Fiction for the Unwashed Masses: Shit Crit and Stephen King's IT (abridged)

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Editor's Note: The following are excerpts taken from a much longer article. The author is attending graduate school with
a focus on "ushering in a new era of scholarship, one whose chief focus is the scatological." I kid you not.

I am sure we'll be hearing a lot more from Ms. Cortez in the near future. Enjoy the article below. If you want to read the unabriged version (4500+ words), click here.


Like a bad case of the shits, Stephen King is explosive; his corpulent epics and
profuse vulgarities of speech and description cannot be contained by the
sphincter of traditional disciplines. He thus must be violently expelled from
the literary corpus and flushed away, out of sight.












It is for these reasons that any theoretical framework which attempts to
seriously grapple with any of King's novels, and with IT in particular, must
likewise take a scatological approach. Only through scatology can we fully
understand the cultural dynamic at work in King's expulsion; only by making shit
the focal critical point of our reading can we illuminate King's essentially
genius strategy, a strategy which, for the most part, is dismissed as -- but which
actually derives its power from -- wallowing.

How could we consider King, possibly the epitome of selling out, radical or
genius? Literary critic Todd McGowan, in an essay that traces the thematic
importance of waste in Don DeLillo's Underworld, provides one possible angle on
King's unlikely status as revolutionary:


Capital submits everything to the process of exchange, and under its sway
nothing remains sacred or outside of commodification. ... Through this process,
capital transforms everything, ultimately, into waste. ... But this waste, which
marks the elimination of the sacred, itself comes to occupy the position of the
sacred. ... Garbage achieves this status because, within the structure of global
capitalism, it is the only thing that exists outside of the commodification
process. Garbage is what doesn't fit, and thus garbage becomes holy. ...
Capitalism produces garbage and then doesn't know what to do with it.

And though McGowan is talking here about actual, physical garbage, we can see
how these ideas about waste and its place in our culture nonetheless apply to
King. Capitalism, we could say, produces Stephen King and then doesn't know what
to do with him or where to put him. If King is sublime, then, it is because he
embraces his status as cultural and literary garbage; because he refuses to
strive, refuses to refuse that symbol of profanity -- shit -- against which the
entire Western project of progress and technology have struggled, and whose
production, ironically, has become the defining hallmark of that project.

Reveling in his brand name status, trumpeting himself as the literary equivalent
of a supersized Big Mac and fries, King makes the profane the central focus of
his work, refusing to look away from the horrific sight of shit -- and it is for
this reason that any exploration of his work must do the same, through a kind of
Shit Crit that refuses to turn away from literary productions with mass appeal.

When we employ such a critical framework to a reading of IT, what we see is that
shit takes on three dimensions in the novel: first, a literal dimension, in
which King is actually writing about shit in the broadest sense of the word;
second, a canonical dimension, in which the novel as popular fiction is
expelled -- shat out -- from circles of critical regard; and third, a metafictional
dimension, in which we see that this piece of shit novel about shit is actually
a novel about language and about the writing process itself.




This element of the pornographic, which to some extent pervades all of King's
novels, stems from the fact that he spares no detail, however grisly or fulsome.
He is not delicate; he exposes and delights in this act of making external what
is internal: and the public, watching, is riveted. Here is a man, his popularity
seems to voice, who is saying what our mothers always told us not to say.

Reading King is thus a vicarious return to the potty-humor of the preschool
child, for whom the disruptive functions and excretions of the undifferentiated
body are a supreme source of pleasure and enjoyment. It is a return to the
bathroom, that pre-Oedipal site of repugnance and attraction in which the
private and internal become the public and external, subsequently dividing the
one from the other.





What I want to propose is that It {the monster}, then, is shit: it is the
monster that refuses interpretation, refuses language, refuses to be refused and
constricted by the symbolic. As Kristeva's abject, das Es, "King's Thing ... is
primitive, an ingredient of the evolutionary soup that still simmers in our
veins": it is the internal goop whose elimination both terrifies and fascinates,
beckons and repulses, for its outward manifestation reminds us of the terrible
cost we exact in order to participate in a culture based on Enlightenment
assumptions of a mechanical, material universe -- namely, our ties to the
cyclical, the natural, and the numinous.

