Tlaçolteotl is Dead: The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Captain Bourke's Scatalogic Rites of All Nations

m 1+ points - Newb


Tlaçolteotl was the Aztec goddess of ordure and carnal pleasures, or, shit and fertility -- the American equivalent of the little-known Roman goddess Cloacina. In this essay and in contemporary culture alike, Tlaçolteotl is absent. Shit, however, is not. But the joke is now one of the only open forms of discourse in which shit appears. This essay follows the curious 100-year life of John G. Bourke's Scatalogic Rites of All Nations.

At the time it was written, 1891, Scatalogic Rites was comprised of fifty-two chapters and 500 pages, and was accepted as an ethnographic catalog of rituals involving human waste. Several decades later, the tome was translated into German featuring an introduction by Sigmund Freud, who found the volume a forward step in countering the shame often involved in matters of defecation. In 1993, Scatalogic Rites was trimmed down to short excerpts of thirty chapters and 165 pages, and thus renamed The Portable Scatalog. Marketed as toilet humor, the edited version elides Bourke's introduction and conclusion -- the only places he reserves for serious reflection on the cultural importance of such a book.

This essay contextualizes the original Scatalogic Rites in the age of neurasthenia, when Americans re-turned attention toward their bodies, and places like J.H. Kellogg's sanitariums thrived. The essay then juxtaposes the 1890s with contemporary culture, which produced The Portable Scatalog, to the end of asking and discussing why and how discourse of shit has been restricted to the medium of the joke.

Brief Caveat for PoopReport Fans

The keen reader of "Tlaçolteotl", or even someone who has just read the abstract, will notice a degree of tension between the stance I take in this paper and the celebratory/self-effacing attitude that much of the content of PoopReport parlays. Those who read this essay to the end will notice that I even make the claim that the poop-as-funny paradigm can even be construed as a symptom of a long-term cultural repression. While the last thing I want to do is reduce this type of forum to the level of a sneeze or lesion, I do hope that this will promote some sort of reflexive dialogue examining the topic of abjection itself.

For the record, I am a fan of PoopReport and think that it is perhaps history's greatest public forums for all things shit. Anyway, what if we carried this essay to its logical conclusion? What if we followed Kundera's advice and took dumps with the door open? What if humanity came to terms with this pseudo-naughty, prurient topic? My mind changes day-to-day on whether exploring poop academically and socially is a worthy pursuit.

If it is done to the end of seeing a less ass-phobic culture wherein one can poop publicly, discuss bowel movements with strangers on an elevator, where homosexuality is not illegal or faux pas, or, like Bunhuel's film, we sat on toilets around a table and made pooping a social event, then I believe in it. If it only means that the shit-demon in Dogma isn't funny anymore, then fuck it, keep shit abject.

-- Daniel Gerling

Tlaçolteotl is Dead: The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Captain Bourke's Scatalogic Rites of All Nations

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"The history of love, shit, and the

lizard also waits to be written."

--Dominique Laporte1

Introduction: Seeking the German Toilet and Finding the French

Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek begins his book, The Plague of Fantasies, with a comparison of three cultures -- French, German, and Anglo-American -- in terms of their toilets. In the German toilet the hole is in the front with a platform in the back, "so that the shit is first laid out for us to sniff at and inspect for traces of some illness."2 The hole and the platform of the French toilet are reversed, in order for the shit to "disappear as soon as possible." In between these two cultural metaphors -- those of the German need to confront one's own waste and the French unwillingness to acknowledge its presence -- stands the Anglo-American toilet: "the basin is full of water, so that the shit floats in it -- visible, but not to be inspected." For more than a century American culture has been vacillating back and forth within this dichotomy, never so neatly as to be decidedly on either side ("French" or "German"), but it has always been interested in a safe distance.

One particular monument of American interest in shit (one which was not surprisingly translated only into German) is John G. Bourke's Scatalogic Rites of All Nations.3 Bourke's work is an ethnographic exploration of historically and geographically varying rituals involving excrement. His study moves between basic practices of defecation and fecal worship -- practices which are distinct from middle-class American norms based on differences of technology and climate -- to cult-like festivals where shit or urine are imbibed or offered as sacrifice. Accounts of the Trojans defecating in broad daylight are juxtaposed with obscure nineteenth century English games of offal connected only by their "otherness" in contrast to middle-class American customs.

This type of survey makes sense in that it is a product of a time when society was becoming increasingly civilized and the "triumph of culture [. . .] promoted a spreading sense of moral impotence and spiritual sterility -- a feeling that life had become not only overcivilized but also curiously unreal."4 The last quarter of the nineteenth century was an era which produced afflictions such as neurasthenia, the disease of the "brainworker" who spent the day sitting in an office without exercise. This generation was steeped in Social Darwinist theories causing anxieties in the white middle class that perhaps they weren't "fit" enough to effectively perpetuate the existence of their race. White women, according to Theodore Roosevelt, were shirking their biological duties as females by not reproducing as much as non-white women and were therefore contributing to a type of "race suicide."5 In response to these maladies, Americans naturally made a turn towards the physical, the natural, and the bodily. Victorian notions of manhood and civility had to be reexamined. The subsequent results of this cultural illness sent Roosevelt out into the Badlands of North Dakota, drew tens of thousands to Buffalo Bill's reenactments of the "real" Wild West, began the bicycle craze of the 1880s and 1890s, and inspired John G. Bourke to investigate the dimensions of shit.

