Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How to Make Your Way in a Crowd

Robert Herrick (1591-1674), "Way in a crowd," The Complete Poetry of Robert Herrick, edd. Tom Cain and Ruth Connolly, Vol. I (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 189:
Once on a Lord-Mayors day, in Cheapside, when
Skulls co'd not well passe through that scum of men,
For quick dispatch, Sculls made no longer stay,
Then but to breath, and every one gave way:
For as he breath'd, the People swore from thence                5
A Fart flew out, or a Sir-reverence.
6 Sir-reverence: "Human excrement" (Oxford English Dictionary, s.v., sense 2.a)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

As Sweet as the Perfumes of Arabia

Brian Sewell, Outsider II, Always Almost: Never Quite (London: Quartet, 2012), p. 57 (on Salvador Dali):
His breath was always foul, sometimes so foul that I wished he farted more and breathed less — not that I ever heard him fart, but the subject fascinated him and he claimed to fart a lot, his farts as sweet as the perfumes of Arabia. He knew his breath was foul and claimed that it was foul enough to keep flies from perching on the wings of his moustache; when one once did it was made immortal in a photograph.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Eulogy of a Fart

Yong Yap and Arthur Cotterell, The Early Civilization of China (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975), p. 213:
A most distinguished scholar died and found himself standing before the King of the Underworld. When the monarch accidentally farted, the shih sang an eulogy of the fart in endless verses. At one point he declaimed:
Let regal steam free passage find
From golden buttocks raised behind,
As when such sounds of music soft
Of organ pipes and strings doth waft;
Such fragrance is not held a stain
Though quivering scent the nostrils strain;
While rapt in thrall thy servant low
Exults, o'erwhelmed by massy blow.
So pleased was the King of the Underworld by the poetry that he extended the scholar's life for ten years. The shih returned to the world of the living and at length time came for him to leave again. When on his second arrival the King of the Underworld asked who the scholar was, one of the little devils answered, 'He's the Crap Poet!'

Friday, July 18, 2014

You Go Eat It!

Heiko A. Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, tr. Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart (c1989; rpt. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), pp. 107-109 (footnotes omitted):
Now we must listen carefully to Luther and not turn away in embarrassment. Not torture and flames but profession of faith and scorn for the Devil are the proper weapons to use against Hell. Luther adds a coarse expression of his contempt for the satanic fiend to his avowal of Christ as the defender of Christianity: "But if that is not enough for you, you Devil, I have also shit and pissed; wipe your mouth on that and take a hearty bite." Is a man who still thinks and talks like this as an adult caught in the stage of development modern psychology terms the anal stage because of mistakes made in his early upbringing? Or is it perhaps just the drastic literal expression of the proverbial call: Devil, get thee behind me? Or is Luther's age showing through; is he a boor who, in his anger and agitation no longer capable of self-control, casts off the academic whitewash and falls back into the language of his origins? That would be an explanation that could be based on his own words, for he knows: "What someone is used to and has been raised to, that he cannot conceal." He often speaks of his peasant ancestors —they "were good peasants"—so there might be good reason to suspect that childhood experiences broke through in the old Luther, experiences with manure and open cesspools. If this had been the case, in his old age Luther’s bent toward crude expressions would have grown into pathological wallowing in scatological language.

As reasonable as all this may sound, his parents' mistakes, his primitive background, and psychological quirks so not constitute a sufficient explanation. Overlooked has been the fact that even as a young professor and monk, Luther, discussing the Devil at length for the first time, did not hesitate to use explicitly scatological language—and at a highly official affair at that. Luther had been designated to preach the ceremonial sermon before members of his order on May 1, 1515. This illustrious occasion was the assembly of the chapter, the decision-making body of the Augustinian Observants in Gotha. Luther had chosen a theme with which the Brethren were familiar, since it was treated in the constitutions of the order (chapter 44). The sin of slander, in this case called backbiting, was described in the handbook as a work of the Devil. Luther insists:
A slanderer does nothing but ruminate the filth of others with his own teeth and wallow like a pig with his nose in the dirt. That is also why his droppings stink most, surpassed only by the Devil's....And though man drops his excrements in private, the slanderer does not respect this privacy. He gluts on the pleasure of wallowing in it, and he does not deserve better according to God's righteous judgment. When the slanderer whispers: Look how he has shit on himself, the best answer is: You go eat it.

