Cacaphonies

The Excremental Canon of French Literature

2022
Author:

Annabel L. Kim

Exploring why there is so much fecal matter in literary works that matter

Readers and critics have long overlooked excrement’s vital role in the twentieth- and twenty-first-century French canon. In a challenge to the tendency to view this literature through sanitizing abstractions, Cacaphonies reads key authors to argue for feces as a figure of radical equality—a literary object and a reflection on literature itself—without which literary studies is impoverished and sterile.

Cacaphonies takes fecal matter and its place in literature seriously. Readers and critics have too long overlooked excrement’s vital role in the twentieth- and twenty-first-century French canon. In a stark challenge to the tendency to view this literature through sanitizing abstractions, Annabel L. Kim undertakes close readings of key authors to argue for feces as a figure of radical equality, both a literary object and a reflection on literature itself, without which literary studies is impoverished and sterile.

Following the fecal through line in works by Céline, Beckett, Genet, Sartre, Duras, and Gary and the contemporary authors Anne Garréta and Daniel Pennac, Kim shows that shit, far from vanishing from the canon after the early modern period, remains present in the modern and contemporary French literature that follows. She argues that all the shit in the canon expresses a call to democratize literature, making literature for all, just as shit is for (or of) all. She attends to its presence in this prized element of French identity, treating it as a continually uttered desire to manifest the universality France aspires to—as encapsulated by the slogan Liberté, égalité, fraternité—but fails to realize. In shit there is a concrete universalism that traverses bodies with disregard for embodied differences.

Cacaphonies reminds us that literature, and the ideas to be found therein, cannot be separated from the corporeal envelopes that create and receive them. In so doing, it reveals the aesthetic, political, and ethical potential of shit and its capacity to transform literature and life.

Annabel L. Kim is associate professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard University. She is author of Unbecoming Language: Anti-Identitarian French Feminist Fictions.

Contents

Introduction: We Have Always Been Fecal

Part I. Necessary Shit

1. Céline: Shit on the Installment Plan

2. Beckett: Shit for Brains

Part II. Shitty Ideas

3. Fecal Freedom: Sartre and Genet’s ))< >((

4. To Wipe the Other: Duras’s and Gary’s Fecal Care Ethics

Part III. Political Shit

5. Anne Garréta’s Ultimate Weapon

6. Daniel Pennac’s Excremental Poetics: Literature for All

Conclusion: Caca Commun-ism

Acknowledgments

Notes

Bibliography

Index