjoy as he both abhors and longs for the salty sweat secreted when dancing cheek to cheek as well as the stimulation of the alluring desiring and desirable anus. Because he advocates for libidinal pleasures, the turd alludes to white civilization’s imagined difference from people or cultures designated as “primitive,” “undeveloped,” or “ass backward” (282).29 Returning to Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, we can trace a similar fantasy of a mythic primal man, who delights in the porousness of the body and the useless wastes of the organic world. Here, Freud posits a primal man who roots around in the world, celebrating the smells of his flesh and his bodily penetration by the world. Freud imagines a renunciation of the body upon the adoption of up-right posture and the assumption of repugnance in the filth of the flesh and horror in the passive acceptance of worldly penetration. Leo Bersani notes the tension in Freud’s work between imagined civilized subjects and the primal man in that [O]ur sexuality fell when we stood up. Both anal eroticism and olfactory stimulation were subjected to what Freud calls ‘organic repression’ (21:100); the result of this ‘repression’ is our horror of excrement and, at least according to Freud, a repugnance at sex, a shame provoked in us by our genitals and a disgust at genital odors which is so strong in many people that it ‘spoils sexual intercourse for them.’ And what a loss this was! By the end of



the last footnote in chapter 4, Freud has transformed man’s depreciation of the sense of smell in sex into the repression of “the whole of his sexuality.”30

In Alfred’s call for the death to all excremental bodies, he reveals the active projection of the excremental self out into the world and imagines bombarding threatening bodies with the waste that he cannot accept within himself. Sublimating his own connection to the decomposing body, he sees in the world and in racialized others an ominous return of what he has repressed. Still, he aligns his repudiation of the defecating body with the project of society and maintains a conviction that civilization is the fight for (immortal) life against the death offered by the world and human Others who, like Freud’s primal man, are imagined to enjoy the leaking and penetrated flesh. Individuals as members of civilization are “bummed out” by letting go of their own excess, as Bersani notes: “And if we push the analogy a bit further, we will have the extremely peculiar image … of civilization unhappy, like the individual, about its instinctual renunciations.”31 Alfred fantasizes the Other is out there enjoying the “flux of excrement,” the wetness of the body, and the push of the turd; correction involves an annihilation of the pleasure of the Other by making that excessive “shit” work for progress over the organic world or face annihilation. Yet, even in his repudiation of the body, Alfred does unconsciously long for a return of the perverse sexuality of the child’s body and the imagined “erotic exuberance” of the primal man denied by the civilized subject. Thus, he exhibits a “mixture of love and hate, an attitude appropriate only toward excrement, and appropriate to excrement only in an animal that has lost his body and life.”32 There is no joy for Alfred in becoming a roiling pig, drenched in the warm, fragrant reminder of his body as organic matter for he, like Freud’s polymorphously perverse child, has given the gift of excrement to the normalizing parent and thus bought his way into civilized society.33 Drawing on Freudian theories that becoming human requires a differentiation between “natural,” organic matter and the civilized subject who successfully flings excess away from the self, Franzen reveals the violence of both white masculinity and Western civilization. Undermining discussions of universal subject development, he utilizes Alfred to show how the white subject first maintains an ego-identity by cleansing and negating the body that threatens the fantasy of a cohesive and immortal self. Second, as Alfred negates his connection to filth, he attempts to “subdue” or “jail” his own excreta in the body of an Other thereby participating in



anal-sadism specific to white masculinity. Brown defines anal-sadism as a secondary stage to the repudiation of the body by the infantile ego as the child formulates “the grandiose project of the pure pleasure-ego, the dream of union with the world in love and pleasure. But the construction of the pure pleasure-ego is achieved by inaugurating the first repression, which takes the form of repudiating the external world and projecting out into the repudiated external world anything painful—that is to say, denying its existence.”34 As mentioned above, Brown highlights the passive infant’s terror in separation from matter that brings pleasure (the breast and excreta) that leads to a negation of the full body and the fantasy of a self-replenishing subject. The anal sadistic stage involves a movement from passive acceptance of loss to aggression toward that which offers the death of pleasure. He writes, But this obsessional commitment to transform passivity into activity is aggressiveness. Freud always recognized that aggressiveness originated at this stage (hence the label, anal-sadistic). He comes close to recognizing that it is at this stage, by the transformation of passivity into activity, that the fateful extroversion of the death instinct outward onto the world in the form of aggression takes place.35

The fantasized threat that African Americans, the Chinese, and racial and ethnic Others such as those from the Caribbean, France, and the Mediterranean pose to white American civilization is their association with passive acceptance of the pleasures of bodily porousness. The anal character of Alfred’s sadism—his desire to imprison or to destroy racially marked bodies—stems from a subject who cannot acknowledge the passive manner in which his body erodes or in which the world will push into his flesh, taking him apart in death. As he forfeits the body, he seeks to punish those who are marked as wasteful by cultural stereotypes, those who are believed to enjoy the pleasures of the body denied in the erection of white subjectivity. Further, individual aggression maps out into the logic of civilization that fights the decomposition offered by the world. This is not to suggest that racially marked bodies are primitive or that they exhibit a heightened sexual pleasure in anality. Rather, the turd’s critique of Alfred’s racism and xenophobia shows how racially marked bodies are imagined to enjoy an alternative bodily schemata in which the body is not renounced and in which worldly penetration may be enjoyed. In the turd’s account, white Americans, like Alfred, enact the anal sadism of the individual in order to



socially engineer the fantasy of a subject free from bodily life and to project such excessive bodily life onto racially marked subjects; fantasies of racial difference fuel anal sadism toward those demarcated as abject as white subjects like Alfred seek to (sanitarily) engineer the cleansing of the national body through the imprisonment or elimination of those who are imagined to accept passive decomposition in the form of unproductive sexuality. Although Alfred does not express a religious fervor, per se, for him, the turd is the spokesman for a worldly devil and racially marked and ethnic others the fantasized bodily worshippers who promote his dominion. Because Alfred’s excretory revelation about the aims of “human refuse” to pull white subjects into a celebration of leaking bodily sexuality, his insights compare with Martin Luther’s thoughts about God’s justice while enthroned on the tower privy of the Wittenberg monastery.36 Franzen’s interrogation of white suburban masculinity inspired by the cultural Lutheranism of his youth suggests the relevance of Brown’s reading of the excremental visions of Martin Luther and his infamous imaginings of the devil in fecal form.37 For Luther, like Alfred, evil is a turdish devil that is “materialized anality.” As Brown notes, “the Devil [for Luther] consists not only of anal smells but anal sights; twice at least Luther was assaulted by an apparition of the Devil ‘showing him his posterior.’ And, as passages too numerous to cite show, Luther’s most general word for the assaults of the Devil is the homely German verb bescheissen [to excrete].”38 In Brown’s account of Luther’s “critical religious experience” in the privy, Luther awakens to the ultimate alienation of the human subject from God as the “horrible stench” of the body releasing waste is a sign of humanity’s imprisonment in the “temple of the Devil.”39 The smell of excretion for Luther is proof of the Devil’s inhabitance in the body of the Christian subject. Yet, Christianity consists in Luther’s account of an inward grace that fuels the subject’s endurance of the tragedy—and the scent!—of the decomposing body as he waits for God to lead him into death of the body so that the spiritual subject will transcend from worldly decay, the flesh, and death.40 Even as the subject must endure the horrors of bodily decay, he might come to recognize bodily life as the realm of Satan, to realize that nothing is redeemable about bodily life until, through death, the subject might rise away from worldly decomposition into spiritual transcendence from the Devil’s realm. For example, Brown recounts Luther’s theological lesson about how to relate to the devil inside oneself



in the form of fecal matter by imagining the “proper answer to the Devil given by a monk sitting on the privy”: Deo quod supra Tibi quod cadit infra.41

This passage describes the correct Christian relationship to the body in which the subject splits the self from the excremental body or splits “the spirit that belongs to Christ” from the stench of the “flesh that belongs to the Devil.”42 There is a kinship in Luther’s philosophical understanding of the excremental Satan and Alfred’s excremental vision, even as it is shaped by racism of twentieth-century America that inspired movement to suburban enclaves. For Alfred, like Luther, the flesh is that which the righteous subject endures, but does not claim. While Alfred’s anal sadism allows him to excrete all that which white subjectivity cannot contain in the construction of imagined racial difference, he also turns with linguistic venom to indict those whom he believes to enjoy the flesh that should be denied. The imagined bodily schemata of various Others is an affront to white America for they, like Luther’s Devil, revel in worldly flesh and delight in anality. It is important to note that Alfred does not, like Luther, believe in a God who might move him through death of the body to transcendence of the spirit. In fact, Alfred holds that humanity should work toward the erasure of the foul flesh. For him, it is the goal of civilization—and the engineer in particular—to confront the organic excesses of the body and the organic world itself with a desire to make bodily waste disappear and to control other types of threatening organic matter. As the body threatens Alfred’s desired subjective transcendence, so too, the organic world is possessed by the desire to erode his difference from base matter. The world, in other words, threatens to make shit of man in death. What makes racially marked Others so troubling for Alfred is both his fantasy of their pleasure in ecstatic excremental expulsion and their assumed alternative relationship to the world itself, a delight in worldly entropy that threatens civil society. Alfred also fears that they might be subjects for whom worldly frottage, and perhaps death itself, is an ecstatic acceptance of descending back into nature. Thus, racial Others are seen as in league with the world in erasing the fictional transcendence of the white masculine subject from body and earthly home.



Alfred does not turn to God for salvation from his “human refuse,” but instead follows his excremental vision about internal and external human threats to the national body by turning to his past career within the brotherhood of engineers who “with the help of a technique guided by science [go] over to the attack against nature” and attempt to “subject her to the human will.” Having moved through contemplation of social engineering of the turd’s minions—imprisonment or extermination—he still is faced with the problem of the human death supplied by the world. As the turd dissolves into a militia of “turdish rebels” who come to overtake the white subject, Alfred places his faith in civilized science—not spiritual transcendence—as the key to unraveling the human connection to organic death and eliminating the human connection to the excremental threat of earth.

The Excremental Threat of Earth: Civilization Against Decomposition As the turd forces Alfred to confront his fears about passive bodily penetration, Alfred turns to thoughts about labor, as if interaction with the excreta from his body has somehow stained him, in ways that are similar to his fantasies about the celebration of anality within marginalized and foreign populations. Thus, Alfred’s thoughts about the social engineering of civic and national bodies turn back to a needed re-structuring of self, embodied by his past career.43 As the turd ruptures and dissolves into “a squadron of feces,” Alfred attempts to “hold things together” by moving toward the toilet of his cabin. Here, “the science of cleanliness, a science of looks, a science even of excretion as evidenced by the outsized Swiss porcelain eggcup of a toilet, a regally pedestaled thing with finely knurled levers of control,” allow him “to collect himself to the point of understanding that the turdish rebels were figments, that to some extent he had been dreaming, and that the source of his anxiety was simply a drainage problem” (286). Alfred resolves to commit his body to the science of sanitary engineering, which in his account has solved the problem of drainage and offered the mechanisms by which the soil of self might always and only flow away from the subject. While attempting to control the fantastic speaking excrement by slipping into a diaper, his hallucination leads him back to the office: With fifty years of experience as an engineer he could see at a glance that the emergency contractor had botched the job. One of the diapers was twisted



nearly inside out and a second had a mildly spastic leg sticking through two of its plies, leaving most of its absorptive capacity unrealized in a folded mass, its adhesive stickers adhering to nothing. Alfred shook his head. He couldn’t blame the contractor. The fault was his own. Never should have undertaken a job like this under conditions like these. (287)

As he refuses to blame the maker of the adult diaper, Alfred determines that the problem lies with him, the engineer in charge of regulating the flow of excess in the construction of a “useful” and productive subject. The fantasy of the speaking turd moves into the realm of labor where each suburban subject is the director of corrections in the battle against leaking bodies. Giving up the fight with the diaper, Alfred notices [A] slight depression in the shower stall. Yes, in fact, a preexisting culvert, maybe some old DOT road-building project that never got off the ground, maybe the Army Corps was involved somehow. One of those midnight serendipities: a real culvert. Still, he was looking at a hell of an engineering problem to relocate the operation to take advantage of the culvert…. Think of the Dutch with their Delta Project. Forty years battling the sea. Put things in perspective a little. (288)

Because Alfred cannot capture his excrement within the jail of plastic and tape, he turns to the shower stall for its ability to rinse distasteful excess from the body. The goal of sanitary engineering is revealed to be the triumph over organic matter, which for Alfred is the true goal of civilization: to separate the whole subject from his connection to filth and to make the chaos of the world (represented by the sea) behave. The sea is associated with the excremental self as it threatens to consume cityscapes that posit human immunity from erosion and death. Battling the excremental self is linked not only to the struggle of the individual with the body or the projection of excess out onto bodies deemed excessive, but also to battling the entropic pull of the world. In Bersani’s analysis of Civilization and Its Discontents, he argues that civilization differentiates itself from nature by naming the chaotic wilderness as excess and further attempting to control base matter. Returning once again to Freud’s fantasy of a mythic “primal” man, Bersani reminds readers of a scene of the erect human urinating on fire, an “exciting phallic menace.”44 As he enjoys the power of the spray from his body to potentially dominate the warm spear of light and the return of said spear to



pleasurably penetrate his body with warmth or to consume his body in flame, Freud’s mythic man displays aggression toward the flame. For Freud, it is not until man can “subdue” the excreting flame and control its movements that civilization begins. In Bersani’s reading of the primal scene, “the precondition of civilization would have been not exactly the renunciation of homosexuality, but rather the renunciation of something like ‘a sexual act with a male,’ a form of symbolic homosexuality in which a competitive phallic power was experienced as pleasure.”45 Here, “something” refers to the movement of waste from the body and alludes to Freud’s early image of man as animal enjoying all the smells of the earth and his connectivity to it. Rather than giving oneself up to the power of worldly stimulus to push in and out of the body, civilization denies man’s pleasure as a receptacle of “natural” excess or as penetrated by the world. As Bersani notes, “Civilization in Freud, at least that aspect of it which he thinks of as a socialized superego, is merely a cultural metaphor for the psychic fulfillment in each of us of a narcissistically thrilling wish to destroy the world.”46 For Alfred, the ocean is as threatening as the excremental self because both remind the subject of his bodily undoing. “Civilization is an attempt to overcome death,” as Brown notes, and thus while the body is negated, so, too, the world must be renounced.47 Even though he is an army of one, Alfred connects his struggles with decomposition to the work of the Army Corps of Engineers and their work to drain death supplying natural threats from human monuments to progress. Like “the Dutch with their Delta Project,” Alfred longs to live in a civilized space where the world does not interfere with human compositions, where the sea does not endlessly lap at the shores of modern construction, promising an Atlantis-type death to civic spaces. Beneath the engineer’s death-­ defying attempts to order natural excess lies a longing to erase the world. Thus, Alfred’s call for “Death!” to all human refuse also is a call for the end to the organic threat posed by the ecosystems of which we are a part. Even as he desires to keep the world at bay, Alfred ultimately fails to overcome the excremental self and the turd—merging in his hallucinations with ocean—comes to claim his body. During a visit to the bathroom in the days following the nighttime encounter with the turd, the excremental self breaches “the last bulkhead” and comes to be seen in the light of day (329). In one of the cruise ship’s restrooms, Alfred flees from another excreter in an officer’s uniform and



enter[s] a stall … [to find] himself face to face with an ordure-strafed toilet which fortunately said nothing, merely stank. He exit[s] and tr[ies] the next stall, but here something [does] scurry on the floor—a mobile turd, ducking for cover—and he [doesn’t] dare enter. In the meantime, the officer [has] flushed, and as he turn[s] from his urinal Alfred recogniz[es] his blue cheeks and rose-tinted eyeglasses, his pudenda-pink lips. Hanging from his still-­ open zipper was twelve inches or more of the limp tan tubing. A yellow grin open[s] between his blue cheeks. He [says], “I left a little treasure in your bed, Mr. Lambert. To replace the one I took.” (329–330)

The turd becomes the excremental phallus of the world that pursues entrance into Alfred’s body. All twelve inches of the turd, like Freud’s phallic fecal flame, tip toward Alfred with a promise to give back the gift that Alfred has renounced. Recalling the child’s aggression toward the excremental self, the scene can be interpreted as the adult subject’s acknowledgment of the pleasure felt in the movement of excreta and the horror in the loss of the bodily substance that brings pleasure. The pleasurable excreta lost from the body strikes fear into the child’s ego that the body can fall apart, that the body will move toward death where the subject can no longer experience pleasure. In Brown’s formulation, the loss of the excremental self causes the burgeoning ego to renounce the flesh and to imagine a body free from decay. Still, the fantasy of the non-bodily self is confirmed only by denying association with excreta and erecting an ideal ego-narrative through repeated denials of the body; in other words, the subject must drain away the excremental self and further abnegate his porousness. When the turd states that he comes to give back what he took, he recalls the processes whereby the subject has constructed a tentative identity by differentiating himself from organic matter of the body. As the officer’s fecal phallus points its soiled head in his direction, Alfred recoils for he no longer acknowledges the pleasure of worldly penetration that the infant enjoys, but instead sees penetration as subjective and bodily death. As psychoanalytic queer theorist Tim Dean notes in Beyond Sexuality, To transpose Freudian into Lacanian terms, we can say that by using feces as both a sexual stimulus and a means of communication the child’s relation to shit involves l’objet petit a and le grand Autre—that is, anality entails both “big” and “little” others, the different modes of alterity that constitute the subject and his or her desire. But let us be more specific about what Freud is saying here [in the Three Essays]. His initial claim is that feces, by sexually



stimulating the anus, act like “another organ’—presumably the penis. From this we may deduce that the phallus is less a figure for the penis than, more fundamentally, a figure for the turd.48

The officer’s fecal penis upends the white masculine subjectivity that Alfred longs to create; he does not want to accept the possible decomposition of the hardened masculinity that he espouses nor the knowledge that this masculinity is a fiction built from the erasure of penetrability, the erasure of movement toward waste. If the phallus is a turd and if (white) men are just organic shit—no different from others in the maw of the entropic world who will consume all without care for fantasies of identity—then Alfred’s battles have all been for naught. If the excremental self is allowed to return—to press itself into holes of the up-standing subject—it brings with it the promise of both a renounced full bodily pleasure and death to the erection of white masculinity. Death, of course, is that upon which Alfred focuses. What he fears most about the fecal phallus is that it will eradicate his difference from other matter. This fear ties back to Brown’s analysis of the instability of (masculine) subjectivity encaged within the decomposing body. For Brown, the first loss of the excremental self is a type of castration in that excretion mimics the movement of the body toward soil. If the turd can be lost, so, too, can other sites of pleasure, including the vulnerable genitalia. The castration complex as a part of Freud’s Oedipal drama is an extension of the excremental loss as well as a refutation of dependence on the mother. As Brown notes, The proper starting point for a Freudian anthropology is the pre-Oedipal mother. What is given by nature, in the family, is the dependence of the child on the mother. Male domination must be grasped as a secondary formation, the product of the child’s revolt against the primal mother, bequeathed to adulthood and culture by the castration complex.49

It is not so much the challenge of the father that incites fear of castration, but instead the physical experience of the removal of that which brings pleasure. Dependence on the mother for sustenance, who at times denies the pleasures of her body, as well as the loss of excreta teach the child of its ultimate powerlessness in the world; yet, the ego denies dependence and refuses the loss of multiple pleasures by imagining a non-bodily subject, who cannot be penetrated nor castrated. Excrement denied becomes a



phallic threat that might come back into the subject and remind him of his penetrability, his status as mere organic shit. In Alfred’s hallucination, the turd also exhibits “pudenda lips,” which speak to a desire to enfold his flesh in a kind of labial life-extinguishing kiss. The smacking lips of the turd signal the primal mother come home to tongue his flesh and to reunite his body with soil, to remind him that “inter urinas et faeces nascimur” and to waste we will return. The collapse of the fecal phallus and pudenda is useful for an understanding of the white masculine subject who fears the ultimate femininity of death. As Kristeva notes, “The abject confronts us … with our earliest attempts to release the hold of the maternal entity.”50 In Alfred’s hallucination, the entropic world does exhibit labial folds that threaten to wrap around and consume him, thereby threatening his desired distinction from base matter. The “monstrous-feminine,” as Barbara Creed calls it, “constructed within/by a patriarchal and phallocentric ideology, is related intimately to the problem of sexual difference and castration.”51 Even though Alfred recognizes the turd as a terrible earthy mother that refuses sexual difference, his excremental vision also identifies the intersex genitalia of the turd with reference to the fecal phallus. In this way, the novel critiques the construction of normative white masculinity via the abjection of the maternal entity and the repression of bodily excess, both of which merge together in his hallucination with the organic threat of the world. After his encounter with the fecal phallus and labial loam, Alfred moves to the balcony of the ship and attempts to climb to the “top of the world.” Yet, from his perch, he is caught on a planet, where “no spot on the globe [is] safe” (331). Beneath him, he hears “a windbourne giggle” of sinister decay. Climbing out past the safety railings of the ship, he feels “the day world [float] on the night world and the night world [try] to swamp the day world” and knows that he has failed “to keep the day world watertight” (332). Feeling “shame and despair,” Alfred either slips and falls or leaps toward the ocean seeking death and the liberation of the subject from the degrading flesh. Alfred is saved from the watery grave and preserved by family members first in a hospital and later in an assisted living facility, Deepmire Home. Imprisoned in medical facilities, “the clarity to think and the power to act [are] still vivid” in Alfred’s memory: Through a window that [gives] onto the next world, he [can] still see the clarity and see the power, just out of reach, beyond the window’s thermal panes. He [can] see desired outcomes, the drowning at sea, the shotgun



blast, the plunge from a height, so near to him still that he refuse[s] to believe [he has] lost the opportunity to avail himself of their relief. (556)

As his unraveling body comes to deny the desires of the subject, Alfred longs for death, but only as the ultimate relief from the flesh that he longs to transcend. Looking out of the window of his hospital room, he ponders “the next world,” which, oddly, is the cityscape just beyond the panes. The other world offers the fantasy of human separation from entopic matter, the fantasy of human triumph over body and ecosystem. The heavenly expanse, the next world that he longs for, is the dream of a human civilization freed from decay, liberated from worldly entropy. In misery, Alfred moves toward the grave, cursing the deep mire of the flesh that refuses to allow him entry into civilized Eden devoid of the excremental self and triumphant over the cursed world. Scenes of battling the turd are not the only representation of the threat to the subject and civilization by the excremental world; in early passages, Alfred equates the experience of his illness with becoming food for insects and birds. Losing his place in a conversation with his wife who asks simply, “what [he] is doing,” Alfred expresses terror in his loss of the ability to navigate a response and begins to associate himself with an animal carcass. He fumbles through his conversation with Enid by first stating, “I am—” but … every sentence became an adventure in the woods; as soon as he could no longer see the light of the clearing from which he entered, he would realize that the crumbs he’d dropped for bearings had been eaten by birds, silent deft darting things which he couldn’t quite see in the darkness but which were so numerous and swarming in their hunger that it seemed as if they were the darkness, as if the darkness weren’t uniform, weren’t an absence of light but a teeming and corpuscular thing, and indeed when as a studious teenager he’d encountered the word ‘crepuscular’ in McKay’s Treasury of English Verse, the corpuscles of biology had bled into his understanding of the word, so for his entire adult life he’s seen in twilight a corpuscularity, as of the graininess of the high-speed film necessary for photography under conditions of low ambient light, as a kind of sinister decay. (11)

Alfred connects his lack of coherence to Hansel and Gretel’s abandonment in the woods beyond their father’s home; yet, in Alfred’s personal revision of the story, he turns the focus from a cannibalistic woman desirous of children’s bodies to hungry birds, devouring the bread crumbs that



might allow him to return to civil conversation. The birds become synonymous with the darkness of the world beyond the order of civilization. In the twilight of life, Alfred comes to understand a variety of species as crepuscular decay-loving beings, which see his body as little more than meat. Considering the self as prey, Alfred returns to his early biology classes and the study of cells and the self as organic matter.52 Yet, the study of the corpuscular self is infused with the terror of the body that comes undone, supporting other life through fertile decay. Instead, Alfred longs to project a self free from the processes of decomposition—a whole self without the promise of organic erosion—but even in his understanding of the photograph as an image that captures life without death, he falls into the contemplation of pixelization, where the larger image buries the proof of the graininess and the instability of the photographed self. Lost in the woods of language, Alfred only encounters “decay as [a] sinister” reminder of the connection of the body to the world “and hence the panic of a man betrayed deep in the woods whose darkness was the darkness of starlings blotting out the sunset or black ants storming a dead opossum, a darkness that didn’t just exist but actively consumed the bearings that he’d sensibly established for himself” (11). His feeling of betrayal is key, for Alfred sees the processes of decay as the body’s betrayal of the subject and the world’s treachery toward humanity in that his fleshy rot will be seen by other beings as no greater than the carcass of an opossum, no more valued than any other rotting corpse. This passage highlights the human horror at being wasted and becoming matter to be consumed, which environmental philosopher Val Plumwood describes as a difficulty with a “human supremacist culture” that celebrates man’s ability to master or control nature, but inability to fathom the human body as prey. She writes: It seems to me that in the human supremacist culture of the West there is a strong effort to deny that we humans are also animals positioned in the food chain.… Horror and outrage usually greet stories of other species eating humans. Even being nibbled by leeches, sandflies, and mosquitoes can stir various levels of hysteria. This concept of human identity positions humans outside and above the food chain, not as part of the feast in a chain of reciprocity but as external manipulators and masters of it: Animals can be our food, but we can never be their food.53



Plumwood highlights the fantasy of human separation from the food chain. Although she is not focused on the excremental self, she usefully points out a horror in the unraveling of the body signified by insect life, those tiny beings that remind humanity of our status as food. In Alfred’s contemplation of the opossum’s carcass, he experiences terror like that described by Plumwood in what he interprets as the violence of the world around him, the hunger of other beings for his flesh, while also exhibiting a hatred for decay itself. Lost in the woods, he asserts that an inability to order the human subject correctly, to wash the body clean of its excremental status, leads to the assumption of the status of prey. The “separate realm of culture” in which he longs to live would disallow for the erosion of human subjectivity and would allow for human life to conquer death. Unlike Hansel and Gretel, Alfred fears that for him there is no return to ordered civilization from the crepuscular position of the aged. Even as he struggles to hide his degradation from his wife, she inevitably sniffs out the incoherence of his thoughts and “berate[s] him” for his inept control of the body and mind by reminding him of how “wrong he [is]” (12, 565). Through these characters’ commitment to correcting unruly bodily movement and eliminating the entropic threat of earth, they reveal the construction of whiteness and the suburb to be a fight for “life against death,” civilization against decomposition.

The Conflicted Call for the Resurrection of the Body As Alfred moves toward death in the nursing home, he experiences himself as excess to the movement of civilization, as a wasted body that his children shuttle away from the productive activity of their lives. Thus, the comic horror of the turd in civilization’s treatment of excess becomes an experience that Alfred can now claim; he is “treated like shit,” “flushed” into a secure treatment facility where he awaits death. As his children continue on with their lives with rare returns to his bedside, Enid alone visits him daily. Yet her visits are not the sweet intrusions of a beloved friend offering solace and tenderness in the decline of body and mind, but instead attacks in which she reminds him of ways that they might have lived life differently or enjoyed each other more. In her trips to visit Alfred, Enid recalls that



[S]he’d felt Wrong all her life and now she had the chance to tell him how Wrong he was. Even as she was loosening up and becoming less critical in other areas of life, she remained strictly vigilant at the Deepmire Home. She had to come and tell Alfred that he was wrong to dribble ice cream on his clean, freshly pressed pants. He was wrong not to recognize Joe Person when Joe was nice enough to drop in. He was wrong not to look at snapshots of [grandchildren]. (565)

As the “governing force” loses the ability to manage life with his iron fist, Enid steps in to take over the job, to discipline her husband with the same vigilance that he brought to the maintenance of family life during his heyday. Enid treats him like a child who should come to learn how to behave with better care for clothing, to better recognize familial friends, and to better keep up with the developments within the family. Asserting a punitive maternal role with her husband, she visits “to correct him angrily,” as if disease was not the problem, but his will (565). Part of Enid’s final complaints with her husband revolve around the way that he consistently refused bodily life. Thus, Enid is not only a punishing maternal figure crouched bedside accusingly, but also a lover who bemoans her beloved’s choice of death-in-life for the body, ordered labor over excessive pleasure. For Enid, the tragedy of her husband’s decline is that the body has failed him before he learned to enjoy it. Beyond admonishing his lack of control, she also tells him [H]ow wrong [he’d been] not to love her more, how wrong not to cherish her and have sex at every opportunity, … how wrong to have spent so much time at work and so little with the children, how wrong to have been so negative, how wrong to have been so gloomy, how wrong to have run away from life, how wrong to have said no, again and again, instead of yes. (566)

Alfred’s choices in life are once again highlighted as a disciplined attack against the body and the world as he “said no again and again” to going off the track, to enjoying ecstatic pleasures in the touch of a lover, in the pleasure of worldly frottage. Even in the retirees’ cruise, Alfred only sees menacing entropy rather than the splendor of the body rocked by the world. In her final thoughts, she chastises her husband for abandoning life and renouncing the body even as she contradicts herself with a desire to correct the no longer vigorous flesh of her beloved.



These closing musings in a novel that chart the neuroses of the white masculine subject echo Brown’s understanding of the need for a “resurrected” or a “transfigured body.”54 Concerned with the increasing possibility of a neurotic and negating Western human subject to obliterate worldly threats in increasingly damaging military technology, Brown calls for [T]he abolition of repression [that would] abolish the unnatural concentrations of libido in certain particular bodily organs—concentrations engineered by the negativity of the morbid death instinct, and constituting the bodily base of the neurotic character disorders in the human ego. In the words of Thoreau: “We need pray for no higher heaven than the pure senses can furnish, a purely sensuous life. Our present senses are but rudiments of what they are destined to become.” The human body would become polymorphously perverse, delighting in the full life of all the body which it now fears. The consciousness strong enough to endure full life would be no longer Apollonian but Dionysian—consciousness which does not observe the limit, but overflows; consciousness which does not negate anymore.55

Alfred is a subject obsessed with negation as he exhibits anal sadism that refuses the mess of the body, imagines human others out in the world delighting in the filth of the body, refuses to be a part of an entropic world, and ultimately wishes for the “Death!” to both human and worldly threats. This subjectivity has cost him the ability to live a “sensuous life.” Enid longs for him to accept bodily life and to relinquish the separation of the subject from the organic matter of self and world. In Brown’s account, “with such a transfigured body the human soul can be reconciled, and the human ego becomes once more what it was designed to be in the first place, a body-ego and the surfaces of the body, sensing the communication between body and body which is life.”56 The transfigured subject does not negate bodily life, does not renounce death, and is strong enough “to die.”57 In other words, in the communication between body and body, body and world, the subject who no longer negates comes to experience the loss of the self—in ecstatic excremental expulsion and in porousness— not as terrible end to subjectivity, but the beginning of bodily closeness with other beings. To lose the self for the unrepressed subject is not a symbol of final death, but instead a sign of the unfolding of the subject into bodily and worldly enrapture. In Brown’s account, to become a subject who does not negate anymore is also to find “freedom from the



infantile fantasies which concentrate the libido on the excremental function” and understand bodily life as the degradation of the clean subject.58 Without the renunciation of the foul body, subjects like Alfred would experience filthy excretion not as a horrible affront to pure and clean whiteness, but instead as an offering of the fertile decay of self to the world in the nourishment of other worldly bodies.59 Moving through analyses of scenes from The Corrections, this chapter shows the neuroses of a white masculine subject as his body falls to pieces; in particular, it argues that the novel reveals a fantastic attempt to separate the subject from the body and from the organic world. The novel is an indictment of a white subjectivity that promotes death-in-life for the body—the renunciation of bodily life—and the severing of human subjectivity from the life promoting ecosystems on which we depend. Although Franzen does not explore the impact of this kind of white American subjectivity on ecosystems in this particular novel with great detail, he does hint at the ways that Alfred’s aggression toward organic threats maps out onto national movements: the alarming rates of imprisonment of African American citizens in what Michelle Alexander calls “the new Jim Crow,” the xenophobic fear of foreign intrusion that fuels our discussions of immigration, the war-mongering rhetoric that calls for death to threats to the national body, and the desire to engineer civic spaces beyond the entropic menace of the organic environment that fuel movements of civilization that deny our impact on ecosystems. Alfred is representative of a desire for American exceptionalism from the excremental body, human refuse, and the world that would make shit of America. He also is representative of national anal sadism that the previous chapter outlined with greater force: the anal sadism of a country that cleanses national identity by displacing excess onto bodies marked as excessive. Decades after the publication of Reed’s scatological satire that discusses what it feels like to be shit upon by a national body made up of subjects, like Alfred, Franzen is continuing the parodic play with excremental culture albeit by focusing predominantly on white suburban subjects and their fantasies. And Franzen, like Reed, links a toxic white masculinity—like that constructed by Alfred—to the pollution of the environment and to violence against subjects deemed Other.



Notes 1. “Girls Don’t Poop,” Poo-Pourri advertisement, com/watch?v=ZKLnhuzh9uY. Accessed 3/1/20. 2. “Second Hand Stink,” Poo-Pourri advertisement, com/watch?v=7aJTxUf4i84. Accessed 3/1/20. 3. Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, trans. James Strachey (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1961), 62. 4. Jane Wells, “A Business that Doesn’t Stink: Solving Poo Odor,” CNBC, January 2016, Accessed January 2016. 5. Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001). All page numbers for quotations pulled from the primary text will be noted in the body of the chapter. 6. For another discussion of masculinity in The Corrections, see Catherine Toal, “Corrections: Contemporary American Melancholy,” Journal of European Studies, Vol. 33, No. 3–4 (2003): 305–322. Even as Toal primarily focuses on the relationship between Alfred and his son Chip in her analysis, she also addresses the novel’s presentation of an embattled white masculinity, which “implicitly pathologizes [Alfred’s] old-fashioned patriarchal values.” 7. For a discussion of Franzen and the Midwestern novel, see Ralph J. Poole, “Serving the Fruitcake, or Jonathan Franzen’s Midwestern Poetics,” The Midwestern Quarterly: A Journal of Contemporary Thought, Vol. 49, No. 3 (Spring 2008): 263–283. See, also, Christoph Ribbat, “The Washcloth at the Bottom of the Pile: A Conversation with Jonathan Franzen,” in Anglistik & Englischunterricht, ed. Gabriele Linke, et  al. (Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag, 2005), 83–91, especially 85, for a discussion of Franzen’s thinking about “the suburban versus urban.” The opening scene in which Alfred expresses despair in the entropic movements of the world connects to later depictions of Alfred’s fear of “the cultural entropy that characterizes the city,” as Ribbat notes (85). 8. For a discussion of this scene in light of the financial collapse of the early 2000s, see Nathan K. Hensley, “Allegories of the Contemporary,” Novel: A Forum on Fiction: Imagining the Twenty-First Century, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Summer 2012): 276–300, especially 292–295. 9. See Ty Hawkins, “Assessing the Promise of Jonathan Franzen’s First Three Novels: A Rejection of ‘Refuge,’” College Literature, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Fall 2010): 61–87. Although Hawkins maintains a focus on Frazen’s failure to produce a novel that does more than diagnosis the political and ethical paralysis of characters like Alfred within the system of global capital, he also briefly points toward Alfred’s struggles against body and the world. He



writes, “Alfred crafts crystal-clear binary oppositions between public and private, male and female, moral and immoral, white and non-white, and so forth. All of these oppositions are founded on the essential Enlightenment-­ spawned distinction between subject and object, or between the inviolate, reasoning self, and the environment in which that self operates. With this distinction in place, Alfred comes to regard himself as engaged in a struggle against his environment; further more, through a rather off-kilter reading of Schopenhauer, Alfred concludes that his only real defense against the world—his only tool of resistance—is his will, which functions in opposition to the larger Will of Nature” (78). 10. Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, 26. 11. See Kathryn Bond Stockton, “Heaven’s Bottom: Anal Economics and the Critical Debasement of Freud in Toni Morrison’s Sula,” Cultural Critique, No. 24 (Spring 1993): 83. Also, see Kathryn Bond Stockton, Beautiful Bottom, Beautiful Shame: Where “Black” Meets “Queer” (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006). 12. For an account of masculine melancholy in the novel, see Catherine Toal, “Corrections: Contemporary American Melancholy.” 13. See Gabrielle Carey, “An Interview with Jonathan Franzen,” Heat, Vol. 6 (2003): 189. 14. Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1985). 15. While I focus on the novel’s engagement with effluent society here, previous criticism on this novel has focused on Franzen’s engagement with globalization, consumer culture, and/or late capitalism. See Hawkins, “Assessing the Promise of Jonathan Franzen’s First Three Novels;” Srirupa Chatterjee and G. Neelakantan, “‘Forever Fearful of a Crash’: Family visa-­ vis Materialism in Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections,” Notes on Contemporary Literature, Vol. 37, No. 4 (2007): 6–9; James Annesley, “Market Corrections: Jonathan Franzen and the ‘Novel of Globalization,” Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 29, No. 2 (Winter 2006): 111–128; Nathan K. Hensley, “Allegories of the Contemporary;” and Martin Hipsky, “Post-Cold War Paranoia in The Corrections and The Sopranos,” Postmodern Culture, Vol. 16, No. 2 (2006). Another major trend in critical commentary on the novel focuses upon Franzen’s response to the selection of The Corrections for Oprah’s Book Club in 2001. For more on Franzen and the Oprah Book Club, see Thomas R. Edwards, “Oprah’s Choice,” Raritan: A Quarterly Review, Vol. 21, No. 4 (Spring 2002): 75–86, and Chris Ingraham, “Talking (About) the Elite and Mass: Vernacular Rhetoric and Discursive Status,” Philosophy and Rhetoric, Vol. 46, No. 1 (2013): 1–21. For discussion of “popular” literature and Franzen’s discussion of the “high-art literary tradition”(qtd. in Briar, 157) of which he claims to be a



part, see Evan Briar, A Novel Marketplace: Mass Culture, the Book Trade, and Postwar American Fiction (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), 156–164. 16. For another reading of this scene, see Ty Hawkins, “Assessing the Promise of Jonathan Franzen’s First Three Novels”: “Suffering from Parkinson’s and rendered obsolete by a changed economy, Alfred no longer can hold this suspicion at bay, which is another way of saying that the world that surrounds and penetrates Alfred’s being is deconstructing him” (80). 17. Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 71. 18. Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, 54, n. 1. 19. Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, trans. James Strachey, 1962 (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000). 20. Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, 50. 21. Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, 52. 22. Leo Bersani, “Is the Rectum a Grave?,” October, Vol. 43, AIDS: Cultural Analysis/Cultural Activism (Winter 1987): 197–222. 23. Brown, Life Against Death, 284. 24. Brown, Life Against Death, 293. 25. Brown, Life Against Death, 293–294. 26. See Brown, Life Against Death: “Vulgar psychoanalytical dogmatists— those for whom psychoanalysis is a closed system rather than a problem— seem to believe that the adult anal character is to be understood as a fixation to a trauma occurring in the process of infantile toilet training” (204). 27. For another reading of the scene as a “critique of the cultural pursuit of the clean” (200), see Allan Lloyd-Smith, “Abjection/Abjectivism,” European Journal of American Culture, Vol. 24, No. 3 (2005): 200–201. 28. Guy Hocquenghem, Homosexual Desire, trans. Daniella Dangoor (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993), 99. 29. The turd pronounces it “Bass ackwards.” 30. Leo Bersani, The Freudian Body: Psychoanalysis and Art (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), 17. 31. Bersani, The Freudian Body, 23. 32. Brown, Life Against Death, 295. 33. See Hipsky, “Post-Cold War Paranoia in The Corrections and The Sopranos.” Hipsky follows Linda Hutcheon in arguing that the novel, like other postmodern texts, only reveals a complicit critique. He writes, “The best we can say about the cultural politics of The Corrections and The Sopranos, with their primary focus on the subjectivity of the straight white male, may be that they offer a partly complicitous critique of the existing order of things.” Franzen may not offer a white subject who revels in the abject, but



through his representation of the speaking turd, he imagines a critique emerging from an underworld, taunting the phobic suburbanite. 34. Brown, Life Against Death, 116–117. 35. Brown, Life Against Death, 117. 36. Brown, Life Against Death, 202. 37. See Michael Van Baker, “Jonathan Franzen Thanks you for the Lutheran Question,” The Sun Break, September 15, 2010. http://thesunbreak. com/2010/09/15/jonathan-franzen-thanks-you-for-the-lutheran-question/. Accessed June 25, 2013. 38. Brown, Life Against Death, 208. 39. Brown, Life Against Death, 209. 40. Brown, Life Against Death, 215. 41. Brown, Life Against Death, 209. 42. Brown, Life Against Death, 215. 43. See Annesley, “Market Corrections: Jonathan Franzen and the ‘Novel of Globalization.’” He writes, “The cumulative effect of these observations, and of the many similar moments in the text, is to reinforce Franzen’s sense of the inter-relationships between private life and wider social and economic forces. In these details, the individual’s sense of self reads like a balance sheet. So powerful, it seems, are the forces of global coordination and incorporation that even the interior world of the individual is subject to the logic of the market” (115–116). 44. Bersani, The Freudian Body, 14–15. 45. Bersani, The Freudian Body, 14. 46. Bersani, The Freudian Body, 23. 47. Brown, Life Against Death, 284. 48. Tim Dean, Beyond Sexuality (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 266. 49. Brown, Life Against Death, 126. 50. Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror, 13. 51. Barbara Creed, “Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine: An Imaginary Abjection,” Screen, Vol. 27, No. 1: 44. Also, see Creed, The Monstrous-­ Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis (New York: Routledge, 1993). 52. See also Val Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1993). 53. Val Plumwood, “Being Prey,” in The New Earth Reader: The Best of Terra Nova, ed. David Rothenberg and Marta Ulvaeus (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1999), 76–91. 54. Brown, Life Against Death, 308. 55. Brown, Life Against Death, 308. 56. Brown, Life Against Death, 292. 57. Brown, Life Against Death, 292.