Luther's ravings should not be suppressed out of embarrassed respect, and certainly not because they might no longer be considered proper today. Dealing so gingerly with him means not taking him at his word. Luther's language is so physical and earthy that in his wrathful scorn he can give the Devil "a fart for a staff": You, Satan, Antichrist, or pope, can lean on it, a stinking nothing. When the therapist hears that Luther was already suffering from painful constipation in his monastery years, he is tempted to diagnose a psychological complex. In the total historical context, however, Luther’s scatology-permeated language has to be taken seriously as an expression of the painful battle fought body and soul against the Adversary, who threatens both flesh and spirit.

Sociohistorical research clarifies a further aspect of Luther's idiom, or at least of its impact. The filthy vocabulary of Reformation propaganda was aimed at inciting the common man. A figure of respect, be he Devil or pope, is effectively unmasked if he can be shown with his pants down. Luther was certainly more than just a spokesman for a social class which hitherto had no voice. The "ass the Devil pinches" is more than a drastic phrase serving agitational ends. He was not merely trying to appeal to "the people" but was addressing the Devil himself when calling his words a "pack of stinking lies."

Luther used a great deal of invective, but there was method in it. As he explained in his election sermon of 1515, the Devil drags God's name and his works of justification through the mud. Here lies the incomprehensible link between Devil, "Great Swine," Papal Ass" and "Antichrist." It is with shocking and provocative passion of youth, not the impotent rage of old age, that Luther advocated the only appropriate retort to the Devil's dung: "You go eat it!"

We find here far more than upbringing and environment. Inclination and conviction unite to form a mighty alliance, fashioning a new language of filth which is more than filthy language. Precisely in all its repulsiveness and perversion it verbalizes the unspeakable: the diabolic profanation of God and man. Luther’s lifelong barrage of crude words hurled at the opponents of the gospel is robbed of significance if attributed to bad breeding. When taken seriously, it reveals the task Luther saw before him: to do battle against the greatest slanderer of all times!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Prayer

Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being (New York: Viking Penguin, 2013), pp. 166-167:
And talking about rules, the two of them had all these crazy routines they did for every different thing you can imagine, like washing their faces or brushing their teeth, or spitting out their toothpaste, or even going for a crap. I'm not kidding. They bowed and thanked the toilet and offered a prayer to save all beings. That one is kind of hilarious and goes like this:
As I go for a dump,
I pray with all beings
that we can remove all filth and destroy
the poisons of greed, anger, and foolishness.
At first I was like, No way am I saying that, but when you hang out with people who are always being supergrateful and appreciating things and saying thank you, in the end it kind of rubs off, and one day after I'd flushed, I turned to the toilet and said, "Thanks, toilet," and it felt pretty natural. I mean, it's the kind of things that's okay to do if you're in a temple on the side of a mountain, but you'd better not try it in your junior high school washroom, because if your classmates catch you bowing and thanking the toilet they'll try to drown you in it.
Hat tip: Mrs. Turdman.

What to Say When Someone Breaks Wind

Tobias Smollett, Roderick Random, chapter XXXIV:
Heaven preserve me! I am suffocated! Fellow, fellow, away with thee. Curse thee, fellow! get thee gone. I shall be stunk to death!

Monday, March 31, 2014

A Vessel

Robert Southey, Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (Bristol: Bulgin and Rosser, 1797), p. 32:
On entering the room, we desired the boy to remove a vessel that did not scent it agreeably. So little idea had he that it was offensive, that he removed it from under the bed, only to place it in the closet!