A little more than a hundred years later, Bourke's book, which Freud said contains "the major part of what is known of the role played by excretions in human life,"6 had been reduced and edited -- cleaned up -- from fifty-two chapters to short excerpts of thirty chapters; a reduction from 500 pages to 165. The editor of the new version, Louis P. Kaplan, rearranged many chapters, changed the citations so as to make it less "bulky," omitted Bourke's Introduction and Conclusion, and added his own Introduction. The result is The Portable Scatalog,7 which Kaplan offers up to the reader as either an object for "library study or rest room reading, [. . .] a classic of toilet humor."8 By making the book portable, more accessible, and more reader friendly, Kaplan essentially caters to the tastes of a culture with Victorian sensibilities about excrement. It is no longer a book which confronts and engages the neuroses of the era. The new, edited version is instead one which is sanitized and a gag. This may cause the reader to wonder what, then, is different about the American cultures on both ends of the hundred year span? What is considered dirty and why? How has treatment of, and reaction to, shit changed? Are we contemporary Americans more mature as a populace and therefore more capable of dealing with the body than our forebears? A close contextual look at these two texts -- Bourke's original of 1891, Scatalogic Rites of All Nations, and the heavily edited version of 1994, The Portable Scatalog -- will assist in analyzing how shit in general is looked at and studied.

If we accept Freud's claim that the "wiser course would undoubtedly have been to admit [shit's] existence and to dignify it as much as nature will allow," then perhaps we as a culture have regressed while allowing ourselves to laugh from a distance at the Victorians' strange treatment of the body. Why was the dynamic at work in the treatment of shit near the end of the nineteenth century characterized by repulsion and quasi-fetishism, and the dynamic of the contemporary era defined by disgust and laughter? I do not consider Captain Bourke and Louis Kaplan to be spokesmen for their respective era's tolerance for excremental matters. Perhaps a neuro-psychological survey of reactions to offal or a linguistic analysis of abject humor could give us more insights toward the end of answering these questions. After all, Bourke was an obscure Captain and amateur ethnographer, and Kaplan is not yet a well-known critic. As it is, however, Bourke's original and Kaplan's edited version of the Scatalogic Rites of All Nations are the two most promising templates for a comparative analysis of the role shit plays, and the way in which it is studied, in two related cultures. The first section in this essay will consider the original Scatalogic Rites in its social context. The second section will do the same with the post-Bourkean life of the book. With the factual groundwork established, I will also develop a theoretical foundation through which the reader will hopefully be able to better understand society's and academia's relationship with scatology.

Bourke's Original

The initial peculiarity of Scatalogic Rites of All Nations is the misspelling of "Scatalogic." Why Bourke did this, or if it was unintended erratum, is a mystery. Nowhere does he address the issue or justify it in any way. As the title is the first "introduction" to the text, and quite important, it can best be explained as odd. And indeed for the neophyte of shit studies, one has no other route other than to look up words such as "stercoraceous" and "offal," and perhaps even simpler words such as "ordure," "egestae," and "scatology."9 The 1934 publication of Scatalogic Rites by the American Anthropological Society notes its misspelling though leaves it as is. Unfortunately, Bourke wrote nothing of it in the introduction or the conclusion. In the 1994 edited version, Kaplan suggests that it is a play on "catalog" -- suggesting that the book is primarily a cataloging of excremental rituals. Kaplan theorizes that the spelling "symbolizes the tension in the book's composition between catalog and scatology, [. . .] switching back and before between shoveling excrement and collecting knowledge."10 Is it possible that "Scatalogic" was intended to refer to "catalog" and bookended with the letters "sic?" This theory, while entertaining, was doubtfully Bourke's intention, seeing as he was quite steadfast in remaining as scientific as possible. The most recent publication of Bourke's writings, his diaries of army life in the Southwest, is riddled with spelling mistakes and other errata (excusable, given that it was mostly written by the light of campfire). Nonetheless, one can also note the scientific rigidity he strives for. In fact, he offers somewhat of an apology for his straightforwardness in these diaries,

I am determined, even at the risk of making my Diary read as dry as a Patent Office Report to insert no item which I have not had time or occasion to verify in person [. . .] and not to expatiate in the language of enthusiasm among the beautiful scenery [. . .] but to enumerate simply what the country contains, and when, where and in what quantities observed.11

He was unlikely playful enough of a writer to make orthographic jests on a topic he was so sincere about. Although it is also unlikely that a misspelling would slip past the editors, especially considering that the small publisher, W.H. Lowdermilk & co., published a book two years later entitled Biography of the English Language. To further complicate matters, Freud, in his 1913 introduction to the German translation, refers to the book as the "Scatologic Rites of all Nations."12 Even worse, in the section of the German translation entitled "Bourkes Leben" (Bourke's life), the date of his nomination to the American Folklore Society and the date of his death are recorded as being in 1905 and 1906, respectively -- each ten years later than fact.13 The mistakes are probably best left without serious conjecture, but contribute to the slightly off-kilter nature of the book.

Another lingual peculiarity of Scatalogic Rites for the modern reader is Bourke's use of terms such as "redskins" and "savages" when writing about Native Americans. As the editor of the Diaries points out, Bourke wrote in "the language of the times."14 He adds that "[Bourke's] attitude toward the Indians was no more malicious than that of any soldier toward the enemy in the time of war, and often more tolerant."15 It is, however, important in this investigation to analyze the dimensions of Bourke's language, especially considering that Scatalogic Rites is mostly comprised of excerpts from other materials, and that his own words are only included in firsthand accounts and prefatory sections. Therefore, in order to discover the origin and intent of Bourke's writing it is necessary to inspect the nuances of his language.