58. Brown, Life Against Death, 292–293. See, also, Carey, “An Interview with Jonathan Franzen,” 183–184. In her reading of the connection between Franzen’s novel and James Joyce’s Ulysses, she briefly argues that both texts embrace “imperfection” as the “human condition” and thus “our task is to embrace that condition, rejoice in our fallenness, laugh and enjoy its contradictions, and learn to love the imperfect human world as it is” (184). 59. See Colin Hutchinson, “Jonathan Franzen and the Politics of Disengagement,” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 50, No. 2 (Winter 2009): 197–207. As the novel critiques Alfred’s imagined subjective difference from other humans as well as the organic world, it also provides a space for a critique of a communal renunciation of bodily life and abnegation of connectivity to ecosystems. Franzen’s social novel, as Hutchinson notes, “critique[s] libertarian individualism,” “yet also addresses the need for some form of transgression against oppressive orders” (205).

Bibliography Annesley, James. “Market Corrections: Jonathan Franzen and the ‘Novel of Globalization.” Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 29, No. 2 (Winter 2006): 111–128. Bersani, Leo. The Freudian Body: Psychoanalysis and Art. New  York: Columbia University Press, 1986. Bersani, Leo. “Is the Rectum a Grave?” October, Vol. 43, AIDS: Cultural Analysis/ Cultural Activism (Winter 1987): 197–222. Briar, Evan. A Novel Marketplace: Mass Culture, the Book Trade, and Postwar American Fiction. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009. Brown, Norman O. Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History. 1959. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1985. Carey, Gabrielle. “An Interview with Jonathan Franzen.” Heat, Vol. 6 (2003): 183–195. Chatterjee, Srirupa and Neelakantan, G. “‘Forever Fearful of a Crash’: Family vis-­ a-­vis Materialism in Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections.” Notes on Contemporary Literature, Vol. 37, No. 4 (2007): 6–9. Creed, Barbara. “Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine: An Imaginary Abjection.” Screen, Vol. 27, No. 1 (1986): 44–71. Creed, Barbara. The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge, 1993. Dean, Tim. Beyond Sexuality. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000. Edwards, Thomas R. “Oprah’s Choice.” Raritan: A Quarterly Review, Vol. 21, No. 4 (Spring 2002): 75–86. Franzen, Jonathan. The Corrections. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.



Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. Translated by James Strachey. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1961. Freud, Sigmund. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. Translated by James Strachey. 1962. New York: Basic Books, 2000. Hawkins, Ty. “Assessing the Promise of Jonathan Franzen’s First Three Novels: A Rejection of ‘Refuge.’” College Literature, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Fall 2010): 61–87. Hensley, Nathan K. “Allegories of the Contemporary.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction: Imagining the Twenty-First Century, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Summer 2012): 276–300. Hipsky, Martin. “Post-Cold War Paranoia in The Corrections and The Sopranos.” Postmodern Culture, Vol. 16, No. 2 (2006). issue.106/16.2hipsky.html. Hocquenghem, Guy. Homosexual Desire. Translated by Daniella Dangoor. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993. Hutchinson, Colin. “Jonathan Franzen and the Politics of Disengagement.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 50, No. 2 (Winter 2009): 197–207. Ingraham, Chris. “Talking (About) the Elite and Mass: Vernacular Rhetoric and Discursive Status.” Philosophy and Rhetoric, Vol 46, No. 1 (2013): 1–21. Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New  York: Columbia University Press, 1982. Lloyd-Smith, Allan. “Abjection/Abjectivism.” European Journal of American Culture, Vol. 24, No. 3 (2005): 200–201. Plumwood, Val. “Being Prey.” In The New Earth Reader: The Best of Terra Nova, edited by David Rothenberg and Marta Ulvaeus, 76–91. Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1999. Plumwood, Val. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. New  York, NY: Routledge, 1993. Poole, Ralph J. “Serving the Fruitcake, or Jonathan Franzen’s Midwestern Poetics.” The Midwestern Quarterly: A Journal of Contemporary Thought, Vol. 49, No. 3 (Spring 2008): 263–283. Poo-Pourri. “Girls Don’t Poop.” Accessed 3/1/20. watch?v=ZKLnhuzh9uY. Poo-Pourri. “Second Hand Stink.” Accessed 3/1/20. com/watch?v=7aJTxUf4i84. Ribbat, Christoph. “The Washcloth at the Bottom of the Pile: A Conversation with Jonathan Franzen.” In Anglistik & Englischunterricht, edited by Gabriele Linke, et al., 83–91. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag, 2005. Stockton, Kathryn Bond. Beautiful Bottom, Beautiful Shame: Where “Black” Meets “Queer”. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006. Stockton, Kathryn Bond. “Heaven’s Bottom: Anal Economics and the Critical Debasement of Freud in Toni Morrison’s Sula.” Cultural Critique, No. 24 (Spring 1993): 81–118.



Toal, Catherine. “Corrections: Contemporary American Melancholy.” Journal of European Studies, Vol 33, No. 3–4 (2003): 305–322. Van Baker, Michael. “Jonathan Franzen Thanks you for the Lutheran Question.” The Sun Break, September 15, 2010. jonathan-franzen-thanks-you-for-the-lutheran-question/. Accessed June 25, 2013. Wells, Jane. “A Business that Doesn’t Stink: Solving Poo Odor.” CNBC, January 2016: Accessed January 30, 2016.


Fleeing the Excremental Stain Through Acquisition: Getting to the Bottom of Black Suburban Splendor in Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills

Despite its title, US rapper Ludacris’s 2005 song “That’s My Shit,” featuring Field Mob, Perfect Harmany, and Playaz Circle, is not about excrement.1 Or, it is about excrement, but in the sense that the speakers wish to distinguish themselves from “pieces of shit” by calling listeners to re-­ imagine their bodies as defecating power and wealth rather than waste. The opening lines of the track proclaim, “This the hardest beat I ever heard/That’s my shit, that’s my shit nigga, that’s my shit.” In the next lines, the speaker directs us to “see them 24s on the curb” and then chants “that’s my shit” three times. Here, the speaker’s body is celebrated for the production of “hard beats” that signal to the listener the triumph of the artist over vulnerable bodily life. Lest we imagine the artists’ bodies in their porous fleshy splendor, our gaze is directed toward 24-inch vehicular rims that serve to drive the speaker away from association with base humanity and to establish a material difference from the rest of us. Rimming with Ludacris and friends decidedly is not about embracing anality, but instead about substituting the porous masculine body with valuable goods. In subsequent lines, listeners similarly are directed to forget a shared humanity and to see instead the transformation of the speaking subjects from base materiality to subjective worth through material consumption of goods and the acquisition of property such as “Coco Chanel frames,” the “latest clothes,” and “the biggest house in the neighborhood.” When the artists © The Author(s) 2020 M. C. Foltz, Contemporary American Literature and Excremental Culture, American Literature Readings in the 21st Century,




tell us that they make “six figures,” they also show how the accumulation of wealth stands in for bodily life. As the track boasts of success within capitalism, it reveals that the artists are “so materialistic” because of a desire to be seen as more valuable and more powerful than other men. Ludacris and the collaborating artists capture an important element of the capitalist spirit and the so-called American dream as valuable excess comes to stand in for abject bodily life. As the artists (w)rap the body in signs of wealth in order to claim worth, they encourage listeners to imagine a radically different peristaltic movement that results not in feces but specie. While the artists catalog luxury items and wealth that loop back to demarcate the bodies of property owners as similarly valuable, they also promote subjective worth by threatening to turn others into waste. Carrying their “uzi(s) in that hoopty,” the rappers imagine rolling “up on a nigga with a clip” and “quieting” the “lips” that might spew trash about the speakers. The clip is a substitute bowel excreting bullets that leave would-be aggressors silent and dead. The fantasized qualitative difference between the speaker and his victim revolves around the former subject’s imagined invulnerability to becoming loathsome soil and the victim’s status as base matter. In other words, the speaker’s shit is a powerful weapon whereas the victim is merely bodily excess. Rather than positing a shared humanity or brotherhood, the speakers consistently see other black men as threats to the fantasy of subjective and bodily difference. Because of the usage of the word “nigga” throughout the track, the song hints at the wounding that occurs through the construction of racial difference. As noted in Chap. 2, Fanon quotes Aime Césaire’s work to claim that the creation of whiteness depends on its opposition to black bodies imagined “as brute beast(s),” as “walking dung.”2 We might hear in Ludacris’s song a call to be recognized as valuable—as more than animated excessive humanity—in the face of historic and presentday racism. When he suggests that his shit is “everything” that he “worked for,” he highlights the import of labor to accrue wealth and valuable material excess as they will aide in re-signifying the black body soiled by racism. What the speakers seek here is to distinguish themselves from other black men and to construct a kind of blackness that reeks of wealth in opposition to those whom they view as waste. In this way, the speakers categorize bodies as clean and unclean, valuable and useless, in order to proclaim their worth in a culture that consistently treats black people like excess. In contrast to other black men who are viewed as excessive waste to be eradicated with violence, the speakers use displays of wealth as ammunition to separate themselves from members of a larger black population.



Like Ludacris’s song, Naylor’s revision of Dante’s Inferno, Linden Hills, deploys scatological imagery in order to explore the capitalist desire for the valuable subjectivity that wealth seemingly supplies.3 However, unlike Ludacris’s work, Naylor’s text does not celebrate this process of attempting to overcome bodily abjection, but instead critically examines how capitalist ideology ruinously impacts the bodily schemata of characters as they abandon the pleasures of corporeal connection in favor of transplanting the self into lifeless material goods and money. Further, the novel highlights how capitalist longings of the affluent community of Linden Hills stem from historical and present-day racist association of blackness with excess that leads to a desire to triumph over such association through material accumulation and wealth. While the affluent community members fantasize that their valuable “shit” serves to counter racism by reflecting the worth of property owners, they simultaneously demarcate impoverished black people as troubling excess that counters the community’s progress.4 As denizens of Linden Hills use wealth to speak to the value of the black body, they also denigrate their neighboring working-­ class community whom they believe tarnish their ability to achieve this goal. To highlight the ways that racism impacts characters’ bodily schemata, Naylor names the two protagonists of the novel White and Shit, thereby elucidating the demarcation of blackness as excess within the national body in a similar way to Reed’s The Free-Lance Pallbearers.5 Willie K.  Mason—White—receives his nickname at school because he is “so black that the kids said if he turned a shade darker, there would be nothing he could do but start going the other way…. So the darkest boy in Wayne Junior High was tagged as White Willie” (24). Lester Tilson—Shit—is given his nickname because “of the milky-yellow tone in his skin” that to a playground aggressor looks like “Baby Shit” (24). These schoolyard discussions of skin color that mock Willie’s dark skin and denigrate Lester’s lighter skin reveal community responses to racism. Targeting those who are “too dark” or “too light,” the children struggle to affirm the handsomeness of diverse black bodies inspired by a larger cultural denigration of blackness. Yet, something more is at stake here. Like Ludacris’s track, the children are engaged in a struggle to affirm subjective worth through the denigration of others or the demarcation of others as waste. In the novel, one response to racist discourses that soil black bodies with the excess of whiteness is to repeat the process where value is constructed by establishing the abject status of another.



Ultimately, Willie and Lester refuse to succumb to such abuse and recuperate the nicknames applied in derogatory fashion by deciding to own the monikers White and Shit as “cool name[s]” (24–25). Still, as the boys grow into young men, they continue to encounter the insidious impact of racism on their community, especially as they navigate the affluent neighborhood of Linden Hills. The majority of the novel follows White and Shit as they labor in the homes of wealthy black citizens in order to make some needed cash; as readers wander with White and Shit through the beautifully manicured yards and into expertly designed homes, we encounter the various ways that wealthy African American characters consistently refuse to embrace the abject body and instead seek to overcome racism through the consumption of valuable material goods, which are imagined to take the place of abject bodily life. The names White and Shit also allude to the derogatory term “white trash,” thereby calling readers to think through the ways in which the construction of valuable whiteness depends upon material acquisition that distinguishes the prosperous from working-class populations. The inhabitants of Linden Hills explore ways that they, too, might utilize wealth to project that value of the black body in opposition to trash. To be clear, Naylor’s wealthy citizens are not trying to be white, but instead attempting to repeat the process whereby the abject body attains worth via affluence. In order to make blackness a valuable commodity, the fictional wealthy community commits to transcending the flesh by struggling to succeed within capitalism and by replacing the debased black body with material goods, the signs of wealth so valued in consumer culture. Meticulously decorated homes, expensive automobiles, and designer clothes symbolize the subject’s movement away from “nothing” or trash; material goods signify, not excessive bodily life or connection to base organic matter, but successful movement away from the black body saturated in fantasies of opposition to national progress and controlled citizenship. With this focus on material goods and wealth that stand in for the black body, Linden Hills calls attention to the ways that characters try not so much to be white but to flee the excremental stain by acquiring goods and wealth that seemingly refute racist fantasies of blackness. While the world around Linden Hills “spell[s] black with a capital nothing,” denizens of the suburb want to spell out the power of blackness with capital (15). Still, these suburban characters find that despite monetary gain and success within capitalism, they continue to be bombarded by racist fantasies.



Further, their struggle to transcend the flesh painted in white excess and exhibiting its own excremental nature leads to a sacrifice of bodily life in favor of transplantation of the self into inanimate objects meant to signify worth. In this way, the novel critiques a commitment to capitalist ideology as the means to counter racism because capitalism creates a diseased relationship to one’s body and to the bodies of others. Previous criticism of Linden Hills powerfully analyzes what Barbara Christian identifies as the “effects of class distinctions on the Afro-­ American community” or what Henry Louis Gates Jr. calls the “phenomenon of the black bourgeois, a socioeconomic disruption of the overdetermined alliance of color and poverty.”6 Without affirming that “the confinements of bourgeois culture [are] … worse than those of poverty,”7 these two critics effectively document the novel’s critique of capitalism even as they address the text’s presentation of the injuries of poverty. With clear indebtedness to their work, this chapter explores Naylor’s literary play with psychoanalytic theories of masculine subject development and filthy lucre in order to forward her critique of capitalism. Arguing that the novel not only “adopts” and “subverts” Dante’s Inferno as Christine G. Berg and Tracey Thronton beautifully show or references a variety of other literary texts identified by critics,8 this chapter points out Naylor’s engagement with and revision of psychoanalytic theories of the anal character, anal sadism, and Homo Economicus in her radical excremental vision. While feminist critics like Margaret Homans importantly have shown how the novel undermines “androcentric myths of reproduction” and the opposition of masculinity to feminine materiality,9 this chapter suggests that valuable masculinity in the text also is erected by negating the problematic porous and excremental body that opposes the establishment of desired subjective worth. Using Brown’s analysis of filthy lucre and expansions of Freudian theory, I analyze the novel’s critique of the manner in which capitalism encourages the transcendence of bodily life and unproductive pleasure. In Brown’s account and in scenes from the novel, capitalism promotes the alienation of the subject from his embodied humanity as the subject disavows his own excremental nature and imagines instead that he excretes financial surplus and material goods that signify subjective value. Homo economicus, in Brown’s theory, is the subject who replaces bodily life with material goods and monetary excess that seemingly promise the subject the ability to transplant the individual into immortal and inanimate objects that will go on long after the body has perished.10 The fantasy of a subject who might exist without a body—without decay,



without the loss of bodily pleasure—requires the creation of death-in-life for the body and the imagined movement of the subject into the capital that he gains. Still, Brown’s exploration of Homo economicus with its focus on universal masculine child development does not address the impact of racism on subject development with the power that Naylor’s novel does. Combining Brown’s pertinent understandings of subject development with Fanon’s and Naylor’s insights into the ways that racism makes black subjects’ interactions with the body particularly fraught, this chapter showcases how characters’ commitment to capitalist ideology is fueled by a desire to redeem the black body made abject by white supremacist culture by associating it with wealth. For Fanon and Naylor, it is not the infant’s struggle with the loss of bodily pleasure that causes him to separate himself from bodily life, but instead, the subject’s encounters with racism in the larger surrounding culture that leads to a formation of a desire to transcend the matter of the body. In Linden Hills, citizens fantasize that abjection can be overcome by housing the subject in material goods and property that speak to the black body’s ability to excrete the wealth so valued in the nation. At the end of this chapter, I explore scenes from the novel that counter the ideals of Linden Hills’s citizens and that present alternative bodily schemata. With analyses of a married couple who live outside of Linden Hills, Norman and Ruth Anderson, I explore the ways that these two characters navigate racism, not by attempting to transcend bodily life, but instead by attending to each other during times of psychic and bodily pain. Through analysis of this marital relationship, I argue that Linden Hills provides alternative ways of interacting with the matter of the body that eschew the desire to transcend bodily life exhibited by other characters.

Homo Economicus and Valuable Shit The most vivid example of interactions with the excremental self in Linden Hills occurs in the section “December 21st” when readers are introduced to one of the most successful men in the affluent community, Maxwell Smyth, an executive at General Motors Automotive Company. As an exemplary member of the enclave, Smyth serves as mentor to and model for younger African American men at the company and in the larger community. Although he is a relatively minor character, Maxwell proves to be an important figure for his anality is directly tied to his success. Maxwell is a man who has mastered and sublimated excessive bodily experiences and



desires as he has cultivated a subjectivity that seeks to transcend the organic matter of the flesh. Like Franzen’s Alfred Lambert, Maxwell attributes economic achievement within the nation to control of the body and this mastery takes place through personal sanitary engineering. For Maxwell, “the pinnacle of his success lay in his French-tiled blue and white bathroom. It was one of the most beautiful rooms in his home, with Italian marble fixtures: an imported toilet and matching bidet that sat on a plush white carpet” (104). As Maxwell is a wildly successful man who holds a position of great power within a major corporation, it is odd that this room is the “pinnacle” of his success rather than his career, his wealth, or his standing within the community. Still, he believes wholeheartedly that all of these other forms of success stem from the work that he performs in this elaborately decorated room as well as the other processes by which he distinguishes the subject from the mess of bodily life. The white and blue tiles, the plush white carpet, and the pristine marble fixtures speak not to the erosion of self, but to the value and import of the subject. The whiteness of the room—the cool sterile tiles and what one might imagine to be matching milky marble fixtures—accented with masculine blue notes create the feel of a space that has not been besmirched by the potentially distasteful and colorful aspects of bodily life. There is little about this room that would reveal the ways in which the body falls apart each day: no restless hairs, no aroma of waste. In the absence of proof of the human body, the French tiles and the Italian marble come to stand in for the flesh by pointing toward the firmness of the masculine subject in his stylish commitment to hiding bodily life, replacing his own excremental nature with hardened colorless marble. The plush carpet that surrounds toilet and bidet serves not as a comfort to feet that might pad across the floor as much as it serves as a claim that no foul human waste disturbs the space, no sweaty toes or soiled soles traipse across the floor. As Franzen notes of the Lambert home, Maxwell’s bathroom exudes the “fiction that no one lived there.”11 While Maxwell maintains his bathroom so that no reference to the fecund loamy self as soil remains in the pristine marbled altar to subjective worth, he also commits himself to erasing any trace of his bodily and excremental “true nature” (105). Maxwell tirelessly labors to control and to preserve a body that excretes without smell, without the aromatic hint of bodily unraveling. This requires diligent attention to the amount and quality of the nourishment that he ingests. To purify his urine and to create a clear and nearly invisible stream of the liquid self, Maxwell pays



particular attention to the kinds of fluids selected for hydration. He imbibes only those beverages that will leave his urine colorless and fragrance-­free. For example, he flushes his system with “large quantities of spring water and chamomile tea,” adding “variety” to his beverage choices only by including “clear juices—apple, strained cranberry, and on rare occasions, small sips of Chardonnay, preferably from the vineyards of Pouilly, where no yeast was added to the fermentation” (105). In this way, he ensures that the watery waste of the body does not show signs of needed consumption or reek of odorous substance. It is important to note that these strategies for the elimination of the excremental self are not based in a desire for health; he does not consume purified liquids in order to assure the well-being of the body through appropriate hydration. Instead, he studies the color and smell of his urine in order to erase proof of bodily life and to make bodily movements invisible and to create the fantasy of a subject without bodily excess. Because of the clarity of this urine, he can see through the waste of the body to more valuable forms of excess that he has accrued, namely all the expensive features that come to stand in for the body. So, too, he hopes through this cultivation of imperceptible bodily processes of excretion that others will be unable to register the bodily subject and focus instead upon the excessive wealth that comes to stand in the soiled subject. This is made apparent in his selection of solids for consumption, as Maxwell is not concerned with the nutrient value or the flavor of his meals, but instead with the way that they will impact his bowel movements as well as his urination. In short, he does not seek health, but “control” over the timing—“the moment”—of his excretion and “the exact nature of the matter that had to bring him daily to the blue and white tiled room” (105). Through industrious experimenting with his flesh to erase the excremental reek of the body, he learned that the very tips of broccoli florets, asparagus, and even parsley moved less noticeably through his system than the stems. Young animal flesh—baby scallops, calves’ livers, and breasts of squab were the purest to digest. This was supplemented with dried kelp from the waters around New Zealand, ground bone meal, and wheat germ. He would have put a forkful of cabbage, a slice of onion, or a single bean into his mouth with the same enthusiasm as a tablespoon of cyanide. (105)



Here, Maxwell avoids consumption of too many vegetables that might impact the aroma of his excretion. For example, by avoiding the “over consumption” of asparagus, he succeeds in eliminating the odor that this vegetable can cause urine to emit; ingesting many full spears of asparagus would lead to the introduction of larger quantities of asparagusic acid in the body, which causes the “offensive” smell, which many can attest appears after eating this vegetable. The ingestion of large quantities of broccoli might also impact the smell of urination. Thus, Maxwell chooses only small amounts of nutritious vegetables in order to remove “noticeable” aromas from needed elimination. Because it is impossible to make fecal matter entirely clear as he does with his urine, Maxwell’s work on his anality focuses upon the erasure of any unpleasant stench of the bowels. He avoids fragrant foods like onions as well as foods known for their impact on bodily gas such as legumes. For Maxwell, these foods are akin to toxins as they might waft out of the body or rise up like steam from the excremental self in fragrant reminder of the ultimate decay of the subject. Body odor is poison akin to cyanide to a subject like Maxwell for it speaks to the humanity and mortality of the subject who wishes to erect an identity as cool, hard, and seemingly permanent as the marble and tile that surround him. Maxwell’s attention to the amount and quality of his bodily intake results in the effective eradication of aromatic hints of his humanity. Should “nature call” while he is at the office, he can rest assured that his urine will maintain no smell and flow from his urethra in a stream as clear and pure as the urinal waters that will whisk the fluid self away. In addition, his control of his bowels allows him to time defecation in such a way that he need not worry about semi-public displays of his excremental human nature; it is only within the blue and white tiled room that this part of his bodily life occurs. Further, the utilities of this space have been selected to aid in the thorough cleansing of his body in three separate steps. First, his “Italian marble” toilet bowl captures the waste of the body, whisking it out and away from the subject. Second, Maxwell takes care to remove immediately any remnant of defecation that did not travel into the appropriate toilet waters and that continues to decorate his anal sphincter by moving directly to the bidet. Here, Maxwell washes away the potential excremental remnant in the bidet’s fountain of “perfumed and sudsy water” (105). Maxwell, unlike most Americans, has no need for toilet paper, “which he kept in the closet and brought out for rare guests” (105), because his bidet replaces the unsavory soil of self with splashes of soapy



eau de toilette. If the bidet should fail in its targeted cleaning of the anal orifice, the shower as the third step in Maxwell’s cleansing ritual will remove any trace of excreta remaining from his defecation as well as any other possible sign or smell of bodily life emanating from other regions of the flesh. Beyond this care in washing his body, Maxwell ensures that he creates subjective distance from necessary bodily movements. With music piped in from an expensive sound system, the noise of his morning defecation is lost beneath the work of a “violin quartet.” Because of his diet, excretion does not require strenuous labor nor primal grunting and thus Maxwell can sit upon his toilet as he would upon a chair in a concert hall. As the text notes, Because when Maxwell sat each morning, on his Italian marble—his head erect, his ankles disappearing into the thick carpet, and his fingers drumming the tempo of a violin quartet on his knees with his eyes closed, before moving straight to the bidet, where he was sprayed with perfumed and sudsy water, and then on to the shower—except for the fact that he was totally naked, those first five minutes could have taken place on the seat of a theater or concert hall, with absolutely no clues to tip off even the nearest party about his true nature. After the success of this daily ritual, Maxwell was more than ready for any challenge at General Motors. (105)

In a parodic replication of Rodin’s Le Penseur, the text provides a view of Maxwell as a thinker who floats away from the body. As the excremental self falls away, Maxwell’s work on the body has become so effective that this labor becomes nearly invisible; no facial tic, no aggressive utterance, and no clenching of abdominal muscles occur that might reveal the reason for his pose. His control of the body allows him to calmly listen to the movements of a string quartet and to abnegate his own personal symphony, “The Bowel Movement.” While at base he is an excremental being like others, his dominion over bodily life allows him to avoid “any clues to tip off the nearest party about his true nature.” Even if water displaced by excretion creates a momentary unwanted disruption to the music that surrounds him, Maxwell’s posture and repose deny the proof of self as mortal stinker and affirm his status as cultured transcendent thinker. Because of this scene’s consistent connection of Maxwell’s control of the body to his wealth, it alludes to psychoanalytic theories of filthy lucre and can be elucidated by Freud’s “Character and Anal Erotism” as well as



“On Transformations of Instinct as Exemplified in Anal Erotism.” In the former essay, Freud describes analysands who exhibit a combination of character traits that we might designate as “anal”: he seeks to explore subjects who exhibit a “regular combination” of characteristics that he defines as “orderliness, parsimoniousness, and obstinacy.”12 For Freud, these character traits result from sublimation of anal erotism. He writes, Important contributions to ‘sexual excitation’ are furnished by the peripheral excitations of certain specially designated parts of the body (the genitals, mouth, anus, urethra), which therefore deserve to be described as ‘erotogenic zones.’ … During the period of life which may be called the period of ‘sexual latency’—i.e. from the completion of the fifth year to the first manifestations of puberty (round about the eleventh year)—reaction-formations, or counter-forces, such as shame, disgust and morality, are created in the mind. They are actually formed at the expense of the excitations proceeding from the erotogenic zones, and they rise like dams to oppose the later activity of the sexual instincts. Now anal erotism is one of the components of the instinct which, in the course of development and in accordance with the education demanded by our present civilization, have become unserviceable for sexual aims. It is therefore plausible to suppose that these character-traits of orderliness, parsimony, and obstinacy, which are so often prominent in people who were formerly anal erotics, are to be regarded as the first and most constant results of sublimation of anal erotism.13

As in his work in Three Essays, Freud reminds readers here of the polymorphous perversity of the child before his inculcation into ideal subjectivity through various forms of education that demonize a full delight in bodily stimulus and unproductive pleasure. Anal erotism proves valueless in the surrounding culture that promotes “civilized” movement away from the full enjoyment of the body. “Shame and disgust” develop in line with the “morality” of the surrounding culture where serviceable and productive values are promoted and unserviceable excessive desires are demarcated as filthy aberrations from normative behavior. In Freud’s account, patients who exhibit obsessive “cleanliness” and “orderliness” “give exactly the impression of a reaction-formation against an interest in that which is unclean and disturbing and should not be a part of the body.”14 The subject differentiates himself from the excessive excremental self by denying a close association to his own bodily materiality and by erecting an identity that opposes corporeality; through obsessive and orderly cleansing of the bodily attestation to the mess of human life, the subject can affirm his



subjective difference from organic matter, his transcendence from bodily pleasure and erosion. Naylor’s novel, like these two Freudian essays, ties fanatical cleanliness and orderliness to a “money complex,” where excessive wealth comes to stand in for the excesses of the body. Both Naylor and Freud point toward the way that “money is brought into the most intimate relationship with dirt” or with the soil of self.15 As Freud notes, “The original erotic interest in defaecation is, as we know, destined to be extinguished in later years. In those years the interest in money makes its appearance as a new interest which has been absent in childhood. This makes it easier for the earlier impulsion, which is in process of losing its aim, to be carried over to the newly emerging aim.”16 Here, the abandonment of anal erotism in the construction of identity in accordance with the surrounding culture’s moral imperative to abnegate full unproductive bodily enjoyment does not eradicate the earlier “impulsion” for the pleasure that bodily excess can bring. Instead, the interest in defecation is sublimated beneath a new interest in culturally desirable forms of excess, namely wealth and the material objects that such wealth can bring. In other words, the pleasures of bodily life are supplanted with the moral imperative to replace worthless bodily being with the accumulation of monetary excess that denotes the value and import of the subject. Since the excesses of the body that bring pleasure to the child are not viewed by the larger surrounding culture as valuable in their own right, the child “transfers his interest from that substance (fecal matter) to the new one which he comes across as the most valuable gift in life.”17 In Freud’s outline of child development, it is in the latency period before puberty that the child no longer experiences the surrounding culture’s celebration of his body and its waste as valuable. The child’s movement in educational systems of family and school teach him that enjoyment of bodily waste is foul and encourage him to transfer his interest in valueless excess to valuable goods and money. In Brown’s work with Freud’s theories of anal erotism, he revises Freud’s insights to suggest that the child’s experience with the loss of the excremental self creates an aggression toward the body that refuses to provide endless pleasure, the body that loses the organic matter that stimulates the erotogenic zones. Brown highlights how the aggression toward the body that fails to provide endless pleasure causes a splintering of the subject from the body. He also argues that the separation of the subject from connection to corporeality is fueled by a desire for non-bodily life, a subject freed from the decay of the body and the entropic pull of the



world. Within this desire for a subjectivity that will not erode is a longing for the ecstasy of the excremental self that drops away from the subject who longs for its return. For Brown, this loss animates the fantasy of an ever-replenishing body that does not hint at subjective death, a fantasy that revolves around a subject who could hoard excess so that it would not depart and leave the subject bereft of his pleasure. Since the physical body proves incapable of this task, Brown argues that the subject turns toward objects and later money through which he fantasizes a transplantation of the eroding subject into material excess, for in the surrounding culture valuable objects and copious amounts of capital signal the immortal power and continuation of the subject beyond his body. The goods that the subject owns as well the money that makes such purchases possible are equivalent to excrement in psychoanalytic accounts because they stand in for the loss of the body’s excess; in short, goods and money are the solution to the loss of bodily waste as they satisfy the fantasy of an immortal body that lives on past the limitations of the body. Brown writes, What the psychoanalytical paradox is asserting is that ‘things’ which are possessed and accumulated, the property and the universal condensed precipitate of property, money, are in their essential nature excremental…. Possession, according to psychoanalysis, gratifies bodily Eros concentrated in the anal zone. But the concentration of libido in the anal zone reflects the attachment to the anal zone of the infantile narcissistic project of becoming father of oneself. The project of becoming father of oneself, and thus triumphing over death, can be worked out with things, and at the same time retain bodily meaning, only if the things produced by the body at the same time nourish it.… Wealth brings so little happiness, said Freud, because money is not an infantile wish; the infantile wish which sustains the money complex is for a narcissistically self-contained and self-replenishing immortal body.18

The loss of bodily excess leads to an aggression toward the body that decays and the creation of a desire for a body that could keep all of its excesses. Still, as the body must fall apart, the subject turns to the accumulation of material excess that he imagines he does not have to lose. Material goods and money then are the excrement that need not point toward death, but instead toward the power of the subject to preserve his flesh outside of the body in his inanimate collection of wealth. The objects that he owns as well as his stockpile of money allow him “to work out” the pain



of bodily loss by imagining that the subject is nourished and replenished by the wealth that he amasses. These psychoanalytic insights are useful in an elaboration of Maxwell’s obsessive cleansing of the body and desire for material accumulation, for he is a subject who seeks to cover over the effluent body with affluence or to substitute natural bodily evacuation for material accumulation. As the text notes, Maxwell’s “entire life [is] a race against the natural—and he [is] winning” (104). Facing the unruly flesh, he obstinately refuses to accept the connection between the subject and the body by eradicating the proof of personal decay and seeking to hide the physical body beneath objects of value. Within his bathroom, he enacts strategies for the elimination of the excremental self that are fueled by the fantasy of moving the subject into the opulent and sturdy marble and tile that decorate the space. By making his body as transparent as possible—cultivating clear and fragrance-free urine as well as odorless feces—Maxwell can create the illusion that he is not a body by projecting his subject into the wealth that surrounds him. As Brown notes, “sublimations achieve this dialectical tour de force by the simple but basic mechanism of projecting the repressed body into things. The more the life of the body passes into things, the less life there is in the body, and at the same time the increasing accumulation of things represents an ever fuller articulation of the lost life of the body.”19 Maxwell represses the body and projects the subject into the things that he owns and this process of making the body disappear costs him the ability to experience the pleasures of human connection and bodily expulsion. For example, Maxwell finds the erratic rhythms and temperatures that normally accompany sex a problem, so he rarely slept with a woman. He didn’t consider this a great deprivation because before he was even thirty, an erection had become almost as difficult to achieve as an orgasm, and hence he would save himself the trouble until he was married and just had to. (104)

The chaos inherent in sexual encounters means that Maxwell, with his desire to exhibit total control over his secretions, romantic and otherwise, is unable to participate in the most intimate of human activities. Even as he cannot become erect in the bedroom, he believes he has found a better and less troubling erection of self through the “most valuable gifts in life,” the consumer goods that signal his worth. His “silk scarf” with “gold fringe,” his designer “brown and tan tweed jacket,” and his expensive



Stingray automobile are the means through which he fabricates his masculine identity (102). As the organic movements of the body speak to the emasculation of the subject, the accumulation of wealth serves as a way to project a masculine self that is not porous and does not decay. Rather than an exaggerated portrayal of a single man’s obsessive behavior, Naylor’s depiction of Maxwell’s anal character is central to her critique of the capitalist spirit, which she shares with Brown when he writes, Freudian theory derives character from repressed perverse sexual trends; the prudential calculating character (the ideal type of Homo ecomomicus) is an anal character. There are equivocations in the psychoanalytic literature; but taken strictly, the Freudian theory of the anal character—like classical economic theory—has no room for the concept of the excessively prudential calculating disposition. Prudential calculation as such is an anal trait; the theory of the anal character is a theory of what Max Weber called the capitalist spirit, and not just of deviant exaggerations such as the miser.20

For Brown, like Naylor, the anal character is the guiding force—“the ideal type”—for our current economic system, capitalism.21 In his account, the bodily schema whereby the subject sublimates the excremental self and projects himself into the dead matter of consumable objects fuels and inspires capitalism. It is the subject who longs for excess that does not speak to death but immortal preservation through excessive accumulation that causes an alienation from both the world and the body. Homo economicus, then, is the subject who seeks to transcend decay through a transplantation of self into “dead” things seemingly devoid of movement toward rot. Brown argues, What is being probed, and found to be in some sense morbid, is not knowledge as such, but the unconscious schemata governing the pursuit of knowledge in modern civilization—specifically the aim of possession or mastery over objects (Freud), and the principle of economizing in the means (Ferenczi). And the morbidity imputed to these schemata, if interpreted in the context of the whole libido theory, amounts to this: possessive mastery over nature and rigorously economical thinking are partial impulses in the human being (the human body) which in modern civilization have become tyrant organizers of the whole of human life; abstraction from the reality of the whole body and substitution of the abstracted impulses for the whole reality are inherent in Homo economicus.22



For Brown, the morbidity of capitalism stems from bodily schemata that rage against the loss of the excremental self and turn toward organic matter—both the body itself and the surrounding world—in order to eradicate that which threatens the fantasy of differentiation from worldly entropy. A desire to master the excessive world—to turn natural “waste” into tamed product—and a desire to transplant the subject into an immortal form that cannot erode leads to the alienation of the subject from the body and the world. Fear of death and of the threatening ecosystems of which we are a part that ultimately will claim our flesh causes a morbid abstraction of the subject from the fullness of bodily life. Maxwell is akin to Brown’s tyrant organizer of the human body, for he sublimates excessive desires for rigorous economical thinking with a focus upon ascension through the ranks at General Motors and the subjective worth that his labor can provide in the forms of status and wealth. As Maxwell views life as a “race against the natural,” he also sees corporate life as a race to the top of the executive ladder where the ultimate prize of directorship is reserved for the “best man” within the labor pool. Because of his mastery of the body, Maxwell is able to control the amount of sleep required for his productivity at the office so that he might be the most successful worker on the floor. In other words, without succumbing to bodily needs, he can prove his worth to the company: He tackled General Motors in the same way he had the campus at Dartmouth, quietly disappearing behind his extraordinary record as regional sales representative, business manager, vice president of consumer affairs, and finally assistant to the executive director. But the stakes were a lot higher there, with no room for error; any break in his stride, any telltale mannerism or slip of the tongue might shatter the illusion that he was standing behind. Maxwell knew they would never have dreamed of allowing a black man next to the executive director, it had to be the best man. And this delicate balancing of reality demanded perfect control over his work and his subordinates. He allowed nothing to happen at the office that didn’t put him at the best advantage or that he couldn’t manipulate to make it seem so. (104)

Supplanting the fullness of bodily life, Maxwell devotes himself to becoming a corporate motor, a laboring machine that excretes wealth for the company, which in turn rewards him with a portion of the company’s earnings. To be a company man—the “best” company man—he seeks to



eradicate any hint of human frailty, any “telltale” sign that he is not the perfected mechanism for the production of sales. His triumph over the flesh that might impede his progress as well as his substitution of full bodily life for alienated labor does not only gain him company praise, but also causes “a mixture of awe, envy, and hatred that is the lot of exceptional achievers” (105). Especially among Maxwell’s subordinates, there are feelings of animosity toward him as he is a “slave-­ driver” who requires that the employees whom he manages also sacrifice non-productive desire and bodily life for commitment to the job. He sees those around him as the matter from which he can extract valuable labor and manipulate to his advantage. While employees exclaim behind his back that “Smyth acts like his [shit] don’t smell,” they perhaps would not be surprised that “it didn’t,” for Maxwell earns the envy of his peers because he has succeeded in supplanting the distractions of the realities of bodily life with compulsive labor (106). The secret to his success in Maxwell’s account has been conquering the “last frontier” of the excessive body and thus he believes that “there was nothing that stood between [him] and the ultimate finish line but time. When the executive chair became vacant, the board of trustees wouldn’t think twice about giving the best man the job. And that’s the only kind of man he was” (106). As his co-workers note, the “best man” is not an excremental being who reeks of humanity but an extraordinary motor that maximizes productivity both in his own sacrifices for the company and in his discipline of others who labor beneath him. This compulsion to labor for Homo economicus in Brown’s account stems from a desire to transplant the eroding subject into excessive wealth, excessive material or capital that seemingly avoids decomposition. The tyrant anal character that fuels capitalism leads destructively to the dehumanization of workers as well as the disturbing devaluation of human life. As Brown argues in analysis of the import of Marx’s understanding of the “alienated consciousness” to psychoanalytic theory, The alienated consciousness is correlative with a money economy. Its root is the compulsion to work. This compulsion to work subordinates man to things, producing at the same time confusion in the valuation of things (Verwertung) and the devaluation of the human body (Entwertung). It reduces the drives of the human being to greed and competition (aggression and possessiveness, as in the anal character). The desire for money takes the place of all genuinely human needs. Thus the apparent accumulation of



wealth is really the impoverishment of human nature, and its appropriate morality is the renunciation of human nature and desires—asceticism. The effect is to substitute an abstraction, Homo economicus, for the concrete totality of human nature, and thus to dehumanize human nature.23

The dehumanization of the self is apparent in Naylor’s depiction of her anal Homo economicus, Maxwell Smyth, as he has subordinated his porous humanity in diligent pursuit of things. He not only loses contact with his own unproductive bodily pleasure, as his aim is the accumulation of wealth, but also with the bodies of others. As we have seen, he cannot experience the pleasure of coming undone with another—revealing his innate holey-ness and ecstatic excremental nature—for this is tantamount to subjective suicide. In his relationships with co-workers, Maxwell sees only motors that run at his command and that produce wealth for the corporate entity. Through his material accumulation and industrious work, he walls himself off from “genuine human needs” and maintains an abstract worldview where the self and others only have value through the goods that they can display or the labor that they can perform. Confusing the value of things and capital as the most “important valuable gift[s] in life” creates an “inhuman consciousness whose only currency is abstractions divorced from real life—the industrious, coolly rational, economic, prosaic mind.”24 Longing to transcend death, the subject understands organic matter as excessive and unproductive life that can be made into dead things—objects—that do not have to decompose and can signify human movement away from the entropic pull of the body and the world. Although Maxwell is in many ways representative of American dreams of wealth, property ownership, and successful employment, he is undermined in the narrative because his erection of non-bodily subjective worth through accumulation leaves him stranded and isolated from the fullness of bodily life, others, and the world. In later chapters of the text, Linden Hills explores with greater depth the price of such inhumanity for other characters, as they cannot so easily sacrifice the import of bodily connection and pleasure for participation in a capitalist economy. Still, before turning to a discussion of the ways in which the text counters the anal character, I want to complicate my initial psychoanalytic reading of Maxwell. As Freudian accounts of the anal character begin from a kind of universal understanding of child development, they frequently eschew the ways that fantasies about racial difference impact subjects’ experiences of



their bodies in the larger culture. Naylor’s novel explores Maxwell and other characters’ commitment to capitalist values by linking the impact of racism on subjects’ bodily schemata to their desire for economic success as a means to prove their worth. In particular, Linden Hills does not trace the anal character back to the infant’s experience with the loss of excess that brings pleasure, but instead to instances in which black characters encounter how their bodies are seen as organic waste. It is experiences of being treated like shit that fuels characters’ commitment to transcending bodily life into that which is most valued by the surrounding culture.

