Friday, February 26, 2016

My Karma Ran Over Your Dogma (Revisited)


Adapted from an anonymous tract, expanded upon & illustrated by ANTARES  © 1994 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Kiss My Arse ~ In the Name of Common Humanity (by Salleh Ben Joned)

Holey Man performs arse-kissing ritual to help the faithful find true love

I had a dream last night. Most of my dreams are quite weird, but this one was weirder than any I’ve ever dreamt. I think it was inspired by something that happened at the United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) General Assembly last Friday. At this gathering, this “Assembly” of the dominant party in the governing coalition, a Kelantan delegate, thoroughly disgusted with the dirty tactics (note “dirty”) used by ambitious Umno desperadoes in their premature campaign for the next year’s party elections, told an old filthy joke that brought the house down. The joke is about the quarrel among the various parts of the body as to which one is really powerful and therefore should be the boss. The brain says it is and should be in control of the rest because … Then the mouth, the nose and so on; each with its own irrefutable reason for making the claim. The anus, naturally, has the last say. It triumphantly declares that it is more powerful than any of the rest, including the brain: if one morning it decides to close up for good the body is finished, man. Kaput!

Related to such an august gathering as the Umno General Assembly, the joke was truly edifying; so edifying that it inspired my weird dream. I dreamt I was invulnerable (kebal in Malay). Neither the kerisnor the parang could penetrate my skin; even the notorious Kelantanese kapak kecik that flies in the night at the bidding of its frantic owner couldn’t harm me. It seemed that I had finally attained (in the dream, that is) the much sought-after ilmu kepala tahi.[1] Ilmu what? Kepala tahiKepala what? Tahi. This is no ordinary ilmu, man; this is esoteric ilmu. But tahiTahi??? I think you’re just being your usual vulgar self again … Of course I’m being my “vulgar” self. I’m always “vulgar” – vulgar in more than one sense you know: not only “coarse or “filthy” (your meaning), but also “common” as in “common people” (i.e., ordinary people, unashamedly close to the earth, and reveling in it).

But back to the IKT (less offensive thus abbreviated?). I tell you it’s not something I dreamt up, though its “reality” and efficacy were confirmed for me only in my dream. IKT is a form of magic power which the Malays used to believe in; some in the remote kampungs (villages) probably still do. (No, you won’t find it in Skeat’s Malay Magic; it’s apparently too vulgar even for that huge tome) IKT can be acquired (so my uncle told me) by snatching the sausage-like T (it has to be a “sausage”; watery stuff’s no good) as it emerges out of somebody’s anus. This might be done on a Thursday night (Friday night to the Malays). I won’t strain your tolerance of the “vulgar” by going into the lurid details of the messy business. It’s sufficient to tell you that it must be done in a certain way, and that after you have acquired the precious substance you must wipe your body thoroughly with it, the wiping accompanied by the recital of certain mantras. Then you must avoid water for the next three days. If you observe all this, you’ll be kebal.Insya-Allah. (And please don’t listen to envious cynics who say that you’re kebal because nobody would come near you anyway.) With IKT, you don’t need your brain anymore; or rather your brain has come down and joined forces with your anus. What you’ve got now is a sort of “thinking anus.” The unity of the body, of the highest and the lowest, the refined and the filthy is now truly yours. Hang on to it for dear life. Now, what has all this stinking business to do with literature? Literature … yes.

Well, the dream, the old joke dredged up at the Umno General Assembly, the mysteries of IKT – all this reminded me of a curious novel I read earlier this year. And with it, the thought I have been thinking about on and off quite sometime on the subject of the vulgar, the filthy, the taboo, the “last frontier” of the body, physical-spiritual, sensual-mystical body, in both literature and folk imagination. The novel is by a Tongan anthropologist-writer Epeli Hau’ofa and titled Kisses in the Nederends (Penguin, New Zealand). This comic satirical novel is literally and symbolically about an arsehole. As far as I know, Epeli Hau’ofa is the first writer to devote a whole novel to the hole. And in a way it is a perfect illustration and proof of the anus’s claim in the Umno General Assembly joke that it is the most powerful part of the human body; it can abuse its power to become the most tyrannical dictator and capable of subjecting man to the worst humiliation imaginable. Kisses is a tall tale, one of the “tallest” I’ve read. Written in a style that is clearly influenced by a grotesque realism of Francois Rabelais, it is about a Tongan who suffers from an incurable “pain in the arse,” an ulcerous fistulated anus. The book opens with a bang, a stinking assault of farting, followed by a duet between the mouth (snoring) and the anus (farting), and the hero’s waking up in excruciating pain in his bottom. Then the rest of the book takes the hero on a mock-epic search for a cure, from the bizarre treatments of traditional medicine to an organ transplant in an ultra-modern New Zealand surgery. (Yes, the hero ends up with somebody else’s anus, a white woman’s down there.) This disgustingly hilarious Tongan tall tale ends happily with the cured hero triumphantly proclaiming a new religion of true brotherhood (and sisterhood) of man. Its slogan? “Kiss my arse!”

