Desire, Anxiety, and Scat

Shit stinks. But it don’t taste like anything.

That nigger shit a horse turd too!

I bit. It mashed out against the corner of my mouth. I chewed. It was like sour starch paste. And grainy. . . .

I took my face away and wiped my chin. My palm streaked brown. I spit out about half of what I still had in my mouth into my hand. I looked at it a few seconds. Then, kneeling back on the floor, I put it inside my open fly and rubbed it around on my cock and nuts. It felt good; but it only got me half hard.

--Samuel Delany Hogg (176)

Samuel Delany’s Hogg begins as its nameless eleven-year-old narrator, whom other characters address simply as Cocksucker, recounts the events of the summer of 1969. Cocksucker commences his narration by briefly sketching the circumstances of a slightly older friend prostituting him for twenty-five cents to any interested men in the basement of a derelict apartment building before he fortuitously met Hogg, an “artisan of pain” (45) and “rape artist” (46), eagerly employed in his trade in an alley one afternoon. The awful, frenzied scene of Hogg’s work engrosses the boy, and Hogg seizes Cocksucker as a companion when the boy demonstrates his laconic submissiveness and masterful sexual skills. Cocksucker meticulously details the sensational events of the next three days that he spends with Hogg, including multiple rapes, tortures, a murder spree, a deadly car accident, genital mutilation, watersports and scat play, adult-child sex, and incest. The boy obediently attends to Hogg’s every desire and command: sucking him off, masturbating for him, pissing on him, submitting to being pissed on, consuming Hogg’s shit, bottoming in anal sex, sexually servicing Hogg’s associates, and assisting Hogg in his professional work. Cocksucker’s narrative concludes as he contemplates leaving Hogg, who, in his self-conscious affection, proposes collaring and chaining the boy in his yard like a dog and thus constraining the boy’s movements and making him perpetually available to satisfy every sexual desire Hogg or his acquaintances may have—an experience that Hogg perhaps correctly believes will greatly appeal to the boy.

The flat affect of Cocksucker’s narration and his commitment to the assiduous articulation of the sensational experiences of desire demand my recognition as a reader of the sensible reality of these experiences. Rather than comfortingly dissociating from the events by categorizing them as fantastically unreal, the force and intensity of this narrative, which the boy fabulates in minute detail, compel me to recognize the potential reality of these experiences. As Darieck Scott argues in his analysis of Delany’s pornographic transgression, we as readers “should not, simply because this work is fantasy, be seduced to cushion our discomfort with the relieving reminder that those perhaps-disturbing representations are ‘not real,’” because what the novel narrates “is not without material referent or ‘real’ implication” (209). I feel an intense wave of anxiety as I read Hogg and attempt to orient myself in relation to the novel’s unsettling reality and the pornographic novel’s generic demands to effect sexual arousal. Anxiety overwhelms me as I read sentence after sentence of the interminable narrative because I do and do not want the sensational experience of the novel to end. Reading the novel leads me away from my familiar sensibilities regarding sex, violence, and excrement, and this textual performance reveals something that was previously insensible, invisible, and inarticulate for me. Hogg challenges me with the problem of what to do with a transgressive pornographic text and the problem of what such a text does to me.

Jacques Rancière’s ideas concerning the emancipated spectator, the politics of literature, and the distribution of the sensible provide me with a useful framework for the experience of reading Hogg, and they raise questions about the conditions of the politics of reading. In The Emancipated Spectator, Rancière’s discussion begins with a consideration of the spectator and his relationship to the theater. Although Rancière suggests that a unique community develops in the theatrical space among bodies onstage and the assembled bodies of conventional spectators, the relationship between the pornographic text and the body of the reader, whom it intimately addresses and compels to participate in the experience of sexual desire, resonates with Rancière’s community of bodies addressing other bodies. For Rancière, theater emerges as “a form of aesthetic constitution—sensible constitution—of the community . . . as a way of occupying a place and a time, as the body in action as opposed to the mere apparatus of laws: a set of perceptions, gestures and attitudes that precede and pre-form laws and political institutions” (6). Theater thus establishes a distribution of the sensible and, in arranging the “sensible forms of human experience,” it provides individuals with a method of interpreting and communicating their situations. This partitioning serves to both include and exclude that which can be apprehended and communicated as it organizes the possibilities of action (e.g., seeing, hearing, saying, thinking, making, doing). The political task of the spectator is to challenge the policed order that maintains his response and relationship to the sensible. Rancière critiques conventional conceptualizations that regard the spectator in a binary logic as either one who merely looks or one who acts, and he maintains that one must blur the boundary between these two imagined mutually-exclusive positions in order to emancipate the spectator (19). The effort towards emancipation does not seek to transform an imagined passivity of the spectator into activity; instead, this movement seeks to problematize and interrogate the arbitrary divisions of ordered experience. Rancière proclaims, “Emancipation begins when we challenge the opposition between viewing and acting; when we understand that the self-evident facts that structure the relations between saying, seeing and doing themselves belong to the structure of domination and subjection” (13). Spectatorship positions individuals in their “normal” and pedagogical situation because it is as spectators that individuals “learn and teach, act and know,” and “all the time link what [they] see to what [they] have seen and said, done and dreamed” (17). The resistance to and refusal of a police-ordered distribution of the sensible is a step toward emancipation and experiencing or learning something new that lies outside the previously established boundaries of sense. The politics of literature, then, is a reconfiguration of sensory data and the conventions of speaking, doing, and being. Rancière notes that interpretations of literature “are political to the extent that they are re-configurations of the visibility of a common world” (“The Politics of Literature” 167). The politics of reading negotiates the common world of established modes of interpretation in order to manifest the limit between what has been included and excluded in familiar reception.