This need is perhaps most apparent when he describes the urine dance of the Zuñis, which he witnessed firsthand in New Mexico after a rare invitation from the tribe. He begins with a "Patent Office Report"-style description of the surroundings and the dress of the Indian dancers, describing his own immediate location as well. Directly in front of him was a coal-oil lamp which projected an aura around his head. He writes, "I suppose that in the halo diffused by the feeble light, and in my 'stained-glass attitude,' I must have borne some resemblance to the pictures of saints hanging upon the walls of the old Mexican churches."16 At this point in the narrative, as if Bourke's fancied image of himself had reawakened him to the differences between the two cultures present, he continues his descriptions, but now with a more patronizing tone. He writes of how the dancers knelt in front of his table and "with an extravagant beating of breast began an outlandish but faithful mockery of a Mexican Catholic congregation at vespers, [which] kept the audience laughing with sore sides for some moments."17 Then after the "savages" addressed the Americans with a "funny gibberish of broken Spanish, English, and Zui," one carried out a pot of urine, "which the filthy brutes drank heartily."18 The dancers drank the "strange and abominable refreshment [and] smacked their lips."19 By this time, "the clowns were now upon their mettle, each trying to surpass his neighbors in feats of nastiness."20 The audacity of the performance continued to shock Bourke until he escaped from the room, which, "stuffed with one hundred Zuis, had become so foul and filthy as to be almost unbearable." It is difficult to imagine how, after fighting in the Civil War and then the Indian Wars for several decades, Bourke can still be disgusted by these acts. As the editor of the Diaries points out, although time with the Indians caused a deep respect for them to grow in Bourke, he, unlike Arabian Nights translator Richard Burton, "always retained his own cultural identity."22

It is clear in these accounts that he has predetermined his audience and his agenda, for they are integral to the project as a whole. Bourke's agenda in writing this work is twofold, or, perhaps, comprised of a mission and its method. His mission is clearly to inform his readers of the archaic rituals that still survive today armed with the hope that society will once and for all be cleaned of such detritus. The Indians are, to Bourke the ethnographer, a relic of the past and can even be compared to Europe's ancestors in their scatological fascination. For example, Bourke writes that one of the first Roman deities was Cloacina, and "under her charge were the various cloacae, sewers, privies, etc., of the Eternal City."23 Later, in the year 831, a debate began in the Christian church over whether or not the host was subject to the same digestive process as all other food. The Stercoranistes,24 as the proponents of this particular anti-transubstantiationalist belief were called, were only around for a few centuries.25 Now, though, the Indians and other isolated peoples are the only cultures which still carry these traditions. Bourke writes, "Hebrews and Christians will discover a common ground of congratulation in the fact that believers in their systems are now absolutely free from any suggestion of this filth taint."26 For Bourke's modern civilization to employ such practices or thoughts would be a gross reversion to savagery.

This sort of cleansing parallels the intent of his assignment in the Southwest, which was essentially a project of ethnic cleansing. But given his relatively humane approach to the Indians, Bourke had foreseen a time when they would be integrated into "normal society," rather than exterminated, and would therefore have to act like decent white Americans.27 His method for accomplishing the task of awakening his readers to the topic was by reminding them that in order to keep society progressing toward the Victorian ideal of neoclassical sterility, they must first confront shit and its history. He writes in the Introduction:

The subject of Scatalogic or Stercoraceous Rites or practices, however repellent it may be under some of its aspects, is nonetheless deserving of the profoundest consideration -- if for no other reason that the former universal dissemination of such aberrations of the intellect, as well as of the religious impulses of the human race, and their present curtailment or restriction, the progress of humanity upward and onward may be best measured.28

It is clear that Bourke sees shit as something, in a quasi-Nietzschean sense, to be overcome. While the teleological matter of Scatalogic Rites was certainly aligned with the ethic of self-control and the hygienic impulse to distance oneself from those less unsullied, the methodological approach appealed to the antimodern inclination to seek that which is authentic, real, and bodily. He is both modern and antimodern. That is, although his method demanded a closer inspection of the topic of feces (antimodern), the ultimate goal was to be rid of it (modern).

Bourke's emphasis on progress, more specifically his emphasis on the idea that civilization is rightly moving toward middle- and upper-class values, weds him immediately to Social Darwinist tendencies most often attributed to Herbert Spencer. However, Bourke was in many ways cut off from society for the majority of his life. He joined the Civil War by lying about his age when he was sixteen. Immediately afterward, he attended West Point. From his graduation onward, he spent his life between New Mexico, Arizona, South Dakota, and Texas as an aide-de-camp to General Crook, and then later as the Captain of various posts. So his exposure to typical intellectual culture was minimal at best. By the time he wrote Scatalogic Rites, however, he had written articles for several ethnographic journals, which were most likely permeated with Social Darwinist notions. As Richard Hofstadter notes, "in the three decades after the Civil War it was impossible to be active in any field of intellectual work without mastering Spencer."29 Thus we can assume that his weltanschauung was influenced to some degree, either directly or indirectly, by Spencer. Bourke's racism was tempered in comparison with many of his contemporaries, although the way in which his teleological approach manifests itself -- in distinctions between clean and dirty, civilized and uncivilized, good and bad -- quite explicitly demonstrates where his values lie.