If the It of the novel is frightening, then, if shit is frightening, it is
because both remind us of the conflicted truth of our existence: that even as we
thrive we decay, that the processes of life and death, vitality and entropy, are
commingled and inextricably bound. It is, after all, the very expulsion of
wastes that assures us of the integrity of the living organism, even as those
wastes are the definitive evidence of our corruptibility and inescapable
mortality.

Thus, even as King's novel chronicles, on the level of plot and exposition, the
descent of the Loser's Club into the Derry sewers to slay the child-devouring
beast, on a deeper level it is also a story about the writer's regression into
the bathroom, into that pre-symbolic space in which the child must confront the
internal matter which becomes external, that unstable and compelling ooze which,
though it stinks of chaos and death, is also the source and determinant of all
ideas, order, and creative expression.

Ultimately, King's genius as both novelist and cultural phenomenon is a result
of his complicity with, rather than his resistance to, the profligacy of
consumer culture.




The horror that King elicits in his readers does not offer, as some critics
derisively attest, an escape from the rigors of culture, but rather "offer[s] an
avenue by which a direct confrontation with the problematic nature of the modern
American experience can be launched".

In resisting interpretation, in resisting the urge to flush, in forcing us, over
and over again, to look at what we don't want to see, King thus transforms the
horror of bodily and social existence into something mundane, familiar,
ordinary, and human: into the original delight of the child, into a recognition
of the body's essential, humorous instability. King's horrorbooks, then, are
actually lullabies -- IT is a strident Brahms for a civilization that has not
slept since Francis Bacon, since Plato, since agriculture.

-- by M. Cortez

17 Comments on "Fiction for the Unwashed Masses: Shit Crit and Stephen King's IT (abridged)"

Che's picture
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i think Dave should get an Honorary Doctorate in Scatology. anybody wanna 2nd the motion?

Trashcanman's picture
l 100+ points
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As soon as he prooves to us that he is a shameless shitter- yes. I second. But he has to poop at the greasy spoon.

Che's picture
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whatever! he already said it's b/c the bathroom is nasty. besides, how much more shameless can one be about shitting than to create the worlds premier website about poop!?! and he uses his real name, unlike most people. he was on the BBC for crying out loud!

L Wrong Hubbard's picture
l 100+ points
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Interesting. but I 'm going back to the "funny" pages now..
Happy trails,
L. Wrong
Chairman & CEO, PPK Industries

Happy trails,
L. Wrong
Chairman & CEO, PPK Industries

Bunghole In the Jungle's picture
l 100+ points
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Editor's Note: The following are excerpts taken from a much longer article. The author is attending graduate school with a focus on "ushering in a new era of scholarship, one whose chief focus is the scatological." I kid you not.

Can you believe that? That would be a dream scholarship! How jealous am I? I'm going to have to do a little more research on this M. Cortez. I'll bet there are a lot of interesting papers published by the same.

keeping the whack in tally-ho...
Fartuituos!
Serenshittipy!

The Dumpster's picture
i 2000+ points
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Whatever happened to said "M. Cortez"? Sounds to me like she may have spent a wee bit too much time in Freudian Studies.

But I agree that Dave deserves the "Doctor of Scatology" Degree. Then he could put the letters "Ski.D" after his name.

Dave's picture
PoopReport of the Year AwardComment Content Moderatora 10000+ points - Super Pooper
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Here's an article from Ms. Cortez about this very website.

GottaGoGirl's picture
i 2000+ points
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Dave-- Wow! That was dizzying! I can't read the paper in it's entirety now, but I'm astounded at the depth of her discourse.

Elron Bumqwist's picture
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This is absolute garbage. In many of his works he has mentioned, often in great detail, bodily functions and such. But to base his entire literary competency off of this is ignorant. I have recently finished reading it and your explanation of said book is downright moronic. In his book "Dreamcatcher" he went into far greater detail about bodily functions especially the passing of wind, but I dare you to write anything better. His books are fantastic and create an excellent image a skill which is not easily obtainable. Such is the image I gather from you writing your crap and giggeling that you are mocking a well known and excellent writer.

daphne's picture
PoopReport of the Year AwardSite AdminComment Content ModeratorComment Quality Moderatore 6000+ points
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Elron, you must remember, fellow Stephen King fan, that to make anything remarkable or intangible mentally accessible to people on a workingman's level is, was, and always will be considered crap.

It's great if a professor can make physics understandable to college freshman, but Heaven forbid Stephen King put anything into terms an eighth grader could comprehend.

