from disgust to reason

The trouble with Martha Nussbaum’s analogy between revulsion at “taking the penis of one man and putting it in the rectum of another man and wriggling it around in excrement”, and discarded disgust-based policies, from India’s denigration of its “untouchables” to the Nazi view of Jews, to a legally sanctioned regime of separate swimming pools and water fountains in the Jim Crow South, is that only the first moral sentiment has a sound basis in physiology. Any sort of anal penetration is intrinsically harmful, even when it gets done by a proctologist, just as any sort of radiation exposure is harmful, even when it is administered for therapeutic or diagnostic purposes. The physical effects of anal penetration, precipitated by the concomitant trauma to the connecting tissue, are analogous to injecting raw sewage into the recipient’s bloodstream. Incontinence is another common and well-documented effect of receptive anal intercourse. By contrast, no health liabilities inhere in being a Jew or a Dalit, or mixing different races at a common water supply. If in doubt, consult your doctor.

strange sex some may have known

     “Molte son le volte che li muscoli componitori de’ labbri della bocca movano li muscoli laterali a sè congiunti, e altrettante son le volte che essi muscoli laterali movano li labbri d’essa bocca, ritornandola donde da sè ritornare non po, perchè l’uffizio del muscolo è di tirare e non di spingere, eccetto li membri genitali e la lingua.”

—Leonardo da Vinci, De vocie, in Edmondo Solmi, “Il trattato di Leonardo da Vinci sul linguaggio «De vocie»”, 1906

“There are many occasions when the muscles that form the lips of the mouth move the lateral muscles that are joined to them, and there are an equal number of occasions when these lateral muscles move the lips of this mouth, replacing it where it cannot return of itself, because the function of muscle is to pull and not to push except in the case of the genitals and the tongue.”

The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, translated by Edward MacCurdy, 1939

     “I tell you that one?…I tell you about the Polack who thinks Peter Pan’s a wash basin in a cathouse?…The difference between erotic and kinky? Erotic you use a feather, kinky you use the whole chicken?”

—Elmore Leonard, Stick, 1983

     I write about what people do to each other. It isn’t pretty.

—Derek Raymond, The Hidden Files, 1992

     HANNAH: Sex and literature. Literature and sex. Your conversation, left to itself, doesn’t have many places to go. Like two marbles rolling around a pudding basin. One of them is always sex.
BERNARD: Ah well, yes. Men all over.
HANNAH: No doubt. Einstein—relativity and sex. Chippendale—sex and furniture. Galileo—‘Did the earth move?’ What the hell is it with you people?

—Tom Stoppard, Arcadia, 1993

At the outset of an eponymous 1832 novel, Honoré de Balzac caused Louis Lambert, his precocious Swedenborgian hero, to air out his doctrines of meaning:

