Readings — From the May 2018 issue

Comic Relief

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By Éric Chevillard, from QWERTY Invectives. The book appeared last month as part of the Cahiers Series, which is published by Sylph Editions and the Center for Writers and Translators at the American University of Paris. Chevillard is the author of numerous novels and essays. Translated from the French by Peter Behrman de Sinéty. 

Water closet is misleading, loo is nonsense, restroom euphemistic, necessary house grandiloquent, shitter vulgar, privy archaic, facilities bureaucratic, lavatory hypocritical, potty ridiculous, craspes and modulette two neologisms I just made up on the spot. 

Gowns and hats on the ladies. Top hats and frock coats on the gents. Dammit, someone might have told me this was a formal occasion!

I suppose it is acceptable, before one knows what the procedure entails, when one is still in the dark about the particulars, to yield to the shit-impulse on a single occasion. But to repeat the offense is unconscionable. Unforgivable!

As for the oft-vaunted pleasures of defecation, I confess I indulge in them only when no better alternatives are available and when there really is not a single seat left at the Opéra.

And what if it were necessary to dedicate a space in one’s home entirely to earwax, and another to eye rheum?

Strephon enters Celia’s dressing room in that pungent poem
by Jonathan Swift and is dismayed to discover: “Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits!” 

Vespasienne: the sort of street urinal favored by Proust’s Baron de Charlus. It’s the name I give to the WC-shaped Colosseum, in honor of that same noble emperor who ordered its construction in the heart of Rome in ad 72, so that the evisceration of slaves by bears, with blood pissing and splashing, could become public spectacles.

According to a recent study conducted by fearless statisticians who live only for their work, France produces 8,400 metric tons of excrement per day. The France of Voltaire, of Pasteur, of Général de Gaulle, the France of Mont-Saint-Michel and Notre Dame, eldest daughter of the Church, the nation of the Rights of Man, the France of my youth, is, therefore, not a land in which everything ends in grandeur. The report talks of 8,400 tons of excrement—and I have no wish to inspect the state of their scales—or (as the study later adds) approximately the weight of the Eiffel Tower. So lo and behold: Gustave’s miracle of engineering smeared in turds from masthead to base! 

Forgive this autobiographical avowal, but I am keen you should know the following: I am entirely innocent in this whole affair. There exists not a single enclave for such base deeds in the rotunda that is my home, unless you count the frames of the elevated windows (before which I stand, erect, my forehead pressed against the pane as I brood upon thoughts often melancholy, or keep watch for the break of dawn). Chez moi, down the hall on the right is to be found the library; down the hall on the left, the guest bedroom. The door at the end of the hall opens onto an abyss; as a precaution, I have had a rim of white porcelain installed around it, and, by a little trick of which I am rather proud, there is even a lid that can be lowered over the top. Danger eliminated: there is no risk of falling into said abyss.

Place in your toilets a traditional chair with a seat of wood or straw, instead of that hollow porcelain in the shape of a washbowl, and you will find that nobody dares soil it: you see, they don’t really have to go

For myself, I have no such needs. Nothing of this order ever tempts me. Rudely do I expel from my home, with a curt kick on the arse (which aforesaid arse rightly serves from childhood onward as our crude contrite face, destined for chastisement, piteously inclined to the ground and already repentant, abjuring its faults, accepting its just punishment), the plumbing-supply salesman who would be more cordially received were he selling encyclopedias. 

And yet I’m willing to admit: not everything that deposits itself within me deserves to be retained, archived, collected. There is a deal of waste, of superfluity; there are some highly disagreeable and occasionally painful invaders, and then there are certain fine products—of such ephemeral value as morning dew—that do not age well, that rot and ferment. One must, indeed, rid oneself of all such. Yet come now: surely—surely humankind has perfected modes of recycling more sophisticated than this. Art, for example—would that not serve? If in a work of art we can sublimate a bitter memory, an unfortunate experience, a crisis, a catastrophe, then can we not equally find a way to exalt a beet, a bœuf en daube, or a cauliflower gratin? Mercy me! Can it really be that this obscene residue on the foot of the pot every evening constitutes existence’s very precipitate? Is this in truth what our day amounts to? 

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust: that was the plan. For my part, it’s what I signed up for; these were the terms I committed to when I was given the opportunity to assume corporeal form. Nothing else was on offer.

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