Another thread of thought in the late-nineteenth century, also partly influenced by Social Darwinist tendencies, is that of the aforementioned antimodernist movement. Many of the antimoderns, according to historian T.J. Jackson Lears, were afraid that sedentary, non-physical lifestyles could eventually lead to race suicide and therefore sought the "'authentic' experience" as a saving power.30 This trend was broad and multifaceted, but nearly all strategies for overcoming the neurasthenic fear involved an almost pagan redirection of attention toward that which is earthly or corporeal. Many different strategies were employed, but each one was intended to result in greater contact with nature and virility. Prominent figures such as George Evans, John Muir, and Joseph Knowles sought refuge in the woods. According to Evans, the wilderness will "give you good red blood; it will turn you from a weakling into a man."31 Likewise, another author wrote that "man can retain his strength only by returning to Mother Earth."32 The 1880s and 1890s also saw the modern day birth of bodybuilding in Eugene Sandow and Bernarr Macfadden, the peak of the bicycle craze which was popularized by its health benefits, and the beginning of physical education in schools pioneered by Dudley Sargeant.33 The topic of shit and digestion, however, as has been called "the most neglected major theme of psychohistory," was by and large passed over -- most likely due to its popular reputation as vile and unsuitable for discussion.34 Bourke would have been virtually alone in his quest had it not been for sanitarium director and cereal man, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg.

Central to Kellogg's detailed health regiment was his candid assertion that "food residues and wastes should be evacuated at least three times a day, or after every meal."35 Like the antimodern figures mentioned above, Kellogg was a vigorous proponent of exercise and attention to the body as the most effective remedy for neurasthenia. But unlike the others, Kellogg, spoke frankly of shit and its importance. In his book, The Itinerary of a Breakfast, he enthusiastically writes of the bowels:

The intestinal movements are, moreover, directed with such evident purpose and precision as almost to suggest that the food tube is an independent and intelligent creature, possessing its own brain and will and ever performing its functions as a faithful body-servant.36

Paul Eluard highlights the thrust of Kellogg's with his own: "Language speaks and asks: 'Why am I beautiful? Because my master bathes me.'"37 Eluard and Kellog both treat their respective topics, language and the bowels, as subservient to their masters who clean them. Therefore, although Bourke might have disapproved of Kellogg's religious treatment of the act of defecation, their real connection lies in that they both maintained that shit is important. For Kellogg, it is something to be controlled and conquered physically; for Bourke, socially. With this determination, they both wrote about excrement against the social constraints of proper dialogue.

We now hark back to Zizek's metaphor of the toilets back into the context at this point. Eluard speaks for the French and their toilet by aligning beauty with cleansing without mention of what it is that needs to be cleansed. German representative Richard Wagner38 wrote in a letter to Franz Lizst:

Unhappy people, care for a sound digestion, and suddenly life appears totally different than you saw it when you were tormented by your abdomen! Truly, all our politics, diplomacy, ambition, weakness and science have no other foundation than our ruined abdomens.39

Wagner sees every reason to inspect the shit for sickness before flushing. Extending this line of thought would apparently leave Bourke as the American scientist who examines his subject through a basin full of water so as to look at it but not smell it before flushing. However, the overly simplistic metaphor breaks down when dealing in detail with Bourke's work. Perhaps the careful distance he seems to take when at the Zuñi urine dance fits the equation, but his wish for the impact of his book on society engages the subject much more closely. He ends the Scatalogic Rites with "the proper study of mankind is man," in reference to a quote by the Emperor Maximilian which states "I am man; nothing pertaining to man I deem foreign to myself."40 Ethnography is not a field which Bourke feels can ignore a topic so essential as shit. He sees the field of scatology to be not only entirely relevant, but valuable as well. While he was undoubtedly a product of his time, Bourke was essentially alone (with the exception of Kellogg) in writing on a topic that would still be dealt with awkwardly more than one hundred years after his death.

Post-Bourkean Life of Scatalogic Rites of All Nations: The New Book of Laughter and Forgetting

The legacy of Scatalogic Rites that continued after the death of Captain Bourke is one marked by perfunctory attention and, in 1994, a queer resurrection. The lone exception to the fairly unnoticed presence in the century following its publication is the interest given to it by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. The first printing of the book was done with private funds by the small but moderately successful Washington D.C. publishing house called W.H. Lowdermilk & co. Twenty-two years later, a Leipzig-based publishing house, Ethnologischer Verlag (Ethnological Press), printed the only foreign translation of Scatalogic Rites.41

In the Foreword to the German translation, Freud reserves his praise, not for the content or the research itself, but for the very project of a serious scatological treatise. He does so with passionate echoes of Bourke's emphasis on the need to treat shit as a viable and necessary topic of discourse. Freud begins with an anecdote from his years in medical school about his teacher who, while examining the corpse of a young girl, offered her "dirty knees as evidence of her virtue."42 Contrary to what one might assume from the empirical data, Freud learned from this that "bodily cleanliness is far more readily associated with vice than with virtue."43 In other words, Freud reverses the standard notion of purity and virtue by making the claim that it is more human, and therefore more virtuous, to be comfortable with one's own animal nature than it is to deny it. The civilized man is trying to be like "the 'more perfected angels' in the last scene of Goethe's Faust, who complain: Uns bleibt ein Erdenrest/ Zu tragen peinlich/ Und wr' er von Asbest,/ Er ist nicht reinlich."44 Translated, the angels say "Earth's remnants molest us/ To bear them is toil,/ Were they asbestos/ They still would soil."45 What results from this form of denial is repression on a personal level, and when works such as Bourke's are ignored, the result is a much more serious cultural repression. Freud is even more explicit in his approval of Bourke's project when he writes that "to make [the role of excretions in human life] more not only a courageous but also a meritorious undertaking."46 But Freud's role in the American story of shit, as moderated by -- or seen through the history of -- Bourke's work, does not stop with mere adulation of Scatalogic Rites, as we shall soon see.