By the way, from what I read, most of the new "medical field" technical books are put through a system which reduces much of their pulp to that of a highschool sophmore.

I agree. He's just too good at making people understand what he's trying to say.


_______
.....hugging bunnies since 1969
www.daphneszoo.com

.....hugging bunnies since 1969
www.daphneszoo.com

EminemsRevenge's picture
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Shit sells...Ann Coulter is a prime example.

Harry Pooper's picture
m 1+ points - Newb
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To the author of this article I would like to see you crap out more best selling books and break Mr. Kings record of having the most adaptations from his books.

I suggest you read something more along the lines of a haunting love story like bag of bones or Lisleys story and then say his work is profane.

I am considered to be sensetive and his works have never once seemed profane to me. Why dont you go read To kill a mockingbird and compare shit to that and call it profane?

Oh I know why because you don't have the gall to. You just assume he is a total horror writer that plops out profane shit.

Anonymous Coward's picture
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So, the author has some kind of strange fetish, decides s/he doesn't like Stephen King, and then writes an essay comparing one of his works to the object of his/her fetish, while actually saying nothing of consequence.
I just wasted twenty minutes of my life...

travis handford's picture
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sounds to me like you have quite the obsession with thinking how much you hate the world. its really disgusting, you talk about the way things should be in the world when i'm sure you have never experienced this perfect world, without "kingesque shit" and have done nothing to make the world you so long to hate. sounds like your a whiny man who got picked on your entire life, so you in turn have dedicated your entire life to picking back at the people who have suceeded in the field you wish so badly you could. stephen king "shits" people like you, you know it all fuck tard. if you hate life so bad. END IT!

MSG's picture
Comment Quality Moderatori 2000+ points
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Actually, nonsense like this--academic-ese--is what might eventually make me read Stephen King. I never have, because up to now I have never thought I might like the subject matter. But if there really is a scatologic element, it might have an interest that transcends the sheer horror. We might have an SK novel in the house . . .

Anonymous's picture
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Let's see...I think Stephen King is a crap hack of a writer who doesn't deserve the kudos he receives from his audience (whom I MUST assume are morons based on my above thesis) nor critics who praise his books, so let me just go ahead and base my entire college acedemic career around dissecting this work which I have already stated doesn't even merit a read in the first place.

Now if THAT'S not a load of crap academia, I don't know what is.
She hates Stephen King's writing's SO much she's going to take the time to dissect them inside and out to make her oh so brave and new scatalogical point? THAT'S brave.
"Let me "prove" that King's work--which almost ALL of academia would label "trash--is 'crap' and then everyone will know how smart I am!"

Get over yourself.
People read Stephen King because he's entertaining. I'm not a huge King fan, But I did enjoy IT. And I've also studied the classics (Russian in particular). Now how about that. Someone with a high IQ who understands the value of entertainment and doesn't give a hoot what the critics think. I have my Harry Potter books right on the same shelf as Gogol, Shakespeare, and Tolstoy.
And if I still had IT I would put it right next to Checkov without a second thought.
I will assume the writer of the above essay would call that heresy. But I don't give a...

daphne's picture
PoopReport of the Year AwardSite AdminComment Content ModeratorComment Quality Moderatore 6000+ points
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I have to agree with you. I love reading King. His characters become real, and I am often sad when the book ends. When I read Insomnia I fell in love with old Ralph. He was just the nicest old guy.

I found an excellent copy of Carrie last year from 1974. It's the book club version, but it's old nonetheless. I have a first edition Firestarter and a few other first editions of his middle books I found at garage sales. I have Under the Dome and Duma Key sitting in the office waiting for me this break, too. The novella collection he wrote lately, Full Dark No Stars had some amazing stories in it, as well.

If I want to read something that I enjoy and has great imagery I always read King. I think his writing is so polished and flows. It's like joyful brain candy. He's given us some wonderful characters over the years, and I just don't understand why people begrudge him success. It's not like he wrote the crappy Twilight series, which was painful to read. Can we say contrived? Sure, the series is great for kids, but for adults? Twilight moms are scary enough to be in a King book themselves. Ew. Twilight moms. I think that's borderline pedo bear shit right there.

I also love reading Clive Barker and Tolkien, and I found some Margaret Millar and James H. Gray books on Amazon a while back. A signed first edition of Red Lights on the Prairies is also waiting for me to read. I can't wait to crack that one.

.....hugging bunnies since 1969
www.daphneszoo.com