Epeli Hau'ofa, author of Kisses in the Nederends

You need to have a strong stomach to read and enjoy this book to the end. My wife doesn’t; after a few pages she threw the little Penguin out of the window in utter disgust. The writing of Kisses was actually inspired by the author’s own experience. Poor Mr Hau’ofa actually suffered from a terrible pain in the arse much like his hero’s, a sort of piles which the Tongans call kahi (k not t). True to the South Pacific philosophy that laughter is the best medicine, the novel proved to be the best therapy for the author, who suffered from a psychological malady even after the successful operation on his anus. But the novel is not only a therapy in the form of a tall tale; it’s also an allegory that carries a serious social and spiritual message for the Tongans and other island peoples of the South Pacific, and by the implication for modern man in general.

Francois Rabelais  (1494-1553)
Kisses in the Nederends is to me a triumphant demonstration of my belief that there are many varieties of vulgarity – from the childishly obsessive to the soberly purposeful. In the hands of a comic of satirical writer with a talent and fundamentally weighty intention, the vulgar and the flighty can be redeemed by art in the cause of a vision. Francois Rabelais in his Gargantuaand Panatagruel, Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels and James Joyce in hisUlysses and love letters to his Nora are among the world’s greatest “filthy writers” in this sense. Epeli Hau’ofa is part of a long tradition, and Kissesshows he has the makings of a mini Swift of the South Seas. Swift is probably the most familiar of the three, thanks to his Gulliver’s Travels, a book which every reasonably well-read kid knows. Kids reading filthy stuff? Not quite, because the Gulliver’s Travels that kids read has been cleansed of all mind-polluting filth. Children’s editions of the classic work are either simplified (for young kids) or published (for older kids) without the third and fourth books: A Voyage to Laputa andA Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms.
           
The third book, a sort of proto-science fiction, recounts Gulliver’s experience on the flying island of Laputa when he visited the School of Political Projectors at the Academy of Lagado; there he meets weird professors or projectors who are distinguished by their ingenuities in the service of the state. They have, for example, developed a special technique for discovering plots and conspiracies against the government. The technique involves examining the diet of all suspected persons; finding out “times of eating; upon which side they lay in bed; which hand they wiped their posteriors”; then to take “strict view of their excrements, and from the colour, the odour, the taste, the consistence, the crudeness or maturity of digestion, form a judgement of their thoughts and designs.” The whole business is based on the belief that “men are never so serious as when they are at stool,” and because of that their stool can tell us all kinds of things; for example “if the ordure has a tincture of green” that means when the suspect was having his stool he was “straining to think of the best way of murdering the king, but quite different when he thought only of raising an insurrection or burning the metropoles.”
           
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
The fourth book of Gulliver’s Travels, the one generally considered the most important of the four, narrates Gulliver’s encounter with the tribe of super-rational horses, the Houyhnhnms, and their opposites, the filthy Yahoos, whose resemblance to himself Gulliver tries to deny. He is so seduced by Houyhnhnms, creatures which embody for him the ideal of civilized being, and so disgusted by stinking Yahoos (who warmly welcome his arrival on the island by defecating on him from a tree), that he goes mad in the end; back home in England he tries to live with horses, behaves and neighs like one, spurning the company of his fellow human beings who are all Yahoos to him. There has been much debate among scholars and critics about the meaning of Gulliver’s Travels, especially Book Four. The debate has to do with Swift’s real attitude to the Houyhnhnms: does he share Gulliver’s admiration for the cold-blooded super-rational horses or doesn’t he? Related to this is the question of Swift’s scatology, what its very pronounced presence in his writing means when we try to determine his attitude to man and to human nature.
           
Distinguished modern writers Aldous Huxley and John Middleton Murry were apparently the first to confront the blatant fact of Swiftian scatology which earlier writers on Swift had ignored or pretended didn’t really exist. Huxley especially recognized the central importance of the scatological theme in bothGulliver’s Travels and three of his later poems (The Lady’s Dressing Room, Strephon and Chloe andCassinus and Peter). But Huxley and Murry’s conclusion, that Swift’s scatological obsession (in Murry’s highly suggestive phrase, “excremental vision”) reflects a fundamental neurosis in the writer, a neurosis that made him a misanthrope or hater of human nature – this conclusion, I believe, is based on a misreading of Swift. I am with the American writer Norman O. Brown here. Brown, whose breakthrough book Life Against Death (1959) first offered a balanced reading of Swift argues convincingly that Gulliver’s misanthropy is his, not his creator’s. Similarly, Cassinus, in the poem Cassinus and Peter, who “lost (his) wits” on discovering that “Caelia, Caelia, Caelia sh-”, shouldn’t be confused with Swift. (Swift did go mad in the end, but not because he couldn’t stand the fact that women “sh—“, as critics like Murry seem to suggest.) Cassinus is obviously a projection of the universal neurosis of civilized man who cannot accept and revel in the fact of nature that the body is a wondrous unity – of the higher and the lower, the spiritual and the bestial. Civilized man (or rather over-civilized man) is haunted by that reality of our human nature immortalized in the famous words of St Augustine: “inter urinas et faeces nascimur” (the seat of love is the foulest place in our body – implying that our most exalted, most spiritual aspirations are bound to our soiled flesh). Over-civilized man represses and sublimates his animality and that’s why he is sick.
           