The next important moment in the life of Scatalogic Rites was its 1934 publication by the American Anthropological Society. Just as Lears points out that the 1890s was a time when Americans sought "'authentic' alternatives to the apparent unreality of modern existence," the 1930s too can be seen as a decade in which Americans needed a more solid grasp on the elusive "real" experience.47 The rise in popularity of movies, the proliferation of radios, the popularization of sports, and of course the stock market crash left American's in a similar predicament, between image and reality, as in the 1890s. In the 1930s, however, the predicament was based more on the explosion of mass culture than on personal ailments. Although it is difficult to gauge exactly why the American Anthropological Society decided to reprint Scatalogic Rites in 1934, it comes just three years before the government reacted to the growing popular urge to see how 'real folk' were living, when the Farm Securities Administration sent photographers to the south to chronicle poverty, of sharecroppers in particular.48 As the illusions of city life began to fade during the time of economic hardship in the 30s, Americans once again found spiritual refuge in turning to look at the "salt of the earth" lifestyle and a romanticization of its substantive, corporeal features. As one critic wrote of the photographer Walker Evans, "Evans's social role was to restore authenticity to the American vision."49 Sublimation of the "civilized man" no longer held sway as an ideal in the face of poverty and hunger.

Despite the historical evidence of probative experimentation with, or mere cursory interest in, a Thoreauvian earthly lifestyle, where one's shit doesn't just disappear, Americans have for the most part been quite uncomfortable with the subject of excrement. Excepting the permeation of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalytic concepts of shit and anality, and the American scholar Norman O. Brown, shit has chiefly been confined to an existence in the realm of the joke. That is, whereas psychoanalysis has taken on the responsibility of determining the role of shit in the personal sphere, only the joke has been able to perform a similar function in both the personal and the broader social/cultural sphere. Freud bridged this gap in his book The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious.

Naturally, his theory of the social joke is derived from his theory of dreaming. In order to express unconscious urges, the dream must first get past the censorship (Zensur), whose job it is "to prevent anxiety and other distressing symptoms."50 To overcome the censoring agent, the dream often disguises itself as a joke. The function of the joke in waking life is then to serve as a diversionary element in order to deflect the pain caused by a repressed impulse -- in our case being the impulse to confront the issue of shit. Restated, a joke about shit acknowledges that it is a repressed subject, and the ensuing laughter is then an expression of pleasure that the unconscious does not have to directly confront it. This is in part why the excrement joke consistently draws more laughs than would, say, a joke about eating or breathing or sleeping.51 Sex jokes are in the same category as shit jokes for the very same reason. Freud considers both types under the broader heading "tendentious joke." Both shit- and sex jokes also fit under a sub-category of the obscene joke. While the tendentious joke is one with a purpose, and the obscene joke is one that "strip[s] naked,"52 sex jokes and shit jokes are consequently ones whose purpose it is to expose specific social mores. It is the ultimate irony that the most recent fate of Scatalogic Rites of All Nations, The Portable Scatalog, has all of the Freudian characteristics of a shit joke.

The back cover of The Portable Scatalog informs, or rather titillates, the potential reader with the promise that editor Louis Kaplan has "produce[d] a 'scatalog' portable enough to be carried with ease between the library and the toilet." The joke is, of course, that academia can be funny too. The mechanism of the humor works on two levels.53 First, by mentioning "scatalog" and highlighting it with quotation marks, it employs one of the methods of the joke in Freud's dream work. The basic universal technique of the unconscious joke is "the process of condensation with substitute-formation."54 The most easily translatable pun Freud gives for an example is an anonymous writer's conflation of "alcohol" and "holiday" to describe Christmas as an "alcoholiday."55 According to Kaplan's arguable conjecture, it was originally Bourke's idea to neologically misspell "scatalogic," but Kaplan makes this point even more apparent by shortening it further to "scatalog." The second operational level of this joke is that it "strips naked" the notion that society, specifically academia, is for the most part guarded from scatological matters. Therefore, by purchasing this book the reader will be able to display his or her intelligence by owning a book written by a nineteenth century scientist and simultaneously prove a deeper level of sophistication by being open to as foul a subject as shit.

