A Case for Shit by Iman James


A Catholic priest performs the Holy Eucharist and reading from the Roman Missal he says, “the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread, and giving thanks, broke, and said: Take Ye and Eat: This is My Body Which Shall be Delivered for You: Do This for the Commemoration of Me.” The priest, wearing an elaborately embroidered cope, raises his hands above his head and breaks the bread. Transubstantiation has occurred and the people there will soon partake of Jesus’ body. The priest continues, “In like manner also the Chalice, after he had supped, saying: This Chalice is the New Testament in My Shit: This Do Ye, as Often as Ye Shall Drink It, For the Commemoration of Me. For as often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall shew the death of the Lord, until he come. Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread and drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and shit of the Lord.” The priest raises the jeweled chalice above his head and lowers it to his mouth to take a sip of the wine. Transubstantiation has yet again occurred and the priest has just drunk of Christ’s shit.

I describe this scenario of the Holy Communion not merely because I seek to be blasphemous, but because all institutions, whether it is the Catholic Church, state institutions, or the military, use metaphors and symbols through which they disseminate their meanings and signification, ultimately their power and control. Of course, there are other means by which institutions establish their authority. However, on a daily basis we consent to their symbols and established meanings. In doing so we unconsciously reaffirm their authority.

I want to argue that as artists, thinkers, writers, activists, etc., we are able to manipulate, pervert, and debase, the symbols and metaphors that substantiate existing institutions and their inherent authority. If the wine in the Holy Eucharist did not signify Christ’s blood—which he sacrificed for the sins of man—but rather, signified his shit, would the story of Christ’s sacrifice command so greatly? Sure, Christ’s shit is holy shit, but it’s shit nonetheless. I suggest that there are a whole underbelly of signs and metaphors that can in no way be made beautiful and the most obvious ones are those linked to the decay, refuse, and waste of the body. Ultimately, that which normatively arouses disgust and repulsion and that which we seek to expel not only from our bodies but also from sight, cannot be used to circulate the meanings and significations of authority. Rather than compel us, we will be repelled.

I first began thinking seriously about shit when I started reading and writing on Georges Bataille, an early 20th century French essayist, writer, and pornographer. Through pornography, Bataille meditates on the waste and excesses of the body—both of the ecstatic and material quality—for two reason; 1) excess points to the individual on the verge of ecstatic dissolution which is most fully realized in death, and 2) excess offends a bourgeois sensibility.

Offense is crucial; if we substitute the symbols that arouse disgust and displeasure for the symbols that traffic institutional power, we destabilize the language by which authority communicates. Presentation is of paramount importance and this is why I think pornography is a genre of representation that is particularly effective in co-opting symbols, perverting them, and in so doing, altering their meaning. Pornography presents us with the obscene body, a vision of the body that we should not have to see and that we should not want to see. As we read or watch pornography the immediacy of our sensations on the boundary between desire and disgust trouble and shake us. But it is precisely this troubling that makes it possible to question the signification and values that have already been assigned to various symbols along with our relationship to them.

Iman James is a soon to be college graduate that enjoys reading obscene literature and perverse French films. She studies Women, Gender, and Sexuality, enjoys writing poetry and fiction, and eagerly awaits the eradication of the bourgeois class.