“All This Whiteness That Burns”: Extinguishing Excremental Association Through Wealth While the previous discussion of Maxwell Smyth focuses upon Naylor’s critique of the anal character that is created by and fuels capitalism, the novel complicates this critique by focusing on the ways that the fictional black community comes to invest in the process of creating subjective worth through acquisition rather than promoting a re-evaluation of the dehumanizing economic system. With this focus, the novel is akin to Reed’s literary exploration of subjective responses to racism within civic and national bodies, for the text discussed above is embedded in a larger discussion of Maxwell’s experiences within educational systems and on the job market where he finds that his blackness signals worthlessness. His obsessive cleansing of the body is linked to a desire to transcend the racist fantasies of others that mar his flesh.25 For example, as a young child he encounters white educators who discount his significant abilities and his individual talents because of his skin color. In one vivid memory, Maxwell recalls how one instructor with “slate-blue eyes” carelessly handed out nametags to her students, seeming to avoid differentiating the individual students of color from others. Giving Maxwell a sign with his surname misspelled as Smith, he stops her to fix the error, verbally spelling out “S-M-Y-T-H” (103). With this reproachful correction, Maxwell watches as the teacher’s “eyes actually [focus] him into existence” (103). Although he cannot ascertain if this gaze that acknowledges his being stems from “impatience, embarrassment, or faint amusement,” he marks the moment when he emerges from the shadows and into her sightline, when he comes into focus and is “recognized” (103). This “blessing” of “an uncommon spelling of a common name” gives him the opportunity to witness one



way that he might “upset the assumptions” of others; he “relishes” the way that “an ordinary name … [turns] into the extraordinary and [takes] its owner with it in the transformation” (103). In particular, this fortunate surname allows him to experience the process by which “his blackness momentarily diminish[es] in front of” the faces of those white subjects who exhibit “ingrained expectations of his name and his being” (103). This original encounter in the educational system teaches Maxwell the power that comes from disrupting the expectations of others by replacing the base body with something extraordinary. He finds that the educator does not recognize value in his flesh until he has asserted an alternative “brand name,” one that does not signify common blackness or common humanity, but instead a grander pedigree and a more exceptional futurity. The encounter teaches him “the magic formula” by which he can refuse to be another black Smith, assumed to be destined for menial labor, and become a blacksmith, forging a new identity by making base matter disappear beneath the weight of a signifier of exceptionalism. Later in his life, Maxwell finds that he needs more than ownership of a surname to disrupt the assumptions of others about his black body; beyond his unique name, he decides to accrue an arsenal of “other feats that would continually minimize his handicap [his racial demarcation] to nothing more than a nervous tic” (103). These feats take two separate forms. First, Maxwell seeks to prove his worth through extraordinary achievement in school and in work. For example, “in college he found that his blackness began to disappear behind his straight A average” as well as his commitment to astounding amounts of extracurricular labor such as “heading the student government, [and] editing the school newspaper and the yearbook” (103). When he accepts a job at General Motors, he dedicates himself to producing a stellar sales record behind which his body might “quietly [disappear]” (104). In his commitment to scholarly excellence and productive labor, Maxwell seeks to cover over his bodily materiality and his blackness with accolades that signal not worthless despised flesh but value. In order to achieve these successes, Maxwell engages in a second form of labor: the control of his body. Beyond mastery of his excremental self, Maxwell learns to live without much sleep, “train[ing] himself to survive on three” slim hours of rest per day “while never appearing tired during classes” or at the office (103). In addition, he fears that bodily displays of displeasure such as reactions to the warm weather in the form of sweat or responses to cold winds in the form of shivering might reveal bodily weakness. “Since he [can’t] manipulate the weather outside of his



home, he adjust[s] his body accordingly,” refusing to allow the flesh to reveal the effects of temperature and climate (104). Maxwell interprets the surrounding culture’s racism as an indictment of excessive bodily life that those around him associate with blackness. In his attempts to regulate bodily excretion, he points toward a desire to prove that he does not exhibit the exuberant sexuality nor enjoy the filthy and slovenly excremental nature that others imagine black subjects to exude. While white subjects renounce bodily life and project what they have negated out onto the bodies of people of color, Maxwell refuses to indict this process of creating identity and instead comes to find fault in his pigmentation and thus turns with aggression toward the body to make his skin color disappear, to prove his value in the surrounding culture. For example, in a discussion of his struggles with racism in school and at work, the text reveals that Maxwell had discovered long ago that he doubled the odds of finishing first if he didn’t carry the weight of that milligram of pigment on his skin. There was no feasible reason why it should have slowed him down since in mass it weighed so little, and even that was consistently distributed over his six-foot frame. But the handicap had been set centuries before it was his turn at the gate. And since he knew no tract of ground but the planet earth and no competition but the human race, he had to use the rules as written and find a way to turn consequence into an inconsequence in his struggle to reach the finish line as a man. (102–103)

In his experience, blackness signals animality and waste, not humanity. He understands the human race to be a triumph over the organic world in a separation of the masculine subject from fleshy matter. Recognizing the absurdity of racism and how his nearly weightless covering of brown skin impacts his prospects in the nation, Maxwell still commits himself to winning within the system that he inhabits with the “written rules” fueled by understandings of racial difference. To become a success, he believes he must accomplish a “psychological sleight-of hand” whereby he can “make his blackness disappear” in front of the eyes of those who evaluate his worth, such as the General Motors board (102). Even as some of his colleagues claim that Maxwell desires to be white, the novel is clear that this is not his goal. Indeed, “He would have found the comments that he was trying to be white totally bizarre. Being white was the furthest thing from his mind, since he spent every waking moment



trying to be no color at all” (105–106). Here, Maxwell understands that his success on the job market—his success within capitalism—will come only through hard work to transcend the unruly bodily life that others project onto him. Although white men clearly have an advantage in the market, he takes on the challenge of becoming a man separated from assumed excessive unproductive desire. In short, he sees through systems of racial demarcation to the ways in which whiteness is constructed by a disavowal of bodily life. Thus, he seeks not to be “white,” but to become a subject with no color—no body—whatsoever. Maxwell’s encounters with racism lead him to evaluate the underlying desires and values of white subjects and the market that encircles him, namely, to negate bodily life, to separate the subject from unruly organic matter, and to prove subjective value through the accumulation of other forms of dead excess, such as stockpiles of money and material goods. Having deciphered the process whereby white subjects claim subjective value, Maxwell comes to see his pigmentation as a “handicap” in the culture that can be overcome by diligent commitment to the construction of the “industrious, coolly rational, economic, prosaic mind.”26 Maxwell’s experiences with racism echo Fanon’s description of the re-­ evaluation of the black body that occurs on a train ride when he encounters racist fantasies that spiral around his flesh in a meeting with a white mother and her child. The child, expressing fear of the black man before him, clings to his mother and cries out for her protection. Fanon, in turn, facing the child’s fear and the concern of the mother and other passengers, subjectively flees from his body to turn back toward his flesh as object and to decipher what makes his skin—his body—so terrifying to the young boy. In transit from his body, he writes, “I subjected myself to an objective examination, I discovered my blackness, my ethnic characteristics; and I was battered down by … intellectual deficiency, fetishism, racial defects.”27 His flight away from the body allows Fanon to inhabit the white gaze as well as “the movements, the attitudes, the glances of the other” that fix racial difference “in the sense in which a chemical solution is fixed by a dye.”28 Still, this subject is caught within the body and drenched in the excesses of others; the fantasies and projections of the train passengers leach onto his skin, searing him like chemical solutions, imprisoning him in a body now stained and scarred by those in transit from the abject excess of whiteness. Through description of this encounter, Fanon takes room to reflect on his youth in comparison to the white child before him. He, like the child, had come “lithe and young into a world that was ours”



“to help build it together.”29 Recalling his younger self, he remembers shouting “a greeting to the world” and yet “the world slashed away [his] joy,” “told [him] to stay within bounds, to go back where [he] belonged.”30 Coming forth with his intellect and with joyous pleasure to offer up his unique gifts to humanity, he is slashed down and tethered to violent understandings of his difference. His intellect denied, his body suspect, Fanon as a child discovers a world that has demarcated him as contrary to civilized development. In stunning prose, Fanon goes on to discuss the psychological impact of racism with a focus on the ways that it creates a toxic environment in which white subjects imagine transcendence from bodily life and project bodily exuberance and filth onto racially marked subjects; whiteness is the fantasy of bodily life overcome by civilized subjects, while blackness is imagined as an impossible to transcend bodily exuberance. In the human world around him, Fanon struggles to negate the body that signals difference. In Fanon’s discussion of the train car, the challenge for the subject stained by white fantasies is to disavow the offensive flesh, to rise above the burden of the dyed body. For Fanon, the white gaze heats the body, making the subject aware of the way in which his flesh signals regressive difference. Moving out from the body, floating above the flesh that becomes a thing—an “it”—that opposes subjective value, he contemplates the way that racism inspires a desire to free the subject from the degraded body. Yet, this type of transcendence is difficult, for when the subject comes with his joy to build the world all around him “there is a white song, a white song. All this whiteness that burns.”31 In Fanon’s flight from or negation of the flesh, the white song comes ringing a repetitive melodic denial of his subjectivity, encasing his body and the tethered subject in flesh, shrouded in fantasies of racial difference, animality, and savagery. It is this white subjectivity that denies, renounces, and hates the body—that reaches out to mark him as all body—that animates the racist violence that Fanon encountered through his travels. So, too, the racism of the surrounding culture impacts the subject demarcated by racial difference as the excess of whiteness sets his body aflame. In Naylor’s novel, the excess of whiteness that causes this alienated consciousness is displayed not as fire but as shit. As I discussed in the introduction to this chapter, the naming of the two main characters White and Shit highlights the racist association of blackness with excess. Thus, it is important that the novel contrasts White and Shit with Maxwell Smyth. Indeed, for Maxwell, White, and Shit, the black body is drenched in racist



fantasies that call characters to disavow bodily life, albeit in different ways. While White and Shit seek to reaffirm the worth of the flesh, Maxwell seeks to eliminate his black body soaked in racist fantasies. If the thing that makes him worthless in the surrounding culture is his skin stained by the projections of others, he seeks to extinguish these fiery fantasies—to cleanse away white shit—by giving the viewer some other excess to acknowledge. As a child, he seeks to make the black body disappear behind a refulgent signifier that speaks to the valuable subject buried beneath racist cultural shit. As he grows older, he gives those around him excessive labor in the form of academic study and commitment to professional development. In the corporate world, he again makes his blackness disappear beneath an outstanding sales record as well as the material goods and monetary assets that his employment provides. Through all of the stages of his life, Maxwell relies on his ability to cleanse away signs of base bodily life associated with blackness in order to prove his worth to those around him. Giving others valuable forms of excess to ponder—tireless labor and wealth—Maxwell repeatedly rinses off racist white shit that suffocates him in imagined organic difference by erasing the body to which it might cling. Others’ racist projections can pass through him because he has constructed a subject that has little connection to the body, but instead resides in valuable excess. Like a magician, he calls viewers to look away from the mechanisms of his bodily movements and toward an illusion of mastery over the elements, making base matter transform into extraordinary achievement and value. As a member of Linden Hills’s affluent community, Maxwell is representative of the larger aims of the inhabitants of the enclave. Indeed, the founding father—Luther Nedeed—maintained similar goals for the plot of land when he initially purchased it prior to the Civil War. Although little is known about Luther’s childhood in the South, readers learn that he moves north from Tupelo, Mississippi, and buys a plot of land that white landowners thought to be useless. The “hard sod” of the “hilly land” proves difficult to farm and thus is valueless in the agriculturally based economy; in addition, the only product that the land seems able to sustain is Linden trees, a relatively profit-less growth in comparison to “oak or birch” (2). The white landowners feel as though they are making out on the sale of such unproductive land. Luther becomes the butt of racist jokes in Wayne County that revolve around fantasies of racial deficiency; “knees were slapped and throats were choked on tobacco juice” as the white citizens mock the man they call a “half-witted” “crazy nigger” who “lay out



solid gold eagles” to own land that would not raise “spit” (2). The joke ultimately is on the surrounding community because Luther is a shrewd businessman; knowing that the land cannot be farmed and looking out at the cemetery that borders the property, he decides to open a mortuary business and to lease the hilly portion of the land to tenants. Luther makes the land valuable by profiting from what everybody has “to do: live and die” (6). In this business decision, Luther succeeds in making “useless” organic waste profitable. Even as the surrounding culture continues to enslave black people and to view free African Americans as second-class citizens at best, Luther proves through his business ventures that he can thrive economically in a culture that asserts his worthlessness. While the white citizens of the county and the nation continue to devalue the subjective worth of black subjects, Luther’s financial success allows him to counter racist fantasies with economic proof of his value. His monetary worth points the surrounding community away from his association with base human matter and toward a reassessment of his merit. Of course, prior to the Civil War, black bodies had value in their enslavement as owners forced their human property to labor and thereby create profit. In other words, slave owners extracted value from organic matter by ensuring the productivity of both human and non-human property. As Luther moves north, the citizens he encounters make a mockery of him, in part because they believe that he doesn’t understand the agricultural economy. His selection of property that they initially deem worthless seems to confirm the racist logic of the time, namely, black subjects lack the intelligence of their white counterparts and thus are deserving of positions in the economic system as either enslaved or low-paid manual laborers. Yet, Luther clearly does exhibit deep insights into the economy; unproductive land can have value when leased out to black community members who serve as the manual labor in the county’s industries: “the sawmills and tar pit” (4). Catering to impoverished black community members’ physical need for housing, Luther extracts monetary worth from the black labor pool, albeit in different ways from the owners of industry; while they benefit from the manual efforts of human workers in the extraction of product from the pit and the felling of the county’s trees, Luther siphons off a portion of their small wages for access to shelter. In addition, Luther finds a way to make money off the most “worthless” human matter: the dead. Knowing that families will spend “over half a year’s wages to send a hunk of rotting flesh off to heaven,” as his son notes, Luther cashes in on the desires of others



to honor the lives of those lost. Rather than see his mortuary service as an important contribution to the celebration of black community members’ value in a culture that consistently devalues them, Luther and later his son understand expensive mortuary services as a waste of money that could be better spent on “bonds” or “land” (8). This business and their status as landlords lead to the amassing of great wealth, so much so, that they become the wealthiest family in the county. A third and final way that Luther extracts value from human others is by purchasing an enslaved woman, a wife from whom he can extract a son, an heir to his fortune and his business. Unable to produce a replica of himself without the organic matter of a fertile female body, Luther buys and brings home Luwana Packerville. From this property, he mines a child. In his relationship with his wife as in his relationship to land and his tenants, Luther is motivated by a desire to turn unproductive and useless waste into something of value: a child, a space to rent, or financial gain in the form of payment for access to housing. He values others for what they can provide to assure his wealth and legacy. Like Maxwell, he is motivated by his desire to prove his individual import—his value—in a culture that sees him as human detritus. When the first Luther Nedeed dies in 1879, his son continues to run the businesses; indeed, he is an exact replica of his father as he carries both his name and his appearance into the twentieth century. Like his father, Luther’s son continues to face the racism of the surrounding county as well as the scorn of black community members, who maintain a critical view of the ways in which he amasses his wealth. Despite his standing as the richest man in the county, the second Luther Nedeed knows that he cannot display his wealth for fear of white violence. Even though he is able to buy a “Rolls-Royce” “custom design[ed]” “with a mahogany dashboard and pure silver handles,” he knows “he will have to wait until almost the poorest white family in Wayne County owned an automobile before even dead blacks rode in mahogany and silver” (5). Even as he has succeeded financially, this achievement cannot be displayed ostentatiously as he still must seem to adhere to the racial caste system of the time; in other words, his wealth does not allow him to transcend assumed racial difference nor the enforced cultural laws that derive from racial categorization. Within the larger black community, Luther finds that his accumulation of wealth is deemed suspect; community members imagine that he and his father garnered wealth by “financ[ing] gunrunners to the Confederacy” thereby securing profit in the support of a cause that countered the emancipation of enslaved people. In the face of white and black criticism, Luther



maintains faith in his wealth’s ability to trump all those who would detract from his success; he notes, “‘Let ‘em think as they want; let ‘em say as they want—black or white. Just sit right here and they’ll make you a rich man” (6). As he “watch[es] … the twentieth century, and the value of his [land] creep upward,” he believes that both he and his father will have the “last laugh” as the racists who mock them and the black community members who question their methods do not have the same amount of value—capital—that they have accrued. Because of his father’s success, Luther’s son’s property attracts the interest of local government and major real estate developers who seek to appropriate the land for county interests or to buy the land for further development. Infuriated by government attempts to secure his land and frustrated with devious developers, the second Luther ensures that he will maintain his property by selling it “for practically air to the blacks who were shacking up” on it; “[h]e gave them a thousand-year-and-a-day lease—provided that they passed their property on to their children. And if they wanted to sell it, they had to sell it to another black family or the rights would revert back to the Nedeeds” (7). Luther makes this decision based on a vision of the future of the county and of the United States. Even as he has become a wealthy man, he sees that the nation will continue to devalue African American people. Following a conversation with a woman to whom he has sold a piece of his property and who blesses him for his generosity, the second Luther notes, Like his father, he saw where the future of Wayne County—the future of America—was heading. It was going to be white: white money backing wars for white power because the very earth was white—look at it—white gold, white silver, white coal running white railroads and steamships, white oil fueling white automotives. Under the earth—across the earth—and one day, over the earth. Yes, the very sky would be white.… [H]e was going to deal with the white god who would one day own that sky. And you and yours would help him. (8)

Here, Luther reflects on the ways that institutional racism continues to bar African Americans from full access to citizenship. While Luther is critical of institutionalized racism, he also bemoans the way in which he is tethered through the black body to other black people. Indeed, he has achieved the American dream of property ownership and financial prosperity, but still is denied inclusion in the national imaginary because of a “milligram



of pigment on his skin.” Tied to a body that denotes his worthlessness and to people also associated with racial deficiency, Luther seeks a small form of vengeance against white America by giving “his people some of the most expensive property in the county” (8–9). In this way, he plans to mar national fantasies of white superiority as the white citizens of Wayne County will be forced “to drive past Linden Hills and [be] waved at by the maids, mammies, and mules who were bringing the price of that sweat back to his land and his hands” (9). He imagines that this black community inhabiting the most desirable land in the county will be “a wad of spit—a beautiful, black wad of spit right in the white eye of America” (9). While white citizens of the county continue to benefit from institutionalized racism and continue to bombard black bodies with the excess of whiteness in the fantasy of racial difference, Nedeed attempts to soil fantasies of white superiority by giving his community worth in the form of property ownership. Those who are deemed fit only to “[dig] another man’s coal, [clean] another man’s home, [or rock] another man’s baby” will be able to claim and display valuable excess in the form of expensive property, thereby undermining an economic system that refuses to reward black subjects with the same opportunities as white people. Like Reed’s Bukka Doopeyduk in his attempt to claim the white “John,” Luther devises a plan to “soil” the body of white America, to allow the spittle from his laughter—his own excess—to stain the bodies of whites living in Wayne County. As he notes, “Well, he would show them. This wedge of earth was his—he couldn’t rule but he sure as hell could ruin. He could be a fly in the ointment, a spot on the bleached sheet, and Linden Hills would prove it” (8). To ruin the fantasy of white superiority, Nedeed seeks to create a space where this fiction is undermined as black subjects own expensive land and therefore have the kind of excess that the nation celebrates (8). Although he expresses a desire to spit on white America, his anger ultimately does not take the form of bodily aggression toward white subjects, but instead takes the form of displays of wealth. As in Fanon’s theory of “secret[ing] a race,” Luther builds the value of blackness by negating bodily production of excrement and instead transplanting the black subject into costly property—“valuable shit”—that speaks to subjective worth not debased bodily life.32 Following the Great Depression, the third Luther builds on his grandfather’s dream by developing Linden Hills into a greater showpiece of black wealth. As he



watches America’s nervous breakdown during the thirties, he realize[s] that nothing [is] closer to the spleen and guts of the country than success. The Sunday papers now told him what the sun had told his dead fathers about the cycles of men: Life is in the material—anything high, wide, deep. Success is being able to stick an “er” on it. And death is watching someone else have it. His grandfather’s dream was still possible—the fact that they had this land was a blister to the community, but to make that sore fester and pus over, Linden Hills had to be a showcase. He had to turn it into a jewel—an ebony jewel that reflected the soul of Wayne County but reflected it black. (9–10)

Success within the nation involves mastery of matter, turning organic waste into monetary value by becoming an owner. Still, as Luther rightly notes, the economy has been set up to privilege the success of white men over black, allowing white men easier access to “make something of themselves,” to accrue the things that signify subjective worth. Even without these things or monetary comfort, white men can claim difference from blackness, transcendence from the bodily exuberance projected out onto black bodies. To counter the racism that surrounds him and his community, Luther plans to build an enclave that speaks not to excessive bodily life but excessive material gain. Still, it is important to Luther that the enclave is a black community; by erecting exquisite homes with the best materials that money can buy, Luther attempts to make the black body signal value and power. Unlike Maxwell, Luther’s grandson does not seek to make blackness disappear, but instead to transform its meaning. As whiteness is created through a disavowal of bodily life and a projection of bodily life onto African American subjects, Luther seeks to create threatening black power not through political action but by the acquisition of the objects and capital that inspire American dreams. To show the value of blackness, Luther erects structures that the surrounding culture would value and hopes that these homes will become the jewels that make “ebony” bodies shine with menacing worth, rather than excremental abjection. When Luther’s great-grandson takes over leadership of Linden Hills, he finds that his ancestors’ dreams of triumphing over white supremacist culture by accruing wealth has led to the erasure of the blackness that they sought to celebrate. Inhabitants like Maxwell, who do not want to celebrate black wealth as much as they hope that financial success will erase racial demarcation, populate Linden Hills. In Luther’s great-grandson’s account, the community members simply pray to a “white” god, who is not white at all; for him, the “omnipresent, omnipotent, Almighty Divine”



within the United States is the compulsion to own. Luther’s great-­ grandson comes to see that whiteness is nothing but a domineering relationship to matter; those Linden Hills’s denizens who desire wealth, looked at the earth, the sea, and the sky,… and mistook those who were owned by it as the owners. They looked only at the products and thought they saw God—they should have looked at the process. If they could have sat with him in front of a television that now spanned their tiny planet and universe to universes beyond the sun and moments that had guided their hand, they would have known the futility of their vengeance. Because when men begin to claw men for the rights to a vacuum that stretches into eternity, then it becomes so painfully clear that [God] is the will to possess. It had chained the earth to the names of a few and it would chain the cosmos as well. (16–17)

Like the earth “chained” to the names of a few, community members maintain a historical memory of their ancestors, claimed by owners and worked over by employers; yet, the remedy of becoming an “owner” of a piece of earth repeats a system whereby humans distinguish themselves from matter, where “men” claw at each other and the surrounding world in their attempts to prove their value through ownership. As Luther notes, “A white god? … How could it be any color when it stripped the skin, sex, and soul of any who offered themselves at its altar before it decided to bless? His fathers had made a fatal mistake: they had given Linden Hills the will to possess and so had lost it to the very god they sought to defy” (17). Here, whiteness is a fantasy of difference from matter, a process whereby those who claim it can deny their connection to a body; yet, whiteness is ultimately invisibility, the process through which a subject denies the soil of self in a repeated ownership of the organic world. By seeking “vengeance” for the historical association of the black body with matter—with soil to be worked over and made to work—through an ascension to the status of property owner, the black community members of Linden Hills have disappeared; like Maxwell, they have negated bodily life, connectivity to others, and worldly embodiment in favor of transplanting the self into objects of value. The black power that the Nedeeds had originally sought is based on the idea that excessive acquisition will speak to the value of black subjects whose extraordinary wealth might allow white subjects with less money and desirable property to be associated with trash. However, the



surrounding white community in Wayne County celebrates the community’s success. Indeed, Luther’s great-grandson is pained by the failure of his family’s dreams as the shining surface of [the community’s] careers, brass railings, and cars hurt his eye because it only reflected the bright nothing that was inside of them. Of course Wayne County had lived in peace with Linden Hills for the last two decades, since it now understood that they were both serving the same god. Wayne County had watched his wedge of earth become practically invisible—indistinguishable from their own pathetic souls. (17)

Rather than black spittle streaming down the face of white America, Linden Hills has become a reflection of Wayne County, a simple repetition of consumer culture, “indistinguishable” from white communities pursuing the American dream of ownership. The final line of this passage is key to the community’s invisibility; owning a “wedge” of earth—owning matter—is the dream of the nation’s citizens. Rather than offer an alternative to an “acquisitive” relationship to soil, Nedeed has aided in the process whereby degraded organic human bodies have erected subjective worth by following the economic model set forth by oppressors, namely, disavowing bodily life and worldly dependence in the construction of non-­ bodily value through material acquisition. Multiple generations of Luther Nedeed invest in creating subjective value through the accumulation of wealth, attempting to prove that black people can achieve the kind of success that the nation will acknowledge, despite the obstacles put in their way. While this wealth is meant to speak to the power of the black community to triumph over white subjects, it ultimately leads to the repetition of the denial of bodily life, human connectivity, and worldly embodiment through which white subjectivity is erected. Thus, the inhabitants of Linden Hills do not establish black power nor do they become white, but instead become akin to Brown’s Homo economicus, subjects who sacrifice the pleasures of bodily life and human connectivity in favor of the transplantation of the subject into objects that signify economic worth.



Loving the Excessive Body While the primary focus of this analysis of Linden Hills has focused upon characters’ desire to transcend the body in order to prove worth, the novel does offer readers brief glimpses of alternatives to the bodily schemata of those in the affluent community. For one, Ruth and Norman Anderson, a married couple living in a working-class neighborhood adjacent to Linden Hills, provide insight into other ways to work through the racism and materialism of the surrounding culture. Like Maxwell Smyth and Luther Nedeed, Norman suffers in a county and a country that imagines black bodies as waste.33 Indeed, Norman suffers with a “mental illness” called the “pinks” in which he experiences “wad[s] of pink slime” that shoot out to attach themselves to his body and become “consuming mass[es],” which cause his flesh to “dissolve” (36). This image of pink waste attacking the black body is a vivid rendering of the ways in which white shit impacts black subjects; as the surrounding culture constructs whiteness in opposition to blackness, Norman experiences that opposition as an assault on his physical body. This process of throwing the excesses of whiteness at black bodies causes Norman to feel as if his body is coated in toxic waste that burns through his flesh, suffocating him in excremental association. The impact of white or pink shit is to degrade Norman’s experience of his body, to make his bodily existence painful; indeed, Norman feels as if white shit will destroy him by dissolving him into nothing. For Norman, the pinks come calling once in each twenty-one month period of his adult life. Breaking into the life that he has built with his wife and destroying the serenity that the two have created in their apartment, the pinks cause Norman to react in two ways. First, he injures himself as he seeks to remove the blobs from his skin and, second, he destroys the couple’s scant collection of material goods. As Ruth notes in reference to Norman’s experience of the pinks, “He would manage to destroy everything that was painfully gathered for almost two years and then awaken from his twilight cry, promise to take his medication, [and] see the psychiatrist” (35). Although it may appear that Norman’s injury to himself results from the same kind of attempt to negate the body that other characters exhibit in the novel, his response to white shit reveals a different motivation. Rather than flee bodily life, Norman reaffirms the value of his physical form by refusing to allow his flesh to be demarcated as despised matter. As he attempts to “scrape off” the toxic pinks that would kill off



bodily delight, he reasserts the import of the body beneath racist fantasies of difference (36). In addition, Norman breaks apart the material goods that he and Ruth have amassed as the pinks attack his flesh thereby countering the processes in which the surrounding culture calls for the establishment of subjective worth through material accumulation. We might read his destruction of material goods as a refusal of the surrounding culture’s attempt to devalue bodily life by claiming that dead excess—objects—are the way to prove the import and status of the subject. Thrashing about the apartment, Norman refuses to accept that his body is filth or to transplant his subjective value into inanimate things. Instead, he embraces the black body as valuable organic matter. While medical treatment prepares him to return home to Ruth, it is their relationship that serves as the most important balm for the racism and consumer culture surrounding them. Still, Ruth has a difficult time embracing her love for a man whose illness does not allow the couple to achieve the “anchor of security which comes with the weight of accumulated things: good brocade chairs, linens, a set of company silverplate” (35). During the fourth summer of their relationship, she plans to leave Norman because of the way his illness claims the material things that they accrued with their limited income. Beyond Normans’s destructiveness, Ruth is inspired to depart from their apartment because of her own illness, an ovarian inflammation that causes her to lose her job and heightens the financial stress on the couple as the pinks are once again on their way. Her scheduled departure is disrupted when she finds that the pain of her own illness leaves her stranded on the couple’s bed, unable to finish packing her things. Norman, returning home from work as the pinks glom onto his flesh, finds her suffering and, despite his own turmoil, proceeds to administer aspirin to his beloved (35–36). This act of love for her ailing body changes Ruth’s direction in life, even as she knows that her family and friends will not understand her choice: [No] one would ever believe that she was still there because of some aspirin and a glass of water. And quietly she just didn’t replace the furniture that Norman had destroyed. She removed the glass and silverware from the apartment. The hangers went next and the metal curtain rods. The smashed television and stereo set were replaced by a cheap transistor radio since she insisted that she had no use for the clutter of new things; and besides, they were saving for a home. Then every other spring she went to the bank and



emptied their account to pay for his hospital bills, medication, and therapy sessions. They filled the vacant spaces in the apartment with the memories from long walks in the park, bus outings to the beach, and window-­shopping for that new home; with Norman massaging her back, and her clipping his toe nails, with plans for adopting a baby—with a whole, safe year and then that summer, fall, and winter before the next pink spring. (37)

Ruth stays with Norman because of what the aspirin and water symbolize, namely, care for the physical body. While her employer cannot take the time to wait out Ruth’s illness and deposes of her flesh in favor of another laborer, Norman embraces her and her pain. She has value for him, even in her distress, and thus Ruth stays in their home, offering him the same tenderness during times of strife and enjoying the times in which they can celebrate the excessive and unproductive pleasures of bodily life together. Thus, they build their lives together in the pursuit of bodily pleasure and comfort, not in the pursuit of worth through accumulation. They are valuable to each other in their bodily connection—not because of the labor that they can provide or because of the material fruit that labor can bring. As they both proclaim that “love rules in [their] house,” they celebrate and honor their bodily subjectivity within a surrounding culture that so degrades the black body and humanity by establishing subjective value based on the market value or wealth of individuals. At the conclusion of the novel, White and Shit watch as the inhabitants of Linden Hills stand idly by while Luther Nedeed’s house burns to the ground and the flames claim his body. Witnessing with sorrow the absence of aid, the young men tearfully wonder why the community “let it” and him “burn” (304). Although the text does not explain the community’s willful inaction, the full narrative suggests that members of Linden Hills’s commitment to capital as a means to best neighbors viewed as competitors is one answer to this query. Why should they reach out to help the wealthiest man in their community when the loss of his property and life creates a space for them to assume greater status within the enclave? Without his material excess that belittles their accomplishments, their property—their valuable shit—will speak with greater power to their import. In contrast, White and Shit, “hand anchored to hand,” “[help each] other” in their grief and terror in the face of human callousness to the suffering of another (304). Refusing to celebrate the status of another as human waste in order to bolster their value, White and Shit embrace their shared excremental nature and bodily vulnerability.



As whiteness in the novel is constructed by negating bodily life and transplanting the subject from the abject flesh into capital, this final scene unites whiteness and excreta, hand in hand, in order to overthrow bodily schemata that separate us from the body and each other. Through Norman and Ruth’s marriage and the friendship of White and Shit, the novel suggests that embracing—loving—the excremental self and the bodily excesses of others is one way to avoid the anal sadism of the surrounding culture and the violence of Homo economicus.34 Ruth, Norman, White, and Shit embrace their porousness, their ability to touch and bring pleasure to each other, both in times of joy and in times of pain. Rather than seek to prove their subjective worth on the labor market or through acquisition, they affirm excessive bodily and subjective value in their ability to connect with each other. Therefore, these characters oppose the inhabitants of Linden Hills who “eat, sleep, and breathe for … making it” up and away from bodily life and human connection in order to prove their extraordinary market value and distinction from other beings (39).