Another type of condensation in The Portable Scatalog, of which Freud says nothing, is that of elision -- or, more harshly, censorship -- of the original. This is perhaps the most serious difference between Scatalogic Rites and the Scatalog, for it changes the entire mission intended by the original. The first and most obvious omission from Scatalogic Rites is of Bourke's Introduction and Conclusion -- the only spaces he reserves where he explains why he thinks his project is important and what effects it should have on society in general. He does of course impart judgment via his word choice in the text itself, as discussed above, but given the staunchly scientific attitude with which he directly approaches his subject matter, the Introduction and Conclusion are where he openly makes his most impassioned pleas for understanding. In the Introduction, he writes:

Repugnant, therefore, as the subject is under most points of view, the author has felt constrained to reproduce all that he has seen and read, hoping that, in the fuller consideration that all forms of primitive religion are now receiving, this, the most brutal, possibly, of all, may claim some share of examination and discussion.56

He directly addresses the trepidation by which he fears Scatalogic Rites might be met and appeals for the reader to instead approach the text with a broader scope of understanding. Certainly this sort of earnestness has no place in The Portable Scatalog. Bourke's Introduction is replaced with an introduction written by Kaplan which perpetuates the Scatalog's status as a gag.

Before the Introduction, the first section of text in the Scatalog is Freud's 1913 Foreword, which provides a short but genuine segment of admiration for Bourke's project. Most likely, the presence of Freud's Foreword was maintained due to his reputation being known to some degree in nearly all fields of study, as well as in mass culture. Next, in the Introduction, Kaplan refers to Freud as "the master of the anal stage," relegating him to novelty status.57 He goes on to ossify the book's role as a joke by continuous punning. In reference to the encounter with the Zuñi tribe, Kaplan writes that "Bourke never recovered from (nor fully digested) this traumatic experience."58 Furthermore, given the overall breadth of the elision -- and the fact that he doesn't mention cutting out the original Introduction and Conclusion -- it is safe to say that Kaplan unnecessarily notes that he simplified "Bourke's bulky citational apparatus."59 The original is also referred to by the editor as a "strange volume" and "a curious classic."60 The new version is, in essence, now what Kaplan aptly names, "a classic of toilet humor."61

In Bourke's original and in Kaplan's Scatalog, the reader sees plainly written on the cover "Not for General Perusal." But of course it is. As mentioned above, Bourke's ethos concerning his work was that academics, the working class, and "savages" alike need to confront the matter of shit. By including it in the original subtitle, Bourke was more than likely appealing to late-nineteenth century manners, and perhaps insuring it against Comstockery laws. Kaplan's inclusion of the warning -- meanwhile eliding the long section of the subtitle that comes directly before62 -- sends the same message as that of the black sleeve that Playboys are wrapped in, namely, "this is not something to be seen by those not mature enough to deal with it; please take a look."

My intent is not to deny that today Scatalogic Rites of All Nations is an anachronism, nor is the criticism of Kaplan's project meant to say that such discussion should be void of any humor. But what results from cutting the original from fifty-two chapters down to excerpts of thirty,63 is a mutative deracination of the text replacing a sincere investigation into a relatively unresearched field of study. The difference also marks the shift in how shit is studied. While scatology has always been a marginal area of research, it did at one point have a place in science. As it is now, what remains of Bourke's Scatalogic Rites belongs in the same category as works such as Now Here's a Man Who Knows his Shit, The Best American Shit Stories, The Porcelain God, and various other jokes and puns.64 In short, scatology exists today in the social space of the joke.

The original purpose of Scatalogic Rites has been stripped from it. As for what is left of it, The Portable Scatalog itself becomes another chapter in Bourke's original cataloging of strange, "filthy savages" who have not yet resolved, in Freud's words, "the repression of coprophilic inclinations."65 The difference is that instead of being a book about those actually worshipping real, foul-smelling shit, as Bourke's subjects did, The Portable Scatalog was written for a society who prefers to take away its odor and substance before offering it a polite and awkward titter. But were Bourke alive today, the latter audience would have earned its own spot in an updated version of Scatalogic Rites.

In an effort to capture the spirit of Bourke we return to the quote at the beginning of the essay, "the history of love, shit, and the lizard also waits to be written" -- a reference to the lizard "who is drowned in the urine of [an] afflicted party to cure lovesickness."66 The lizard is the prehistoric sacrifice offered by one who is ailing from nostalgia and loss. Society's own lovesickness in reference to shit is therefore in the inability to confront its own corporeality. Whereas the neurasthenic society of the 1890s was at least capable of turning to the body in various ways, including the writing of Scatalogic Rites, contemporary society turns to the ritualistic sacrifice. Symbolically this is the sacrifice of Scatalogic Rites, and in actuality, the sacrifice of the ability to actually turn to the body. This return to the body has been replaced with a turn to the joke instead. And the joke, as we know from Freud, functions to deflect emotions such as those that might arise from a society of people who are even more physically separated than a hundred years ago. One might imagine America gathered around a toilet watching a piece of imitation shit get flushed amidst a chorus of nervous laughter.

-- Daniel Gerling

Works Cited

Bourke, John G. The Diaries of John G. Bourke: Volume One. Ed. Charles M. Robinson III. Denton, Texas: U of North Texas P, 2003.

---. Scatalogic Rites of All Nations. Washington D.C.: W.H. Lowdermilk & co., 1891.

---. Scatalogic Rites of All Nations. 1891. New York: American Anthropological Society, 1934.

---. The Portable Scatalog: Excerpts from Scatalogic Rites of All Nations. 1891. Ed. Louis P. Kaplan. New York: William H. Morrow & Co. 1994.

---. Der Unrat in Sitte, Brauch, Glauben Gewohnheitrecht der Vlker. Trans. Friedrich Krauss. Leipzig, Germany: Ethnologischer Verlag, 1913.

Burner, David, Robert Marcus, and Jorj Tilson, Eds. America Through the Looking Glass. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall Inc., 1974.