—Souvent, me dit-il, en parlant de ses lectures, j’ai accompli de délicieux voyages, embarqué sur un mot dans les abîmes du passé, comme l’insecte qui flotte au gré d’un fleuve sur quelque brin d’herbe. Parti de la Grèce, j’arrivais à Rome et traversais l’étendue des âges modernes. Quel beau livre ne composerait-on pas en racontant la vie et les aventures d’un mot ? sans doute il a reçu diverses impressions des événements auxquels il a servi ; selon les lieux il a réveillé des idées différentes ; mais n’est-il pas plus grand encore à considérer sous le triple aspect de l’âme, du corps et du mouvement ? À le regarder, abstraction faite de ses fonctions, de ses effets et de ses actes, n’y a-t-il pas de quoi tomber dans un océan de réflexions ? La plupart des mots ne sont-ils pas teints de l’idée qu’ils représentent extérieurement ? à quel génie sont-ils dus ! S’il faut une grande intelligence pour créer un mot, quel âge a donc la parole humaine ? L’assemblage des lettres, leurs formes, la figure qu’elles donnent à un mot, dessinent exactement, suivant le caractère de chaque peuple, des êtres inconnus dont le souvenir est en nous. Qui nous expliquera philosophiquement la transition de la sensation à la pensée, de la pensée au verbe, du verbe à son expression hiéroglyphique, des hiéroglyphes à l’alphabet, de l’alphabet à l’éloquence écrite, dont la beauté réside dans une suite d’images classées par les rhéteurs, et qui sont comme les hiéroglyphes de la pensée ? L’antique peinture des idées humaines configurées par les formes zoologiques n’aurait-elle pas déterminé les premiers signes dont s’est servi l’Orient pour écrire ses langages ? Puis n’aurait-elle pas traditionnellement laissé quelques vestiges dans nos langues modernes, qui toutes se sont partagé les débris du verbe primitif des nations, verbe majestueux et solennel, dont la majesté, dont la solennité décroissent à mesure que vieillissent les sociétés ; dont les retentissements si sonores dans la Bible hébraïque, si beaux encore dans la Grèce, s’affaiblissent à travers les progrès de nos civilisations successives ? Est-ce à cet ancien Esprit que nous devons les mystères enfouis dans toute parole humaine ? N’existe-t-il pas dans le mot VRAI une sorte de rectitude fantastique ? ne se trouve-t-il pas dans le son bref qu’il exige une vague image de la chaste nudité, de la simplicité du vrai en toute chose ? Cette syllabe respire je ne sais quelle fraîcheur. J’ai pris pour exemple la formule d’une idée abstraite, ne voulant pas expliquer le problème par un mot qui le rendît trop facile à comprendre, comme celui de VOL, où tout parle aux sens. N’en est-il pas ainsi de chaque verbe ? tous sont empreints d’un vivant pouvoir qu’ils tiennent de l’âme, et qu’ils lui restituent par les mystères d’une action et d’une réaction merveilleuse entre la parole et la pensée. Ne dirait-on pas d’un amant qui puise sur les lèvres de sa maîtresse autant d’amour qu’il en communique ? Par leur seule physionomie, les mots raniment dans notre cerveau les créatures auxquelles ils servent de vêtement. Semblables à tous les êtres, ils n’ont qu’une place où leurs propriétés puissent pleinement agir et se développer. Mais ce sujet comporte peut-être une science tout entière ! Et il haussait les épaules comme pour me dire : Nous sommes et trop grands et trop petits ! “Often,” he has said to me when speaking of his readings, “often have I made the most delightful voyages, carried along by a word down the abysses of the past, like an insect floating on a blade of grass consigned to the flow of a river. Starting from Greece, I would get to Rome, and traverse the extent of modern ages. What a fine book might be written of the life and adventures of a word! Doubtless it has received various stamps from the events that it has served; it has revealed different ideas in different places; but is it not still grander to consider it under the triple aspects of soul, body, and motion? To regard it in the abstract, apart from its functions, its effects, and its actions, is it not a matter of falling into an ocean of reflections? Are not most words colored by the idea they represent externally? To whose genius are they due? If it takes great intelligence to create a word, how old does it make human speech? The combination of letters, their shapes, and the look they give to the word, are the exact reflection, in accordance with the character of each nation, of the unknown beings whose memory survives in us. Who would philosophically explain to us the transition from the sensation to a thought, from the thought to a word, from the word to its hieroglyphic expression, from the hieroglyphics to an alphabet, from the alphabet to written eloquence, whose beauty resides in a series of images classified by rhetoricians, and forming, as it were, the hieroglyphics of thought? Was it not the ancient mode of representing human ideas as embodied in the forms of animals that determined the shapes of the first signs that the Orient used for writing down its language? Then has it not left its traditional traces within our modern languages, which have all inherited some remnant of the primitive speech of nations, a majestic and solemn tongue whose majesty and solemnity decrease as communities grow old; whose sonorous tones ring in the Hebrew Bible, and still are noble in Greece, but grow weaker under the progress of our successive civilizations? Is it to this time-honored spirit that we owe the mysteries lying buried in every human word? Is there not a certain fantastic rectitude in the word TRUE? Does not the compact brevity of its sound contain a vague image of chaste nudity, of the simplicity of truth in all things? The syllable exudes an ineffable freshness. I chose the formula of an abstract idea on purpose, not wishing to pose the problem with a word that should make it too easy to the apprehension, as the word FLIGHT for instance, which is a direct appeal to the senses. But is it not so with every word? They are all stamped with a living power that comes from the soul, and which they restore thereto through the mysterious and wonderful action and reaction between thought and speech. Might we not speak of it as a lover who draws from the lips of his mistress as much love as he gives? Thus, by their mere physiognomy, words call to life in our brain the beings whom they serve to clothe. In the way of all beings, they have but one place where their properties can fully act and develop. But perhaps the subject comprises a science to itself!” And he would shrug his shoulders, as if to say, “But we are too high and too low!”


Thus Balzac extends etymological naturalism of Cratylus into the realm of Romantic aesthetics. In keeping with his observations, etymological creation continues in our days. Accordingly, in a muchly discussed article published by The New York Times on 5 November 2006, James Gleick testified:

Much of the new vocabulary appears online long before it will make it into books. Take geek. It was not till 2003 that O.E.D.3 caught up with the main modern sense: “a person who is extremely devoted to and knowledgeable about computers or related technology.” Internet chitchat provides the earliest known reference, a posting to a Usenet newsgroup, net.jokes, on Feb. 20, 1984.

In a Usenet message dated 10 January 2004, OED lexicographer Jesse Sheidlower confirmed the policy of “accep[ting] Usenet quotes as archived on (formerly) DejaNews or (now) Google Groups, in certain circumstances.” Hence a specimen of OED draft entry dated March 2003, which reflects such acceptance in language unfit to print in our newspaper of record: Beware of Rodents!

l’homme aux rats

Anarchist, Symbolist, insubordinate dreyfusard, man about town, Octave Mirbeau is an indispensable maître mineur of the Third Republic. His most popular work, Le Journal d’une femme de chambre, merited film treatment by the greatest Latin directors of all times, Luis Buñuel and Jean Renoir. His most scandalous novel remains unfilmable. In Le Jardin des supplices, which appeared in 1899, at the height of the Dreyfus Affair, Mirbeau targeted fear and hatred, the twin foundations of bourgeois society, in a narrative arc traversing the terrain of desire and disgust to culminate in a strange sexual obsession. And what about the rats?