Epeli Hau-ofa is a mini Swift of the South Seas and is clearly a writer who affirms that wondrous unity. The phrase “mini Swift” though, may not be quite accurate, it can suggest something that is more Swiftian than “Hau’ofian.” Swift, that “tiger of the 18th Century English literature is a master of satiric comedy that is distinguished by its uncompromising fierceness; a fierceness that is not quite “Hau’ofian.” Hau’ofa in Kisses in the Nederends is relaxed where Swift in Guliver’s Travels and the satirical poems is Fierce and Furious; Hau’ofa’s hearty comedy is more Rabelaisian, wild and rompy – and hilariously breezy. In an interview with the New Zealand literary magazine Landfall, Hau’ofa says: “I am by nature playful, and playing with words, obscene or otherwise, is an aspect of that nature. But that is only one aspect of my use of dirty language. I use it also for other purposes. Firstly… I resorted to it as a way of presenting the effect of physical agony (that unrelenting “pain in the arse,” remember?) on Oilei’s psyche (Oilei is the aptly named suffering hero of Kisses), and on his relationship with those around him. But most importantly, I used it as a most unlikely tool for a discourse on love, purity and harmony…” A comic satirical novel with an ulcerous fistulated anus as the prime mover and focus of the narrative – that kind of novel is “discourse of love, purity and harmony”? I’m happy to say, yes. Unlikely? Well, the author himself is fully aware that his use of “dirty language” is “a most likely tool” for such a discourse. He knows that “it’s never been done or even thought of before.” But that’s what makes it fun; it’s a form of creative experiment that shows that Hau’ofa the anthropologist is also a true writer. Hau’ofa asks the question that Rabelais asked centuries ago: “Why should we continue to loathe references to our organs of procreation and elimination, and not to other organs? Such questions have implications that go beyond mere body matters. 

As Hau’ofa puts it they lead to “other questions about social and cultural institutions”. As he worked on the novel, laughing as he furiously scribbled (“I could not but laugh as I wrote”), the fundamental seriousness of the theme became more and more crystallized in his mind. The idea or ideal of bodily unity (and equality) came to suggest other forms of unity (and equality) – such as the social and political (thus the use of language with political connotations in Hau’ofa’s descriptions of the “rebellion” of the body’s lower orders, the bowels and the anus). “I seriously said to myself,” Hau’ofa recalls in the interview, “that if we give due respect to the nether parts of our bodies, we would eventually eradicate most of the obscene expressions in language and therefore in thought. That should go a long way towards helping us to be more loving and caring of each other… Oilei’s search for a cure for his physical ailment is also a quest for purifying himself of violence and obscenity in language. Having attained his goal he invites everyone to kiss his arse. It is a joyous statement of the end of hatred, and a declaration of love for all mankind. It sounds bizarre but I’m serious about it… “ Bizarre maybe, but I can’t agree with Epeli Hau’ofa more.
           
In the novel, the character who helps to bring the light to Oilei is a guru and yogi named Babu. Babu is a wily character who can be both a clever entrepreneur and a prophet of spiritual and social liberation. Babu’s mission is to convince the world that “the anus is good, beautiful, lovable and respectable.” He declares that “It’s time that the status of the repressed lower organs” (note “repressed” and “lower” in both its psychoanalytical/ biological and political meanings) “is recognized.”

He pointedly adds: “We treat our heads with respect and call our leaders heads. We could, with equal felicity, call them anuses.” Babu prescribes yoga exercises for his patient, designed to make him learn to respect his own anus so that it becomes truly part of him – and smells to his nose “as the fresh bud of spring.” One begins by learning to love one’s beautiful anus, kissing it meditating on it, inhaling its spiritual as well as physical aroma. Then the next step is to learn to love the anuses of our brothers and sisters. Babu demonstrates the truth and power of his teaching by kissing Oilei’s anus with love and respect. The guru declares “if the President of the United States and the Soviet Union do likewise at their next summit (sic) meeting there will be no threat of nuclear annihilation… As in most things we must begin from the top down. When the top meets the bottom, there will be eternal peace. The real obscenity, the novel says, is not the so-called “dirty language,” but man-made horrors like nuclear war. To ban that sort of obscenity from the life of man altogether we must learn to “greet, love, laugh and dance with each other in the middle of our zones of taboo.”
11 & 18 November 1992


[1] Ilmu: mythical knowledge or power
  Kepala: head
  Tahi: shit