Notes 1. Ludacris, “That’s My Shit,” recorded 2005, track 14 on Disturbing tha Peace, Def Jam, compact disc. 2. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (New York: Grove Press, 1967), 98. 3. Naylor, Gloria, Linden Hills (New York: Penguin Books, 1985). All page numbers for quotations pulled from the primary text will be noted in the body of the chapter. 4. See Barbara Christian, “Gloria Naylor’s Geography: Community, Class, and Patriarchy in The Women of Brewster Place and Linden Hills,” in New Black Feminist Criticism: 1985–2000, ed. Gloria Bowles, M. Giulia Fabi, and Arlene R.  Keizer (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2007), 99–119. In this piece, she notes that Naylor’s work “offer[s] us a graphic depiction of Afro-American groups, physically close, yet so distant because of their class difference” (101). For another discussion of socio-economic class in the novel, see Doris Witt, Black Hunger: Soul Food and America (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 198–210, especially 209. 5. For a discussion of Naylor’s novel in connection to other works by African American women novelists, see Barbara Christian, “‘Somebody Forgot to Tell Somebody Something’: African American Women’s Historical Novels,” in New Black Feminist Criticism: 1985–2000, ed. Gloria Bowles, M. Giulia Fabi, and Arlene R. Keizer (Champaign: University of Illinois



Press, 2007), 86–98. In particular, Christian positions Linden Hills in relationship to Marshall’s Praisesong for the Widow and Morrison’s Tar Baby as all three novels address “the effects of middle-class mobility” upon black communities; beyond connecting Naylor’s work to these novels, she also contextualizes Linden Hills by showing a broader historiographic turn in African American women’s writing of the late twentieth century. Also, see Barbara Christian, “Gloria Naylor’s Geography: Community, Class, and Patriarchy in The Women of Brewster Place and Linden Hills,” 100–101. 6. See Barbara Christian, “Gloria Naylor’s Geography: Community, Class, and Patriarchy in The Women of Brewster Place and Linden Hills,” 111. Also, see Henry Louis Gates, Jr., “Significant Others,” Contemporary Literature, Vol. 29, No. 4 (Winter 1988): 618. 7. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., “Significant Others,” 618. 8. For a discussion of Naylor’s appropriation of and revision of Dante’s Inferno, see Christine G. Berg, “‘Light from a Hill of Carbon Paper Dolls’: Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills and Dante’s Inferno,” Modern Language Studies, Vol. 29, No. 2 (Autumn 1999): 1–19. Also see Catherine C. Ward, “Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills: A Modern Inferno,” Contemporary Literature, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Spring 1987): 67–81. For a critique of Ward’s article that focuses not only the “adoption” and revision of Dante’s Inferno, but also the “subversion” of it (129), see Tracey Thornton, “Breaking Canonical Chains: Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills,” in Postcolonial Perspectives on Women Writers from Africa, the Caribbean, and the U.S., ed. Martin Japtok (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2003), 113–130. For another discussion of the novel’s engagement with Dante’s work as well as Plato’s cave and other classical visions of underworlds in works like Virgil’s Aeneid, see Margaret Homans, “The Woman in the Cave: Recent Feminist Fictions and the Classical Underworld,” Contemporary Literature, Vol. 29, No. 3 (Autumn 1988): 369–402. For commentary on other canonical texts that the novel addresses and revises, see John Noell Moore, “Myth, Fairy Tale, Epic, and Romance: Narrative as Re-Vision in Linden Hills,” Callaloo Vol. 23, No. 4 (2000): 1410–1429, and Ruth Bienstock Anolik, “‘There Was a Man’: Dangerous Husbands and Fathers in The Winter’s Tale, A Sicilian Romance and Linden Hills,” in Horrifying Sex: Essays on Sexual Difference in Gothic Literature, ed. Ruth Bienstock Anolik (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007), 83–101. For a discussion of the novel’s relationship to gothic fictions, see Jerrold E. Hogle, “Teaching the African American Gothic: From Its Multiple Sources to Linden Hills and Beloved,” in Approaches to Teaching Gothic Fiction: The British and American Traditions, ed. Diane Long and Tamar Heller (New York, NY: Modern Language Association, 2003), 215–222. For discussion of the novel’s revi-



sion and subversion of the film Miracle on 34th Street, see Doris Witt, Black Hunger: Soul Food in America, 207–210. 9. See Margaret Homans, “The Woman in the Cave: Recent Feminist Fictions and the Classical Underworld,” 369. For a discussion of “the impact of patriarchal oppression on the body and voice of the mother” and the “powerful maternal subtext that functions in opposition to these forces” (795), see Paula Gallant Eckard, “The Entombed Maternal in Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills,” Callaloo, Vol. 35, No. 3 (Summer 2012): 795–809. Also see Stephanie A. Tingley, “A ‘Ring of Pale Women’: Willa Nedeed as Feminist Archivist and Historian in Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills,” CEA Critic, Vol. 52, No. 2 (Winter 1995): 59–67, and Christopher N. Okonkwo, “Suicide or Messianic Self-Sacrifice?: Exhuming Willa’s Body in Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills,” African American Review, Vol. 35, No. 1 (2001): 117–131. 10. Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1959), 238. 11. Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001), 5. 12. Sigmund Freud, “Character and Anal Erotism,” in The Freud Reader, edited by Peter Gay (New York: W.W.  Norton & Company, Ltd., 1989), 294. 13. Sigmund Freud, “Character and Anal Erotism,” 294–295. 14. Sigmund Freud, “Character and Anal Erotism,” 296. 15. Sigmund Freud, “Character and Anal Erotism,” 296. 16. Sigmund Freud, “Character and Anal Erotism,” 297. 17. Sigmund Freud, “On Transformations of Instinct as Exemplified in Anal Erotism,” in On Sexuality: Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality and Other Works, edited by Angela Richards (New York, Penguin Books, 1977), 299. 18. Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death, 292–293. 19. Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death, 297. 20. Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death, 235. 21. Indeed, Brown is quite polemical about the need for psychoanalytic thinkers to evaluate and to critique the anal character of capitalism in ways that I believe Naylor does in Linden Hills; he writes, “If it is both honest and courageous, psychoanalysis must frankly offer a psychology of the capitalist spirit as a whole” (235). 22. Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death, 236. 23. Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death, 237–238. 24. Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death, 237–238. 25. For a related argument, see Tim Engles, “African American Whiteness in Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills,” African American Review, 43.4 (Winter 2009): 661–679. He writes, “Naylor dramatizes a desire to shed blackness



and become rich. While the latter seems more a matter of class than of race, it nevertheless entails a ‘whitening’ process that parallels the workings of white racialization” (662). 26. Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death, 238. 27. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 112. 28. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 109. 29. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 112–113. 30. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 114–115. 31. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 114. 32. Frantz Fanon, Black Skins, White Masks, 122. 33. For a related discussion of Norman’s illness, see Claudia Drieling, “Violent Health and Comforting Illness: Paradoxical Body Fictions in Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills,” in Entre apocalypse et rédemption: l’écriture de Gloria Naylor, Writing Between Apocalypse and Redemption: Gloria Naylor’s Fiction, edited by Suzette Tanis-Plant, Claudine Raynaud, and Emmanuelle Adrés (Paris: Editions L’Harmattan, 2010), 55–72. For a discussion of madness in relationship to female characters in the novel, see Caroline Brown, “The Madwoman’s Other Sisters: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Gloria Naylor, and the Re-Inscription of Loss,” in Charlotte Perkins Gilman: New Texts, New Contexts, ed. Jennifer S. Tuttle and Carol Farley Kessler (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2011), 200–221. 34. See Henry Louis Gates, Jr., “Significant Others,” 614–615. With a focus on the “subversive potential” of the eroticization of the male body in the homoeroticism of Linden Hills, Gates makes a similar argument (615). While Gates focuses on the homosexual desire of White and Shit, I seek here to elucidate a kind of love between Norman and Ruth that also embraces the “destabilizing excess” of identity categories based in sexual difference.

Bibliography Anolik, Ruth Bienstock. “‘There Was a Man’: Dangerous Husbands and Fathers in The Winter’s Tale, A Sicilian Romance and Linden Hills.” In Horrifying Sex: Essays on Sexual Difference in Gothic Literature, edited by Ruth Bienstock Anolik, 83–101. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007. Berg, Christine G. “‘Light from a Hill of Carbon Paper Dolls’: Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills and Dante’s Inferno.” Modern Language Studies, Vol. 29, No. 2 (Autumn 1999): 1–19. Brown, Caroline. “The Madwoman’s Other Sisters: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Gloria Naylor, and the Re-Inscription of Loss.” In Charlotte Perkins Gilman: New Texts, New Contexts, edited by Jennifer S. Tuttle and Carol Farley Kessler, 200–221. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2011.



Brown, Norman O. Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1959. Christian, Barbara. “Gloria Naylor’s Geography: Community, Class, and Patriarchy in The Women of Brewster Place and Linden Hills.” In New Black Feminist Criticism: 1985–2000, edited by Gloria Bowles, M. Giulia Fabi, and Arlene R. Keizer, 99–119. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2007. Christian, Barbara. “‘Somebody Forgot to Tell Somebody Something’: African American Women’s Historical Novels.” In New Black Feminist Criticism: 1985–2000, edited by Gloria Bowles, M.  Giulia Fabi, and Arlene R.  Keizer, 86–98. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2007b. Drieling, Claudia. “Violent Health and Comforting Illness: Paradoxical Body Fictions in Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills.” In Entre apocalypse et rédemption: l’écriture de Gloria Naylor, Writing Between Apocalypse and Redemption: Gloria Naylor’s Fiction, edited by Suzette Tanis-Plant, Claudine Raynaud, and Emmanuelle Adrés, 55–72. Paris: Editions L’Harmattan, 2010. Eckard, Paula Gallant. “The Entombed Maternal in Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills.” Callaloo, Vol. 35, No. 3 (Summer 2012): 795–809. Engles, Tim. “African American Whiteness in Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills.” African American Review, 43.4 (Winter 2009): 661–679. Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove Press, 1967. Franzen, Jonathan. The Corrections. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001. Freud, Sigmund. “Character and Anal Erotism.” In The Freud Reader, edited by Peter Gay, 293–296. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Ltd., 1989. Freud, Sigmund. “On Transformations of Instinct as Exemplified in Anal Erotism.” In On Sexuality: Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality and Other Works, edited by Angela Richards, 295–302. New York: Penguin Books, 1977. Gates, Jr., Henry Louis. “Significant Others.” Contemporary Literature, Vol. 29, No. 4 (Winter 1988): 606–623. Hogle, Jerrold E. “Teaching the African American Gothic: From Its Multiple Sources to Linden Hills and Beloved.” In Approaches to Teaching Gothic Fiction: The British and American Traditions, edited by Diane Long and Tamar Heller, 215–222. New York, NY: Modern Language Association, 2003. Homans, Margaret. “The Woman in the Cave: Recent Feminist Fictions and the Classical Underworld.” Contemporary Literature, Vol. 29, No. 3 (Autumn 1988): 369–402. Ludacris. “That’s My Shit.” By Ludacris, Field Mob, The Trak Starz, Playaz Circle, and Perfect Harmany, et al. Recorded 2005. Track 14 on Disturbing tha Peace. Def Jam, compact disc. Moore, John Noell. “Myth, Fairy Tale, Epic, and Romance: Narrative as Re-Vision in Linden Hills.” Callaloo, Vol. 23, No. 4 (2000): 1410–1429. Naylor, Gloria. Linden Hills. New York: Penguin Books, 1985.



Okonkwo, Christopher N. “Suicide or Messianic Self-Sacrifice?: Exhuming Willa’s Body in Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills.” African American Review, Vol. 35, No. 1 (2001): 117–131. Reed, Ishmael. The Free-Lance Pallbearers. 1967. Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1999. Thornton, Tracey. “Breaking Canonical Chains: Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills.” In Postcolonial Perspectives on Women Writers from Africa, the Caribbean, and the U.S., edited by Martin Japtok, 113–130. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2003. Tingley, Stephanie A. “A ‘Ring of Pale Women’: Willa Nedeed as Feminist Archivist and Historian in Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills.” CEA Critic, Vol. 52, No. 2 (Winter 1995): 59–67. Ward, Catherine C. “Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills: A Modern Inferno.” Contemporary Literature, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Spring 1987): 67–81. Witt, Doris. Black Hunger: Soul Food and America. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.


Waste as Weapon: Fecal Bombing in Don DeLillo’s Underworld

Director Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb concludes its satirical engagement with the Cold War and the stockpiling of nuclear weapons with an image of Major Kong (played by Slim Pickens) riding a bomb as if it is a bucking bronco at a western rodeo in its descent from the sky to its impact on Russian soil.1 Waving his cowboy hat with his right hand and clutching the bomb with his left, Kong lets out wild yawps and joyful “ya-hoos” as he drops through the air. Rather than confront the targeted landscape, Kong sits backwards, facing the shaft of the bomb and the plane from which he has been dropped, so that the tip of the bomb points toward the ground, peeking out from his buttocks. Kong’s bomb seemingly spears out from his anal orifice. An unsubtle replacement for corporeal waste, this fecal matter is a hardened, non-aromatic, perfectly shaped cylinder that represents a national celebration of military technology that delights in the advancement of weapons of mass destruction; as Kong rides the nation’s powerful shit, he triumphantly celebrates the seeming transcendence from worldly engulfment and dependence. The fecal bomb in the film both speaks to a national fantasy of subjective difference from other beings and the power of the nation to make others into cursed dust, wasted matter, or organic shit. Within the context of the film, the disavowal of bodily connection to the world leads to horrific consequences. The satire of the final scene revolves around the way in which joyful displays of military might © The Author(s) 2020 M. C. Foltz, Contemporary American Literature and Excremental Culture, American Literature Readings in the 21st Century,




ultimately lead to Kong’s death as well as the death of all life on the planet, for the Russians have created a doomsday device, a cache of bombs that will detonate should they be attacked and that will make the earth uninhabitable for human and other life. Following this scene, the film offers a montage of mushroom clouds that signal to the viewer that the nuclear apocalypse has occurred; even as Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again” soars around the imagery of destruction,2 viewers know that the characters will not “meet again” on “some sunny day.” “Blue skies” will not be able to “drive the dark clouds” of human military endeavor “away” before the damage has been done. In essence, the filmic bomb is the toxic fecal matter of a nation that denies connectivity to other beings and the world itself, and it is this kind of anal sadism that threatens not only those deemed enemy, but also the lives of those who create and champion such nuclear power. Like Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, Don DeLillo’s Underworld presents gaseous fecal bombs in literary explorations of war and deploys metaphoric usage of toiletry as a way to describe national interaction with those beyond our borders.3 As Mark Osteen argues, the novel “offers … [an] act of resistance and redemption, submerging us in the culture of waste and weapons so that we may emerge transformed.”4 One way that the text resists the celebration of the production of weapons and the disavowal of their toxicity in deployment or in disposal is by plumbing the depths of American fantasies about weapons and war. The text calls for an evaluation of how fantasies about the bomb reveal subjects’ desire to overcome terrifying worldly embodiment and excremental closeness to other beings. Indeed, within the novel, fantasies of the bomb tie back to reflections upon bodily vulnerability and the desire to transcend psychically painful feelings of powerlessness and porousness in the world. This chapter will examine the ways in which the novel explores the anal sadism involved in the production, deployment, and disposal of weapons systems. Like Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, Underworld presents nuclear and other weapons as the excrement of the nation, the toxic waste of the nation’s erection of identity and denial of the porousness of national borders as well as human connectivity to each other through the ecosystems upon which we depend. While the text addresses individual characters’ abnegation of the excremental self in connection to the nation’s disavowal of bodily vulnerability, it provides psychoanalytic insight into the kinds of subjects who build and celebrate powerful weapons systems. Instead of embracing the body as organic matter, militaristic subjectivity in the novel



transcends bodily life through the creation and deployment of weapons that speak to the power of national subjects to bring death to threatening Others. The fecal bomb, then, is the type of shit that allows the nation and its citizens to imagine a substitution of bodily vulnerability for fantasized bodily superpower. The novel also investigates the desire to “waste” others, to make foreign others experience the full horror of being vulnerable bodies. Most literary critics of this novel have focused upon the detritus of consumer culture, thereby centering the critical debate on the ethics of recycling or art built from waste. For example, David Cowart argues that the novel addresses the redemptive power of recycling while Paul Gleason examines how art and aesthetic experiences in the novel can help viewers (and us as readers) engage with systems of military disposal.5 Like these two critics, Philip Nel argues that the novel, like the artists and scavengers in it, displays the political power of the text and aesthetic works like it to perform “sneak attacks” on the dominant culture.6 Rachele Dini’s work goes further than these articles by showing how the novel asks readers to attend to the “backstory” of waste; she writes, “the ecological view of waste somehow stands in for or occludes the socio-economic view of the object itself: we worry about discarded plastic in lieu of worrying about the cheap labour that went into making the plastic in the first place. … [The novel] requires an imaginative leap, inviting us to attend to the origins of the product and its potentially ethical dubiousness.”7 Of course, not all critics take an optimistic view of the novel’s take on waste; David H.  Evans argues that the novel critiques recycling in its many forms, thereby providing a pessimistic view of the potential for recycling to address the amount and toxicity of waste produced by consumer and military culture.8 This chapter adds to this critical conversation by addressing how DeLillo uses and revises psychoanalytic theory to engage with waste. Using Leo Bersani’s The Freudian Body and Homos, this chapter supports close-readings of literary scenes from the novel with Bersani’s analyses of violence toward the world and human Others. Like Brown’s Life Against Death, Bersani’s psychoanalytic works engage with cultural and individual aggression. In both texts, Bersani moves quickly from the delineation of the sadism of the individual and civilization toward an engagement with how psychoanalysis provides insight into subjective desire for the world to unravel the fantasized separation of human from the environment. With analyses of both Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents and Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Bersani outlines two competing forms of



pleasure that contribute to his theoretical engagement with (anal) sadism. One form involves the pursuit of a subjective stasis where the subject attempts to control external stimuli in order to avoid the destabilization of ego narratives of identity. The desire for the pleasure that comes by disavowing worldly frottage fuels both the attempts to isolate the subject from overwhelming worldly pleasures and the aggression toward that which disrupts ego narratives of identity. The second form of pleasure that Bersani juxtaposes to this first pleasure principle is the enjoyment of jouissance, the pleasure that comes from “self-shattering.” By positing the potentially productive possibilities of the second kind of unproductive pleasure, Bersani counters sadism with delight in the unraveling of subjective difference from other beings and the organic world. As he theorizes the power of self-shattering, Bersani’s work shares Brown’s desire to explore a subjectivity that “doesn’t negate anymore” for it is the disavowal of worldly connection and dependence that inspires violence toward each other and the world. Bersani’s work offers the useful concepts of “self-shattering” and “homos” as a way to flesh out the kind of subjects who take great pleasure in losing the self in bodily connection with others and the environment. His psychoanalytic texts can be appropriated for a powerful examination of subjects that DeLillo’s novel presents who court a kind of subjectivity that remains open to the power of the world to decompose fantasies of human mastery and control as well as human violence toward the ecosystems upon which we depend. Connecting Bersani’s insights to DeLillo’s literary play with weapons systems, this chapter also examines the novel’s call for an embrace of the abolition of “organic repression” and a desire for the “self-­ shattering” that comes from worldly engulfment.

Fantasies of the Fecal Bomb In a section of Underworld titled “Elegy for Left Hand Alone,” Matt Shay recalls the titillating renditions of Cold War comic book narratives that his brother, Nick, performed for neighborhood kids during their 1950s childhood in the Bronx. While sitting on the toilet, Nick acts out the adventures of comic heroes, villains, and the women who aid them in their victory against enemy others: When Matty was real small and his brother used to sit on the pot and read comics to a peewee audience, neighbor kids ages four and five supposedly



being minded by a grown-up somewhere near, with Matty in the doorway ready to shout chickie, which was the warning word, and there’s Nick on the pot reading to them from Captain Marvel or the Targeteers, his pants hanging limp form his kneecaps, and he did lively dialogue, declaimed and gestured, developed a voice for villains and for women and an airy stabbing screech for gangster cars cornering tightly in the night, scaring the kids at times with his intensity of manner, then pausing to loose a turd that would splattingly drop, that would plop into the water, the funniest sound in nature, sending a happy awe across the faces of his listeners—it was the creepiest delight of all, better than anything he might deliver from the paneled pages. (210)

Here, Matt, Nick, and the other neighborhood kids know that the aromas and sounds of defecation are something to be hidden in “water closets” away from adults who might discipline this pre-adolescent fascination with bodies falling apart and who know better than to delight with happy awe in base, bodily functions. As in the comedy of Murphy that began this book, the novel posits that maturity requires letting go of a playful engagement with human waste and the acquiescence to an upright and uptight adulthood stance that puts waste in its place, cleanses the body of the connection to the abject, and disassociates the subject from decay. Because the scene marries toiletry and representations of war, albeit with “comic” depictions of good and evil, we might ask what does Nick’s “awesome” turd or the resounding plop of self have to do with gangsters and molls, mighty heroes and their dark counterparts? Why does the excremental action of the scene work as a kind of climax to the struggle between “us” and “them” in the comic narrative? One way to answer these questions is to focus on the boys’ connection to comics like Captain Marvel in which a disempowered youth named Billy Bateson transforms into a superhero to fight for justice in a world filled with sinister fictional foes like Doctor Sivana and Mister Mind, and historical figures like Adolf Hitler. For Nick and Matt, two descendants of Italian immigrants living in poverty without a father, the comic fantasy allows them to transcend their feelings of powerlessness.9 While the surrounding community may view the children as members of the city’s teeming poor or human trash, the comic narrative offers an appealing alchemy in which a young boy can participate in a transformation from shit to marvelous crime fighter. As Nick lets out his choreographed defecation to the comic lyrics of conquest, he physically affirms the possibility of



this metamorphosis. The bowel movement as dramatic enactment of comic action celebrates the possibility of ascending from the margins, refusing connection to refuse, and claiming the power to associate others with waste. For Nick and Matt Shay, childhood fantasies about weapons allow them to overcome their abject status and to re-imagine fecal matter as a powerful emission—a destructive bomb—that speaks not to the subject’s vulnerability but instead to the subject’s power to obliterate others. As the text notes, reading comics while seated on the toilet repeats many times in Nick and Matty’s childhood; although it does not appear again in the text, it points to the ways the children return again and again to the bathroom to enact an imagined flight from bodily vulnerability and porousness. While Nick’s desire to display his bodily waste might have inspired mockery by the other boys as a sign of perversion—a desire to share in the pleasures of anality—Nick’s power is in his ability to re-signify bodily erosion through narratives of nationalist triumph. He hones in on the ways that militaristic masculinity and superpower are constructed by a transformation of bodily vulnerability as revealed in the excremental self into destructive power. Nick’s repetitive plopping of excreta works to resolve the problem of the vulnerable body; even as his body unravels, he gives his audience and himself a new narrative upon which to cling. The deployment of the fecal bomb during pertinent passages of the comics re-­ enacts the process whereby Captain Marvel transcends bodily erosion by making others into waste or dropping a load on evil.10 The boys’ understanding of militaristic masculinity as the disavowal of bodily porousness is also clear in their selection of the warning word “chickie”—slang used to refer to women and homosexual men. The repetitive resignification of bodily erosion must be kept safe from the prying eyes of girls and women who might misunderstand the young men’s fecal narratives as enjoyment of anality rather than transcendence of it. When the boys gather together to re-work bodily erosion into powerful excretion of imagined fecal bombs, they guard the bathroom’s border in order to ensure that girls and adult women are absent, for the revelation of the masculine excremental self might disrupt the fantasy of masculine power and shine a light on the holes of subjects who seek to claim phallic power. The secret of the masculine body must be hidden from the curious eyes of “chicks”; indeed, the desirous women caught in the paneled pages of comic books cling to heroic figures because of their immortality and their inability to decay. While the action in the bathroom is tinged with homoeroticism, it should be noted that the adolescent glee in Nick’s



performance oscillates between a delight in anality shared between young men and disavowal of excremental closeness. Indeed, the backdrop to the bowel movement is battle, where men refuse to cling to each other in desire, but instead seek to eliminate each other. “Chickie” as warning word points to how the young men differentiate themselves from feminine and queer subjects whose bodily difference is assumed to signal a desire to be penetrated by erect masculine subjects like those appearing in comic books. Their fecal narratives point to the ways in which superior masculine subjects like Marvel penetrate and dominate multiple worldly others, thereby overcoming bodily erosion and erecting masculinity that is immune from worldly frottage and decomposition. With a focus on comics that reflect Cold War fears, the text connects Nick and Matty’s childhood renderings of militaristic masculinity to larger national movements. Indeed, for the adult Matt, this childhood memory is directly tied to contemplation of his employment in the American Southwest, where he has taken a position with a nuclear weapons manufacturer, thereby helping to create bombs sent out into the world to “waste” those who might threaten the nation. While walking through the streets of his youth toward his mother’s Bronx building, Matt looks out over the trees … [at the] residue of a jet contrail, the vapor losing its shape, beginning to spread and rib out, and he [thinks] of the desert of course, the weapons range and flypaths and the way the condensation in the sky [is] the only sign of human endeavor as far as he [can] see, a city boy out camping, taking his soul struggle to the back-country and the mach-2-­ booms [come] skyclapping down and the vapor form[s] an ice trail in the heavens. (214)

Within the context of this chapter, Matt’s nostalgic backward glance illuminates his movement from the status of a “worthless” poor child to an adult who participates in the creation of weapons systems capable of making the bodies of others “spread and rib out” in a dance of decay. Far from the crowded tenements of the Bronx, he is no longer a child shoved by the whims of the adult world, but instead a member of an elite group, who leave the booming sound of their movement to resonate through the world as a reminder of their power to eliminate other human subjects. In the space of his childhood memory, Matt weaves childhood enactment of adult war games to his adult commitment to weapons production, showing how childhood fantasy of bombarding the other with waste connects,



albeit with greater violence, to contemporary battle. While others carry the burden of becoming excreta, Matt and his military innovators can leave their mark “in the heavens,” “skyclapping” their difference from those who sink into soil and from the bombarded world yielding beneath their power. Matt’s thoughts about the fecal bomb are echoed by another character in the text named Klara Sax, a trash artist who travels to the desert to create a work of art from the decommissioned bombers that circulated the skies carrying weapons during the Cold War.11 Beginning her project in the 1990s with the support of a ragtag community of artists and volunteers, Sax understands the work as a process of “putting our puny hands to great weapons systems, to systems that came out of the factories and assembly halls as near alike as possible … and we’re trying to unrepeat, to find an element of felt life” (77). Rather than engage in a repetition of war through the re-cycling of military waste for the production of new birds of war and rather than abandon the waste of the Cold War to a desert grave, Sax works through and with military waste in order to understand the nation that produced such terrifying weapons. Sax and the community of artists use the planes in an artistic movement away from the hegemonic discourse that promotes the wasting of the bodies of others in war or the marring of the natural landscape. In order to “unrepeat” militaristic subjectivity, she finds that she first must understand the fantasies that fueled the creation of such systems of destruction. By “walk[ing] and stoop[ing] and crawl[ing] from the cockpit to the tail gun armament,” through physical union with waste, Sax is able to think “hard about weapons … and the men who accompanied” them (76). It is her contention that by engaging with its own detritus the nation may be better able to deal with the history of national violence: We all tried to think about war but I’m not sure we knew how to do this. The poets wrote long poems with dirty words and that’s about as close as we came, actually, to a thoughtful response. Because they had brought something into the world that out-imagined the mind [nuclear weapons]. They didn’t even know what to call the early bomb. The thing or the gadget or something. And Oppenheimer said, It is merde. I will use the French J. Robert Oppenheimer. It is merde. He meant something that eludes naming is automatically relegated, he is saying, to the status of shit. You can’t name it. It’s too big or evil or outside your experience. It’s also shit because it’s garbage, it’s waste material. What I really want to get at is the ordinary



thing, the ordinary life behind the thing. Because that’s the heart and soul of what we’re doing here. (76–77)

Like Matt, Nick, and Oppenheimer, Sax’s work with the planes that carried nuclear weapons out into the world allows her to conclude that the bomb is merde. Still, she identifies a few different connotations of this demarcation. First, Sax focuses upon the way that the bomb’s power to obliterate human and other life is so overwhelming that it exceeds language. For her, the “bomb is too big or evil” because it turns that which lies within its radius after deployment into organic excess, into nothing, into waste. Because of its power, the nuclear bomb inspires fantasies of the “destruction of worlds,” the possibility that weapons systems might cause not just the elimination of enemy others, but also the civilization that produces it. The bomb is outside of human experience because it carries the power to eradicate all life; even as it is created to protect the nation from the threats of enemy others, it serves to eradicate the differences between combatants, for the possibility of nuclear warfare points toward the prospect of turning all human life—despite nationality—into waste.12 Second, Sax states that the bomb is waste material, garbage. Thus, as she argues that this merde appears to be outside the experience of citizens (the ultimate “evil”), she still concludes her polemic with the metaphorical connection to something that every creature knows intimately: its own droppings. By associating the bomb with excrement, Sax alludes to how the fecal matter of the body is viewed as enemy to the construction of subjective identity; the body’s movement toward waste counters the subjective desire to transcend organic matter and to avoid the processes of becoming decay. Attempting to understand the “ordinary life behind the thing” or the nuclear bomb, Sax comes to understand the creation of such a weapon as the attempt to avoid decay by creating a more powerful emission that speaks to the nation’s ability to overcome waste by making it. For her, the bomb is fantasy fecal matter that supports the desire to create a national body that cannot be breached; the fecal bomb is created to disavow the nation’s porousness and instead to point to the power of its emission to turn others into cursed dust. Artistic engagement with the wasted planes allows Sax to understand “lived life”—the movements of the bodies of men and women who built the planes and then abandoned them. She comes to believe that excrement reminds us of the porousness of our narratives and bodies, the ultimate and inevitable decomposition of ourselves; the ordinary and daily



making of meaning, imagining our bodies as “whole” and our national bodies as impenetrable, requires sublimation of decay and inspires the production of fecal bombs that allow the nation and its citizens to imagine transcendence from bodily life. The fight against becoming waste—succumbing to decay, as we all must—fuels our violence. The second understanding of fecal bombs as the fantasy turd of the nation sits uncomfortably beside the first for the desire to disavow bodily life leads to the production of that which threatens the bodily subjects who produce it. Thus, Sax’s philosophical engagement with the kind of national subjectivity that produces weapons of mass destruction leads to the conclusion that our desire to flee bodily decay and decomposition is that which creates toxic environments. As Sax thinks through the desire of the nation that built the bomb, she moves past a focus on fear of enemy others and toward a focus on the landscape that serves as testing ground for weapons and burial site for military waste: the desert. In her account, the desert is the selected location for nuclear weapons testing because of the threat that it poses to human life, the way in which the arid landscape speaks to the power of the world to bring death to vulnerable human bodies. She believes that the desert testing sites signal a desire to show human power to destroy the world that inevitably makes waste of humanity. In her discussion of the choice of the desert as the “surround” for the artwork, Sax states, It’s [the desert] so old and strong. I think it makes us feel, makes us as a culture, any technological culture, we feel we mustn’t be overwhelmed by it. Awe and terror, you know. Unconducive … to industry and progress and so forth. So we use this place to test our weapons. It’s only logical of course. And it enables us to show our mastery. The desert bears the visible signs of all the detonations we set off. All the craters and warning signs and no-go areas and burial markers, the sites where debris is buried. (70–71)

Sax suggests that we cannot accept the power of the world to overwhelm us. The bombing of the desert in her account is meant to display our own power to “shock and awe,” to impress upon America’s arid “wasteland” the power of civilization to obliterate earthly threats.13 This passage brings us back to Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents and the ways in which he describes human attacks against the “dreaded external world,” where “one can defend oneself” from decomposition at the hands of earthly ecosystems by “becoming a member of the human community, and, with the



help of a technique guided by science, going over to the attack against nature and subjecting her to the human will.”14 The desert’s craters result from attempts to show mastery of the world that decomposes human narratives of triumph over death supplied by the environment. While the desert inspires awe and terror because of its challenge to fantasies of human supremacy and import on the globe, detonations create the visible signs of the desire to reassert human dominance by attempting to destroy that which counters narratives of our imagined subjective transcendence from organic matter. Through Klara Sax’s philosophical engagement with waste, the novel gives readers a glimpse into national movements that seek to create waste that does not point toward the erosion of the nation or the personal body, but instead produces toxic “fecal” matter that will destroy landscape and human others. The bomb, in Sax’s evaluation and the novel’s account, is a qualitatively different shit from the ones that actual bodies produce in that it enacts the fantasy of destroying the world that brings death even as it also has the potential to destroy larger ecosystems upon which human life depends. Sax’s philosophical examination of the bomb and military waste can be elucidated by Bersani’s The Freudian Body, in which he provides analysis of Civilization and Its Discontents that outlines the subject’s “organic repression” of full bodily life in favor of the “sharpening of the boundaries between the ego and the world.”15 As I discuss in Chap. 3, when the subject experiences the “exciting phallic menace” and strength of the world to penetrate and overtake him, Bersani argues that the subject feels aggression toward that which brings such suffering and such pleasure. The aggressive desire to master or to extinguish the power of the world can be tamped down by subduing earthly stimulus, by “taming or subduing” the “natural” world.16 In his reading of Freud’s text, the ability to imagine a separation of self from the world by subduing worldly power is the beginning of civilization; Bersani notes, “The conquest, the work of civilization, involves a certain removal of man from nature, an ability to differentiate his own body from other ‘bodies’ in his environment.”17 Conquest involves a denial of worldly frottage, embodiment, and dependence as civilization seeks to master the world, to make nature work in a narrative of human omnipotence and control over that which would decompose subjective difference from organic matter. Still, as Bersani argues, alongside a civilized desire to subdue and tame the organic world lies a continued desire to destroy worldly threats; even as civilization labors to tame and to control worldly danger, it also continues to promise a futurity



whereby the horrendous world will be overcome. He writes, “Civilization … is merely a cultural metaphor for the psychic fulfillment in each of us of a narcissistically thrilling wish to destroy the world.”18 As in Sax’s understanding of a militaristic subjectivity, Bersani maintains that violence stems from subjects bound together in a longing to overcome the decomposition of the organic world. Indeed, Sax would concur with Bersani when he notes that civilization continues the “murderously childlike need to extinguish the other’s fire” as she focuses upon weapons systems that ultimately can obliterate not only human threats to the nation, but also make ecosystems toxic.19 Sax’s artwork is not simply about working through the violence of American militarism; indeed, it also focuses upon the process of “unrepeating” the subjectivity that fuels the construction and deployment of such fecal bombs. Rather than responding to the awe and terror that the desert inspires with a desire to transcend the world, Sax’s sculpture allows the desert to maintain its power; uniting military waste with “wasteland,” she avoids attempts at mastery and instead creates an homage to overpowering worldly penetration, making the experience of the overwhelming power of desert pleasurable or making the metaphorical aesthetic death of the subject in the face of the environmental Other desirable.20 She moves military planes differently across the landscape; in her piece, they will not fly over the earth leaving ruinous signs of human violence nor will they rust in the desert trash dump as another kind of disavowal of the horrific beauty of the world. Sax refuses to waste the desert with weapons or rusting military detritus and instead creates a work that speaks to the pain of being in the world as well as the aesthetic pleasure of what Bersani calls “self-shattering.” As Nick Shay looks out upon Sax’s desert work-in progress, he registers the power of the work to perform both of these sensations: The painted aircraft took on sunlight and pulse. Sweeps of color, bands and spatters, airy washes, the force of saturated light—the whole thing oddly personal, a sense of one painter’s hand moved by impulse and afterthought as much as by epic design. I hadn’t expected to register such pleasure and sensation. The air was color-scrubbed, coppers and ochers burning off the metal skin of the aircraft to exchange with the framing desert. But these colors did not simply draw power from the sky or lift if from the landforms around us. They pushed and pulled. They were in conflict with each other, to be read emotionally, skin pigments and industrial grays and a rampant red appearing repeatedly through the piece—the red of something released, a



burst sac, all blood-pus thickness and runny underyellow. And the other planes, decolored, still wearing spooky fabric over the windscreen panels and engines, dead-souled, waiting to be primed. (83)

Shay’s reflection upon the work begins with an account of how the piece engages with the desert surround by taking up the “sunlight” and the “pulse” of the landscape. The vibrant colors of the painted planes interact with the desert frame; as the burning sunlight hits the planes, the paint seems to take flight in order to “color-scrub” the air that surrounds planes; thus, the piece depends on the landscape for its power to gleam with sublime beauty. Still, the piece evokes bodily suffering in the wake of the overpowering world; the colors selected for the aircraft denote the porousness and vulnerability of human bodies in the world. For Shay, the piece reminds him of leaking human forms with “burst sac[s],” “pus” and yellow mucus. The colors “push and pull” with the landscape, enacting the terror inspired by being a body in the overpowering wake of the world, an eroding subject in the face of the “old and strong” desert. Yet, Shay cannot help but register the pleasure of the sensation that such a work brings to the viewer. Even as the piece signals the kind of suffering that comes with subjective and bodily decay in the world, it also points to the intense ecstasy that comes with being overwhelmed by the world. It is the experience of pleasure in the overwhelmed subject that allows Nick and Sax to think through an alternative to militaristic subjectivity. Sax brings viewers the pleasures of subjective and bodily erosion as remedy to the terror of worldly entropy. With this focus on “unrepeating” militaristic subjectivity, Sax’s work allows viewers to experience “jouissance,” a kind of “self-shattering … that disrupts the ego’s coherence and dissolves its boundaries.”21 In both his work in The Freudian Body and in Homos, Bersani explores this concept of shattering by focusing on the ways that “jouissance … [can transform] sadism into masochism.”22 While one response to the power of the world may be to turn with aggression to control or to destroy that which threatens the subject’s erection of identity, Bersani maintains an interest in another response to the overpowering pull of the world, namely, a courting of “an aptitude for the defeat of power by pleasure, the human subject’s potential for a jouissance in which the subject is momentarily undone.”23 Reminding readers of Freud’s work in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Bersani highlights this text and others’ conflicted rendering of pleasure. On the one hand, the pleasure principle in Freud’s work refers to



a subjective desire to deny or to eliminate worldly excitation and return the subject to a sense of corporeal wholeness and impenetrability. On the other hand, pleasure in Freudian texts also refers to an embrace of “human sexuality [that] is constituted as a kind of psychic shattering, as a threat to the stability and integrity of the self—a threat which perhaps only the masochistic nature of sexual pleasure allows us to survive.”24 The first kind of pleasure involves a walling of the subject from worldly penetration, a fleeing of worldly excitation and stimulus by denying the porousness of the subject in the creation of “death-in-life” for the body, as Brown describes it. For Bersani, the pleasure of stasis—the aggressive renunciation of bodily life and aggression toward the world as well as human Others—can be challenged by the second type of pleasure. He writes, “Psychoanalysis has justifiably been considered an enemy of anti-identitarian politics, but it also proposes a concept of the sexual that might be a powerful weapon in the struggle against disciplinarian constraints of identity.”25 While Bersani is most interested in queer readings of psychoanalytic texts, his work can be appropriated to explore identity formations that occur through the “organic repression” of the body in the erection of human identity that flees worldly embodiment. Because his work seeks to uncover ways that psychoanalysis can “rescue us from the penile tyranny, from sexual machismo” through a return to the pleasures of “man’s most intense experience of his body’s vulnerability,” he provides a way to embrace the “at once sobering and thrilling … limits of [human] power” to dominate the world. When he asks, “What is to control or modulate non-sexual sadism, which in a sense would be the realization of the quite natural and quite terrifying human dream of undisturbed human mastery of the space in which our bodies move,” he answers himself by positing an enjoyment of the “biological connection between male sexuality and surrender or passivity.”26 This is the kind of shattering that Sax seeks as well; she hopes to confront viewers with the “sobering and thrilling” power of the world as well as the horrors of human attempts to transcend it in the destructive power of fecal weapons systems that seemingly take the place of the vulnerable body by making that which would overtake humanity into waste. Still, she doesn’t want to repeat this kind of violence and instead offers viewers the opportunity to “momentarily come undone” and revel in going beyond the pleasure principle into the space of that other form of pleasure, that jouissance which is losing the self in the world. In her reflections upon the rationale behind her project, Sax sees the work as stemming from a desire to mar a specific photograph taken during



the “dark days of Vietnam” in which she is captured on film “surrounded by famous people and powerful people, men in administration who were running the war” (79). Finding difficulty in “remembering who that person is” that delighted in parties with prestigious guests as the bombers circulated the world, Sax longs to re-work that photograph, “to paint it over, paint the photograph orange and blue and burgundy” (79). Rather than celebrate the pleasure that comes with violent aggression, she turns to the pleasure that comes with bodily ecstasy: “[M]aybe this is what I’m doing here. … [L]et’s not forget pleasure. The senses, the pleasures, the body juices” (79). With her work in the desert, Sax responds to the subjective fear of worldly death and foreign others with a piece that “unrepeats” her previous experience of nonchalantly mingling with the men behind the war. This desire to paint over the stances of military leaders and those who, like her, swirl around their bodies is connected to her longing to re-work the planes that they deployed in the name of national protection. Sax understands the nation’s military movements as a way to protect the purity of essence of imagined national community from worldly penetration; yet, this desire to transcend bodily life erases the pleasure that comes with the sensation of worldly contact. While the planes were deployed in testing to obliterate the desert wasteland as well as to threaten foreign bodies, Sax deploys them in a different manner. Rather than bombarding the desert surround with fecal bombs, Sax’s planes will bleed color into the dry air, depending on the desert frame for an exchange of light that makes the aesthetic power of the work possible. For viewers, the piece is meant to inspire pleasure in the reflection upon ecstatic bodily juices; instead of awe combined with terror in the face of the desert, Sax hopes to bring viewers back to awe and pleasure in bodily movement through the world, the way in which contact with others and the world itself can inspire the ecstatic release. If the militaristic subjectivity that she critiques wars against worldly frottage that threatens imagined subjective difference from other beings and the world, Sax hopes to bring viewers back to the pleasures denied in this erection of identity. Ultimately, the piece counters the fecal bomb by bringing viewers back to the pleasures of being organic waste, the pleasures of coming undone in the world. In contrast to Sax, weapons manufacturers in the text view the military graveyard in the desert as a site from which material can be mined and recycled for future war machines; thus, military personnel “stripped [the planes] of most components that would be useful or salable to civilian contractors” (69). The remnants of the war machines that cannot be



recycled for the construction of new weapons systems are left to litter the desert, enacting another kind of disavowal as humans deny the beauty of the landscape by making it into a trash heap. Sax avoids recycling to repeat militaristic movements as well as denying the power of the world by viewing it only as a wasteland for the burial of detritus. By exploring the bodily schemata of national militarism in her artwork, she hopes that she might inspire ways of thinking about disarmament. Still, she is not naïve about this desire “to disarm the world,” as she feels that we must think through disarmament “warily and realistically and in the full knowledge of what we’re giving up” (76). To give up bodily schemata that transcend the death-supplying world by destroying environmental and human threats will be no easy task. Yet, it is the pleasure of being a body in which Sax places her hope. Without following the disgust, shame, and horror usually associated with the excremental body, Sax reminds viewers of the ecstatic enjoyment that comes when we are overtaken by the world or another. She declares that countering the militarism of the late twentieth century requires a movement beyond the pleasure principle and toward a trespassing of or a breaking of the borders of ego. To “show who we are” ultimately means a commitment to claiming the bodily pleasure of being overcome by the world rather than warring against it. In this way, humans might turn away from an anxious obliteration of all that does not fit within the ego-narrative of ourselves. With art, Sax invites viewers to recognize the ecstasy of the wasted self as a way to transform violent practices of disposal based on the attempt to maintain a cohesive, whole identity in the face of the intrusive Other: the “natural” world or threatening foreign bodies. In order to conclude this first section, I want to return to Nick and Matt in their Bronx childhood home, for these young men also offer readers a way of embracing and sharing the excremental self in a way that counters the militaristic subjectivity that the novel critiques. As Matt and the other young men celebrate the fecal bomb in their rendition of nationalist comics, they also celebrate the body’s repeated connection to waste and the way that the abject is part of the body. Rather than hiding the self’s secret decay, the boys gather to watch Nick claim association with and acceptance of the abject. The underside of the triumphant narrative of victory over evil is the body’s connection to waste and therefore the children’s organic connection to all other beings. If the battles described in the comics depict the struggle to avoid death and the connection to the organic world that claims each body, Nick’s excretion demonstrates the



possible pleasures of falling apart. The daily decay need not be shameful or disgusting, but awesome in its power to unite all beings. For in decay as in death, we lose our individual identities and decompose into each other. The difference between “us” and “them” is erased, then, by the overpowering pull of soil. In Matt’s recollection of this childhood scene, he asserts his “soul struggle” to be something marvelous—to wipe his body clean of waste— and yet he also reveals a desire to return to the space of the Bronx bathroom where being nothing and witnessing decay signaled a closeness to human others and pleasure in the earthy aromas of bodily movements. For Matt, military games of proving superiority to landscape and the power to transform the world through human ingenuity results from a desire to be large on a planet that suggests we are just a tiny part of the vast story of the universe. If all along we have been fighting decay and human others that come to symbolize the entropic power of the world, Matt’s reflections on anal sadism give readers room to wonder how we might connect to each other and the world in different ways, recognize our sameness, and see the deathless decomposition of our excremental bodies as gift to the fertilization of a different kind of relationality to each other and the world. The homoeroticism present in the bathroom as the young boys feel delight in Nick’s bodily movement is one way to imagine an alternative to bombarding those deemed other; by seeing each other as “homos,” subjects that Bersani argues experience pleasure in masculinity undone, characters like Matt and Nick might claim an association with the pleasures of porousness, a kind of worldly enrapture that brings bodies together to mingle in soil. By enjoying the pleasures of the overwhelming power of the world as well as the delight in the ways that our bodies can come together in ecstatic rupture, Matt gives us room to hypothesize a way of avoiding the destruction of that which threatens the fantasy of national or bodily wholeness. To live open to the world, to live open to pleasurable penetration by worldly others, is one way to unravel the violent subjectivity that creates weapons systems in a denial of our connectivity to each other and the environment.



