When I get up in the morning the first thing I do is go to the toilet. It’s easy. The
bathroom is heated and welcomes me with a pleasant smell, the flush is working,
nobody will bother me as the door can be locked. Sometimes I take the newspaper
with me, or a book. Then the acts of incorporating information and expressing
the products of digestion meet in a friendly togetherness, as James Joyce
described it, with relish, in the first part of his novel
Ulysses. Do you know the famous episode?
There is, as far as we know, no single person in this world that does not have to pee and
shit. Yet, the conditions of defecating vary greatly. In one of the rare texts
dealing with these distinctions in a serious way I read this:
“For centuries, those living ‘the simple life’
took themselves off to a designated area away from their homes to do their
business. The last thing they wanted was excreta in the house. Where settlement
was sparse, this may well have been not only the most discreet but the best
public health solution: the sun dried, the earth absorbed, the rain diluted.
But today 1bn people live in crowded slums, and at least another 1bn in densely
packed rural settlements. The countryside’s inbuilt washing-up mechanisms can no
longer absorb the volumes of human detritus deposited on a day to day basis.
‘Open defecation’ must be abandoned…” (Maggie Black, An unmentionable global crisis, The Telegraph, 14 March 2008)
do these people living in slums or packed rural settlements do when they “have
to”? In another text by the same author I found the following description:
“If there are, as it is often the case in big
cities, no toilets, … people have to use a bucket that will, under the veil of darkness, be tipped
out into a drain or sewer tunnel. Or they have to squat down above a spread
piece of paper or plastic bag that afterwards goes to the rubbish dump in which
dogs or pigs are rummaging about. These packets of dirt are sometimes called
“flying toilets”… Today millions of people catch all sorts of diseases through
the contact with excrements that have been left on fields, paths, streets or on
the banks of rivers or channels…” (Maggie Black, Solutions for the global waste problem, Le Monde Diplomatique, 12 February 2010, Translation I.P.)
should be clear to everybody that humans need proper conditions to deposit
their excretion, sanitation seems to be a taboo for many development experts.
Till recently, according to Maggie Black, it has been almost totally ignored.
Often the planners have simply “forgotten” that providing clean water is only
half the battle as people need places to recycle what they have eaten and
drunk, too. Indeed, we do not necessarily need the kind of comfortable warm
lockable bathrooms that I use every day as if it were “normal” to have this kind
of luxury (or a wasteful extravagance). There are other ways of sanitation that
are much more environmentally compatible. Yet, to find out the appropriate
technology for the future toilet we first have to remove the taboo from what I
call the “shit area”.
To remove the taboo that not only prevents us to create proper toilets but many other
necessary things, too, we need a theory of shit that deals openly with “the
other side” of our human existence that “serious” thinkers have tended to
forget, for centuries!
I think, therefore I am?
Descartes was wrong. For thinking is possible for those only who have entered
the world through the real living body of a fellow human being, for those who
have, for several years of dependency, been brought up by people that have fed,
washed, educated and protected them. As adults, too, we remain dependent on the
matrix world (matrix=womb) and on
fellow humans that work and care, produce what we need, remove our shit. The
“independent” individual is a fiction as we all, as long as we live on earth,
depend on water, air, food, love, language, tradition, toilets, morality and
many other things.
Photo by Ina Praetorius, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, 2008
the “enlightened” Descartes, was not at all alone with his famous dictum.
Rather he only created a new expression for a very old tradition that has
shaped our Western mindset for a very long time and, as we have seen, is very
effective to the present day. From Platon to Heidegger and beyond – yes, beyond
Bataille and Derrida, too, Mr. Boelderl! - the admired thinkers of “our”
intellectual history have designed the “true” man, as an “essentially”
incorporeal being that, unfortunately, during his lifetime, is captured in the
transitory, thus unessential prison of body and community. So, they suppressed a big deal of the
human reality by – explicitly or, more and more, implicitly - considering it to
be “low” and “ephemeral”, by excluding it from their “high” theory and
delegating the actual work of fulfilling human needs to subordinates – women,
slaves, strangers –, thus creating an area of invisible dependent work that set
them free to maintain the illusion of their intellectual, economic, political,
emotional independence. The embarrassment of the born, needy, defecating human
body had been cleaned away, through thought.
The consequences of this split in our mindset are manifold. The widespread tendency
to just forget sanitation in development programs is just one of them. The
antique, still effective decision to conceive women as “blind matter” (matter/materia from greek/latin mater=mother) that is meant to create
the “freedom” of their husbands is another. And could we use our natural
environment as if it was our property if we really had understood that we are
not masters, but part of nature (nature
from lat. nasci=being born)?
I had a dream
night of 22 January 2010 I had a dream. During the entire day I had
participated in one of these common academic conferences in which smart
professors from all around the globe talk about their various elaborate
subjects, this time about what they call “business ethics”. The big awestruck
audience had learned a lot about money, market regulation, supply and demand,
banks and their ambiguous behavior, but nothing about the real needs of babies,
old people and other humans, about sanitation, food, briefly: about all the
shit privileged people still leave to subordinates.
So, the night after I dreamt that I poured out a tub of shit in the middle of this
nicely cleaned (by some poorly paid Turkish woman, I guess) room filled with
distinguished academic staff. The next morning I pondered about the meaning of
that dream. Well, for me, the meaning is quite simply what the dream says: We
have to pour shit into the conference halls of this world in order to remind
the thinkers and planners and celebrities of our days that humans don’t exist
by pure thinking but are needy, born, dependent, shitting beings that, mind
you, at the same time are free and able to shape the life conditions of six and
a half billion humans in a dignified way, supporting carefully the sensitive
circulation and balance of food, mind, spirit, body, water, shit, dung, birth,
life, death, food, shit, dung, spirit, food...
and so on…
Read this ...
and this too...
|Back to ABSTRACT|
PelicanWeb Home Page