The affect attending the movement toward emancipation and politics in the refusal of a ready distribution of roles may be anxiety. Hogg discusses with Cocksucker the agitation and anxiety that surround the event of disturbing the mundane distribution of the sensible. Early in the novel while they are eating in a diner, Hogg decides to create a spectacle for his companion: he painfully pinches a waitress, shouts out obscenities, exaggeratedly eats his meal with his hands, and urinates beside his table while he has the attention of everyone in the diner. Hogg explains to the boy that they could return to the diner the next day and no one would comment on what had transpired, because “people don’t even wanna see shit like that. . . . [T]hey’d be happier pretending it didn’t even happen” (52). According to Hogg, there is an anxiety about wanting to not see or not sense anything outside the established order of forms of experience. Hogg’s being, in this diner episode and throughout the novel, troubles others because it unsettles this order and disturbs the fantastic, placid experience of the world that many individuals desire to maintain. The performance of Delany’s narrative similarly provokes anxiety when it presses me as a reader to consider and respond to the experiences of transgressive pornography and child sexuality.

The ecstasy of pornographic transgression can transport a reader. While such transport may often emerge as simple sexual arousal, it may confront a reader with experiences of desire that violate conventional presentations of pleasure and thus problematize who and what constitutes desire and pleasure. Hogg details conventionally transgressive appetites for excrement (e.g., semen, urine, feces, mucus, smegma, sweat, pus), and Hogg recounts his partiality for shit to Cocksucker:

Always been sort of partial to shit, ‘specially my own. But you don’t get much of a chance to fuck in your own, less you got a cocksucker who likes a face full of it now and then. […] Shit . . . I’ll get drunk and eat me some fuckin’ dog turds off the street, sometimes—if it ain’t some drunk old nigger’s shit the black bastard pooped when he was squatting’ in the back alley. Sometimes dog shit’s better. Sometimes nigger shit. […] [T]hat’s the way we’re set up, us two. I’m the shit machine, and you’re my personal shit bowl and pee pot, right? (263)

Hogg’s appetite evokes the coprophagous connoisseurs of Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom, and, like Sadean libertines, Hogg and the novel’s other sexual protagonists apprehend new desires in the realm of experiences that often are excluded from conventional pleasures. Hogg’s desire reconfigures the world and his relation to it in such a way that, when he describes himself, he is his desire for shit. The boy recounts Hogg’s self-portrait:

“I’m shit, cocksucker. Hogg is all shit. Won’t ever be nothin’ but shit; I’m shit all through and proud to be shit. You like that, don’t you, boy? You like this Hogg shit? Sure you do; you lick shit, you suck shit, you eat shit, Hogg shit . . . yeah,” which was because I shot diagonally up his heaving belly. “You’re gonna suck shit out of my mouth, my ass, take my shit and shove it up your own. . . . .” His thumb’s ham wedged between my teeth. “Yeah. . . !” which was because he shot. (141)

For Hogg, the self-conscious transgression of excremental desire moves him from the disdainful domain of “normal” men who find themselves helplessly burdened by the schism between what they desire, what they think they should desire, and what is. In contrast to such “normal” men who find their desires limited by what is, the visible within the distribution of the sensible, Hogg maintains that that transgressive movement of “every faggot or panty-sucker, or whip-jockey, or SM freak, or baby-fucker, or even motherfucker like [him]” allows them to know that “there is what we want, there is what should be, and there is what is: and don’t none of them got anything to do with each other” (151). The logic of Hogg’s argument suggests that what is (the distribution of the sensible) organizes the action, object, and possibility of desire for individuals, but new desires, mute beyond the limits of the established order of sensation and action, become possible when what is is reconfigured in the transgressive work of emancipation and politics.

Delany’s erotics of eating shit almost singularly work to reconfigure my perception of the organization of sexual desire in Hogg because excremental appetites unsettlingly gain a sense of ordinariness. In Cocksucker’s prolix narration, the frequent occurrence of the activity renders it almost mundane, and this compels me to scrutinize the limits of desire with which I am familiar. Rather than foregrounding the exceptionality of the activity, which might allow me to estrange myself from the practice by interpreting it as an anomaly or something exterior to conventional desire, Delany’s excremental erotics establish scat play as a ground of sexual desire in this novel and force me to renegotiate my experiences. The ecstatic event of pornographic transgression has the potential to queerly disturb the limits of experience, and pornographic texts, as Tim Dean maintains in his discussion of Delany’s novel, valuably disorient and confront readers with what might otherwise remain unspoken, if not unspeakable (78). The potential political power of Delany’s pornography lays in its presentation of the pleasures and ecstasies of experiences that may be “ostensibly rebarbative” for many readers (76). Transgressive pornography possesses the potential power to cultivate a reader’s desire and anxiety, and thus it may establish a pedagogical relationship that incites a reconfiguration of sensible experience as it works with a reader’s body and exposes a reader to violations of established perceptual boundaries.

-Edwardo Rios

Works Cited

Dean, Tim. “The Erotics of Transgression.” The Cambridge Companion to Gay and Lesbian Writing. Ed. Hugh Stevens. London: Cambridge UP, 2011. 65-80. Print.

Delany, Samuel R. Hogg. 1995. Normal: FC2, 2004. Print.

Rancière, Jacques. “The Politics of Literature.” Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics. Trans. Steven Corcoran. London: Continuum, 2010. Print.

---. The Emancipated Spectator. Trans. Gregory Elliott. London: Verso, 2009. Print.

Scott, Darieck. Extravagant Abjection: Blackness, Power, and Sexuality in the African American Literary Imagination. New York: New York UP, 2010. Print.

#edwardorios #pornstudies #transgression

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