You Dropped the Bomb on Me: The Afterlives of Fecal Bombs Although I show a hint of the novel’s presentation of an embrace of the excremental self in the above analyses, it is clear throughout scenes of Nick Shay’s adolescence in 1951–1952 that he longs to assert masculine power in an effort to dodge the demarcation as worthless, fatherless child, as one of the city’s maligned immigrant poor. Indeed, the novel’s penultimate section’s brief snapshots of Nick’s adolescent adventures in the Bronx echo Matt’s reflections upon his brother’s re-enactment of comic fecal bombardment by taking readers out into his interactions with other children as he struggles to make a name for himself. As with the comic book passage, these scenes frequently revolve around differentiating himself from others by physically or verbally denoting the excremental status of others. For example, when Nick and his friend Juju encounter two strange young men on their turf, Nick corners one of the young men, pummeling him with a few unskilled blows until Nick can “hit him solid” in the face, forcing him to surrender (714). Having captured their prey, Juju scoops “frozen dog shit out of the snow” and “mash[es] it into the guy’s head, into his hair and ears,” stating “Here, stroonz, this for you” (714–715). Heating the iced stool with his angry hands, Juju manually styles the young man into the abject other, gelling his hair and stuffing his ear canals with excreta. Emphasizing that the trespasser is nothing, Nick and Juju seek both to deface the stranger by covering over his humanity with waste and to penetrate and fill his aural cavities with fecal matter. In another moment from Nick’s adolescence, he repeats this process of wasting another, albeit vocally, as he taunts a man named Bobby. Pestering him as he works, Nick repeatedly calls the man’s name, attempting to get his attention and to “tell [him] this one thing” (730). Exasperated, Bobby finally turns his attention to Nick who tells him curtly to “shit in [his] fist and squeeze it” (731). Here, even within his community, Nick’s word games revolve around establishing a masculinity that is solidified through establishing Others as worthless. By either wasting another in playground battle or belittling another in conversation, Nick attempts to claim the kind of power that he finds in the comics he reads with his brother to prove that he is more than an excremental body, more than those whom he wastes. Nick’s struggles to claim adult masculinity are connected to an investigation of the impact of Cold War ideology and the resultant weapons



production on communities designated for testing and disposal of nuclear weapons. Nick’s actions in these passages tie back to the larger aims of the novel, namely to explore and to undermine the creation of individual and national identity through the wasting of bodies deemed Other. As Matt Shay notes of weapons systems used during the Vietnam War, “The thousand-­pound bombs clustering out of the bays of B-52s [are like] finned pellets of excrement cratering the jungle trail. But they were the enemy so what the hell” (466). In his account, this kind of excrement speaks to the desired “immortal life” of those who drop the bomb, even as it also is used to celebrate the “deaths” of those wasted. While the previous section outlines the fantasies that characters indulge about the fecal bomb, this section turns toward the concluding portion of the novel, which follows an adult Nick in his employment as a waste broker in detailed accounts of his movement from the United States to Semipalatinsk Polygon, now known as National Nuclear Center of Kazakhstan, where his company and others seek to dispose of toxic waste. With a focus on the waste of war, the novel brings readers through weapons production of the Cold War to the present moment in which military and toxic industrial wastes are deployed as forms of weapon against marginalized communities and isolated landscapes. As in Reed’s The Free-­ Lance Pallbearers, DeLillo’s Underworld does not just explore nationalist celebration of the production fecal bombs that make life “hell” for those deemed enemy, but also how the waste of such production and the detritus of toxic industries become weapons as well. As Nick notes, “There is a curious connection between weapons and waste” in that both follow the same trajectory toward populations deemed abject (791). By tracing how the military and industrial waste of nations is deployed in a continued bombardment of populations demarcated as worthless, the text calls readers to reexamine weapons systems by witnessing the suffering that they continue to bring in their disposal. Nick’s travels give readers the opportunity to become like Sax in her examination of the underside of triumphant narratives of national power. As readers follow Nick into the site for toxic waste disposal in Kazakhstan, the text invites us to think beyond a kind of militaristic subjectivity that delights in the power to eliminate worldly threats and instead to think through the long-term impact of fecal bombardment on ecosystems and inhabitants. Entering Kazakhstan, Nick’s first order of business is to meet with representatives of Tchaika, an arms complex that is reaching out into the field of toxic waste management, and to discuss the process for the disposal of



toxic waste as well as the money to be made by bringing such waste to the region. He flies to a remote site in Kazakhstan to witness an underground nuclear explosion. This is the commodity that Tchaika trades in. They sell nuclear explosions for ready cash. They want us to supply the most dangerous waste we can find and they will destroy it for us. Depending on the degree of danger, they will charge their customers—the corporation or government or municipality— between three hundred dollars and twelve hundred dollars per kilo. Tchaika is connected to the commonwealth arms complex, to bomb-design laboratories and the shipping industry. They will pick up waste anywhere in the world, ship it to Kazakhstan, put it in the ground and vaporize it. We will get a broker’s fee. (788)

With an initial focus on business, Nick distances himself from the impact that waste disposal will have on the region and the history of human illness due to repeated testing of nuclear weapons during the Cold War in Kazakhstan. Gathering in a bunker complex to witness the kind of waste disposal that Tchaika offers with “geologists,” “game theorists,” “industrialists,” “bomb designers,” “energy experts,” “venture capitalists,” “generals,” “uranium speculators,” and other “waste traders,” Nick finds himself a part of a rather fancy business luncheon, featuring tables of “smoking food” and glasses filled with “peppered vodka” (794). The bunker’s atmosphere is filled with a “palpable wave of expectation” as guests wait to witness an underground explosion, in which “reactor waste and cores from retired warheads” will be disposed of with the detonation of a “low-yield nuclear device” (794). In tandem with the excitement at viewing the detonation of a nuclear weapon, Nick and some others in the crowd of elite spectators experience anxiety about the possibility of radiation emission. Even as they have been told that the hole leading to the “firing point has been tamped and plugged to keep radiation from venting,” “the dosage meters” that each of them wears lends an air of danger to the spectacle, a sense of possible pollution of their bodies with the waste of this kind of nuclear disposal. Nick counters this rising anxiety with the bounty left out for the guests as “eating saves [him and others] from the fatedness of the landscape, from the dosage meters on our bodies” (795). While eating with the elite, Nick is reminded of his status as consumer, his status as disposer of waste, and his privileged participation in witnessing the destruction of the landscape. Although he wears a badge that will



signal his contact with radiation, it is more of a sign of his separation and transcendence from the toxicity released underground and a sign of his ability to move away from “ground zero” to travel back to the safety of his home far from the Kazakh detonation site. This kind of travel is something that those who live downwind from the testing site cannot enjoy for they, too, are “fated” to be near neighbors to the disposal site once used for the testing of weapons and now used for the nuclear disposal of warheads and other toxic wastes. The detonation the crowd comes to witness is underwhelming. All that they feel is a “ground motion, a rumble underfoot”; all that they hear is a “guncotton thud, some far-off shift or heave that is also a local sensation, a hollow body sound” (798). Once moving outside of the bunker, the group jockeys to see “ground zero,” and yet “there is nothing to see … but the Kazakh plain” (798). What they want to see is a mushroom cloud and what they want to hear is “rolling waves of sound,” the signs of human ingenuity in the creation of destructive weapons. In the absence of a spectacle, they share an “unspoken dejection” in the muted and buried groan of earth in a detonation too far underground to roar out with sound of mastery, too far underground to create its own terrible cloud formations in the sky (799). Ultimately, they witness the banality of underground waste disposal, something that will be much easier to sell to those who seek to destroy and to bury their most toxic byproducts. Indeed, if there is nothing to be seen, not much to be heard, in this kind of disposal, we can imagine that the afterlives of fecal bombs—as well as the afterlife of toxic byproducts of chemical production like DeLillo’s Nyodene D in White Noise—have little impact on the environment or upon the inhabitants of regions used for disposal. This, of course, is Tchaika’s goal: to waste the toxic byproducts of military industrial complexes and industry, to make waste—“the devil twin”— of military and industrial production disappear (791). As Viktor, a representative of Tchaika, notes of the connection between waste and weapons, waste is the devil twin. Because waste is the secret history, the underhistory, the way archeologists dig out the history of early cultures, every sort of bone heap and broken tool, literally from under ground. All those decades … when we thought about weapons all the time and never thought about the dark multiplying byproduct. … We don’t dig it up. … We try to bury it. But maybe this is not enough. That’s why we have this idea. Kill the devil. …



The fusion of two streams of history, weapons and waste. We destroy contaminated nuclear waste by means of nuclear explosions. (791)

Viktor highlights the problem with Cold War weapons manufactory that Sax discusses earlier in the novel, namely, that national celebration of the triumph over threatening foreign others and nature with fecal bombs enacts a willful denial of the byproduct of such production. The horrible delight that comes with fantasies of laying waste to enemies and cratering the earth with human technologies depends upon a refusal to address the “dark multiplying byproduct,” such as the “plutonium waste” in the novel (795). As Nick notes, “what we excrete comes back to us” and yet the production of the fecal bomb revolves around a desire to produce a kind of fecal matter that only speaks to the destruction of others, the obliteration of that from which the nation imagines itself to transcend (791). In the afterglow of the stockpiling of nuclear weapons, in the years following the heyday of the Cold War, superpowers and their citizens are confronted with the devil that they have created: the waste of the weapons that they believed would only deafen, deform, or deaden enemies. Like Reed’s Harry Sam, DeLillo’s waste traders and national leaders, scientists, and capitalists find themselves beset upon by the detritus of war; their solution to the problem of pollution is dissolution of waste through burial and nuclear detonation. While fecal bombs threaten those whom superpowers wish to annihilate, they also come to be deployed in the fantasy that we might eradicate remaining toxins simply by blowing it away in the deep “hell” of the earth. Exploding waste with nuclear weapons in the novel simply repeats the process of fecal bombardment outlined in the previous section as it involves a refusal to think through how these disappearing acts also will leave remainders behind, contaminating the region and impacting those who live downwind and downstream from the Kazakh wasteland. Despite the desire to eliminate toxic waste, what we excrete returns to us, aiding or impeding the health of the ecosystem, impacting all facets of life in the region. Because Nick and other waste brokers can leave the area, they need not explore the communities who live downwind from the testing site repurposed for waste disposal. Still, Viktor takes Nick on a tour of two separate locations that force him to look at the human costs of fecal bombardment and invite him to contemplate the kind of effects that disposal of toxic wastes will continue to have on the Kazakh communities near “ground zero.”27 Viktor first takes Nick to what the novel calls the Museum of the



Misshapens, where visitors can examine a collection of fetuses altered during the testing of approximately 500 nuclear explosions during the Cold War. While strolling through the exhibits, Shay sees a long row of human fetuses … some of them are preserved in Heinz pickle jars. There is a two-headed specimen. There is the single head that is twice the size of the body. There is the normal head that is located in the wrong place, perched on the right shoulder …. Then there is the cyclops. The eye centered, the ears below the chin, the mouth completely missing. (799)28

Looking in at the “misshapens,” Shay feels that they watch him accusingly in judgment of those who deal in waste and who bring waste to their communities, who will create other wasted bodies, other fetuses to be displayed in jars. Following the trip to the museum, the guide directs them to a local radiation clinic where they encounter “disfigurations, leukemias, thyroid cancers, immune systems that do not function. [The guide] says there are unknown diseases here. And words that are also unknown, or used to be. For many years the word radiation was banned” (800–801). The Kazakh community was selected, DeLillo suggests, because of their marginal status that allowed them to be designated as human rubbish, to be stung with radiation and eliminated. While the community did not originally know the cause of their increasing illness, they saw “the flash” of bombs, as the Russian Red Army “left behind … villagers to see what effect” it would have on the people (801). Even when the effect was well documented, the Russians continued to detonate bombs in the area because they viewed Kazakh people as either a problem to be eliminated or satisfactory lab rats for experimentation in the name of scientific knowledge as well as the creation of more “effective” bombs. As the Russian military designated the region and people for waste disposal, so, too, Nick and his comrades will repeat the process, using military waste as a weapon against those already suffering from the afterlives of bombs. By referring to an historic test site where numerous cancers, birth defects, and miscarriages have taken place as a result of Cold War military practices, DeLillo creates a social realist account of the tragedies of waste disposal.29 Still, the text moves past a display of those injured to focus on a contemporary subjectivity that makes such atrocity possible. Walking outside of the medical clinic, Nick encounters more of the living wounded, including children seeking treatment for a variety of cancers caused by the



poisoning of the region. He watches as an eyeless fourteen-year old boy cavorts with others: The kids play follow the leader. A boy falls down, gets up. They all fall down, get up. Something about the juxtaposition deepened the moment, faces against the landscape, the enormous openness, the breadth of sheepland and divided sky that contains everything outside us, unbearably. I watched the boy in his bundled squat, arms folded above his knees. All the banned words, the secrets kept in white-washed vaults, the half-forgotten plots— they’re all out here now, seeping invisibly into the land and air, into the marrowed folds of bone. He crouched under the great split sky, ears set low and his head sloped. The sky was divided, split diagonally, a flat blue, a soft slatey blue, like the head of a crested jay, and a yellow that wasn’t even yellow, an enormous heartbreak yellow sweeping to the east, a smoky goldshot stain, and the kids with the knotted arms fell down in a row. (803)

In his final thoughts about the impact of nuclear waste and weapons testing, Nick reflects upon the bodies of Kazakh youth, who differ from the fantasies of evil villains of his youth. The triumph felt in unleashing the awesome fecal bomb is gone here as he ponders human vulnerability and callousness. In the juxtaposition between the diseased bodies and the vastness of sky—the “unbearable” beauty of the world—Nick suggests that the hidden motivations for warfare have something to do with a feeling of smallness in the face of the terrifying power of the world. Echoing Sax’s thoughts about the immense open landscape, Nick understands the selection of the Kazakh plain for testing as a human attempt to claim power in a space that suggests the minimal place of humans in planetary history. The inhabitants of the region in this passage are causalities in a Cold War struggle in which the United States and Russia deployed militaristic tests to show who had the greater power to leave their mark on the world, to bring decomposition and death to both landscape and human victims. We are far from the Bronx bathroom here—far from Nick and Juju’s excremental attacks on others. Yet, the logic explored by the young men through their comic fantasies and schoolyard bullying is important, for the excreta of militaristic national bodies do bring disease and death, do saturate those deemed worthless in toxic shit, and do “[seep] invisibly into the land and air,” sinking “into the marrowed folds of bone.” In his movement through the clinic and the museum, Nick, like Viktor, is able “to challenge himself … to prove to himself [that] he is not blind to the consequence” of toxic waste disposal in the region” (800). Indeed,



“it is the victims who are blind,” Nick notes as he looks out upon a young boy “with skin where his eyes ought to be, a bolus of spongy flesh, oddly like a mushroom cap, springing from each brow” (800). Despite witnessing the tragedies of bombs and imagining the new tragedies to be created in waste disposal, Nick’s empathy for those wasted is buried ultimately beneath his feelings of triumph over those demarcated as human shit. Returning to the States, Nick “feel[s] a quiet power because [he has] done it and come out okay, done it and won, gone in weak and come out strong” (803). In many ways, he is a “mushroom gentleman”—sprung from the class of immigrant poor and reveling in his ascension to the American upper middle class—who has joined the ranks of those who dispose of others and not been shuttled into union with those wasted by the movements of superpowers. He is part of a corporation that promises that our toxic excrement will not come back to us, but will move instead to remote locations, to underground containment facilities, toward populations who are assuredly not us. While the children that he encounters in Kazakhstan may “all fall down,” he need not associate himself with those whose faces and bodies bear the signs of toxic movements. Indeed, he makes his living by wasting those who have not won, those who like his childhood adversaries, he and others mar with toxic shit. As an executive emeritus with his company, Nick supports and propagates a kind of position toward waste that involves burial and disavowal: He visit[s] colleges and research facilities, where I’m introduced as a waste analyst. I talk to them about the vacated military bases being converted to landfill use, about the bunker system under a mountain in Nevada that will or will not accommodate thousands of steel canisters of radioactive waste for ten thousand years. Then we eat lunch. The waste may or may not explode, seventy thousand tons of spent fuel, and I fly to London and Zurich to attend conferences in the rain and sleet. (804)

In his lectures, Nick provides information about the movement of waste away from the classrooms and civic spaces that he visits. Even as his lectures are haunted by the specter of explosion of buried waste, they offer audience members the assurance that toxic waste will be contained upon supposedly “vacated” land distant from the majority of US citizens. Referencing the now defunded Yucca Mountain site for nuclear waste disposal in Nevada, Nick is not so much analyzing waste as outlining how it will move toward marginalized communities like the Western Shoshone



nation, even as he does not mention the Shoshone people by name. This is not to say that Nick is blind to what he calls a “desperate crisis, the intractability of waste,” but rather to point out that his participation in the “exchange of ideas” and “proposals” about waste at trade conferences and academic symposiums confront the problem of the “multiplying byproduct” of industrial, commercial, and military production with entombment in the form of landfills or bunkers (805). Nick and others do not begin their analyses with a critique of the nations or companies that produce toxic waste, but instead see toxic waste as an inevitable problem to be addressed by burial, preferably far away from the homes and communities of those with the economic means to avoid residence in polluted landscapes and the social power to hire advocates to speak on their behalf.30 In Nick’s account, the “desperate crisis” of waste “doesn’t really seem to be taking place except in conference reports and the newspapers. It is not otherwise touchable somehow, for all the menacing heft and breadth of the material, the actual pulsing thing” (805). Of course, the crisis is taking place in polluted landscapes, and yet, Nick and others bury the untouchable things in the hope that their excreta does not come back to haunt them, but instead remains deposited near untouchable bodies and devalued landscapes. While the previous section of this chapter argues that the production of military weapons of mass destruction stems from a desire to transcend worldly and human threats, this section presents the novel’s engagement with the toxic byproduct of militaristic subjectivity that results from a disavowal of our excremental connection to the world and others. The denial of our porous bodies’ connection to and dependence upon the world fuels the manufacture of weapons and their resultant waste that in deployment and disposal bring harm to marginalized people. Thus, the nation uses waste as weapon against impoverished and denigrated communities, forcing others to live with the consequences of militaristic toxic production and disposal. Even as characters like Nick acknowledge the “crisis” of waste, they support a national movement that buries and hides the crisis so that the dark “multiplying twin” of militaristic production need not float to the surface of national consciousness, need not call subjects to question why we support the production of such toxins that impact the health of human and other beings. Waste, in its burial far from the homes of executives like Nick, becomes someone else’s problem and thus we need not challenge or undermine militaristic production—or industrial and



commercial production for that matter—because we imagine that the burial of byproducts in landfills or bunkers will not come back to haunt us. Still, the novel offers readers an alternative to burial and disavowal by re-evaluating our connection to our rejectamenta. Even as Nick’s job is to cover up and bury waste, when he states, “what we excrete comes back to us,” he provides a kind of counter stance to his corporate employer and to national movements that waste others. Indeed, the novel seems to beg readers to imagine a subjectivity that does not seek to transcend the world and threatening human Others, but instead values the deathless death of national and individual identity in excremental decomposition as a way to fertilize the ecosystems. If Nick and others chose to embrace our excremental selves—the excreta that folds into the ecosystem aiding or impeding the full health of a region—we might challenge the production of toxic waste that befouls the habitats in which we live. While Nick assuredly does not follow this route and maintains a commitment to the burial of waste, the next section explores the novel’s presentation of the embrace of the excremental closeness of beings in which two characters let go of the fear of foreign others and bodily pollution and become akin to Bersani’s “homos.” Releasing the fear of the porous body and the subject’s movement toward decay, DeLillo’s Sister Edgar and Ismael Muñoz unite in a kiss of peace that points toward the novel’s excremental ethics, namely, reveling in the excremental connection between body and body, body and world.

Embracing Disembodied Liquid Form: Countering the Fear of Pollution with the Pleasure of Excremental Connection In DeLillo’s long novel, shit rolls downhill, moving down through social stratifications toward those bodies demarcated as abject. This final section will return to the United States and the conclusion of Underworld, which lingers upon an area of the Bronx called the Wall where the city’s detritus is deposited and where a community of impoverished people lives amidst waste. Readers are introduced to the area through the reflections of a Catholic nun, Sister Edgar, and her companion in service, Sister Grace Fahey. As these two religious women offer aid to the poor, they witness the way in which citizens use the Wall as a dumping ground for a variety of types of trash, including “house garbage,” “construction debris,”



“vandalized car bodies,” and “hillocks of slashed tires” (238–239). The nuns encounter plastic bags of “hospital” and “laboratory waste” torn open by packs of dogs or curious human scavengers that reveal “dead white mice by the hundreds with stiff flat bodies” (249). As multinational corporations seek to solve the problem of toxic waste by deploying it toward marginalized communities, the citizens of New York City dump their detritus upon their marginalized neighbors. Both Sister Grace and Sister Edgar maintain a critical view of waste disposal practices that befoul the Wall, especially because it shows a demarcation of the poor as polluted and degraded human beings deserving of the city’s trash. Still, even as Sister Edgar has made a vow of poverty and commits herself to service, her relationship to this impoverished community of the Bronx is defined by her fear of bodily pollution. Each time the nun hits the Wall, she “force-fits” latex gloves on to her hands, in an effort to “shield [herself] from the organic menace” of the poor (241). Donning personal protective gear, Sister Edgar feels “safe,” “scientifically” shrouded from what she believes to be their diseased bodies (241). With her fear of the “organic menace” and the resultant obsessive-compulsive cleansing rituals, Sister Edgar feels sinfully complicit with some process she only half understood, the force in the world, the array of systems that displaces religious faith with paranoia. It was in the milky-slick feel of these synthetic gloves, fear and distrust and unreason. And she felt masculinized as well, condomed ten times over— safe, yes, and maybe a little confused. But latex was necessary here. Protection against the spurt of blood or pus and the viral entities hidden within, submicroscopic parasites in their soviet protein coats. (241)

Sister Edgar confronts and then dismisses her own confusion about her sinful complicity in systems that degrade and mar human others that she has vowed to serve. While she assuredly does more than most citizens to engage with the poor, she admits that she, too, sees dangerous and polluted bodies living in the rubble of the Wall and fears contact with contaminated bodily fluids as she ventures through the wasteland. Her fear of “viral entities” hidden within the bodies that she serves seems to follow the logic of those who dump loads of trash upon the impoverished community in that she also views the Bronx community as untouchable organic waste. The difference, of course, is that rather than demarcate those with whom she works as disposable, Sister Edgar longs to clean and to redeem



those with whom she comes into contact. In order to do so, latex is necessary; she must protect herself against bodily infiltration lest the bodies through which she passes contaminate her. Thus, Sister Edgar needs more than her vows of chastity to protect her from the dangers of bodily connection to other beings; she needs to be armored and veiled in a condom-­ like shroud from the organic mess of abject beings. Though she walks through the valley of the shadow of death, Sister Edgar’s latex, if not her God, will protect her. In her belief in the Soviet quality of “viral entities,” Sister Edgar brings readers back to reflections upon the Cold War and the type of subjectivity that sees others as polluted and dangerous organic waste. Like Kubrick’s General Jack Ripper, Sister Edgar is concerned with the purity of essence, a separation of the subject from foreign bodies that might penetrate and ruin the body. In her account, the Soviets engage in their sinister trade by contaminating clean Americans with disease, thereby taking advantage of the porousness of each human body. When thinking about AIDS and “acronyms in the air,” she asserts that she knows “what all the letters stood for. AZidoThymidine. Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnoti. Yes, the KGB was part of the multiplying swarm, the cell-blast of reality that has to be distilled and initialized to be seen” (243). Viewing herself as beset upon by the evils of bodily infiltration, she understands AIDS and the KGB to be a part of the same horrific phenomenon, namely the processes whereby dangerous foreign bodies come forth to erode the subject’s ability to flee the curse of bodily life. For Sister Edgar, AIDS and the KGB are in league with the world itself as for her creation is enemy to the subject, offering “little green apples and infectious disease,” and decomposition to subjects, who like her, long to be clean of the filth that is the flesh (237). While the nation deploys fecal bombs in an effort to obliterate and to waste the foreign threat to bodily integrity of the United States, Sister Edgar’s war is waged with soap and her body is armed with plastic. She believes she always must be on guard against contamination, as even scrubbing of her hands with “coarse brown soap” may not protect her against the viral encroachment of the poor, the Soviets, or creation (237). Even if she “clean[s] the soap” that she uses in her daily ablution “with bleach,” she wonders “what do you clean the bleach bottle with? If you use scouring powder on the bleach bottle, how do you clean the box of Ajax?” (238). For her, “different germs have personalities. Different objects harbor threats of insidious types. And the questions turn inward



forever” (238). Her queries about the difficulty of cleanliness in a soiled and excremental world lead her inward because it is not just the foreign bodies out there that pose a threat to the integrity of the subject, but the subject’s entombment within the organic shell that is the root of the problem. What Sister Edgar wants most is to be a subject without a porous and excremental body, a subject who has transcended the organic matter of the self. In this desire, she is in league with the kind of militaristic subjectivity explored in previous sections of this chapter as she too is a subject that longs to destroy and to cleanse the world of that which “infects” humans with death. Because of Sister Edgar’s disdain for and fear of bodily contact, she reserves a special kind of rage for those who seemingly enjoy carnal delights, who refuse to abandon wanton sexuality. In particular, she loathes Ismael Muñoz, a graffiti artist and salvager of waste,31 who cares for a group of homeless youth that live with him around the Wall. Even as Sister Edgar recognizes that she should value Ismael as an “affirmative force” in the community because he uses his “salvage business … more or less altruistically, teaching his crew of stray kids, abandoned some of them, runaways, throwaways—giving them a sense of responsibility and self-worth,” she shamefully admits that she “want[s] to see him suffer,” in part because she believes that he has HIV, but also because he engages in sexual acts with other men (813). Despite Muñoz’s good works in the community, for Sister Edgar he represents a subjectivity that courts excremental closeness with other beings, a homosexuality that rushes toward unproductive and contaminated ejaculate with the aim of anal or oral consumption. To her mind, Ismael does not maintain enough—if any—reverence for the dangers of the bodily contact and instead delights in the pleasures of bodily infiltration and unraveling. It irks Sister Edgar that Ismael’s body does not provide signs of physical demise; even as she sees “dire things” in his future and hopes for his suffering, he remains an “affable sort of human” (812). Muñoz throws a wrench into Sister Edgar’s religious philosophy of bodily ablution and disavowal; he has taken in the bodily waste of others and has come out on the other side seemingly unmarred. If HIV lives in Ismael’s body as Sister Edgar assumes, she believes Ismael should take on a penitent stance and offer through his body and with his demeanor confessional signs that the enjoyment of bodily life—a laxity in warring against the excremental threat of others—ultimately leads to terrific suffering. In short, his affability is an affront to her belief that bodily contact only offers pollution, degrading



the subject, who should work to be free of cursed embodiment by refusing the flesh and attempting to transcend it. Ismael, therefore, is representative of the disturbing subjectivity that might delight in the movement of the bodily subject toward excess and search out the excremental bodies of others, “uncondomed” and eager for the penetrative pleasures of foreign bodies, despite the risks that come with such union. In Ismael, Sister Edgar recognizes the threat of what Leo Bersani has called homos, subjects who, like psychoanalysis, “[challenge] us to imagine a nonsuicidal disappearance of the subject—or, in other terms, to dissociate masochism from the death drive.”32 Sister Edgar’s disdain for Ismael does not hold in the novel after the community of the Wall is shaken by the rape and murder of a young homeless girl, named Esmeralda, who “forages in empty lots for discarded clothes, plucks spoiled fruit from garbage bags behind bodegas, who is sometimes seen running through the trees and weeds” (810). Even though Esmeralda is a scavenger, she avoids contact with Ismael and his crew as well as Sisters Grace and Edgar, thereby isolating herself from possible allies and threats. Her seclusion from others makes her vulnerable. While Esmeralda sleeps on a roof on the night of her death, a wandering man comes upon her body; he “feels a familiar anger rising and knows he will need to do something to make her pay” (817). He takes her peaceful sleeping form, “drives” his penis into her flesh, and “spills out” his bodily waste to create a seminal moment in which he erects his identity by bombarding the young girl with excess. Although this is not the fecal bomb discussed earlier in this chapter, this ejaculation follows the same pattern whereby those demarcated as Other are drenched and marked with excreta, with the waste denied in the erection of militaristic and impenetrable masculine subjectivity. By filling Esmeralda’s porous and holey body with waste, he enacts a story of his triumph over his own bodily penetrability, asserting his wholeness, his ability to penetrate and waste another with conquering power. Although it is difficult to determine the cause of his anger, it is clear that in his mind little Esme becomes representative of those threatening others who gather in the shadows of the mind of her attacker; she is an available body that he can lay to waste, then “drag” to the ledge and toss, like trash, from her rooftop sanctuary. If the disposal of the young girl gives this troubled wanderer some sense of triumph, Sister Grace, Sister Edgar, Ismael, and his scavenger artist crew are devastated by the young girl’s murder. While the graffiti artists “spray their paint” and create an image of an angel in memory of Esmeralda



(816), Sister Grace wants to know who she can obliterate, whom she can kill (814). Although Sister Edgar previously may have sided with Grace in a longing to cleanse away evil, she finds that in the wake of this particular death something has changed for her because Esmeralda’s vigilance in isolation and segregation from human threats and friends of the Wall has not in the end saved her from the violence of others. Sister Edgar, feeling “weak and lost,” ponders how “terror is local now,” not some distant Red menace, but a neighbor or virus that sneaks up to bring death to even the most vigilant (816). Even as she asks God for aid in her sorrow, Sister Edgar finds grace in a community of strangers who pour forth to mourn Esme’s death when a shadowy apparition of the girl appears hidden on a billboard advertisement for orange juice, featuring a “female Caucasian of the middle suburbs” (820). Gathering with those who come to witness the miraculous vision, Sister Edgar is transformed: She felt something break upon her. An angelus of clearest joy. … She finds Ismael and embraces him. She looks into his face and breathes the air he breathes and enfolds him in her laundered cloth. Everything feels near at hand, breaking upon her, sadness and loss and glory and an old mother’s bleak pity and a force at some deep level of lament that makes her inseparable from the shakers and mourners, lost to the details of personal history, a disembodied fact in liquid form, pouring into the crowd. (822–823)

In this encounter, she is moved by the image, and by the crowd’s desire to see the wasted child rise from the world, to transcend bodily life and suffering in an afterlife where she is fully a spirit, free of the corporeal shell. One way to read this scene is to argue that Sister Edgar’s faith is restored to her through the visual proof that the child has been cleansed of the disease of the body and raised from the filth of the world to become a clean transcendent soul. Still, this passage does not turn readers away from the body, but toward it through Edgar’s experience of becoming “disembodied liquid, pouring into the crowd” (823). Removing her protective gear and reaching out to touch strangers, Sister Edgar abandons her isolation from others and her desire to avoid the pollution that strange bodies can bring. Risking the dangers of bodily life in excremental connection, she faces Ismael and “breathes” in what she believes to be his diseased breath. In order to experience the pleasure of bodily connection, she shares a kind of kiss of peace with Ismael and tucks him close to her body. The wall between clean and unclean falls, in her mind, as does the



distinction between “us” and “them” that forms the basis for the division between disposer and disposed, excreter and human waste. The ecstasy that she imagines Ismael to enjoy becomes her own as she loses her identity formed in opposition to dangerous Others and feels out in the crowd the pleasures of letting go of the self in intimate contact with others. In the crowd, Sister Edgar finds a new community that lingers over waste—not to support a murderous desire for revenge—but instead to find sustenance in working through what has been wasted. Continuing to love and to mourn the body that has been discarded and opening up her flesh to the potential for decay in order to be close to another and to share in the goodness of bodily contact is Sister Edgar’s way out from the anal sadism of the Cold War. Joining the crowd, Sister Edgar descends into the body in order to be part of an excremental community that shifts through what has been discarded, comes to rework themselves, to fashion a different kind of subjectivity inspired by the horror of how we make waste of each other. The desire to flee bodily life that fuels violence is countered here by a movement toward the embrace of the pleasures of bodily contact that make human suffering somehow bearable, somehow worth the risk of death for Sister Edgar. In this spreading beyond the self into the crowd, Sister Edgar is akin to Bersani’s understanding of the homo who “risks … loving the other as the same, in homo-ness. In that love (for want of a more precise word) he risks his own boundaries, risks knowing where he ends and the other begins.”33 One key text through which Bersani develops his theorization of “homos” is Genet’s Funeral Rites; with this novel of World War II, Bersani explores how Genet’s “gay outlaws” betray the heteronormative mandate of coupledom and reproduction of children to become good citizens of a discrete nation. Of interest to Bersanis are two traitors, Erik and Riton (a German soldier and collaborator hiding on a rooftop after the liberation of Paris) as they share a sexual encounter in which “Erik and Riton were not loving one in the other, they were escaping from themselves over the world, in full view of the world, in a gesture of victory.”34 For Bersani, this scene counters the intimacy of the “conjoined couple” who “enjoy the rapture that will never be made public, that will also … keep you safely, docilely out of the public realm, that will make you content to allow others to make history while you perfect the oval of a merely copulative or familial intimacy.”35 In contrast, Erik and Riton, “excluded from all triumphant communities (from the heterosexual family to the victorious Allies entering Paris), they are reduced, or elevated, to a kind of objectless or



generalized ejaculation, a fucking of the world rather than each other … [thereby offering] the promise of a new kind of fertilization. They come not with each other, but … to the world.”36 Betraying the national anal sadism of war in this scene as well as the heteronormative compulsion to produce citizen subjects through sexual encounter, the two enjoy anal pleasure that is not about separating the subject from other beings, bombarding others with waste products, or viewing the world as a threat to subjective difference—a force that seeks to erode the fantasy of independence from worldly connectivity. Erik and Riton’s act for Bersani is about revealing an openness to the porousness of the body to other beings and the world and it “fertilizes” a new type of sociality that delights in the unraveling of the subject. As Bersani writes of Genet’s work, “The anus produces life, waste is fecund, from death new landscapes emerge.”37 Indeed, embracing the waste of the body not as threat to self but as the revelation of our connection to other beings as waste-producing organisms and as the material stuff that does indeed fertilize other life through the production of soil will lead in Bersani’s work to forms of sociality that we cannot yet know. As Heather Loves argues of his work, “we can understand the refusal of selfhood as bound up with an investment in the social world and with the concrete spaces where social life might unfold …. The evacuation of the center was not only an evacuation of personhood, it was also a search for concrete forms of human freedom in objective milieus, concrete places, real cities. It implies a world.”38 Like Love, I want to note here that Bersani’s work is about countering the anal sadism of nationalism, of war, of Western racialized and gendered subjectivity as we name ourselves against what we are not; instead, Bersani focuses on the pleasures of anality that reaffirm our decomposition as a process of giving life to new ways of being. While Bersani’s “self-shattering” clearly references the mirror stage, I emphasize here the porousness of self, the erosion of self, or the decomposition of self and the anal pleasures that can come from opening the body to the world. To come back to DeLillo, an embrace of the pleasures of human connectivity to other beings and an openness to the world do signal for Sister Edgar a new form of sociality, which opposes her focus on cleanliness, her fear of contamination, and desire to eliminate threats to bodily purity. She risks with Ismael imagining forms of sociality where the subject is not separated from others, but lost down in the dirty pleasures of bodily contact. It is this kind of subject that is open to connectivity to



others and the world that will counter forms of waste disposal based on sadism. It is this image of embracing our shared excremental status with others that offers an alternative to fecal bombardment—either in the form of weapons or waste. Still, moments like this in the text are few as the primary thrust of the novel is to undermine systems of disposal that lay waste to others. Turning now to Samuel R. Delany’s excremental visions in The Mad Man, I more fully articulate the potential of literary renderings of excremental eros for fueling other ways of understanding and treating bodily waste. Indeed, Delany’s characters take in much more than the breath of friends and lovers as they revel in the ecstatic excremental body as a way to overturn violent forms of subjectivity that erect themselves in opposition to the abject. Through close readings of Delany’s work, the concluding chapter of American Sh*t provides a provocation to embrace our excremental selves so that we might live differently in relationship to each other and the world.