enter the gerbil

        Strange Sex We Have Known

My first encounter with “Dr. Benway” (whom I was later to know as the master scribe and film buff extraordinaire, William S. Burroughs) was on the sleepy sands of St. Tropez in the south of France in the summer of ’47. I had been suffering from—or rather, complaining of—a certain lesion, a rather persistent lesion, on the hinder fleshy part of my left calf, just below the knee. It wasn’t painful, but it was irritating in a psychological way, and I was keen to deal and have done with it. An acquaintance of mine, Allen Ginsberg—who later achieved international poetic renown (Howl, Kaddish, etc.)—was staying at the same hotel, and when I showed him the lesion, he said: “Doc Benway will put that to rights in double quick order!” (little did I realize at this point in time that it was simply another joke at my expense by the mischievous Al Ginsberg) and he set up a meet at Benway’s beach house.
    Dr. Benway was (and is to this very day) a most remarkable personage.
    “Your lesion,” he observed in his dry and singular tone, “has the mark of genitalia,” and he poised a finger near it, just so, not quite touching. I glanced down and noted, with some surprise, that it did indeed resemble a tiny vage, with its puckered pouting lips half-parted and moistly glistening—but I was reluctant to admit as much to the formidable Benway. “You must be mad,” I exclaimed instead with a show of indignation, and instinctively drew back; but the fantastic Benway continued as though not having heard: “Naturally it would follow that the treatment of choice would be to … fuck it away.” And before I could protest, he raised a finger of caution: “But an extremely small sexual member would be required—perhaps that of a gerbil—and by damnable good fortune, hee-hee, I happen to have just such a specimen here in this very lab. …” He gestured towards a shoddy complex of small cages nearby, and continued: “You entertain no superstitious qualms, I take it, towards bestiality?
    I informed this “Doctor Benway” in no uncertain terms that I did indeed entertain such qualms, and would not consider being “fucked in the lesion” by a gerbil, nor any other member of his devilish menagerie! I had failed, however, to reckon on the man’s powers of persuasion, which border on the veritably hypnotic.
    “Similar case a few years back,” he went on, unperturbed, “man-of-the cloth developed stigmata in both hands and both feet, each of the blessed wounds being in the shape of a female cunt, not unlike your own, only larger—so that when the populace filed by in holy reverence to view the miraculous visitation, they found his worship—his coarse mandrill-root pulsating in gross distention—going at it into both hand-wounds like a maddened warthog. They could not restrain him—he finally broke his own back trying to fuck the lesion in his left metatarsus.…”
    I must admit to being somewhat taken aback by the sheer grossness of this account, but it did put me in mind, a few years later, of a story so bandied about that I dare say it carries no “kiss-and-tell” onus at this late point in time—namely, that curious tale of how LBJ was “caught in the act” (if one may coin) on the Kennedy death-plane from Dallas, trying to force his rude animal-member into the mortal wound of the young President. I recounted the bizarre incident to Benway, but it was apparently old hat to him.
    “Hee-hee,” he chuckled, nodding sagely, though more through politesse, if my guess is any good, than through your true humorous enjoyment, “yes, a classic case of … neck-ro-philia, was it not?”
    I’m not too keen on puns myself, but I let it pass; after all, a man of Benway’s stature (Ginsberg had shown me a lot of weird microfilmed diplomas, citations, credentials, depositions, endorsements, etc.) was not to be challenged unduly.
    “Very well, Benway,” I said, “if that is your view—”
    “It is not only my view,” he quipped in his inimitable fashion (cross between Ben Johnson and W. C. Fields), “it is also my gol-dang pur-view! Hee-hee-hee.…”
    Needless to say, Benway’s “treatment of choice” proved to be less than useless—and, in fact, I very nearly succumbed to a damnable case of the pesky “gerbil-clap.”
    I was intrigued, however, by the emphasis he placed on what was later to become his infamous “view-syndrome,” and when I pointed this out he was good enough to address himself to that very issue.
    — William S. Burroughs and Terry Southern, National Lampoon, Strange Sex, February 1974, Vol. 1, No. 47, reprinted in Now Dig This: The Unspeakable Writings of Terry Southern, 1950-1995, edited by Nile Southern and Josh Alan Friedman, Grove Press, 2002, pp. 211-213

Also Elsewhere:
Terry Southern, Grooving in Chi, Esquire, November 1968.
Terry Southern: Ultrahip, an interview conducted by Lee Hill in person at Southern’s home in Connecticut and by mail during 1993 and 1994.


may bears gobble me

In honor of the winter solstice marking [info]larvatus’ first anniversary on LiveJournal, your host offers this valediction to all literary consumers:

amat qui scribit, pedicatur qui legit,
qui auscultat prurit, pathicus est qui praeterit.
ursi me comedant et ego verpam qui lego.

Who writes loves, who reads is reamed,
who listens itches, who walks by is a catcher.
May bears gobble me, and I who read, a boner.

― translated by MZ