The Brain, the Heart, and the Rectum: Humor, Literary Theory and Terror, by Wisam Mansour

Bakhtin,Bakhtin, a Russian intellectual and critic, is considered the father of the notions of dialogism and the carnivalesque in literary studies. In his book Rabelais and His World (trans. Helene Iswolsky: Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984) he celebrates the spirit of the carnival in the literary tradition because it accentuates the presence of the lower parts of the body and all its manifestations such as defecation, urine, mucus, semen, etc.; and because it “undermines the Kantian duality of subject and object that underlies conventional Western approaches to the relationship between individuals and their surroundings.” See Robert Stam. Subversive Pleasures: Bakhtin, Cultural Criticism, and Film. Baltimore, Md.: John Hopkin’s UP, 1989. in his theories of the Carnivalesque celebrates among other things the lower strata bodily functions. He believes that one of the spirits of the carnival is to celebrate the low, the banal, the popular as opposed to the classic and mainstream. This Bakhtinian notion brought to my mind a joke in the form of an angry exchange among several parts of the body, brain, heart, lungs, stomach, and rectum, each disputing its right to the leadership of the body: the brain declares its right to lead on the merit of its superior functionality and its capability for reasoning; the heart sees itself as the engine of life; the stomach contests its assumption for leadership on the noble ground of feeding and nourishing all the body; and finally the rectum claims with a bang that it is more important than the other contesters, because if it shuts down none of the other organs will be able to function reasonably or properly. The joke has it that the other organs eventually yield and confer leadership upon the rectum after the latter has shut down for a couple of days. “All the organs of the body were having a meeting, trying to decide who was in charge. The brain said: "I should be in charge, because I run all the body's systems, so without me nothing would happen." "I should be in charge," said the heart, "because I pump the blood and circulate oxygen all over the body, so without me you'd all waste away." "I should be in charge," said the stomach, "because I process food and give all of you energy." "I should be in charge," said the rectum, "because I'm responsible for waste removal."

All the other body parts laughed at the rectum and insulted him, so in a huff, he shut down tight. Within a few days, the brain had a terrible headache, the stomach was bloated, and the blood was toxic. Eventually the other organs gave in. They all agreed that the rectum should be the boss.

With the ascendancy of the rectum, this joke in essence demonstrates Bakhtin’s views of the Carnivalesque, on the one hand, and celebrates, on the other hand, a postmodern, deconstructive view that sees the eminence of banality, marginality and the coming of the irrational as a mode of liberation from conventional social and cultural hierarchies.

Scientifically speaking, in terms of life sustaining organs, the brain, the heart, the lungs are seen to be more essential to the body than the rectum. If the heart, the brain or the lungs, for instance, shut down, the body may hardly have few minutes of life before lapsing into eternal unconsciousness. While the collapse of the rectum would eventually lead to degeneration and death, eternal unconsciousness occurs over a longer period of time. In this respect, the so considered primary bodily organs based their primacy on their power to control the life span they can remove from the conscious body and on the speed with which they can do so. And because the rectum is slow in terms of removing life from the body, it is not held in high esteem by the upper organs.

In the joke as well as in the postmodern reality, the rectum now - armed with Bakhtinian notions of the Carnivalesque, Marxist and Foucauldian Michel Foucault is the author of Discipline and Punish and The Archaeology of Knowledge among many other influential books. Foucault contends that the desire for power dictates all motives of the human race. His ideal subject is the person who succeeds in subverting the prevailing order and hierarchies in favor of a new order. See Michel Foucault. The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow. New York: Pantheon, 1984. notions of knowledge, power and discipline, and a welter of postmodern deconstructive notions of the referentiality of language to language in all forms of textualities including the body as a text- rebels against the hierarchies and power structures that divide the body into upper and lower regions. The rectum, coming from the lower part of the body and confined to guard and expel the filth of the upper parts of the body, suddenly recognizes its own centrality to the life force of all the organs that occupy and colonize its upper strata.This notion is based on deconstruction where the technique of position reversal on a binary opposition scale is employed. In the conventional sense, for example, White is the other of Black. White in logocentrism is given primacy over Black. Deconstruction subverts this order by arguing that White is what it is because of the color Black, and thus Black becomes more important than White as there will be no White without Black, and so on. In negative terms, deconstruction, particularly as articulated by Derrida, has often come to be interpreted as "anything goes" since nothing has any real meaning or truth. See G. Douglas Atkins. Reading Deconstruction, Deconstructive Reading. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1983. The rectum begins to understand that first of all, it is less malign and treacherous than the brain, the lungs or the heart, as it does not kill instantly or whimsically as they do. One always hears of heart and cerebral attacks that kill on the spot. In medical history there is nothing recorded about a rectum attack! In this respect the rectum sees its benignity as a quality that deserves recognition and celebration by others. The rectum here admittedly expresses its gratitude to some notions inspired by the writings of some postmodern feminists such as Luce Irigary and Julia Kristeva.Some feminist theoreticians stipulate that the subject should, in her struggle to ameliorate her conditions, understand her body, accept it as it is and convert the traits that the other disadvantages her for into points of strength. See Toril Moi. Sexual/Texual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory. London: Metheun, 1985. Secondly, the rectum comes to fully comprehend that it is not without power to take hostage and cripple the other traditionally elitist organs through irrational acts of mutiny and terror.

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Magdalena Ball