Notes 1. Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, directed by Stanley Kubrick (1964; Warner Home Video, 2001), DVD. 2. Vera Lynn, “We’ll Meet Again,” The Very Best of Vera Lynn (Decca, 2009). 3. Don DeLillo, Underworld (New York: Scribner, 2003). All page numbers for quotations pulled from the primary text will be noted in the body of the chapter. 4. Mark Osteen, American Magic and Dread: Don DeLillo’s Dialogue with Culture (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000), 216. 5. See David Cowart, “Shall These Bones Live?,” in Underwords, ed. Joseph Dewey, Steven G. Kellman, and Irving Malin (Newark, NJ: University of Delaware Press, 2002), 50–67, especially 60. Also, see Paul Gleason, “Don DeLillo, T.  S. Eliot, and the Redemption of America’s Atomic Waste Land,” in Underwords, ed. Joseph Dewey, Steven G. Kellman, and Irving Malin (Newark, NJ: University of Delaware Press, 2002), 130–142. 6. See Philip Nel, “‘A Small Incisive Shock’: Modern Forms, Postmodern Politics, and the Role of the Avant-Garde in Underworld,” Modern Fiction Studies 45.3 (1999): 724–752. Like Nel, Leonard Wilcox champions the political power of the text in “Underworld and the Return of the Real,” Contemporary Literature, Vol. 43, No. 1 (Spring, 2002): 120–137.



7. Dini, Rachele, Consumerism, Waste, and Re-Use in Twentieth-Century Fiction: Legacies of the Avant-Garde (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 145. 8. See David H. Evans, “Taking Out the Trash: Don DeLillo’s Underworld, Liquid Modernity, and the End of Garbage,” Cambridge Quarterly, Vol. 35 (2006): 110–132. 9. On Nick Costanza Shay’s rise from poverty and Italian ethnicity, see Josephine Gattuso Hendin, “Social Constructions and Aesthetic Achievements: Italian American Writing as Ethnic Art,” MELUS, Vol. 28, No. 3, Italian American Literature (Autumn 2003): 13–39. She argues that “one of the major achievements of … Underworld is its use of narrative form to configure an intersection of personal and public experience over the long span of the second Italian American diaspora.… [The novel] uses the ethnic passage of [Nick] from a Bronx Little Italy in the nineteen fifties, through the upscale suburbs of the Southwest, towards global prospects, to describe the course of all American experience … [but] uses an Italian American voice to tell a fuller story” (26). Her further discussion of dietrologia, “the science of hidden forces,” mainly revolves around Nick’s family life and the continued impact of the absent father (29). 10. See Ruth Helyer, “‘Refuse Heaped Many Stories High’: DeLillo, Dirt, and Disorder,” Modern Fiction Studies 45.4 (1999): 987–1006, for discussion of Nick Shay and the abject. For Helyer, the novel is about a “fear” of the abject. She reminds readers that “we are implicated in our own excrement; it remains bound up in our identification, preventing us from standing back and being objective, we cannot escape our involvement, and the threat of being engulfed by a huge, indistinct, overwhelming ‘one-ness’ is frightening. The postmodern thought that perhaps the only boundaries we have are the ones that we create leaves us in an identificatory quandary. It is infinitely more attractive to be ‘something,’ embracing the boundaries this brings, rather than be ‘nothing’ and try to deal with the chaos we feel sure this would bring” (1004). 11. For analysis of representations of military technology in the novel, see Nicholas Spencer, “Beyond the Mutations of Media and Military Technologies in Don DeLillo’s Underworld,” Arizona Quarterly, Vol. 58, No. 2 (Summer 2002): 89–112. 12. See Timothy L. Parrish, “From Hoover’s FBI to Eisenstein’s Unterwelt: DeLillo Directs the Postmodern Novel,” Modern Fiction Studies 45.3 (1999): 696–723. In his article, he discusses Sax in two paragraphs, where he argues “Klara … deactivates the dangerous energies of the Cold War by transforming its materials into forms for her art” (718). I will argue that she transforms herself—tries to work through the creation of an excremental community—as much as she works on the materials of the Cold War.



13. See John Beck, “Without Form and Void: The American Desert as Trope and Terrain,” Nepantla: Views from the South, 2.1 (2001): 63–83. In this article, Beck explores the tropes that have marked the desert and made way for violent human interaction with the “void.” He writes, “Through a sanctified notion of emptiness and spatial abandonment, the desert of the Southwest has been the acme of ineffable nature since its ‘discovery’ by Europeans, a zone of testing and revelation for enterprises spiritual, technological, and economic.… This conquest is made possible in large part through the intense saturation of terrain by tropes, by the inevitability of etymology. A vacant lot has been filled, or, like some apocalyptic and preordained destiny, fulfilled” (81). 14. Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, translated by James Strachey (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1961), 27. 15. Leo Bersani, The Freudian Body: Psychoanalysis and Art (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1986), 15. 16. Leo Bersani, The Freudian Body, 15. 17. Leo Bersani, The Freudian Body, 15. 18. Leo Bersani, The Freudian Body, 23. 19. Leo Bersani, The Freudian Body, 25. 20. For a discussion of the importance of DeLillo’s novel for environmental literary criticism, especially because the text imagines the embrace of liminal spaces, see Lee Rozelle, “Resurveying DeLillo’s ‘White Space on Map’: Liminality and Communitas in Underworld,” Studies in the Novel, Vol. 42 (Winter 2010): 443–452. 21. Leo Bersani, Homos (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 101. 22. Leo Bersani, Homos, 101. 23. Leo Bersani, Homos, 110. 24. Leo Bersani, The Freudian Body, 60. 25. Leo Bersani, Homos, 101. 26. Leo Bersani, Homos, 102–103. 27. See Lee Rozelle, “Resurveying DeLillo’s ‘White Space on Map’: Liminality and Communitas in Underworld,” 446. 28. Images like the ones to which DeLillo refers here can be found in Didier Ruef’s photographic catalog on the following website: http://didierruef. y/Kazakhstan-2008-Nuclear-Waste/ G0000K4wd1qwxqKE/. 29. For a discussion of how these scenes of environmental degradation connect to characters’ understanding of nuclear apocalypse, see Damjana MraovicO’Hare, “The Beautiful, Horrifying Past: Nostalgia and Apocalypse in Don DeLillo’s Underworld,” Criticism, Vol. 53, No. 2 (Spring 2011): 213–239.



30. For a critique of the novel’s failure to address polluted indigenous landscapes within the United States, see David Noon, “The Triumph of Death: National Security and Imperial Erasures in Don DeLillo’s Underworld,” Canadian Review of American Studies, Vol. 37, No. 1 (2007):83–110. 31. For more on Ismael Muñoz (Moonman 127) as graffiti artist, see Timothy L. Parrish, “From Hoover’s FBI to Eisenstein’s Unterwelt: DeLillo Directs the Postmodern Novel.” He argues, “Moonman and other graffiti artists challenge the status quo. … [They] are ‘spray-paint scrawling’ the fact of their urban existence all over the city.… Moonman works within and against a Cold War context as well—his enemy is not just the city politicians and newspaper editorialists who want to protect the ‘cleanliness’ of the city, but the CIA and Dow Chemical, whose alliance creates a chemical solvent more effective than orange juice in erasing the art from the trains” (716). 32. Leo Bersani, Homos, 99. 33. Leo Bersani, Homos, 128–129. 34. Leo Bersani, Homos, 165. 35. Leo Bersani, Homos, 165–66. 36. Leo Bersani, Homos, 166. 37. Leo Bersani, Homos, 179. 38. Love, Heather, “Bersani on Location,” in Leo Bersani: Queer Theory and Beyond, ed. Mikko Tuhkanen (New York: SUNY Press, 2014): 51.

Bibliography Beck, John. “Without Form and Void: The American Desert as Trope and Terrain.” Nepantla: Views from the South, 2.1 (2001): 63–83. Bersani, Leo. The Freudian Body: Psychoanalysis and Art. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1986. Bersani, Leo. Homos. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995. Brown, Norman O. Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History. 1959. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1985. Cowart, David. “Shall These Bones Live?” In UnderWords, edited by Joseph Dewey, Steven G. Kellman, and Irving Malin, 50–67. Newark, NJ: University of Delaware Press, 2002. Delany, Samuel R. The Mad Man. New York: Masquerade Books, 1994. DeLillo, Don. Underworld. New York: Scribner, 2003. DeLillo, Don. White Noise. New York: Viking Penguin, 1985. Dini, Rachele. Consumerism, Waste, and Re-Use in Twentieth-Century Fiction: Legacies of the Avant-Garde. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.



Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. USA: Warner Home Video, 1964; Warner Home Video. DVD. Evans, David H. “Taking Out the Trash: Don DeLillo’s Underworld, Liquid Modernity, and the End of Garbage.” Cambridge Quarterly, Vol. 35 (2006): 110–132. Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Translated by James Strachey. New York, NY: W. W. Norton and Company, 1961a. Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. Translated by James Strachey. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1961b. Genet, Jean. Funeral Rites. Translated by Bernard Fretchman. New York: Grove Press, 1969. Gleason, Paul. “Don DeLillo, T.  S. Eliot, and the Redemption of America’s Atomic Waste Land.” In Underwords, edited by Joseph Dewey, Steven G. Kellman, and Irving Malin, 130–142. Newark, NJ: University of Delaware Press, 2002. Helyer, Ruth. “‘Refuse Heaped Many Stories High’: DeLillo, Dirt, and Disorder.” Modern Fiction Studies, 45.4 (1999): 987–1006. Hendin, Josephine Gattuso. “Social Constructions and Aesthetic Achievements: Italian American Writing as Ethnic Art.” MELUS, Vol. 28, No. 3 (Autumn 2003): 13–39. Love, Heather. “Bersani on Location.” In Leo Bersani: Queer Theory and Beyond, edited by Mikko Tuhkanen, 37–54. New York: SUNY Press, 2014. Lynn, Vera. “We’ll Meet Again.” The Very Best of Vera Lynn. Decca, 2009. Mraovic-O’Hare, Damjana. “The Beautiful, Horrifying Past: Nostalgia and Apocalypse in Don DeLillo’s Underworld.” Criticism, Vol. 53, No. 2 (Spring 2011): 213–239. Nel, Philip. “‘A Small Incisive Shock’: Modern Forms, Postmodern Politics, and the Role of the Avant-Garde in Underworld.” Modern Fiction Studies 45.3 (1999): 724–752. Noon, David. “The Triumph of Death: National Security and Imperial Erasures in Don DeLillo’s Underworld,” Canadian Review of American Studies, Vol. 37, No. 1 (2007): 83–110. Osteen, Mark. American Magic and Dread: Don DeLillo’s Dialogue with Culture. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000. Parrish, Timothy L. “From Hoover’s FBI to Eisenstein’s Unterwelt: DeLillo Directs the Postmodern Novel.” Modern Fiction Studies 45.3 (1999): 696–723. Reed, Ishmael. The Free-Lance Pallbearers. 1969. Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1999. Rozelle, Lee. “Resurveying DeLillo’s ‘White Space on Map’: Liminality and Communitas in Underworld.” Studies in the Novel, Vol. 42 (Winter 2010): 443–452.



Ruef, Didier. n.d. Photographic catalog. Website: http://didierruef.photoshelter. com/gallery/Kazakhstan-2008-Nuclear-Waste/G0000K4wd1qwxqKE/. Spencer, Nicholas. “Beyond the Mutations of Media and Military Technologies in Don DeLillo’s Underworld.” Arizona Quarterly, Vol. 58, No. 2 (Summer 2002): 89–112. Wilcox, Leonard. “Underworld and the Return of the Real.” Contemporary Literature, Vol. 43, No. 1 (Spring 2002): 120–137.


Shit and Other Forms of Dynamite Refuse: Samuel R. Delany’s Provocative Excremental Eros

There is no big secret about shit: most people do not like it. Indeed, there is no big secret about other forms of bodily waste such as saliva, urine, semen, vaginal excretions, mucus, and sweat as these signs of bodily life also are treated with disdain, at least within dominant discussions of cleanliness and appropriate bodily comportment. Each of the previous chapters addresses the distaste for the excremental self, providing analyses of scenes from texts that explore subject formations that abandon the proof of how subjects leak beyond the cleansed identities they have formed. The denigration of the excremental self and horror in the unraveling and decomposing body leads to violence toward the individual body, others, and the world. Focusing upon the world that makes excrement of us rather than the joys of being porous bodies in the world, novels discussed in previous chapters highlight processes of disposal that lay waste to the world in acts of aggression. While there are signs of what I call excremental eros in these texts, this chapter serves as a provocation to engage with the pleasures of bodily waste—our own and others—as they appear in Samuel R. Delany’s 1994 novel The Mad Man.1 Delany’s explorations of queer male subculture undermine American Standard practices for the flushing of the abject self by providing vibrant accounts of how characters delight in bodily unraveling, enter the anus and other orifices with pleasure, and do something different with the excremental self. It is this kind of love for bodily unraveling that provides a particularly powerful rendition of excremental ethics. Although Delany’s © The Author(s) 2020 M. C. Foltz, Contemporary American Literature and Excremental Culture, American Literature Readings in the 21st Century,




novel certainly is a celebration of queer sexual subculture as many critics have shown,2 the text also is a literary engagement with sanitary engineering in that it offers scholars and readers interested in waste possibilities for re-envisioning interactions with excess. The Mad Man celebrates the goodness of bodily excess as characters erode into each other, fertilizing other ways of being in the world. The celebration of bodily decomposition and leakage allows characters to embrace the rectum (and other sites of excretion) as a fertile grave for previous formations of identity or to think through bodily evacuations as corporeal signs of the pleasures of becoming wasted subjects, of leaking past previous understandings of identity that depend upon the disposal of the abject self rather than the embrace of it. While each of the previous chapters offers analyses of literary scenes of toiletry that reveal (masculine) subjects who long to erase knowledge of bodily movement toward waste—whose greatest fears revolve around being demarcated as nothing but shit—this chapter provides readings of Delany’s novel that show the multiple pleasures of letting go of masculine identity in sexual encounter with other men, in decomposing fantasies of the impenetrable male body in excremental play. I conclude American Sh*t with Delany’s work because his characters become shit, consume shit, and enjoy tiny deaths so that they might live in the rupture of a masculine identity that wars against the organic matter of the self and other threatening phallic bodies. Delany’s mad men offer an excremental eros and ethics that undermine the violence of characters previously examined, a violence that is rooted in a desire to construct a bodiless subject free from the entropic pull of the flesh and world, free from the grave of the rectum, in which Leo Bersani argues that “the masculine ideal (an ideal shared differently by men and women) of proud subjectivity is buried.”3 For Bersani, the “ideal” heteronormative masculine subject erects his identity through the disavowal of anality, burying the proof of his bodily porousness beneath fantasies of a body without holes that might be penetrated with satisfaction. The necessary flow of the self beyond corporeal boundaries in these fantasies of the ideal masculine subject only flows out and away from the subject who cleanses himself of the knowledge of his decomposition. The rectum, therefore, is a grave that the ideal masculine subject loathsomely carries with him, for it is this secret hole that promises to upend the construction of the subject and to discharge his imagined movement away from bodily decomposition as well as his wholeness and phallic power. What makes men who share in sexual play with other men so potentially dangerous in Bersani’s reading is that they do not closet the



rectal proof of decomposition, but instead explore the possible pleasures of the rectum and the other holes of the male body. This kind of sexual practice “annihilates” hegemonic understandings of sexualized gender that promote the fantasy that the masculine body only penetrates, but cannot be penetrated. In short, men who enjoy same sex activity disturb the logic of ideal masculine subject formation because they “misuse” the holes of the body by playing in the waste of masculine subjectivity, reveling in the pleasure of decomposing themselves and other men. Like Bersani’s work, Delany’s novels explore the power of sexuality as “socially dysfunctional in that it brings people together only to plunge them into a self-­ shattering and solipsistic jouissance that drives them apart, [and thus] it could also be thought of as our primary hygienic practice of nonviolence.”4 For both these scholars of gay and queer men, non-violence begins with a willingness to risk the boundaries of the self and to recall the pleasures of becoming a wasted body in ecstatic excretion in which subjects decompose the identities that they have formed. Delany’s novel offers alternative ways to interact with bodily waste fueled by an interest and enjoyment in the pleasures of coming undone. It invites readers to interrogate their phobias about bodily wastes and to reevaluate forms of sanitation that flush away or bury the abject. In his work, the process of becoming waste is not an evil to be eliminated in the desire to construct an ideal subjectivity, but an important bodily reminder that we exceed corporeal wholeness and flow beyond the boundaries that we create, police, and monitor. Delany’s deployment of excremental bodies—the deployment of bodies pleasured by becoming waste—allows readers to challenge subject formations that categorize and separate individual subjects from their excessive flesh as well as the bodies of those demarcated as Other. Delany’s characters’ enjoyment of the dissolution of self, rupture, and porousness allows them to regard decay as the matter from which to fertilize a different way of relating to each other and the world. Excremental eros in this text is not only the unraveling of an imagined masculine impenetrability, but also a celebration of intimate connection to the world around us, a celebration of the self as soil, offering a way to connect with other matter and give our fertilizing bodies as gift to other life. In decomposition, we lose our isolated subjectivity and spread out to touch and be touched in worldly enrapture. Delany’s representation of the pleasures of decomposition has much to offer environmentalist discourses that focus upon waste and sanitary engineering, for if our systems of waste management were fueled by a curiosity about or love for the excremental



self—a view of bodily waste as fertile remainder rather than horrendous problem—we might create systems for waste transfer that focused upon non-violent ways of offering our erosion up to the ecosystems of which we are a part. The first section of this chapter focuses upon Delany’s representations of how queer men overturn the logic of systems of sanitary engineering during sexual play in men’s restrooms and other civic locales. While scatological literary scenes typically focus upon usage of the water closet to wash away the excremental self, Delany’s queer bathrooms are spaces in which the abject remnants of masculine bodies are eroticized and desired. These literary queer men mar the john to share bodily waste with each other and to revel in the decomposition of racialized masculinity. Instead of using the space of the bathroom to cleanse the subject of the abject self, these queer men invade spaces of sanitation to embrace the process of becoming waste and to celebrate the waste of others. For the protagonist of The Mad Man, John Marr, sexual play within various bathrooms serves as an affront to the father figure in his life who seeks to instill in Marr normative and productive masculinity. While Marr finds pleasures in the waste of masculinity found in bodily excess, he also confronts the judgment of such fathers who denigrate sexual play with other men. By juxtaposing scenes in which this protagonist delights in the unraveling of masculine identity formation with scenes in which he struggles with other characters’ denigration of queer bodies, I show how the novel challenges systems of sanitary and social engineering that depend upon the violent disposal of abject excess. The second section of this chapter focuses on Marr’s sexual movements in New York City as HIV impacts men who have sex with other men. While Marr experiences delight in sharing bodily waste with other men, he and others find that HIV creates a crisis within sexual subcultures as fear of the disease challenges the excremental eros that they enjoy. As Bersani notes, “Tragically, AIDS has literalized that potential [for the rectum to be a grave of normative masculine subjectivity] as the certainty of biological death, and has therefore reinforced the heterosexual association of anal sex with a self-annihilation originally and primarily identified with the fantasmatic mystery of an insatiable, unstoppable female sexuality.”5 While Marr enjoys the rupture of masculinity with other men in the sharing of waste, he finds himself terrified by the possibility that this excremental eros might result in his actual death and the death of his lovers. Through close-­ readings of Marr’s psychic trauma in the wake of HIV’s emergence into



civic life, I highlight how The Mad Man enters into debates about civic sanitation by recognizing the potential dangers of bodily waste to communal health. Yet, rather than using the potential for disease to fuel an understanding of waste as enemy to civic bodies, the novel calls readers to value bodily excess as a sign that we exceed the isolated identities that we form, that we spill out into each other and the world. By thinking through the pleasures of being porous bodies coming undone in sexual play, Marr and other characters show how living decomposed and desirous of being wasted by each other and the world allows for the celebration of bodily schemata that avoid separating the self from unclean others and bodily life. They long for waste transfer that does not result in literal death so much as it results in a subjectivity that delights in sharing in the goodness of being organic matter and the closeness that humans enjoy with each other because we erode. In other words, these characters might call their communities to embrace waste while simultaneously calling for ways to ensure that our unraveling does not negatively impact the lives of others or the ecosystems that humans inhabit.

Marring the John in the Real Men’s Room or the Joys of Excremental Realness In The Mad Man, Marr begins his sojourns into queer underworlds with curiosity about and desire for same-sex contact. The entrance into queer subculture and vibrant display of sexual encounters between men is not the only goal of Delany’s text. Even as we might read the novel as important literary documentation of the pleasures of sexual play among men and the various ways that bodies gendered as male might unravel together, it is important to explore how the text avoids a cleansed presentation of homosexual union or desire for normative monogamous contractual relationships like that found in television programs like Will and Grace or Modern Family. Instead, The Mad Man presents queer male subcultural spaces in which various forms of excrement are eroticized. As Marr journeys into sites of sexual play, he struggles with normative understandings of sexuality and masculinity proffered by his academic advisor and father figure, Irving Mossman, as well as his surrounding academic community, even as he takes pleasure in the possibilities of embracing what normative culture understands as abject. Within the text, sexual subculture invites the protagonist and other participants to reevaluate normative cultural



understandings of the necessary disposal or segregation of untouchable detritus in the name of hegemonic discourses of physical health, sanity, normalcy, and cleanliness. In other words, filthy sexual play allows Marr to discover that normative understandings of the dangers of waste—including bodily excretion and abject human bodies like the racially diverse homeless men that he pleasures—serve as a way to police cross-class desire and contact, to demarcate inter-racial desire as unclean, and to ward against bodily comportment that undermines heteronormative understandings of appropriate or “natural” fleshy union. Because Marr experiences the pleasures of coming beyond normative understandings of sexual union, he is able to critique cultural processes that make corporeality a problem in the life of the subject and the division of human bodies into categories of clean and unclean, white and black, hygienic straightness and dirty queerness. Delany’s novel is so much more than a celebration of queer sexual subculture; it offers readers a way to critique subject formation that depends upon the degradation and then elimination of the abject by exploring the pleasures of letting go of war against various types of bodily waste and instead reveling in porousness that ensures our ability to come close to each other. Marr refuses to participate in the type of subject formation that depends upon the damming up of the porous body in order to construct a fantasy of clean subjective wholeness. Instead, Marr submerges himself in various types of waste and allows them to mar his previous understanding of self. He creates an ethos of “self-shattering” that revels in the consumption of the waste of the physical body and interaction with the city’s queer homeless population.6 By eating the crusty formations of salt at the corner of homeless men’s eyes, slurping at the mucus draining from their noses, lavishing his tongue along the funky shafts of their cocks, and dining on the wine of their urine and the nutty substance of their asses (all offered willingly), Marr finds value in bodies that many find abhorrent. As he pleasures them and allows himself to be pleasured, he avers the goodness or tastiness of the sweat, semen, mucus, and shit that most wipe clean from our bodies in haste. Rather than eliminate and bury the proof of the porous nature of the subject, Marr celebrates the process of elimination by savoring the material substance that has been evacuated from the body. Detritus does not move to the fringe, but becomes the center of the subject ever reminded of his rupture, thereby privileging the decomposition of the subject rather than the composition of subjective wholeness. Whether Marr engages in researching the life of queer philosopher



Timothy Hasler or sexual activity, he finds pleasure in the chaos that shatters the illusion of narrative wholeness: this excremental ethic suggests that we cannot alter our movements in the world unless we first enter a transformative moment through which identity is sacrificed in favor of pleasurable decomposition of the self. Juxtaposing analyses of the pleasures of subjective unraveling with the ways in which Irving Mossman, Marr’s mentor, denigrates such pleasure, I provide insight into the power of such excremental enjoyment to challenge normative understandings of the sanitary engineering of the self. Even as The Mad Man offers renderings of queer sexual contact, it opens with two researchers—Marr and Mossman—who seek to produce academic texts focused on the life and works of a murdered philosopher, Timothy Hasler. Mossman sets his sights on creating an introductory text that will offer readers key biographical information about Hasler and encourages Marr to produce a dissertation focused on “an account of the published work,” including Hasler’s science fiction, academic articles, and reviews (13). Mossman hopes that, through both researchers’ efforts, they will situate themselves at the heart of Hasler Studies, an emerging academic field that is focused upon “Hasler structures” and “Hasler grammars” (12). Although the two researchers begin their projects together, Mossman quickly abandons the project because of his discovery of Hasler’s sexual experiments, thereby leaving Marr, who is curious about Hasler’s sexual life, to continue his project alone. In contrast to Marr, Mossman is so disgusted by Hasler’s filthy sexual life that he ultimately decides that he does not want to be associated with the philosopher. In a letter to Marr, he writes, At this point, I’m unearthing material about Timothy Hasler that—finally, John, I confess—has upset me …. Hasler must have been indulging in the most degrading—and depressing—sexual “experiments”: bums on the New York City streets, homeless alcoholics in Riverside Park, white, black or Hispanic winos lounging about on the island in the middle of upper Broadway, about whom his only criterion could have been, as far as I can make out, the dirtier the better …! Really, John, I have to consider seriously whether Timothy Hasler is the man I want to be writing about. (22)

Although originally drawn to the potential “sensational” quality of Hasler’s murder that cut his academic life short and the esteem that an introductory work on a philosopher on the rise might bring, Mossman



would rather not associate himself with the “sensational” actions of the actual philosopher. As long as the scandal remains outside of his subject in the form of the unfortunate violence that eliminated the promise of the philosopher, he is able to commit to the project, but once the scandal becomes Hasler’s “degrading” life choices, Mossman can no longer work on the biography. Hasler’s sexual longing for “dirty” men threatens to establish Mossman as a deviant subject. Mossman worries that the biography may be seen as a validation of Hasler’s “experiments,” thereby connecting the author to Hasler’s longing for intimate contact with bodies deemed filthy by dominant society. When Mossman lets Marr know that he will no longer actively pursue the biography, he wants to assure Marr, whom he knows is gay, that this release of the project has little to do with Hasler’s homosexuality and instead is a result of the “kind of gay man” that Hasler has proven to be. In the same letter he writes, You probably won’t be overly surprised at the news, but I’ve decided to put my biographical work on Timothy Hasler officially on hold …. Sometimes I wonder if, maybe—by this time—other people also know that Hasler was gay; that is, it might be going around, if only by rumor, the kind of gay man he was. If it upsets me, perhaps it upsets others; and rather than try to separate the sexual practices from the thinking, they are just turning away from the whole unhappy business and would rather not deal with it at all. At those times, I wonder why I should be the one left to wrestle with all this deeply unpleasant material. (46)

Mossman imagines other scholars like himself who might experience dismay with the discovery of Hasler’s sexual activities. Further, he reveals his fears of the ways that others might respond to his biography should he fully divulge Hasler’s sexual desires, for he would be associated with the kinds of pleasures that Hasler enjoyed. It is important to note here that Mossman cannot imagine how philosophical thinking might connect to— or be inspired by—bodily movement; instead, if he were to write the biography, he would have to make excuses for Hasler’s physical engagements in order to validate his exceptional thinking. Mossman makes it clear that Hasler’s desire for men is not the problem: “If two people love each other, if two people are committed to each other, if two people have each other’s best interests at heart and want to join their lives to one another’s, I would be a very small-minded man if I cared



seriously that they happened to be of the same sex” (47). A “normal” relationship, based on “traditional” values or monogamy and a type of marital commitment, could have warranted further engagement with biography for Mossman, and yet, the biographer can have no “compassion,” as he puts it for deviance: “What compassion can I have for a man who, once a week, … went out and hunted up an old black wino in the park, the two of them getting blitzed together, till he got the wino to urinate in his mouth?” (47) Mossman’s lack of compassion here revolves around the possibility of being marred by association with deviance if he were to commit to the biographical project and yet there is a deeper form of disgust at base, which allows Mossman to connect Hasler’s deviance to his ultimate murder. Hasler’s accounts of fantasies in his journals that imagine “hideous demons who abuse him and ravish him” lead Mossman to conclude that Hasler desired violence. He writes, “I know [some of the descriptions of nightmarish creatures] are imaginary, because, otherwise, [Hasler] would have been dead long before he was murdered” (48). Even if Mossman does not believe that Hasler’s murder is justified, he, still, comes to the conclusion that his death should have been expected; the knowledge of Hasler’s murder no longer requires “compassion,” for the deceased seemed to be seeking death, long before it found him. Angered by Mossman’s disgust, Marr returns to his dissertation project with a desire to discover the importance of certain kinds of pleasures for Hasler. Unable to abandon his project on Hasler, Marr is unwilling to dismiss accounts of sexual adventures or to ignore the physical movements of the philosopher in favor of a strict regurgitation of his major concepts. Instead, he commits himself to the “unknowability” of the murdered man and thus allows himself to consider the value of pleasures Hasler enjoyed. He writes of his allegiance to the project left by his mentor, The scholar of today had a jumble of notes, a welter of contradictory information: in my case that was five plastic boxes full of index cards labeled “problems” and not a jot of drive to solve them—in short, what I had, at any rate, was the imponderable wreckage of a project, over which your current scholar sat and gazed, like a sphinx whose ineffable secret was that the years’ “work” making me, in the eyes of friends and colleagues … a ‘serious Hasler scholar,’ had also made me—in my own eyes—a gibbering, jerking, half-blind creature, buried under the contradictions, stalled in the gaps, paralyzed by the sheer unknowability of the fast-fading shadows that were the dense, lingering texts of Timothy Hasler. (21)



In his state of confusion, Marr proves to be far from the mind-set that allowed him to conceive of his initial dissertation project that he entitled “The Systems of the World.” Although he followed Mossman in a belief that a life could be mapped or a system could be articulated that explained the workings of subjects in the world, Marr distinguishes himself from academics like Mossman by admitting the dissolution of his own subjectivity in the face of the “problem” of the “fading” dead. Further, he discloses a lack of desire “to solve” the enigma through a stitching up of the gaps and instead allies himself with a type of incubus that leaves him a panting animal, blind to the societal mandate to organize life. With his dissolution to a state of madness in the face of contemplation of the nonnormative pleasures that Mossman abhors, Marr becomes an altered biographer who invites the dead to write his body into disorganization and pleasurable turmoil. As Marr notes, “Looking at it now, Mossman’s moment of confusion, disillusion and degradation, signaled in his letter, marks a kind of beginning for me” (22). Where “confusion” and “disillusion” lead Mossman to return to the safety of topics that refuse to “unman” him, Marr imagines the ecstasy of the body in so-called degrading positioning. Rather than judge Hasler, he follows in the shadow of the philosopher by seeking out sexual contact with “bums on the New York City streets, homeless alcoholics in Riverside Park, [and] white, black or Hispanic winos lounging about on the island in the middle of upper Broadway” as well as the bodies of other queer men in various spaces of sexual play (22). In short, he seeks to understand how Hasler’s bodily movement influenced his philosophical work by participating actively in the kinds of sexual subcultures that Hasler enjoyed. Thus, John Marr’s ethics of waste, his commitment to the consumption of “worthless” material without monetary compensation, begins when he refuses to demarcate Hasler as abject. The more he reads Hasler’s journals and notes, Marr finds that the philosopher’s academic articles reflect and connect to the dead man’s radical movement through the city. Discovering that Hasler’s attraction to men and their feet, especially when soiled and pungent, drove him from his apartment and brought him into contact with homeless men, Marr wonders how this kind of desire and sexual activity influenced the famed philosopher’s work. Inspired by Hasler’s account of these encounters, Marr begins a different kind of research than he originally intended for the dissertation project: the ordering and outlining of the philosopher’s academic arguments. He leaves his desk and enters a process of material philosophy where the movement of the body,



the “use of pleasure,” and the “care of the self” take precedence over an academic philosophy centered on the organization, definition, and cleansing of ideas and bodies.7 He celebrates as Foucault defines it and as Delany puts it in the novel’s epigraph the bios philosophicus, the “animality of being human, renewed as a challenge, practiced as an exercise—and thrown in the face of others as scandal”; Marr seeks to explore without fear—or in spite of fear—the pleasures and ethics of same-sex subculture that Hasler enjoyed. He offers his own body to the streets in an effort to be physically impacted by interactions with the city’s “filth,” including the homeless and other queer men who frequent bars devoted to excremental sexual play. For example, following his discovery of Hasler’s sexual movement through the city, Marr visits a bar called the Mineshaft for “GSA [the Golden Showers Association] Night,” the first Wednesday of each month when the GSA “sponsors a Wet Night—catering to guys with a taste for recycled beer” (111). The scene at the bar involves a gathering of mostly defrocked men—although some choose to remain clothed and others don jockstraps—that freely urinate upon each other with glee. Marr, a newcomer to the Wet Night, delights at first in watching other men guzzle each other’s urine and taking in the various sounds and sights of exchange; still, he quickly leaps into the action by lowering himself into a bathtub designated as a container of sorts for men to enjoy the process of being showered by the golden liquids of multiple others. As Marr notes, “I got in the bathtub while some nine guys (with several more standing around) drifted over, unbuttoned their flies (the ones who weren’t already naked or in jock straps; zippers, I guess, are not too popular with these guys), and let go all over me” (113). While the bathtub usually is thought of as a space of cleansing in which a bather washes away excess, here it is the space in which Marr is able to “wash” in the abject waste of others and experience the pleasures of bodily fluidity. Marr recounts his experience in a letter to a friend and lets her in on the specific pleasure of drenching the body in the multiple streams of others, namely, the sensuous warmth of others’ urine. He writes, “You know what it feels like, to be pissed on by nine guys at once while you lie spread-eagled on your back in a bathtub, Sam—I mean, more than anything else? It feels warm!” (113). The sensation of being wrapped in the fluid heat of others’ bodies gives Marr an intimate experience with the delights of excremental closeness. While Marr’s account of the sumptuous streams of others and the physical comfort that they provide may seem devoid of a critique of normative



understandings of disposal, especially since Marr does not take the time in this letter to Sam to articulate in detail why this kind of shower provides so much pleasure beyond its warmth, his later recollection of experiences in the bar’s bathroom do give greater insight into how Marr comes to value the sharing of excreta as a way to counter hegemonic understandings of identity formation built through the disavowal of the abject. After his experience in the bathtub, Marr and another man named Tex visit the restrooms where Marr sees the names on the doors marked “Men’s and Women’s,” “but over the woodburned panel that hung on the women’s-­ room door, someone had taped a piece of paper on which was scrawled in Magic Marker: ‘real men’s room’” (116). Juxtaposed with the men’s room “the real men’s room” is a space in which men share in the exchange of bodily waste and revel in the “realness” of their excremental selves, the realness of the masculine body come undone. Although the designation of room as a space for women has been crossed out, it is important that this space previously has been demarcated as feminine, for the men who enter the real men’s room will enjoy a kind of bodily connection that is understood to be feminine in hegemonic discourse; in other words, they will be the holes into which the fluid waste of penises will flow. Marr describes the room as a space with three commodes in it. Two were occupied. On one sat a small, muscular blond guy. He was just in a jockstrap, which was down around the ankles of his basketball sneakers. In front of him stood a black guy …. From his stubby, uncut dick, protruding from dark fingers like a still-darker sausage, a full stream of yellow glittered, like a golden staple between it and the little white guy’s open mouth. (116)

Looking upon the nearly naked white man satiating his thirst with the glittering juice of another body, Marr remarks upon how the scene speaks to a different kind of connectivity between men made through the arc of bodily waste. Marr’s interpretation of the glorious vision of men coming together to mingle in waste centers upon how the bodies seemingly are stapled together, hinged together by their ability to become waste and to consume the waste of each other. Inspired by the men before him, Marr decides to “sit down … and take up the one free commode. Moments after I did, I realized there weren’t any urinals in here. We—the ones of us who were sitting—were it” (116). Here, the “American Standard” practice of ridding the self of excreta and paying for the privilege of chemical



alteration and purification of waste is avoided by placing the main character on top of the commode. The contact with the urine of other men is the desired function of the real men’s room and the stream of uirne is that which connects the narrator to others. Instead of shielding himself from that which others consider to be abject, Marr swings his face into the arc and swallows, “with the obsession not to spill any” (117). The narrator is pierced by the “golden staple”; like the other men in the room—urinaters and urinals—he finds value and meaning in that which is flushed by others. Thus, waste is not treated with fear or disdain, but with desire; in short, the “real” men delight in the decomposition of the self and others. The scene becomes much more rich when placed in dialogue with Franzen’s Alfred Lambert and Reed’s Harry Sam. Within earlier analysis of Harry Sam and Alfred Lambert, I show how their identities are engineered by disavowing abject bodily life and flushing the “realness” of the excremental body to the margins. A construction of identity that wars against bodily porousness and waste maps out onto social engineering and the construction of race as characters like Lambert and Sam erect whiteness through disposal of their own excremental nature onto black subjects. They erect their masculinity—their claim to “real” manhood—by refusing to accept the ways that their own bodies are excremental and the ways in which they consistently leak past the identities that they have formed. Both Harry Sam and Lambert deny the excremental sameness of bodies— the excremental sameness of humanity—by categorizing racially and ethnically marked others as unclean. Placing Delany’s scene of toiletry in relationship to these other depictions, we can see the import of the demarcation on the restroom’s door as his “real” men unravel the construction of hegemonic understandings of masculinity. Because they embrace the unraveling of the body, they assert the pleasures of waste in opposition to hegemonic understandings of cleanliness; the participants revel in the fact that “real men” come undone, excrete, and that this does not have to be an affront to subjectivity, but can be instead a desirable erosion of that subjectivity. Rather than warring against waste or the Other who might make waste of them, these “showers” allow the real men to excrete past isolated identity and to come apart with each other in pleasure, thereby countering hegemonic claims that becoming waste is only and always a horrible ending to the subject. They also assert the pleasures of laying waste to hegemonic discourses of racialized masculinity that revolve around the shuttling of bodies into distinct categories, some privileged and others debased. While the seated little white guy takes in the urine of



the standing black man, they both lay waste to understanding of racial difference even as fantasies of racial difference may inspire their play (as it certainly does for Tex). The waste of the black body in this scene is not loathsome, but desired and the white body is not contaminated by interracial play, but ecstatically filled up with excess in pleasure.8 The two bodies come together to unite in the waste of hegemonic categorization of racial difference, not erecting identity in opposition to each other, but melting and spilling into each other through the capacity to become and to enjoy waste. The stapled men’s union in waste brings pleasure to both and allows all participants to experience the erosion of self and others as ecstatic union in the decomposition of identity. Marr’s experiences with excremental play extend far beyond scenes in bars; many of his adventures take place in public with homeless men. These scenes in particular call readers to engage with bodies thought to be sexually undesirable—untouchable—within civic spaces. While Marr’s engagement with the erotic and ethical power of water sports within queer sexual subculture invites readers to imagine the possible pleasure of reveling in bodily waste, his engagement with homeless men critiques a view of impoverished city scavengers as disposable trash. Marr’s first vivid sexual encounter with homeless men occurs in the opening pages of the text before his visit to the Mineshaft. After reading about Hasler’s erotic movement through the city and sexual relationships with homeless men, Marr approaches a group of homeless men with the goal of sharing sexual stimulus. Yet, Hasler has left no manual and Marr finds that cruising the homeless differs from the bathroom sex that he previously enjoyed. After propositioning a group of men, he is surprised that his invitation to give oral sex is accepted by a man, who asks to be called Piece o’ Shit. This moniker denotes the man’s understanding of the way his body is interpreted by society as a type of excrement that is to be discarded; still, Piece o’ Shit and others utilize his name as a way to revalue the abject in a way that celebrates the excremental body rather than denigrates it. Like Piece o’ Shit, Marr chooses not to thrust aside or debase this “wasted” body, but instead asks how he might pleasure him. The response shocks him: “Come over here, next to me. Slide on up and lemme see you make your mouth into a cunt. … Come on, now. Let’s see that pussy-hole” (32). Marr discovers that his own body must be re-organized in order to stimulate the body of this new lover. His previous understanding of self as a gay man or even as a masculine speaking subject must be transformed in light of this request as he becomes feminized. His companion coaches him:



“Okay now; just hang them big suckers wet and loose”—he turned out his own mouth, and I tried to imitate him—“There you go—you got it. Then you take your tongue and screw it ‘bout as small as you can, up over your front teeth and press it against your upper lip.” Now he made what I swear was the stupidest face I’d ever seen. “Sure,” he admitted, when I broke and laughed, “it looks kind o’ dumb when a white feller does it. But you get a big-mouthed, black sonofabitch like you there—see, the tongue makes like a goddamned clit, right up there on the top. … Yeah, bitch—there you go! Now you got a hole there that’ll do for a funky black pussy just about any way. You wanna wiggle that clit a little?” (33)

Marr refuses to see himself as the subject that will penetrate the object of study or to discover the secrets of the Other. Instead, he allows the Other to make his body into a “hole,” an orifice to be penetrated by the spear of “Shit.” The tongue and lips, used in academia to formulate coherent narratives of expertise and knowledge, twist into a “grotesque” formation and prepare to be moved by another’s thrust. Finally, the biographer finds that his own body is written into a new position as he invites the human “trash” of the city to instruct him in the creation of new movements of self. Marr and all the major homeless characters embrace the openings of the body and its waste as evidence of a pleasurable permeable nature of human subjects. Rather than celebrating the circumcised penis, this Piece o’ Shit has made his member into a Yoni dick, or a penis named to refer to the vagina. Piece o’ Shit describes the creation of his Yoni in a vivid passage: “But these guys was into pulling their foreskins down and stickin’ these rings inside ‘em. And I started out with a pretty healthy yoni of my own, even to begin with. Course it wasn’t nowheres as long as it is now” (36–37). Although this scene can be read as the “erection” of an exaggerated penis, Piece o’ Shit makes it clear that it is what the penis houses that makes the Yoni so important and desired. The rings, which are hidden beneath the foreskin, collect the excretions from the penis; therefore, a cheesy substance can be found by the lover willing to venture into the walls of the Yoni. Marr asks his Piece o’ Shit about the “stuff all over the rings.” He responds, “‘what the fuck you think it is … you got you a good, grade-A quality goat here. And that’s grade-A quality goat cheese! I mean, that’s the real Gorgonzola” (36). As Marr refuses to forget or to bury the turd of society in the “appropriate” fashion by ignoring the bodies and desires of the homeless, Piece o’ Shit builds a penis that becomes



both a vagina to be explored and a breast (a goat’s breast!) that produces the substance which becomes cheese. John Marr, of course, is ready to penetrate the vaginal penis: “With my tongue inside his immense, rumpled, cheese-filled folds, when my tongue tip finally worked in far enough to touch the head of his cock directly, he sighed, moved his knees wide” (38). The point of pleasure must be discovered beneath folds of skin reminiscent of the labia; and yet this “hole” is also that which penetrates Marr’s mouth. Both participants, then, open themselves to the pleasure of worldly stimulus through a rupturing other. As Marr partakes of the crusty cheese within the foreskin’s folds, he pushes his fingers into Shit’s anus: “I slid my hand back between his cheeks, pressing a finger toward his hole—and, surprised, slid two right inside him …. He shot …. Which was when I realized that the flavor had changed: my mouth heated, salt flooded over my tongue, filled my throat” (40). Here, the climatic moment is not the eruption of semen from the penis, but the stream of urine. By both savoring the body of the homeless man and the urine and other wastes of Piece o’ Shit’s body, Marr and his lover undermine hegemonic understandings of the dangers of filth. Through sexual encounter the men experience and then articulate the various pleasures of abject wastes: the delicious salt of the excretory body, the sensuous heat of another’s urinal stream that comfortingly warms the mouth, throat, and stomach of the lover, and the surprising savory goodness of bodily cheese as the tongue dissolves each tasty crumble. Rather than see the bodies of the homeless as problems to be swept away from the streets or as filthy untouchables to be avoided, Marr experiences the pleasure of bodily contact with those that society deems filth. Further, Delany calls readers to re-evaluate a cultural fear of various forms of excreta by highlighting the multiple sensual experiences that come with tasting and consuming waste. What some may deem disgusting is seen as desirable by others for it provides the allure of salt and the feeling of warmth. Moreover, the experience of penetrating a vaginal penis and of being a vaginal cavity provides both lovers the opportunity to experience bodily value in letting go of identity formations. While the surrounding community may construct ideal cleansed civic subjectivity in opposition to the dredges of society like Piece o’ Shit, both men aver the goodness of excreta, affirm that it is good to become “shit” and other forms of excrement, and to share in unraveling with each other. After their brief encounter, Marr loses Piece o’ Shit and as he searches the city for his longed for lover, he comes into contact with many other



homeless men. Like Hasler before him, Marr finds a particular group of men who revel in the consumption of human waste that opposes contemporary effluent society. The motley crew includes Hasler’s lover from ten years prior, Mad Man Mike, tattooed Tony whose hands are inked with the words “shit” and “piss,” a perpetual masturbator named Joey, and a beast of a man named Leaky who introduces Marr to the group and others. Following an initial sexual encounter, Marr invites Leaky to return to his apartment for another tryst, but Leaky has other ideas as he decides to bring his crew of men interested in meeting the “Professor.” This begins the final orgy from the fourth section of the novel entitled “The Place of Excrement” that is initiated when John Marr is asked to pay a penny for access to a new lover’s, Leaky’s, body.9 At first, Marr is rattled by both his relief at Leaky’s return to his apartment and a “new” game that he identifies with some type of low-grade prostitution. As he previously opposed the trade of money for sex, Marr asks Tony, “Why am I doing this …? Leaky said you’d paid a penny for him … and I have to give you a penny back” (369). Juggling the beer that will fuel the later waterworks, Tony tries to explain the game to Marr: Mad Man Mike, he explained it to us, a long time ago. Just a penny—you can’t sell a person for no more than that …. I guess it’s ‘cause of how you were talkin’ to me once … about bein’ so fuckin’ low? He said that the thing you buy and sell, when you buy some scumbag this way, it don’t got nothin’ to do with what someone can do—I mean, how much he’s worth out there. It just has to do with. … I don’t know. Owning. (270)

The sale of the body contradicts the market into which we usually offer up the flesh. Tony recognizes that the exchange of the penny is not a type of payment for a promised labor or an actualized service. If it does not indicate the worth of flesh on the job market, it points to the “worthlessness” or the uselessness of that body. In the end, John Marr “purchases” and ultimately “owns” a leaking body that will not produce anything more than semen, urine, and feces. Marr and the other men claim “shit,” both the bodies of the homeless and the excrement of the body, in opposition to the economic logic of the society that surrounds them, which values bodies based on their employment and financial success. Hasler, the dead philosopher who inspires Marr to move to the city, comes to this conclusion as well. In old note cards sent to John by a friend



of the late author, Hasler recalls a conversation with his former black lover, Mad Man Mike. [Mad Man Mike] says that owning someone isn’t bad. He wishes somebody owned him. I pointed out to him in a country as historically entailed with slavery as the United States, that was rather a dangerous position for a Negro to adhere to. He says, rather insightfully, that his whole life he’s been treated like one form of pervert or another. And, (to use his own … words),‘there ain’t a whole lot of difference for most people between a pervert like me and a nigger pervert like me.’ Then, he went on to explain, rather fancifully that—though he’s once set the price as high as a dime— nobody should ever pay more than a penny for another human being. He said that knowing somebody wanted you enough to even pay a penny for you meant that you were not in the unenviable position of most people he knew living in the parks and the streets: i.e., no one … wanted them at all— to most people they were worth nothing! (405)

As Mike goes on to explain, he is wanted by the police and medical staff of the local mental hospital, for his public behavior disturbs the “appropriate” physical demeanor for city life. Authorities committed to either treating the mentally ill and preparing them for a return to the work force or to discipline and punish those who will not comply with the norms of civic propriety do not truly seek an interaction with the homeless that pleasures their (the homeless’) bodies. This is the type of medical or juridical correction that Mad Man Mike, Leaky, and the others want to avoid. In contrast to the desirous gaze of social workers and medical providers, the ownership implied in the exchange of the penny demarcates a commitment to the “uselessness” of others’ bodies and wastefulness of sexual pursuits. As Marr and Hasler do not seek to institutionalize or to alter those with whom they make contact, they explore the ecstasy of letting go of normative understandings of cleansed and impenetrable masculinity. The madness that ensues proves this point with greater force, for Marr abandons himself to sexual acts based on the consumption of the excrement of the homeless men. Mad Man Mike explains the reason for the visit to Marr’s apartment, See, you gotta understand about me …. I got these kind of rules, you know what I mean? It’s kind of funny like, but you see I ain’t never pissed in a fuckin’ urinal for more than ten years. Or shit in a fuckin’ shitter, either. I just can’t do it, you know what I mean? … I can’t do that, man. Tony, now,



see, he’s real good for me. Every fuckin’ day, … I shit in his fuckin’ face— and he, you know, he eats it for me. He’s beautiful. So, you see, if I had two of you fuckin’ scumbags, one to eat my fuckin’ shit, one to drink my fuckin’ piss, I’d be okay, you know what I mean …? (371)

In order to be “okay,” Mad Man Mike identifies a movement in the world that refuses to waste, to bury, or to flush the proof of the falling apart of the flesh. Instead, he calls for a witness to the act of elimination and for a willing participant to “own” and to eat his rot and Marr offers himself for the position. After drinking Mike’s urine while Crazy Tony cleans the shit from Mike’s ass, he recounts, I thrust my tongue out into the hole in his beard, while his lips drew back and his teeth opened under mine, so that I went deep into his mouth, saliva clearing parts under his tongue. The sweetish, walnutty taste surged under mine, lumping other parts, a taste I’d known before from him, while I turned myself around him on the bushing our joined mouths made, not just lips, but teeth grating teeth, tongue wrestling tongue, till, locked, he thrust into mine his spit, his tongue, and Mike’s shit—and I thrust them back. (378)

In the concluding scene of the orgy, these two bottom-feeders share in a meal that most of the rest of New York would abolish to sewers. If both the bodies of homeless men and the material waste of the body are the excess on which civilization erects its narrative of wholeness, Marr defies the burial of the abject in favor of a corporeal joining with detritus. As the two men enjoy the seeping turd, Mike states, “Now how are you gonna pay more than a penny for each of them …. Look at ‘em, Joey. I mean, eatin’ shit …? Drinkin’ piss …? They’re stupider than fuckin’ Leaky here. And they’re crazier than you an’ me together!” (380) Ultimately, Marr escapes the societal mandate to forget excrement and to build his identity or worth through monetary exchange for duties performed. This scene marks the ways in which Marr accepts the polymorphous perversity of Freud’s child and further defies Freud’s belief in the needed “damming up” or “closing” of the porous body. The Mad Man engages with the father of psychoanalysis only to refuse the normalizing impulse that juxtaposes more radical understandings of jouissance also present in Freudian texts and expanded upon by thinkers like Bersani. The vivid scenes of excremental consumption and sharing call readers to re-evaluate the goodness of the abject wastes of the body as well as



bodies defined as abject. Although some readers might respond to such depictions with disgust like the novel’s Mossman, this presentation of eros seeks to undermine a hegemonic understanding of waste as an enemy to ideal subject formation. Mad Man Mike, Hasler, and Marr critique such a societal mandate for the disavowal of bodily waste because such renunciation requires the abandonment of full bodily pleasure as it denigrates the ecstasy that they uncover in their sexual play, an ecstasy that proves that waste and becoming waste can be pleasurable. The pleasures of excrement call all of these characters to value highly what others appraise as worthless or even dangerous. For Mad Man Mike and others, those willing to consume bodily waste affirm the beauty of bodily life and the beauty of abject bodies, like the homeless, who are viewed by many in the surrounding city as a problem that needs to be cleaned up or subjects that need to treated. It may be difficult for some readers to embrace this excremental ethic. Yet, if we return to Bersani’s thoughts about sexuality as social dysfunction, we might be better able to identify a kinship with Delany’s characters as most forms of sexual encounter revolve around the sharing of bodily waste. As Bersani argues, most people don’t like sex because it involves a kind of self-shattering, a bodily eruption that ruptures fantasies of corporeal wholeness and subjectivity stability. Pushing his argument further, we might argue that what makes sex troubling is that it reduces bodies to waste; when we engage in sexual play with others, we both seek to become wasted and to revel in the waste of others. We leak beyond our isolated bodies and mingle in waste with each other. Sexual activity—no matter what we want to say about it—involves making a mess of ourselves and revealing our bodily movement toward decay. Delany’s excremental eros is so stunning because his characters celebrate the value of decay and thus counter a kind of subjectivity that experiences corporeal excess as a problem in the life of the subject. To embrace excreta as pleasurable signs of the joys of bodily life and to share in that goodness with others is a powerful way to re-envision our bodies—not as horrendous affronts to subjective wholeness—but as joyfully open to worldly penetration. Delany’s novel invites readers to evaluate those moments when we have enjoyed being waste, when we have desirously sought out and consumed the waste of others, even if we do not revel in scat or water sports as his characters do. This capacity for pleasure in being a porous and decomposing body in the world gives readers the opportunity to think through systems of civic sanitation that only see excreta as dangerous remainder, as threatening filth. If we recall with love or desire our own ecstatic feelings of becoming



wasted by a lover or our own desire to bring a lover out of herself in excretion, we might long to linger over the value of decay in that it marks the pleasures that come from our ability to move beyond our own bodies into union with others. How might our understanding of sanitation change if we were to acknowledge this kind of bodily pleasure that we can find in becoming waste and sharing it? While I have provided a few glimpses of Delany’s excremental vision in this section and will answer this question more fully in the final section of the chapter, I now turn to Delany’s discussion of the fear of disease transfer through this kind of sexual play, for although Marr finds great pleasure in excremental eros, he maintains a concern about the spread of disease that shadows his enjoyment of such contact. His fears about disease lead him to confront hegemonic calls for sanitation in the name of communal health; in order to proclaim the goodness of such sexual activity, he finds himself wading through his terror of illness and a larger communal fear of the power of bodily waste to lead to human death. In this way, Marr engages with the real-world impact of waste transfer in sexual play and struggles to assert the value of subjective and bodily unraveling like that described above with the knowledge that such play is impacting queer male subcultures during the early years of the AIDS epidemic.

Encountering the Diseased Piece of Shit: Articulating a Love for Bodily Excess in an Epidemic It is important for a discussion of sanitation to position Marr and others within the 1980s panic about bodily waste and fear of the spread of HIV because this fear connects with a larger cultural anxiety about bodily waste and its potential to spread a variety of forms of illness. As I have shown in the second chapter of this book, disease transfer is a major issue in global discussion of sanitation because many die each day from polluted waters. In response, engineers have created costly and wasteful methods for sanitation that frequently rely on enormous amounts of water in the waste treatment process, even as these systems continue to pollute waterways in the United States. What makes Marr’s anxiety about the virus in the context of sexual play so intriguing for discussions of public sanitation is that he sees bodily waste, not as toxic material—always already threatening to the life of the subject—but as joyful remainder that speaks to our connectivity to each other in our unraveling humanity. He values the sharing of



bodily waste, even as he seeks information about how such sharing might be made safe for all participants. He models a subjectivity in which curiosity and delight in the wasted self lead not to a desire to eradicate human erosion, but instead to think through how such erosion might be gift to others. By highlighting the potential for bodily waste to carry disease, the novel acknowledges that the revaluing of bodily waste also must take into account and address this possibility. In its engagement with systems of civic sanitation, the novel calls readers to reassess bodily waste while simultaneously thinking through how this revaluation might be undertaken with an eye toward building discussions and policies of sanitation that do not forget the value and worth of excreta as gift to other life. Marr’s process of working through his fear of the possible viral load of waste and his desire for sharing waste with others model one way that readers might acknowledge the pleasures of waste that might fuel alternative methods for understanding sanitation, relationality, and community formation. While Marr engages in sexual play in the streets, bars, and pornographic theaters of the 1980s New York City, he experiences an “inner drama” in which he is both “terrified of AIDS” and still desirous for sexual contact (172). Because the novel takes place in the time before knowledge about HIV was readily available, the psychic trauma is heightened, as no one seems to know exactly how it is spread. He writes a letter to a friend in which he describes how this drama plays out during a visit to a theater where he participates in oral sex with a variety of men: “As I walked around the theater, doing what I did, like most of the men there, I thought about AIDS constantly and intently and obsessively” (172). Hearing of men who have died, reading about Foucault’s death, Marr, like most other sexually active queer men whom he encounters, worries about the possibility of contracting HIV. While this fear shadows him through his movements in the city, he continues to feel compelled to seek out sex, for it is through this kind of contact that his fear dissipates. The paradox of his terror of disease transfer that is alleviated through homosexual acts that in turn may make him vulnerable to HIV causes Marr to linger over this phenomenon at length in his letter to a friend. Through the prose of the letter, he tries to work out why sexual activity stills his fear, even as he acknowledges that this relief may be rare and not shared among the majority of other gay men or men who seek same-sex activity (172). In response to this enigma, he provides three separate accounts of why sexual activity itself allows him to live without fear of disease or death, which I will outline in the following paragraphs.



First, Marr assumes that he already has HIV because of his enjoyment of multiple partners, and this knowledge allows him to continue to live his life with the pleasures of sexual contact because if he already is carrying the virus he needs no longer fear that he will contract it. Further, because of the larger cultural discussion of HIV as a “gay disease,” impacting male sexual subculture, he also believes that most men who continue to participate in such culture have come to the same conclusion. In the absence of information about how to protect oneself and ones’ partners from the virus, Marr chooses to continue to participate in the pleasures of sharing of bodily waste in excremental play in the knowledge that such play already may have impacted his future health should it be spread through oral sex and the consumption of urine, semen, or fecal matter. He muses, But the psychological problem for those of us who cruise is complex—and though I’ve put a real effort into curtailing and modifying my cruising habits in the light of AIDS, the fact is I’ve never, for more than a month at a time, been able to cut out sex entirely …. Because of AIDS’s seven- to thirty-six month incubation period, those of us who have traditionally lived our lives at three-hundred-plus sexual partners a year move through our lives today not afraid that we might catch AIDS: rather, we move through life fully and continually oppressed by the suspicion that we must already have it! (174)

In the letter, Marr focuses on his acknowledgment that his sexual activity before HIV was widely discussed has made him vulnerable to contagion; in the absence of knowledge about how the virus is spread, he assumes that the frequency of his sexual encounters will have led him to contract it. Still, he attempts to find information about disease transfer in order to protect himself and others and takes care to abandon cruising when he has a “cold” or is “feeling physically run-down” (175). He doesn’t engage in oral sex for “three hours” after “brushing [his] teeth,” “as the minuscule sores connected with bleeding gums are a regular point of circulatory-­ system infections” (175). As he maintains an interest in medical and anecdotal information about HIV, he continues to search for information about “men who are as obsessive [as he is] about” oral gratification and their susceptibility to the disease. Despite his feeling that he probably has contracted HIV, Marr desires to be an informed lover who navigates sexual community with care for his health and that of others.



As more information about HIV becomes available, Marr seems to suggest here that he might alter his behavior in order to ensure fulfilling sexual encounters that support his partners’ health so that they may continue to be active members of New York’s sexual subculture. Although research has shown that oral sex and the consumption of semen that Marr enjoys is relatively low risk, he lacks access to such information and thus must make decisions about sexual play with the understanding that he is taking a risk. The consumption of fecal matter will continue to put him at risk for bacterial infections and viral infections like strains of Hepatitis. By consistently seeking out information about a variety of forms of illness, Marr asserts in his letter to his friend Sam that he desires to live in sexual communities that have access to data about illness, even as he refuses to demonize the kind of sexual play that he enjoys as filthy or dangerous in its own right. Affirming the value and import of a variety of different forms of sharing bodily waste, he sees disease as the problem to be addressed, not sexual subculture. Thus, he undermines association of queer male subculture with suicidal desire for death or self-annihilation by exploring what makes sexual subculture so important and vital for his life. This leads us to the second way that Marr understands his desire for continued sexual activity in the wake of the emergence of HIV, namely, the import of sexual contact for its ability to affirm the joys of bodily being and connectivity with others. He writes, “When sex is available and plays such a large part in life, sexual activity ends up fulfilling many, many psychological functions—as chosen recreations often do: it helps you deal with any number of tensions and becomes a stabilizing and balancing force” (172). To understand what Marr means by a stabilizing force, a turn to Delany’s Time Square Red, Times Square Blue will help to articulate the particular pleasures of what Delany calls contact. In this work, Delany offers a discussion of the import of spaces for cross-class sexual contact because such spaces provide pleasures “that most of our society does not yet know how to acknowledge.”10 Peppering his analysis of the joys of cross-class contact with anecdotes in his work, Delany argues that “given the mode of capitalism under which we live, life is at its most rewarding, productive, and pleasant when large numbers of people understand, appreciate, and seek out interclass contact and communication conducted in a mode of good will.”11 Mixing biographical accounts of his sexual activity in New York City with analysis of the significance of pornographic theaters like those mentioned in the novel, Delany argues that the pleasures of sexual interclass contact in some ways undermine a larger



cultural valuation of bodies based on the forms of labor that they provide. Instead, the free sharing of bodily waste in sexual union offers a way for participants to enjoy the pleasures of bodily connectivity beyond capitalist understandings of worth. For Marr and his lovers, sexual play allows them to affirm their value in opposition to a larger cultural denigration of their bodies; while the surrounding community sees them as abject excess or worthless bodies because of their inability to show value through employment or the accrual of capital, the crew of lovers establish other ways of understanding worth, namely through the capacity to provide and to share pleasure with each other. Mad Man Mike and his crew long to be wanted and to be valued beyond capitalist understandings of worth; they seek to be accepted and loved by others simply for their power to bring unproductive ecstasy to each other and to experience it themselves. When Marr speaks of sex as a “stabilizing and balancing force,” he points toward the way that interclass sexual contact gives participants the ability to experience the value of their bodies outside of capitalist modes of valuation. To feel the worth and value of the body in its unraveling and eruption without significant monetary exchange is one way to undermine an economic system that only understands value through hierarchal understandings of labor. Interclass sexual contact in the novel champions the pleasure of unproductive bodily movements, giving participants another way to understand the beauty of life beyond economic success or the accrual of property and money. Sex is a stabilizing force in the novel because it gives the characters the opportunity to dodge the tensions of the surrounding community—the devaluation of excessive bodily life, the categorization of bodies based on labor performed, and the stress of proving oneself in the marketplace—by providing experiences in which they are valued as unproductive and ecstatic bodies. As Delany notes, “People are not excess,” and yet those like Piece o’ Shit, Mad Man Mike, and Leaky are treated as such. Through sexual play, these characters affirm their worth and value—including the import and goodness of their bodily waste—in a surrounding culture that demarcates them as untouchable.12 While Marr seeks to articulate the import of interclass sexual play as a means through which to value bodies differently, he also continues to participate in sexual subculture because he understands that it offers an important vision of healthy civic life. Beyond valuing sexual play for the ways in which it helps him and others to re-value abject bodily life, he recognizes that spaces of sexual play help participants like himself imagine civic life differently than the dominant culture. This marks a third way to



understand Marr’s continued participation in sexual subculture, even as it becomes threatened by governmental policies of public health. As Delany argues in Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, interclass contact is threatening to hegemonic understandings of civic life and thus spaces in which such interclass contact is prevalent are attacked. He argues, “the class war raging constantly and often silently in the comparatively stabilized societies of the developed world, though it is at times as hard to detect as Freud’s unconscious or the structure of discourse, perpetually works for the erosion of the social practices through which interclass communication takes place and of the institutions holding those practices stable so that new institutions must always be conceived and set in place to take over the jobs of those that are battered again and again until they are destroyed.”13 In both texts, Delany describes the way in which spaces for interclass sexual contact in New York City came under attack during the AIDS epidemic as pornographic theaters were closed in the name of public health. Rather than viewing places of sexual play as ideal locations throughout which to disseminate information about HIV, civic leaders and health professionals sought to eradicate such locations, as if sex itself—and homosexual sex in particular—was the problem to be eradicated.14 Marr recognizes the reanimation of homophobia through medical and governmental discussions about HIV within the historical context of the deployment of sexuality that viewed homosexuality as illness. He opines, AIDS had put us in the same situation I’d been in when the only information I had about homosexuality was what I’d found in an outdated psychology book by Erich Fromm from the 1950s on a shelf of the local library, whose appendix told me that to indulge in one’s homosexual urges was to foredoom oneself to an unavoidable career of alcoholism, devoid of any “rewarding” or “mature” relationships (whether sexual or any other kind), with an almost-certain probability of suicide sooner or later! … But it was only through a few years of doing what I was doing and looking at the people I was doing it with, many of whom seemed no less happy than anyone else, that I began to ask the most empowering of questions: Could all these people around me be both crazy and damned? When one is dealing with the satisfaction of an appetite, you relegate Erich Fromm et alia to the place where one stores those abstractions that don’t particularly relate to the systems of the world around you. (173)

Understanding hegemonic discourses about HIV as fueled by homophobia, Marr diagnoses the surrounding culture’s fear of same-sex bodily



contact as that which fuels civic policy in an attempt to fight sexual behavior rather than the virus. Because of his years of experience in sexual subculture, Marr refuses to indict the sharing of bodily waste in sexual play as anathema to public health. He sees such play as offering a vital form of balance and stability in a culture that categorizes bodies as clean and unclean, productive and unproductive. It is through sexual play that he discovers—again and again—the worth of his bodily life and the bodies of others in their ecstatic unraveling. While he assuredly scouts for information about the virus, he refuses to demarcate his form of sexual play as necessarily “unhealthy”; instead, he affirms the import of such play even as he searches for information about how to ensure the health of participants. Further, he views civic attacks on bars and theaters as part of an historic trend in which interclass and same-sex sexual contact are viewed as dangerous because they threaten civic organization of bodies along class and racial lines thereby providing spaces that undermine hegemonic understandings of clean and productive identity formation. Because spaces in which interclass sexual contact are prevalent allow participants to envision a pleasuring of bodies outside of normative understandings of heterosexual monogamy, they have the potential to undermine dominant systems for kinship formation. Marr’s continued desire to participate in sexual subculture also revolves around a longing to maintain spaces in which same-­ sex and interclass contact offer him and others different ways of understanding human connectivity. It is these three different ways of thinking through bodily waste that allow Marr to move through fear to continue to participate in sexual play and the sharing of bodily waste. Following his analysis of his continued valuing of sexual subculture, Marr tells Sam that the import of interclass contact and experiences of the joy of the wasted self as well as the knowledge that discourses of public health are influenced by homophobia undergird his desire to “risk” contagion. He writes, “what I must live with—and possibly die with—is a certain sense of its reasonableness, a certain sense of risk, knowing my ‘sense’ of both are absolutely without experimental foundation; and, somehow because of it (is this what existentialism was about?), I can now live without any basic terror or basic hope” (177). Earlier he writes, “Yet it is this realization that one is gambling, and gambling on one’s own … that obliterates the terror” (176). For Marr, the risks associated with sharing bodily waste in interclass sexual community are so important that they are worth the gamble. The experience of finding the excess of his body desirable and of having lovers linger over



even the most abject sites of his flesh allows him the opportunity to embrace his porous and messy humanity. The experience of consuming the abject mess of others allows him also to validate the full bodily worth of those deemed untouchable. And the experience of sharing communal spaces in which bodily waste is a treasured ecstatic remainder gives him and others new ways of forming relationality at the margins of dominant capitalist ideological valuation of subjects. All of this revaluing of bodily excess makes sexual play worth the risk of illness. Learning of a gay men’s organization that offers information about safe sex at establishments like the Mineshaft, Marr is intrigued by their efforts at sexual education that involve “live, active, hands-on sexual demonstrations, that people could take part in and follow, right then and there” (179–180). He communicates this group’s slogan—“On you, not in you”—to his friends and supports all of the work that gay groups perform to bring about discussions of the virus and to ensure safer sex in opposition to homophobic media that targeted gay sex itself as the disease. Yet, in each of his discussions of sex in this letter, Marr continues to call his friend—and readers of the text—to engage with the sensuous pleasures of bodily waste and the subversive erotic power of interclass sexual subculture. Thus, he continues to speak of the goodness of waste—becoming it and consuming it—even as he hopes for a “cure, an alleviation” of the virus.15 What Marr fears in his letter to his friend is that future generations may write about same-sex subculture in a way that erases the subversive power of such communities and views their practices as willful acts of suicide. By writing this letter, Marr attempts to in some small way leave documentation that avers the opposite, namely that sexual subculture and excremental play are fulfilling and satisfying, for both allow him to come to different views of himself and others. For Marr, the tragedy of the virus is both the way that it impacts the sexual communities in which he travels and the ways that cultural discourses of HIV make it difficult for Marr and others to proclaim the goodness of promiscuity, bodily waste, and sexual subculture. As Mossman abandons his project of studying Hasler because of his “degrading” sexual behavior, Marr is anxious that those writing about men who enjoy same-sex sexual play will do the same, dismissing the power of sexual communities in favor of accounts that foreground non-­ normative sexuality as filthy deviance. In this way, Marr comes to understand that both he and Hasler, as queer men, are surrounded by discourses that outline non-normative sexuality as criminal or dangerous to communities, albeit in different ways. Before HIV, gay men like Hasler endured



the close scrutiny of the medical, psychiatric, and state institutions as officials from these communities attempted to define sexual “abnormality” and the methods through which to “cure” or punish deviance. As Foucault shows in The History of Sexuality, the deployment of sexuality through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries included the “psychiatrization of perverse pleasure”: “the sexual instinct was isolated as a separate biological and psychical instinct; a clinical analysis was made of all the forms of anomalies by which it could be afflicted; it was assigned a role of normalization or pathologization with respect to all behavior; and finally, a corrective technology was sought for these anomalies.”16 With the onset of the AIDS epidemic, medical researchers built from previous understandings of sexual deviance and abnormality as they engaged with the disease and those who were at risk for contagion. Gay men, like Marr in the novel, found themselves caught in the development and intensification of those earlier webs of discourse about sexuality morality, punishment, and reform. As Paula A.  Treichler notes in How to Have Theory in an Epidemic: Cultural Chronicles of AIDS, The widespread construction of AIDS as a ‘gay disease’ … invested both AIDS and homosexuality with meanings neither had alone and produced specific material consequences across a broad social and scientific spectrum. The initial attribution of viral transmissions to ‘gay lifestyle issues,’ for example, produced a burst of research in scientific journals that starkly revealed prevailing scientific conceptions and mythologies about the sexual practices of gay men—and, indeed, about sexuality and sexual behavior more generally.17

Treichler’s work also moves beyond analysis of scientists to discuss many popular representations of AIDS by major news sources and journalists, confirming that outside of scientific journals homophobia influenced reportage on disease.18 Because Delany’s novel centers around biographical research of Hasler, Delany, like Treichler, highlights the ways that discourse surrounding the AIDS epidemic shadows contemporary engagement with historical queer communities; because of the demonization of queer sexual promiscuity inspired by the fear of HIV, Delany’s Marr fears that contemporary writers will abandon a thoughtful engagement with the pleasures of sexual subcultures in favor of a moralizing discourse. As Hasler’s sexual encounters occur before the epidemic, they offer Marr a way to “feel backward,” as Heather Love calls it, to an



historical moment when sexual encounters outside of normative relationships were not connected to this particular disease.19 Marr’s investigations into Hasler’s life and murder reveal that an earlier generation of queer men experienced a similar type of homophobia; Hasler’s murder goes unsolved—or at least uninvestigated—because he expires in a location of the city that is thought to be dangerous and while pursuing sex that is thought to be criminal. For many, death outside a hustlers’ bar is not news and does not warrant exploration; it is assumed by those who might take an interest in Hasler’s life, like Mossman, that those who visit such subcultures are seeking, or worse, deserving of, violence. So, too, Marr worries that the queer communities of which he is a part will be proclaimed filthy underworlds that invited disease and decimation. Part of his project in narrating his sexual encounters in the novel is to provide a glimpse of sexual subculture that denies hegemonic discourses’ assumptions about queer men’s sexual play in New York City even as he describes the anxiety that infiltrated such subculture in the earlier years of HIV. Marr’s claim that he has overcome fear is challenged when he re-­ encounters his lost lover, Piece o’ Shit, after sending his letter off to his friend Sam (184). Thrilled to come upon this lover with whom he is so compatible, Marr is delighted when Piece o’ Shit offers his pup tent made of cardboard as a space to engage in oral sex. Despite the fact that Piece o’ Shit has lost weight, he assertively proclaims that he does not have AIDS and instead blames the weight loss on his travels and poor diet. Because Marr is so excited to see him, he quickly changes the conversation to a discussion of sex, sidestepping further conversation about the virus. Cuddled beneath cardboard outside of a church, the two men deeply kiss each other before Marr slithers down Piece o’ Shit’s body to take his penis in his mouth. Savoring the cheese found on the rings inside his Yoni dick, swallowing Piece o’ Shit’s ejaculate, and drinking his urine, Marr continues to hold Piece o’ Shit’s penis in his mouth, attempting to work him up to another orgasm. When Piece o’ Shit does not “cum a second time,” Mar realizes that he has fallen asleep and “lay[s] [his] head over on his hip, hooking [his] fingers around his pants, pulling them down a little from his loins” (193). As trucks drive around the corner, they “flood” light into the cardboard tent, during which time Marr sees Kaposi’s lesions just above Shit’s pubic hair (193). Angered and fearful, Marr aggressively tears open the clothes of his lover, searching for more lesions and disturbing the cardboard thereby exposing Piece o’ Shit to the street light. Despite the rough movement of



Marr, Piece o’ Shit sleeps on in his “post-orgasmic slumber,” leaving Marr frustrated and longing to wake him up so that he can say, “You piece of shit, what the fuck do you think you’re doing!” (194) Instead, he sees a policeman across the street and hurries toward the cop, wanting at first to “say something to him,” to report on him. Reconsidering, Marr continues down the block, turning to watch the cop’s engagement with his lover. He witnesses, “the policeman … [do] something to him with his foot …. Suddenly Piece o’ Shit [rolls] one way, [rolls] the other to push himself up to sit” (195). Staying “long enough to see that the cop wasn’t hitting him,” Marr ultimately runs away into the night, stopping at the nearest trash basket to see if he can vomit out the ejaculate of his lover (195). This particular scene puts pressure on Marr’s newfound freedom from fear of the virus; clearly, he now knows that he has been exposed and his anger with his lover stems from Piece o’ Shit’s adamant denial that he has been exposed to the virus, let alone contracted it. In the panic of the moment, Marr sees Piece o’ Shit’s actions as criminal and longs for some authority to punish him. As the policeman here is representative of hegemonic treatment of the city’s poor, Marr seems to side at first with dominant culture’s desire for disposal of this human shit. Still, Marr quickly changes gears as he lingers to ensure that his Piece o’ Shit escapes battery from law enforcement. Reflecting later upon this sexual encounter, Marr identifies Piece o’ Shit as a victim of larger cultural discourses that identify AIDS as a “gay disease” as if identity alone equates with illness. Even though Piece o’ Shit engages with same-sex play, he does not identify as gay and therefore believes himself to be immune to HIV.  This kind of logic is what Marr critiques in the end of his examination of his final encounter with Piece o’ Shit. He longs for more nuanced discussions of disease that take into account the diversity of the sexual communities in which he is a part, including those who identify as heterosexual, as well as greater information about transmission. Reflecting upon this encounter with Piece o’ Shit later, Marr again worries that accounts of the sexual lives of queer men during the earlier years of HIV will be “incomprehensible to those coming after” (197). Indeed, he worries that his love for Piece o’ Shit as well as his enjoyment of the body’s rejectamenta will be misunderstood and read as criminal, suicidal, or insane. How can he speak to the goodness of his lover’s bodily waste, the salty delicacies of crusty curds that line his rings or the warm urinal flow that heats his body when such substances also carry a viral load? How can he speak of the pleasures of shit and his own pleasures during an



epidemic, when disease is spread through bodily wastes? Marr answers these questions by affirming that encounters like these give him his “new power and strength” (197). Although he is “unsure exactly” why this encounter and others ultimately allow him to let go of terror in the face of disease, his memories and contemplation of Piece o’ Shit return readers to the thoughts shared in his letter to Sam in which he articulates with clarity that sexual contact and subculture give him the opportunity to experience the body differently, not as abject waste to be discarded, but as desirable in its excess. The power that he finds in sexual contact counters the criminalization of queer subculture with the multiple joys of interclass contact available in such spaces, as men gather together to unite in excessive unproductive sexual play at the margins of capitalist structures. In the remaining three hundred pages of the novel, Marr continues to participate in sexual subculture, narrating his encounters for readers, and thus undermining the discourses that he worries will erase the subversive power of excremental play, that he worries will only see the diseased body of his Piece o’ Shit as disposable waste, rather than acknowledging the pleasures of this lost love and the true tragedy of his death for lovers like Marr. By the end of the novel, Marr and his lovers have learned more about the virus’s transmission and they commit to getting tested to ensure the mutual maintenance of their health. Marr, Leaky, and Tony all test negative for HIV and thus their sexual play changes very little; with the knowledge that they are negative they continue to celebrate the joys of excremental play, even as Marr remains on the lookout for more information about transmission. Having survived the early years of the virus, Marr commits himself to writing an article about Hasler and himself in an effort to combat hegemonic narratives of “filthy” or “unsanitary” queer lives. Speaking of his own participation in the sexual culture that Hasler enjoyed, Marr works to counter the kind of phobic erasure of subversive queer communities that he fears younger queer men might produce in the wake of the virus. In short, he writes to produce an account of the pleasures that he has found on city streets with those deemed abject. Although Marr’s article is not included in the text, readers might imagine that the message of the piece appears earlier in the novel when Marr describes the satisfaction that he finds in sexual encounters. For example, he analyzes the “psychological peace” that he finds after one such encounter with Leaky in the following way:



A kind of physical relaxation comes after orgasm, which is wonderful and satisfying and makes you fall into the heaviest of sleeps—but that’s not what I’m talking about here; although because I’d just dropped a second load twenty minutes ago, that might have had something to do with it. But there’s another, psychological peace, which were I religious, I’d describe by saying it feels like you’re doing what God intended you to do, like you’re occupying the space God intended you to occupy. Perhaps it’s the feeling of desire—not want, or need, or yearning, but desire itself—satisfied. Finally satisfied. Not a God believer, I’m willing to accept the God in that feeling as metaphor. Yet, it seemed to me, here I’d found the point where the metaphor and the thing it’s a metaphor for might be one. Lying there, I thought: people feel guilty about wanting to do stuff like this. But this is the reward of actually doing it, of finding someone who wants to do it with you: the fantasies of it may be drenched in shame, but the act culminates in the knowledge that no one has been harmed, no one has been wounded, no one has been wronged. (387–388)

Marr affirms the goodness of sharing in the fullness of bodily life with another in sexual play where all of the body and its wastes are valued. In contrast to Franzen’s Alfred Lambert, Marr is not conflicted about the resurrection of the body. Indeed, what makes this sexual encounter and others religious is that both he and Leaky have moved beyond the shame associated with excremental bodily life, sexual unraveling, and porous connection to each other in sexual play through ecstatic experience of the flesh that leads not to death, but to fulfillment. Despite larger cultural fears that the excremental self is a horrendous sign of death to come, Marr and Leaky encounter the abject in pleasure and learn together that no one is “harmed” in masculine erosion, no one is “wounded” by such excremental sharing, and no “wrong” has been committed. Like DeLillo’s transformed Sister Edgar, characters in Delany’s novel find assurance in the pleasures of human contact, porousness, and connection that redeem the horrors of death by recalling and enacting the joyous experiences of human contact. Rather than attempting to transcend the body, these characters affirm the ecstasy of bodily connection despite our movement toward death. They revel in the ecstatic decomposition of the body—in living decomposed—for these pleasures of unraveling make the movement of the self toward a final decay somehow “okay,” as Mad Man Mike proclaims. The delights of libidinal leakage, the splendor of secretion, are reminders of the pleasures of mortal bodies, which transform understandings of loathsome death that might police sexual behavior into a risk worth



taking as the lovers affirm the true joys of bodily life. Having taken care to learn about their HIV status, the lovers seek to share this excremental goodness with others both in sexual play and, for Marr, in written form. They ultimately proclaim the sweetness of bodily connection and the communities in which they take part as both offer these lovers the opportunity to re-envision human relationality to their own bodies and each other’s flesh. By concluding this book with Delany’s excremental vision, I explore what it might look like to treat bodily waste with desire, thereby transforming our experiences of becoming waste into joyful expressions of the porousness of self and our connectivity to each other in our human erosion. The desire that Marr and other characters exhibit is not without its concerns for the communal health. By offering discussions of excremental sexual play within the context of the early years of the emergence of HIV, the text allows readers to engage with fears of disease transfer and the ways in which this virus in our particular historical moment has animated newfound disgust and anxiety about filth and the sharing of our bodily rejectamenta in its multiple forms. As Marr works through his own anxiety, he gives us the opportunity both to recognize the pleasures of bodily excretion in sexual play while simultaneously acknowledging how hegemonic discourses that addressed the virus tended to demonize sex, and homosexual contact, in particular. Seeking to make a case for the import of bodily pleasure and sexual contact as a part of healthy lives, Marr longs for a shift in medical and public discourses about queer sex like those modeled by gay men’s health organizations in which the desire to enjoy the fullness of bodily life is not eschewed, but instead celebrated, even as safer methods of play are modeled. Placing this work in the context of other texts that address the sanitary engineering of self and the disavowal of excrement, I show how Marr finds an alternative way of working through and with the abject excremental remainder of the subject. Rather than flee from bodily life and queer sexual subculture, Marr ultimately comes to see the sharing of excreta as a way to unfold into others, to revel in the ecstatic porousness of the body, and to imagine alternative ways of building kinship where each body—despite socio-economic class—has much to offer in the sharing of excremental goodness. Further, rather than view excreta as always already a danger to the subject, Marr shares this excremental self with others in ways that don’t lead to illness, that don’t harm or wound others. He refuses to deny his excremental realness and delights in the



pleasures of the flesh made possible by our porousness and openness to each other and the world.

