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New Scholarship Makes Splash

Anthony J. C. Adverse, editor
The Anthropology of Coprophilia
(Buttenfjord University Press, Denmark, 2003)

This splendid edited volume will hold great interest for scholars seeking a serious treatment of a provocative subject along the lines of Von Daniken’s classic Chariots of the Gods (1968). In a mere 874 pages, which include several remarkable fold-out illustrations, twelve leading academics come together to explore one of the modern period’s most unheralded psycho-culinary practices. According to these cutting-edge scholars, it was the practice of coprophilia, and bourgeois society’s unsympathetic reaction to it, that primarily fueled nationalism, sexism, capitalism, colonialism, frotteurism, and militarism across the globe over the past 400 years.

Among other things, these essays make clear how the emerging "discourse of modernity" provided unique possibilities for coprophilic outbursts in which human beings could express long-standing attraction to various offal forms, from the garden variety bathroom floor "stout Billy" found in Victorian pubs to "Aunt Fanny’s famous fritters" which caused a culinary sensation in 1920s New Orleans.

Readers will find several types of essays in the volume: tart biographies of little-known advocates of the so-called "incontinental cuisine"; case studies of historical phenomena such as the "mytho-fecal sacrificial altars" of the Pre-Columbian Aztecs; and historo-entomological analyses of terms such as "jolly Roger" and "log flume Sally." This blend of approaches is most valuable in revealing the extent of coprophilia and its representations, as well as uncovering official concerns about what George III dubbed "the very stinky vice indeed."

The assembled scholars have floated a number of ideas in this volume, some of them rather soft-headed, even corny, but others solid enough to make a considerable splash. In this latter regard I would submit Harriet Wiggins’s essay, "The Perpetual Motion Machine: Enlightenment Theories of Oral-Anal Digestion" as a model piece of scholarship. I would also single out Michael Taussig’s mock epic haiku, "Coprophilia and the Forbidden," which he composed from random snippets of bathroom graffiti. Dr. Taussig gives particular consideration to an overlooked historical scandal: an 18th century coprophobic witch-hunt in the Bermuda Triangle that led to imprisonment and, oftentimes, jail-house "copro-suicides." Rich stuff, indeed.

Some of the finest essays come from the humanities, perhaps not surprisingly. A lone American Studies scholar, Hilda Tjurd, contributed a strong chapter from her latest book project, "Decorating the ‘Other Kitchen’: Ladies Home Journal, The Second Sex, and the Suburban Bathroom." Readers will also be fascinated by the work of literary scholar Wisteria J. Harishabobalong, who left behind an interesting nugget when he died last summer while sport fishing in the Indian Ocean. His article, "I’m Buying You Some Listerine, Darling Dearest: Coprophilia and the Edwardian Romantic Novel," is the summation of a distinguished career and should be of lasting interest to a handful of graduate students somewhere.

I was less impressed, however, with the contribution from Glassboro State Cultural Studies maven Wynona Skitters. "Overcoming Copro-Klismaphilia in the Therapeutic Discourse: London, 1987-1994" contains a number of misspellings, including "dizcurse" [sic], Tony Blare [sic], Queen Mudder [sic], Arseineo [sic] Hall, and the author’s own name. She also makes some personal declarations about her affection for house rabbits and orchids that I found distasteful.

Finally, I would like to praise two essays in particular. Well-known Mesoamerican ethnohistorian Ross J. Hassig has emitted "Itka Poova: Coprophilia on the Aztec Trade Routes, 1667-1671," which should have substantial impact in his sub-sub-field. And in an erudite essay entitled, "Liberté, Fraternité, and the Anus," the award-winning historian Jacques Louis Renoir floats the idea that teenage coprophilia was central to life in 18th century French colonies in Africa, Asia and North America. With admirable gusto, Dr. Renoir explores the relation of the practice to Francophone traditions of Epicureanism and culinary hauteur.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this volume for providing the reader with delicious insights into the lives of these "natural gourmets" who harbored loving desires for "the malodorous sausage." Graduate students, in particular, will appreciate how the metaphorical and literal nature of coprophilia is able to converge productively in this volume. Budget-conscious students will also appreciate the appendix, which provides a number of savory recipes.


Randolph Lewis


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2003

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