Carey, John. "Introduction." The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious. Sigmund Freud. 1905. Trans. Joyce Crick. New York: Penguin Books, 2002.

Freud, Sigmund. "An Autobiographical Study." 1925. Excerpted in The Freud Reader. Ed. Peter Gay. New York: Norton, 1989.

---. "Geleitwort." Der Unrat in Sitte, Brauch, Glauben Gewohnheitrecht der Vlker. Trans. Friedrich Krauss. Leipzig, Germany: Ethnologischer Verlag, 1913.

---. "Foreword." Trans. Louis Kaplan. The Portable Scatalog: Excerpts from Scatalogic Rites of All Nations. 1891. Ed. Louis P. Kaplan. New York: William H. Morrow & Co. 1994.

---. The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious. 1905. Trans. Joyce Crick. New York: Penguin Books, 2002.

Hofstadter, Richard. Social Darwinism in American Thought. Philadephia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1944.

Kaplan, Louis P. "Introduction: Prefatory End Notes to a Scatalogical Reader." The Portable Scatalog: Excerpts from Scatalogic Rites of All Nations. 1891. Ed. Louis P. Kaplan. New York: William H. Morrow & Co. 1994.

Kellogg, John Harvey. The Itinerary of a Breakfast. 1918. New York: Funk and Wagnalls Co., 1918.

Krauss, Friedrich. "Vorwort der Nachfolger Bourkes." Der Unrat in Sitte, Brauch, Glauben Gewohnheitrecht der Vlker. Leipzig, Germany: Ethnologischer Verlag, 1913

Laporte, Dominique. History of Shit. 1978. Trans. Nadia Benabid and Rodolphe el-Khoury. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000.

Lears, T.J. Jackson. No Place of Grace. New York: Pantheon Books, 1981.

Limon, John. Stand-up Comedy in Theory, or, Abjection in America. Durham, North Carolina: Duke UP, 2000.

Lutz, Tom. American Nervousness, 1903: An Anecdotal History. Ithaca, New York: Cornell UP, 1991.

Nash, Roderick. Wilderness and the American Mind. 1963. New Haven: Yale UP, 1973.

Orvell, Miles. The Real Thing: Imitation and Authenticity in American Culture, 1880-1940. Chapel Hill, U of North Carolina P, 1989.

Radkau, Joachim. "The Neurasthenic Experience in Imperial Germany." Cultures of Neurasthenia. Eds. Marijke Gijswijt-Hofstra and Roy Porter. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2001.

Robinson, Charles M. III. "John Gregory Bourke: The Man and His Work." The Diaries of John G. Bourke: Volume One. John G. Bourke. Ed. Charles M. Robinson III. Denton, Texas: U of North Texas P, 2003

Smith, Susan Harris, and Melanie Dawson, Eds. The American 1890s: A Cultural Reader. Durham, North Carolina: Duke UP, 2000.

Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam Webster, 1963.

Zizek, Slavoj. The Plague of Fantasies. New York: Verso, 1997.


1. Laporte, p. 103.

2. Zizek, p. 4

3. 1891. Full title: Scatalogic Rites of All Nations: A Dissertation upon the Employment of Excrementitious Remedial Agents in Religion, Therapeutics, Divination, Witchcraft, Love-Philters, etc., in all Parts of the Globe. Based Upon Original Notes and Personal Observations, and upon Compilation from over One Thousand Authorities. Not for General Perusal.
4. Lears, pp. 4-5.

5. Lutz, p. 10.

6. Freud, "Introduction," p. 9.

7. 1994.

8. Kaplan, p. 18.

9. Scatology is "the study of excrement." Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary.

10. Kaplan, p. 17.

11. Bourke, Diaries, p. 182.

12. Freud, "Geleitwort" from Unrat, p. vi.

13. Ibid., pp. 7-8.

14. Robinson, p. 7.

15. Robinson, p. 7.

16. Bourke, Scatalogic, p. 22.

17. Ibid., p. 23.

18. Ibid., p. 24.

19. Bourke, p. 24.

20. Ibid., p. 24.

21. Ibid., p. 24.

22. Robinson, p. 9.

23. Bourke, p. 141. Cloacina was thought to be named by Romulus himself and, according to some accounts, she may have been a version of Venus.

24. From the Latin stercus, meaning "dung."

25. Bourke, pp. 46-47.

26. Ibid., p. 3.

27. Evidence that Bourke sympathy, which was unconventional considering his position, can be found in his Diaries, where he shows some disdain for the Reservation project by suggesting that the Indians be permitted to at least own valuable land and not be relocated when ore is found: "The whites could mine on shares or on royalty, and the Indians would soon become workers in the bowels of the earth" (224).

28. Bourke, p. xv.

29. Hofstadter, p. 33.

30. Lears, p. xiv.

31. Boston Post, August 17, 1913. Quoted in Nash, p. 141.

32. Merwin, Atlantic Monthly, June 1897. Quoted in Smith, p. 72.

33. Burner, p. 58.

34. Radkau, p. 209.

35. Kellogg, p. 4.

36. Itinerary of a Breakfast (1918), p. 11. Kellogg goes on to quote Victor Hugo who wrote "The serpent is in man. It is the intestine. The belly is a heavy burden; [. . .] it fills history; it is responsible for all crimes; it is the mother of vices; the colon is king."