Notes 1. Samuel Delany, The Mad Man (New York: Masquerade Books, 1994). All page numbers for quotations pulled from the primary text will be noted in the body of the chapter. 2. For a discussion of sexual subculture in this novel, see Ray Davis, “Delany’s Dirt,” in Ash of Stars: On the Writing of Samuel R. Delany, ed. James Sallis (Jackson, MS; University Press of Mississippi, 1996), 162–188; Phillip Brian Harper, Private Affairs: Critical Ventures in the Culture of Social Relations (New York: New York University Press, 1999), 141–145; Mary Catherine Foltz, “The Excremental Ethics of Samuel R. Delany,” Substance, Issue 116, Vol. 37, No. 2 (2008): 41–55; Mary Catherine Foltz, “Samuel R. Delany’s Novel Biography in the Time of AIDS: Writing the Self into Chaos,” Annals of Scholarship, Vol. 21, No.1–3 (2013): 69–98; and Reed Woodhouse, Unlimited Embrace: A Canon of Gay Fiction, 1945–1995 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998). 3. Leo Bersani, “Is the Rectum a Grave?,” October, Vol. 43 (Winter 1987): 197–222. 4. Bersani, “Is the Rectum a Grave?,” 222. 5. Bersani, “Is the Rectum a Grave?,” 222. 6. Bersani, The Freudian Body, 51. 7. Michel Foucault, The Use of Pleasure: Volume 2 of The History of Sexuality, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage Books, 1990) and Foucault, The Care of the Self: Volume 3 of The History of Sexuality, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage Books, 1988). 8. For a substantial and nuanced discussion of blackness and abjection in The Mad Man, see Darieck Scott, Extravagant Abjection: Blackness, Power, and Sexuality in the African American Literary Imagination (New York: New York University Press, 2010), 204–255. For a discussion of race in Delany’s fiction see Jeffrey Allen Tucker, A Sense of Wonder: Samuel R.  Delany, Race, Identity, and Difference (Middleton, CT: Wesleyan, 2004), 230–275; Sandra Y. Govan, “The Insistent Presence of Black Folk in the Novels of Samuel R.  Delany,” Black American Literature Forum, Vol. 18.2 (Summer 1984): 43–48; and Mary Kay Bray, “Rites of Reversal: Double Consciousness in Delany’s Dhalgren,” Black American Literature Forum, Vol. 18.2 (1984): 57–61. 9. The title “The Place of Excrement” comes from W.B. Yeats’s “Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop.”



10. Samuel R.  Delany, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 90. For analysis of Jane Jacobs’s import for Delany’s discussion of contact, see Tim Dean, Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009). 11. Delany, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, 111. 12. Delany, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, 90. 13. Delany, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, 111. 14. Delany, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, 91. 15. Delany, The Mad Man, 177. 16. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (1978; New York: Vintage Books, 1990), 103–105. 17. Paula A. Treichler, How to Have Theory in an Epidemic: Cultural Chronicles of AIDS (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999), 6. 18. For other discussions of medical and popular discourses about the AIDS epidemic, see Bersani, “Is the Rectum a Grave?,” 197–222; Sarah Brophy, Witnessing AIDS: Writing, Testimony, and the Work of Mourning (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), 3–28; Douglas Crimp Melancholia and Moralism: Essays on AIDS and Queer Politics (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004); and Michael Warner The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999). 19. See Heather Love, Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007). Although Love focuses on modernist texts in this critical work, her concept of queer historiography informs my analysis of The Mad Man, especially with her focus on how critics might resist the impulse to erase the suffering of historical queers. She writes, “Rather than attempt to ‘overcome’ identity, I want to suggest a mode of historiography that recognizes the inevitability of a ‘play of recognitions,’ but that also sees these recognitions not as consoling but as shattering. What has been most problematic about gay and lesbian historiography to date is not, I want to argue, its attachment to identity, but rather its affirmative bias” (44–45). In his work on Hasler’s biography, Marr holds onto “the importance of clinging to ruined identities and to historical injury” (30). For both Love and Delany, “Resisting the call of gay normalization means refusing to write off the most vulnerable, the least presentable, and all the dead” (30). For me, The Mad Man both acknowledges the suffering and the pleasures of an earlier generation of queer men in this “play of recognition.”



Bibliography Bersani, Leo. “Is the Rectum a Grave?” October, Vol. 43 (Winter 1987): 197–222. Bersani, Leo. The Freudian Body: Psychoanalysis and Art. New  York: Columbia University Press, 1986. Bray, Mary Kay. “Rites of Reversal: Double Consciousness in Delany’s Dhalgren.” Black American Literature Forum, Vol. 18.2 (1984): 57–61. Brophy, Sarah. Witnessing AIDS: Writing, Testimony, and the Work of Mourning. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004. Crimp, Douglas. Melancholia and Moralism: Essays on AIDS and Queer Politics. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004. Davis, Ray. “Delany’s Dirt.” In Ash of Stars: On the Writing of Samuel R. Delany, edited by James Sallis, 162–188. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1996. Dean, Tim. Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009. Delany, Samuel R. The Mad Man. New York: Masquerade Books, 1994. Delany, Samuel R. Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. New  York: New  York University Press, 2001. Foltz, Mary Catherine. “The Excremental Ethics of Samuel R. Delany.” Substance, Issue 116, Vol. 37, No. 2 (2008): 41–55. Foltz, Mary Catherine. “Samuel R.  Delany’s Novel Biography in the Time of AIDS: Writing the Self into Chaos.” Annals of Scholarship, Vol. 21, No.1–3 (2013): 69–98. Foucault, Michel. The Care of the Self: Volume 3 of The History of Sexuality. Translated by Robert Hurley. 1986. New York: Vintage Books, 1988. Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction. Translated by Robert Hurley. 1978. New York: Vintage Books, 1990. Foucault, Michel. The Use of Pleasure: Volume 2 of The History of Sexuality. Translated by Robert Hurley. 1985. New York: Vintage Books, 1990. Govan, Sandra Y. “The Insistent Presence of Black Folk in the Novels of Samuel R. Delany.” Black American Literature Forum, Vol. 18.2 (Summer 1984): 43–48. Harper, Phillip Brian. Private Affairs: Critical Ventures in the Culture of Social Relations. New York: New York University Press, 1999. Love, Heather. Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007. Scott, Darieck. Extravagant Abjection: Blackness, Power, and Sexuality in the African American Literary Imagination. New  York: New  York University Press, 2010.



Treichler, Paula A. How To Have Theory in an Epidemic: Cultural Chronicles of AIDS. Durham: Duke University Press, 1999. Tucker, Jeffrey Allen. A Sense of Wonder: Samuel R. Delany, Race, Identity, and Difference. Middleton, CT: Wesleyan, 2004. Warner, Michael. The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999. Woodhouse, Reed. Unlimited Embrace: A Canon of Gay Fiction, 1945–1995. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998. Yeats, W.B. “Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop.” In The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats, Richard J. Finneran, 255. New York: Scribner, 1996.


Conclusion: Decay as Gift: Composting American Shit

To conclude, I turn now to a discussion of how popular environmentalist thinkers might benefit from post-1960 novelists’ engagement with waste with a brief discussion of how disgust is used in their political rhetoric with analysis of Wendell Berry’s critique of sanitary engineering in the United States. Berry bemoans the processes by which such systems befoul drinking water and shares how insane our sewage systems are by provoking disgust.1 He begins by asking readers how we would respond if he eliminated waste into household drinking water and then compares this vision of personal pollution of water to contemporary civic sewage systems. He writes, If I urinated and defecated into a pitcher of drinking water and then proceeded to quench my thirst from the pitcher, I would undoubtedly be considered crazy. If I invented an expensive technology to put my urine and feces into my drinking water, and then invented another expensive (and undependable) technology to make the same water fit to drink, I might be thought even crazier. It is not inconceivable that some psychiatrist would ask me knowingly why I wanted to mess up my drinking water in the first place. The ‘sane’ solution, very likely, would be to have me urinate and defecate into a flush toilet, from which the waste would be carried through an expensive sewerage works, which would supposedly treat it and pour it into the river—from which the town downstream would pump it, further purify it, and use it for drinking water. Private madness, by the ratification of a lot of expense and engineering, thus becomes public sanity.2 © The Author(s) 2020 M. C. Foltz, Contemporary American Literature and Excremental Culture, American Literature Readings in the 21st Century,




As Berry rightly notes, consuming waste is considered madness and his narrative here depends upon the horror of excrement in drinking water to fuel reader’s responses. Although it is comic to think about a gray-headed champion of environmentalism squatting over a pitcher of water to make a point, Berry, like many other environmentalists, uses disgust as the primary way to activate subjects in environmental movements around waste. They traffic in phobic responses to encourage change, hoping that the thought of consuming our own or our neighbors’ waste will turn off readers enough to get them to move past apathy on the issue. There is a lot to inspire disgust in the face of waste management. As I mentioned in Chap. 2 of this book, sewage overflows contaminate waterways not only with fertile human but also with toxins from industrial wastes. So, too, other forms of waste disposal negatively impact bioregions and waterways. With President Donald Trump’s recent repeal of Obama era protections, he has opened the doors for increased pollution of streams and wetlands; his “Navigable Waters Protection Rule” “for the first time in decades allow[s] landowners and property developers to dump pollutants such as pesticides and fertilizers directly into hundreds of thousands of waterways and to destroy or fill wetlands for construction projects.”3 As Blan Holman from the Southern Environmental Law Center states, “This puts the drinking water for millions of Americas at risk of contamination from unregulated pollution. This is not just undoing the Obama rule. This is stripping away protections that were put in place in the 70s and 80s that Americans have relied on for their health.”4 While it is clear that the Trump era will increase the speed with which waterways are polluted, we know from the crisis in Flint, Michigan, that his policies exacerbate a problem with industrial and agricultural waste that existed prior to his presidency. Even if we don’t focus on sacrifice zones like Flint and turn our attention to systems of sanitary engineering that seek to protect waterways, we find that the nutrient-rich remainder of sewage systems that is used to fertilize soil contains “PCBs, pesticides, asbestos, DDT, and dioxin.”5 With limited oversight and testing of it, sewage sludge application on land can impact bioregions negatively. As Elizabeth Royte notes in Garbageland, the aforementioned byproducts and others in sludge have been known to cause cancer and “neurological, immunological, and other problems in people and animals.”6 Because we unite the fecund waste of human bodies with toxins, we make our fertilizing excremental soil of life poisonous. All of the novels examined in this monograph call us as readers to address problems with waste management, but none of them use disgust



as the primary means to inspire our interest in human waste and reserve it instead for toxic wastes of industry and the military industrial complex. Disgust about our bodily nature is a problem that they try to address. Disgust is the thing to overcome on our way to imagining how waste connects us with other beings and the world and how we might reimagine ways of embracing our excremental status so that our excess fertilizes life. As I have shown, authors addressed here use humor to mock how masculine subjects erect identities by denying their excremental nature and bemoaning worldly embodiment. Titillating readers with humorous or erotic renderings of the persistent excremental nature of human bodies, they call us home to our shit. They suggest that phobic responses to the excremental self fuel not only a desire to flush or to cleanse away our status as waste, but also to fantasize our separation from the entropic world. A fear of the daily proof of the decomposition of self balloons out to a hatred of the power of the world that makes shit of us all in death. Longing to affirm subjective difference from other beings and independence from the world, characters in novels analyzed here support militaristic movements that affirm the power of nations to turn enemies into waste, to crater and destroy the threatening world. For scatological novelists, masculine characters affirm their difference from the world by wasting it as well as those Others imagined to threaten the porous bodies of white masculine subjects. Phobic characters that see waste as an affront to their identities support the misplacement of fertile remainders in waterways, delight in the power of death-supplying chemicals and weapons systems to obliterate pestilence, and believe ultimately that wasting the world will not impact their fantasized transcendent selves. As I have argued, authors like Pynchon, Reed, Franzen, Naylor, and DeLillo do more than mock such masculine subjects as they also create narratives that propose ways of being in the world in which subjects might embrace their status as waste-producing beings and their dependence on the life-supplying world. Pynchon and DeLillo compost militaristic white masculinity by bringing characters like Slothrop, Matt, and Nick Shay home to their base bodily lives in which they are not separated from other beings but connected to others through a shared porousness, a shared excremental nature, and dependence on the world.7 As readers follow these characters through the devastation of war, they call us to challenge industrial and military machines that produce death and toxic waste while also inviting us to think about how subjects might tuck ourselves in more closely to each other and the world. So, too, Franzen’s novel critiques



suburban white flight from the body and the world, but then calls Alfred home to the body, to the pleasures of the body and the world abnegated in the construction of his masculine self.8 Placing and turning fantasies of whiteness and masculinity in their literary compost bins, these authors make good shit from subjects in order to connect them to a new soil of being. In short, they invite us to make whiteness become shit and die. They model ways to compost whiteness so that its waste can fertilize new ways of being, its decay becoming gift to the soil for communities invested in the need for our waste to nourish diverse life. Authors Reed and Naylor also refuse forms of subjectivity that deny the loamy richness of bodily life associated with “dreaded” blackness by white supremacist discourses; characters like Doopeyduk, White, and Shit affirm the goodness of bodily life and ultimately deny the separation of bodies into unclean and clean, transcendent subjects and descendants of those mired in a closer relationship to the organic world.9 For Doopeyduk, he sees all the ways that bioregions are impacted by the toxic wastes of war and industry as an abnegation of human dependence on planetary ecology; he further bemoans how such toxicity tends to roll downhill, away from privileged white communities and toward communities of color. Yet, rather than ultimately affirming his separation from the world and other beings, he embraces his bodily life thereby refusing the psychic and literal pollution that whiteness creates. He allies himself with the world, the Black Bay, and accepts his excremental nature not as an affront to the subject, but as the basis for all bodily lives. The novel concludes with Doopeyduk folding himself into the world, understanding his organic waste as a means to connect him to planetary ecology and revolting against the production of toxic waste that poisons the waterways, black communities, and the world. Naylor’s White and Shit similarly deny negative associations of blackness with bodily life, useless excrement, and unproductive humanity. Their movement through affluent enclaves leads them both to understand the desire to give blackness new meaning through consumption of goods as well as displays of wealth and to counter such constructions of identity that deny porousness and human connectivity to each other. White and Shit, hand in hand at the end of the novel, are two subjects united in the shared goodness of bodily life and opposed to the processes whereby subjects flee bodily life through acquisition and segregate themselves from those deemed worthless, namely black working-class populations. Both of these novelists suggest that the pollution of blackness with associations with waste need not result in the process of fleeing bodily



life and attempting to make blackness signal wealth, impenetrability, and masculine power. Indeed, they suggest that affirmation of bodily connectivity to the world and other beings is the way to unravel and challenge fantasies of subjective difference that bring such harm to the world and that produce not only psychic trauma of those deemed worthless but also rampant pollution and rapid capitalist consumption of worldly resources. By ending American Sh*t with Delany’s work, I show how one queer novelist eroticizes waste in vibrant visions of human subjects working through fear of bodily porousness even as they affirm the goodness of our shared excremental nature.10 Delany takes seriously the threat of disease that bodily fluids and wastes can pose to human communities as he tenderly works through the psychic trauma of the early years of the AIDS epidemic. Yet, rather than rail against waste as enemy, he tenderly explores desires for human connectivity and excremental closeness that persist in the face of disease. For him, organic bodily waste is not the enemy of human communities as he focuses upon how disease might be addressed carefully to allow the fullness of bodily life to be enjoyed. In other words, while he certainly affirms the need for medical research into HIV, he also refuses the homophobic logic that equates queer sexuality with disease that should be treated. Thus, his novel more fully than others explored in this monograph offers vivid visions of subjects desirous of joyous relationships with bodily excretion even as they long for ecstatic experiences of human connectivity to each other that don’t lead to literal death. As characters like Reed’s Harry Sam and others discussed in this book justify pollution or the creation of toxic military wastes as a response to life-threatening human waste, human others, and the entropic world, characters like Delany’s John Marr have much to teach us about refusing to abnegate the body and our connectivity to others even as we respond to disease that can threaten human lives. We need not flee the goodness of bodily life in order to treat waste with care, with interest, and even with desire. For Delany, the goodness of bodily life is in our ability to come undone with others, to have others revel in our ecstatic waste without repulsion, to take joy in our bodily vulnerability and porousness. His depictions of the joys of bodily life that make the threat of death bearable can be a resource as scholars of waste and environmentalists utilize narrative to inspire a rethinking of waste management. What would systems of sanitary engineering look like if we centered the fertile power of our excremental selves as organic gift or delighted in the value of our personal decay as a means to connect us to the world and each



other? What if we viewed our excrement as ecstatic release and proof of the value of our subjective decay as fertilizer for the world that makes our lives possible? Some environmentalist thinkers already are attempting to build new narratives about waste that revolve around the pleasures of coming undone and of working with the waste. In the middle of Elizabeth Royte’s Garbage Land, she offers a chapter titled “In the Realm of the Taboo” in which she explores contemporary sewage systems in the United States and briefly gestures toward alternatives to them. As Royte provides details about the impact of sewage overflows on waterways and spends time discussing toxins in sewage sludge, she also ventures into subcultures that compost human excrement. During her research, she encounters an environmentalist and student of agriculture living in California named Tim Krupnik who uses an indoor bin and an outside composting system, which houses red worms that turn his excrement into fertile soil. Keeping a bucket in his home for defecation, Krupnik empties the bucket every two or three days into the outdoor bin; because he uses sawdust after each bowel movement, seals the bucket, and watches what he eats, there is no aroma of waste in his home. His outdoor system is a “typical thermophilic compost. The idea is to let it reach 120 to 160 degrees for several days. That kills the pathogens.”11 The work of the worms allows Krupnik to create soil within two months, although he only uses this compost on ornamental plants as E. coli might still live after the process is completed. When journalist Royte asks Krupnik about the motivation for this practice, he states, “I wanted to see if I could do it…. And because I’ve been recycling for many years, I wanted to practice what I preach. I get a big sense of personal gratification from being able to connect myself to a system. You eat the apple, you metabolize it, it goes into the toilet, you compost it, and you put it back on the apple.”12 We might say that Krupnik delights in playing with waste, offering waste to the world, and then retrieving it. He sees his excrement as useful gift to soil that provides life to trees and plants that nourish him. As Royte notes, “Waste products are primal, and although they clearly stand for the back end, for death, they are also linked inextricably to life. Animal waste feeds new plants and new animals. Nutrients from the dead, abetted by fungi, bacteria, and other agents of decomposition, jump-start life.”13 Those who compost “keep as delicate around the bowels” as the mouth, thinking not just of what they will consume, but how their excreta makes them a part of a system. In other words, excreta gives way to new life and becoming excreta is the human animal’s gift—like other animals and plants—to the earth.



While some have chosen to make the transition to composting because of disgust with the environmental impact of waste, others simply enjoy interactions with excreta and find pleasure in working with waste. In discussions of composting, participants tend to mix these two themes: horror in impact of misplaced waste and joy in making fertilizer. The excitement is clear in Dave Praeger’s discussion of composting excrement over a period of years rather than the few months that Krupnik uses for his system: Composting your poop is simple. Gather it in a pile, cover it with straw, hay, or sawdust to contain the smell, and let bacteria run wild. Their frantic digestion will heat the pile to 150 °F, hot enough to drive away insects, kill any pathogens, and convert biological matter into nitrates. After collecting a year’s worth of household poop in your pile, start a second pile, leaving the first to digest for a year of two. And then, dig in! Breaching the surface with your shovel will release the surprisingly pleasant scent of fresh humus, rich in nutrients and ready to grow prize-­winning tomatoes.14

In his use of exclamation points and ebullient language inviting the reader to “dig in,” Praeger combines a message about the harm of contemporary sewage systems (detailed in other parts of his book) with a delight in making soil. While both of these examples focus on individual practices for composting waste, Royte is clear that national leaders and international bodies are pushing for radical transformations of how we deal with human waste. She notes that at the World Water Forum in Kyoto in 2003, experts grappled with how to address the pollution of drinking water by suggesting that “developing nations compost their biosolids rather than invest in sewer hookups, which would empty into rivers and create public health disasters”; she also reports that a representative from Britain proposed that if the nation were to build sewage systems from scratch today that they “wouldn’t flush [waste] away,” but “collect the solids and compost” them instead.15 She goes on to affirm that a “growing constituency … [want] nothing to do with what they [consider] a wrong-­headed system, in which clean water [is] sullied with excrement, the valuable nutrients in human waste [are] combined with industrial toxins, and municipalities [pick] up the tab for disposing of industry’s mess. Raw sewage—a biological nutrient—belonged to the people, in this view. Composting [is] one of the most subversive things a citizen of the modern world could do with his own waste.”16 To grow this constituency, novelists like those discussed here can be a resource in that their narratives make polluting subjects absurd as their wastes threaten the well-being of humanity and other life on earth.



They also create stories that pull us through disgust to curiosity about waste, a “taboo” attention to excrement as resource even as they critique the production of toxic wastes that bring death instead of fertilizing life. To close, American Sh*t has proposed that this group of post-1960s novelists have much to offer readers as we navigate polluting and polluted communities, some more so than others. As Susan Signe Morrison argues, “Literature both reflects the ways humans perceive of waste and, yet, at the same time, can reshape reality—it is a space where possible other worlds open up, both good and bad. And through our sharing in these other moments of potential, we can reshape our relationships to and how we see other people, the world, and ourselves.”17 The novels I explore ask us to reshape our reality by working through the wastes of phobic subjects and bringing us home to our excremental bodies, excremental closeness to others, and the world. With the following series of proposals, they cry out to readers to follow in their wake. Bemoan and work to end systems that produce toxic waste and the bombardment of marginalized communities with poisonous excess. Compost whiteness, mock and erode fantasies of transcendence from other beings. Mulch murderous militaristic ideologies that proport to protect life, but instead scar and ruin landscapes, and make waste of humanity. Invest in systems built from the knowledge of human waste as fertile remainder, systems that allow our decay to be gift. Build communities rooted in the pleasures of bodily life and worldly embodiment, communities where diverse life might be nourished from the decomposition of ruinous ideologies and structures they support. Come together in ecstatic reunion with the world that needs the decomposition of destructive systems of waste management that deny our dependence upon healthy ecosystems for our survival. Resurrect the vulnerable excremental body as the fertile way back to the world and each other.

Notes 1. Wendell Berry, “Foreword,” in The Toilet Papers: Recycling Waste and Conserving Water, Sim Van der Ryn (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 1999). 2. Wendell Berry, “Foreword,” 1. 3. Coral Davenport, “Trump Removes Pollution Controls on Streams and Wetlands,” New York Times, Jan. 22, 2020, https://www.nytimes. com/2020/01/22/climate/trump-environment-water.html.



4. Coral Davenport, “Trump Removes Pollution Controls on Streams and Wetlands.” 5. Elizabeth Royte, Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005), 219. 6. Elizabeth Royte, Garbage Land, 220. 7. Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (New York: Penguin, 1995) and Don DeLillo, Underworld (New York: Scribner, 1997). 8. Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001). 9. Ishmael Reed, The Free Lance Pallbearers (Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1999), and Gloria Naylor, Linden Hills (New York: Penguin, 1985). 10. Samuel R. Delany, The Mad Man (New York: Masquerade Books, 1994). 11. Elizabeth Royte, Garbage Land, 228–229. 12. Elizabeth Royte, Garbage Land, 230. 13. Elizabeth Royte, Garbage Land, 231. 14. Dave Praeger, Poop Culture: How America is Shaped by Its Grossest National Product (Los Angeles: Feral House, 2007), 96. 15. Elizabeth Royte, Garbage Land, 230. 16. Elizabeth Royte, Garbage Land, 230. 17. Susan Signe Morrison, The Literature of Waste: Material Ecopoetics and Ethical Matter (New York: Palgrave, 2015), 198.

Bibliography Berry, Wendell. “Forward.” In The Toilet Papers: Recycling Waste and Conserving Water, by Sim Van der Ryn. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 1999. Davenport, Coral. “Trump Removes Pollution Controls on Streams and Wetlands.” New York Times, Jan. 22, 2020. https://www.nytimes. com/2020/01/22/climate/trump-environment-water.html. Delany, Samuel R. The Mad Man. New York: Masquerade Books, 1994. DeLillo, Don. Underworld. New York: Scribner, 1997. Morrison, Susan Signe. The Literature of Waste: Material Ecopoetics and Ethical Matter. New York: Palgrave, 2015. Naylor, Gloria. Linden Hills. New York: Penguin, 1985. Praeger, Dave. Poop Culture: How America is Shaped by Its Grossest National Product. Los Angeles: Feral House, 2007. Pynchon, Thomas. Gravity’s Rainbow. 1973. New York: Penguin, 1995. Reed, Ishmael. The Free-Lance Pallbearers. 1967. Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1999. Royte, Elizabeth. Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash. New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2005.


A AIDS, 17, 18, 207, 222, 239–241, 244, 247–249, 254n18, 261 Allen, Andre, 88n1 Anal erotism, 23, 107, 108, 149, 150 Anal sadism, 4, 5, 11, 15, 18, 25, 26, 28–30, 32, 34, 36, 37, 40, 55, 56, 116–118, 129, 130, 143, 173, 180, 182, 195, 211, 212 Anderson, Perry, 46n49 Annesley, James, 132n15, 134n43 Anolik, Ruth Beinstock, 174n8 B Bartram, Jamie, 90n27, 90n28 Bateson, Billy, 183 Bauman, Zygmunt, 10, 11 Bean v. Southwestern Waste Management Corp., 76 Beck, John, 215n13

Benidickson, Jamie, 39, 40, 42, 63 Berg, Christine G., 143 Berry, Wendell, 257, 258 Bersani, Leo, 24, 27, 114, 115, 120, 121, 181, 182, 189–192, 195, 205, 209, 211, 212, 220–222, 237, 238 Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 181, 191 Black Skin, White Masks, 26, 59, 72, 87 Bray, Mary Kay, 253n8 Brennan, Neal, 88n1 Briar, Evan, 132n15 Brophy, Sarah, 254n18 Brown V. Board of Education, 53 Brown, Caroline, 176n33 Brown, Norman O., 11, 15, 55, 103, 109–111, 116, 117, 121–123, 129, 181, 182, 192 Browning Ferris Industries (BFI), 76 Buell, Lawrence, 40, 41

 Note: Page numbers followed by ‘n’ refer to notes.


© The Author(s) 2020 M. C. Foltz, Contemporary American Literature and Excremental Culture, American Literature Readings in the 21st Century,




Buffalo, NY, 66, 67 Bullard, Robert D., 76, 77, 91n42 Byrne, Jack, 89n9 C Capitalism, 5, 12, 17, 37, 42, 132n15, 140, 142, 143, 153–155, 157, 160, 175n21, 242 Captain Marvel, 183, 184 Carey, Gabrielle, 132n13, 135n58 Césaire, Aime, 140 Chapelle, Dave, 53–55 Chappelle’s Show, 53 Charyn, Jerome, 44n32 Chatterjee, Srirupa, 132n15 Christian, Barbara, 88, 117, 118, 143, 174n5 Civil Rights Movement, 53 Civilization and Its Discontents, 98, 107, 114, 120, 181, 188, 189 Civil War, 162, 163 Cold War, 4, 19, 25, 42, 179, 182, 185, 186, 196–198, 200–202, 207, 211, 214n12, 216n31 Composting, 69, 257–264 Coover, Robert, 8, 18, 19 The Corrections, 3, 10, 16, 25, 97–130 Cowart, David, 181 Cowley, Julian, 85, 86 Creed, Barbara, 124 Crimp, Douglas, 254n18 Cundieff, Rusty, 88n1 D Davenport, Coral, 264n3, 265n4 Davis, Ray, 253n2 Dean, Tim, 24, 122 Delany, Samuel R., 10, 13, 17, 213, 219–253, 261

DeLillo, Don, 4, 8, 10, 13, 21, 25, 26, 39–42, 44n17, 179–213, 251, 259 Dewey, Joseph, 213n5 Dini, Rachele, 9, 11, 12, 45n44, 181 Dioxins, 64, 67, 258 Doctor Sivana, 183 Drieling, Claudia, 176n33 Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 179, 180 Duchamp, Marcel, 13 E Eagleton, Terry, 14 Eckard, Paula Gallant, 175n9 Edwards, Thomas R., 132n15 Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 61 Eng, David L., 26 Engles, Tim, 175n25 Environmental racism, 59, 76 EPA, 89n12 Evans, David H., 181 Excrement, 2, 56, 107, 139, 180, 219, 258 F Fabre, Michel, 58 Fanon, Frantz, 11, 24, 26, 59, 72, 73, 75, 86, 87, 140, 144, 160, 161, 166 Feldman, Maurice M., 66 Foltz, Mary Catherine, 253n2 Foucault, Michel, 85, 229, 240, 247 Franzen, Jonathan, 3, 8, 10, 13, 16, 17, 20, 21, 25, 26, 42, 97–130, 145, 231, 251, 259 The Free-Lance Pallbearers, 5, 10, 20, 26, 54, 71, 141, 197


Freud, Sigmund, 15, 16, 22, 98, 102, 107–109, 114–116, 120–123, 148–151, 153, 181, 188, 189, 191, 237, 244 The Freudian Body: Psychoanalysis and Art (by Leo Bersani), 133n30, 215n15 G Gamber, John Blair, 8, 12, 45n44 Garrard, Greg, 41 Gates, Henry Louis Jr., 13, 20–22, 90n39, 143, 176n34 Gay men, 240, 246, 247, 252 Gelfant, Blanche, 89n9 General Motors, 148, 154, 158, 159 Genet, Jean, 211, 212 George, Rose, 64 Gleason, Paul, 181 Glenn, Jr., Thomas R., 65 Gottlieb, Robert, 91n43 Govan, Sandra, 253n8 Gravity’s Rainbow, 4, 15, 16, 24, 28, 29, 33, 39, 92n52, 180 H Harper, Phillip Brian, 253n2 Hawkins, Gay, 2, 11, 42, 43 Hawkins, Ty, 131n9 Hayes, Rutherford Birchard, 80 Hendin, Josephine Gattuso, 214n9 Hensley, Nathan K., 131n8, 132n15 Helyer, Ruth, 214n10 Herman, Luc, 24, 31, 37 Hill, Gladwin, 90n25 Hipsky, Martin, 132n15, 133n33 Hocquenghem, Guy, 113, 114 Hogle, Jerrold E., 174n8 Holman, Blan, 258 Homans, Margaret, 143


Homo economicus, 6, 11, 25, 143–157, 169, 173 Homos (Leo Bersani), 27, 181, 182, 191, 195, 205, 209, 211 Hudson River, 65 Hume, Kathryn, 5, 58, 59 Hutcheon, Linda, 13–19, 21, 22, 133n33 Hutchinson, Colin, 135n59 I Ingle, Rahul, 90n32 Ingraham, Chris, 132n15 J Jameson, Fredric, 13, 14 Jarraway, David R., 7 K Kellman, Steven G., 213n5 King Jr., Martin Luther, 76, 117 Kristeva, Julia, 2, 24, 106, 107, 124 Krupnik, Tim, 262, 263 Kubrick, Stanley, 179, 180, 207 L Lake Erie, 38, 57, 67 Landfill, 65, 70, 75, 76, 91n42, 203–205 Laporte, Dominique, 24 Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytic Meaning of History (Norman O. Brown), 11, 24, 28, 103, 109, 181 Linden Hills, 5, 6, 10, 16, 26, 139–173, 175n21, 176n34 Lindroth, James, 92n55 Lloyd-Smith, Allan, 133n27



Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth, 61 Love, Heather, 212, 247, 254n19 Ludacris, 139–141 Luther, Martin, 117, 118 Lutheranism, 25, 117 Lynn, Vera, 180 M The Mad Man, 10, 17, 27, 213, 219, 220, 222, 223, 225, 237, 254n19 Malin, Irving, 213n5 McCarthy, Cormac, 7, 8 Melosi, Martin V., 38–40 Mister Mind, 183 Modern Family, 223 Modernism, 13 Moore, John Noell, 174n8 Morrison, Susan Signe, 12, 22, 23, 48n116, 174n5, 264 Morrison, Toni, 6 Mraovic-O’Hare, Damjana, 215n29 N National Nuclear Center of Kazakhstan, 197 National Water Quality Network, 65 “Navigable Waters Protection Rule”, 258 Naylor, Gloria, 5, 6, 10, 13, 16, 20, 21, 25, 26, 139–173, 259, 260 Nazareth, Peter, 92n58 Neelakantan, G., 132n15 Nel, Philip, 181, 213n6 New York City, 54, 66, 67, 69, 206, 222, 225, 228, 240, 242, 244, 248 New York Harbor, 57, 65, 68, 69 The New York Times, 65–67 Noon, David, 216n30

Nuclear waste, 200, 202, 203 Nuclear weapons, 6, 29, 70, 78, 179, 185, 187, 188, 197, 198, 200 O O’Brien, Tim, 7 Okonkwo, Christopher N., 175n9 Oliver, Kelly, 72, 73, 87 Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 186, 187 Oprah’s Book Club, 132n15 Osteen, Mark, 180 Ostrander, Madeline, 48n112 Ozeki, Ruth, 8 P Parrish, Timothy L., 214n12, 216n31 PCBs, 64, 67, 76, 91n42, 258 Phthalates, 64 Plumwood, Val, 126, 127 Poole, Ralph J., 131n7 Poo-Pourri, 97–99, 102 Postmodernism, 14, 18, 44n17 Praeger, Dave, 263 Psychoanalysis, 11, 12, 16–18, 20–22, 24, 26, 29, 42, 43, 57, 59, 110, 133n26, 151, 175n21, 181, 192, 209, 237 Pynchon, Thomas, 4, 5, 8, 9, 13–17, 20, 21, 24–26, 29–31, 33, 36, 37, 39, 40, 92n52, 180, 259 R Racism, 5, 6, 8, 15–17, 21, 23, 24, 26, 42, 54, 58, 59, 75–77, 79, 81, 114, 116, 118, 140–144, 157, 159–161, 164–167, 170, 171 Reed, Ishmael, 5, 6, 8, 10, 13–15, 17, 20–22, 25, 26, 39–42, 53–88, 130, 141, 157, 166, 197, 200, 231, 259–261


Ribbat, Christoph, 131n7 Rodin, Auguste, 148 Royte, Elizabeth, 258, 262, 263 Rozelle, Lee, 215n20, 215n27 Ruef, Didier, 215n28 S Sanitary engineering, 2–6, 9, 10, 15, 21, 41, 43n4, 60–62, 83, 85, 103, 108, 119, 120, 145, 220–222, 225, 252, 257, 258, 261 Scandura, Jani, 45n44 Scanlan, John, 43n4 Schmeck, Jr., Harold M., 65 Schmitz, Neil, 92n53, 92n58 Scott, Darieck, 253n8 Sewage, 5, 7, 9, 35, 39, 41, 43n4, 60–70, 79, 113, 257, 258, 262, 263 Signifying, 13–28 Silko, Leslie Marmon, 6–8 Smith, Kimberly K., 91n44 Smith, Kyle, 33 Southern Environmental Law Center, 258 Spencer, Nicholas, 214n11 Stockton, Kathryn Bond, 22, 23, 27, 102 Strasser, Susan, 43n4 Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SunSanA), 68, 69 Swanson, R. Lawrence, 89n22, 90n23, 90n24 T Tesh, Sylvia N., 76, 91n42 Thoreau, Henry David, 61, 68, 129 Thornton, Tracey, 174n8 Time Magazine, 67


Tingley, Stephanie A., 175n9 Toal, Catherine, 131n6 Townsend, Robert, 43n1 Transcontextualization, 15, 16, 22 Trask, Michael, 19 Treichler, Paula A., 247 Trump, Donald, 258 Tucker, Jeffrey Allen, 253n8 U Underworld, 4, 5, 10, 27, 179–213 United Nations, 39, 68 Urine diversion dehydration toilets, 69 V Van Baker, Michael, 134n37 Van der Ryn, Sim, 63 Vietnam War, 197 Vincent, Scott, 88n1 Von Münch, E., 90n31 Vonnegut, Kurt, 7, 8 W Walker, Kara, 75 Wallace, David Foster, 3, 4, 8 Ward, Catherine C., 174n8 Warner, Michael, 254n18 Webster, Bayard, 89n19, 89n20, 89n21 Weisenburger, Steven, 24, 31, 33, 37 Wells, Jane, 131n4 Wenz, Peter S., 91n43 Westra, Laura, 91n43 White Noise, 199 Wilcox, Leonard, 213n6 Will and Grace, 223 Williams, Bruce A., 76 Witt, Doris, 173n4, 175n8 Wolfley, Lawrence, 24, 30



Woodhouse, Reed, 253n2 World Health Organization, 68 World War II, 6, 81, 211 World Water Forum, 263

Y Yaeger, Patricia, 45n44 Yeats, W.B., 253n9 Yucca Mountain, 203