37. From Capitale de la Douleur. Quoted in History of Shit, (1978) Dominique Laporte, p. 2. The theme here is even more apparent in light of Laporte's overarching project of paralleling the French monarch's edicts to clean Paris of its shit with the concurrent royal law cleaning the filthy Latin language out of the law books.

38. I name him representative of the Germans only in this sense.

39. Quoted in Radkau, p. 210. This also underscores the social importance Wagner, like Bourke, found in the bowels.

40. Bourke, p. 467. The quote by Maximilian (p. 2) is attributed originally to Terence ("homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto") and used by Maximilian, which Bourke quotes from Max Mller's Chips from a German Workshop.

41. The full title is Der Unrat in Sitte, Brauch, Glauben Gewohnheitrecht der Vlker, (translated directly as "Refuse in traditions, customs, beliefs, and prescriptive rites of the people").

42. Freud, "Foreword," p. 5.

43. Ibid. p. 5.

44. Ibid. p. 6.

45. Laporte, p. 150. I found the translation offered by Benabid in Laporte's History of Shit to be superior to Kaplan's translation in The Portable Scatalog.

46. Kaplan, p. 9.

47. Lears, p. 5. It should be said here that authenticity is a trope in American life that never goes away. However, certain periods in history, affected by a number of different circumstances (e.g. rapid advancements in technology, economic collapse, etc.) stand out as particularly in need of genuine experience. For further reading on authenticity between 1890 and 1940 see Miles Orvell's The Real Thing.

48. See photographs by Margaret Bourke-White, James Agee and Walker Evans's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and photographs by Lewis Hine. Also of interest might be the local folklore chronicled by employees of the Federal Writer's Project.

49. Orvell, p. 233.

50. Carey, p. vii.

51. Consider the success (seventeen seconds of laughter) of Lenny Bruce's joke: "If you've, er, [pause] ever seen this bit before, I want you to tell me. Stop me if you've seen it. [long pause] I'm going to piss on you." Transcribed from Stand-up Comedy in Theory, or, Abjection in America, John Limon, p. 14.

52. Freud, Joke, p. 112.

53. It is important to note here what Freud says about these mechanisms, "I began to investigate jokes and found that their essence lay in the technical methods employed in them." From An Autobiographical Study, excerpted in The Freud Reader, Ed. Peter Gay, p. 40.

54. Freud, Joke, p. 23.

55. Ibid., p. 16.

56. Bourke, Scatalogic Rites, p. 3.

57. Kaplan, p. 13. Although it is possible that Kaplan gives Freud this title in earnest -- his statement is true, after all -- the following excerpts may serve as contextual evidence that it was merely another instance of toilet humor.

58. Ibid., p. 16.

59. Ibid., p. 17.

6. Ibid., p. 15.

61. Ibid., p. 17-18.

62. See footnote 3.

63. In my approximation, only about 20% is retained.

64. Written by Wilson Creek (1998), Michael Weiss, Ed. (2002), and Julie L. Horan (1996), respectively.

65. Freud, Joke, p. 8.

66. Laporte 103. Second quote taken from Pliny, Natural History Books XXX and XV.

4 Comments on "Tlaçolteotl is Dead: The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Captain Bourke's Scatalogic Rites of All Nations"

PooperGal's picture

"If we accept Freud's claim that the 'wiser course would undoubtedly have been to admit [shit's] existence and to dignify it as much as nature will allow,' then perhaps we as a culture have regressed while allowing ourselves to laugh from a distance at the Victorians' strange treatment of the body."

I thought we already had that issue worked out, when people started putting the "Shit Happens" bumperstickers on their cars.

emma's picture

this article is far more better than the movie: the wonderful horrible life of leni riefenstahl. in ebert's words: thumbs and toes up!
it's very multicultural and impresses by the extensive and miniscule (it's french, does that word exist in english as well?) research. shit needs more attention and got its 15 minutes here and today! freud says that children eat their poop, but i prefer shitake mushrooms instead, they don't taste like shit at all.
Grade A+
very well done!
poop poop pooray!
scheisse merde mierda dabien poop
5 words in 5 languages for the same shit.
as aristotles used to say: 5 is the lucky number, since there are 5 continents! eureka!

The Shit Volcano's picture
Comment Quality Moderatorh 3000+ points

I recently had a discussion about different cultures' views of the body. In many Western societies we hear about spiritualism and religion coming from "the heart". There are some old African cultures where this was felt in the bowels. The fact that there was a shit goddess in South America was never taught to me in school. It's funny how much this society surpresses such natural functions like sex and going to the bathroom.

I found Jesus! He was behind the sofa the whole time!

Shitshat's picture

Shit is a taboo in most modern cultures for several very good reasons. First of all, it is unygenic. In the past, and even today, fecal contamination of various sorts causes widespread death and illness. Second, it is very unplesant. Few people would put forth a serious argumeet that it is attractive in any way. In the end, crap is taboo because most people find it unplesent. I don't advocate pretending it doesnt exist, but it is not a sign of cultural self delusion for people to avoid the subject. Most people don't go around talking about violent death in graphic detail either. Same reason. Most people find that whole subject unplesant, and so avoid it. Poop will continue to be a taboo subject until a majority of people start liking shit, or at least stop disliking it.
That being said, everyone reading this should realize that most of us are exceptions to the rule. Here we are on a discussion board about feces, reading real life stories about feces, and giving ourselves names like shitshat.
I guess, to sum it up, I find poop funny, but I understand why it is a largly taboo subject.

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