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Dr Kakatoscopy

There has been reckless talk about a decline in Australian academic standards. Nothing could be further from the truth. Everywhere university teachers with bold imaginations are adventurously at work—and there can be none bolder or more daring than Dr Kakatoscopy of the University of Queensland.

Her May 5th seminar The Anal Imagination: Psychoanalysis, Capitalism, and Excretion pushed the frontier of social analysis into areas previously unexplored. Speaking at the Centre for the History of European Discourses, and taking her cue from Freud, she showed how superficial it is to mistake chocolate for food when analysing the digestive disorders of late capitalism. And also how naive it is to regard excretory taboos as a mark of civilization—in fact they denote a whole sad complex of a posteriori neuroses about money and lavatorial wastes. But it would be presumptuous to try and summarise her own inimitable words:

The central claim presented is that while the bawdy gags of Rabelais or of the Fabliaux may have excited guffaws and hooting in the early modern era, the acrobatic farting routine of Joseph Pujol at the Moulin Rouge in the 1890s provoked nervous laughter of a kind altogether unique to late modern capitalism, new to bourgeois Europeans of the fin-de-siècle metropolis, and indicative of a colonising subjectivity.

This is acute. Those of us still given to nervous laughter in the presence of carelessly untoward emissions are exposed as woefully blind. Now all is clear: at bottom, this embarrassing reaction reveals the same old grubby obsession with profit and loss. Dr Kakatoscopy, a scholar as devoted to classical music as she is to cloacal anatomy, notes shrewdly that

In the time span from the music of Mozart played in the courts of Europe to the melodious virtuosity of Pujol, something had changed in what the anus was understood to symbolise…

Evidently hoping to change our understanding still further, her paper is a chapter from a book she is writing:

Informed by Marxism, by the work of Mary Douglas, Kristeva, Bataille and Baudrillard, The Anal Imagination proposes that the bANALity with which the subjects of excrement and chocolate history are often approached is itself indicative of a nervous avoidance that is testimony to the psychoANALytic metaphors presented in this book.

Orthographically playful, intellectually feisty, robustly committed to kicking ass in her preferred target zone, Dr Kakatoscopy writes in a biographical note that “her ongoing project is about the history of excretory taboos in Europe from the mid nineteenth-century and their relationship to visions of progress, class and colonial identification. In this vein she had published ‘Kakao and Kaka: Chocolate and the Excretory Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe’, in Carden-Coyne and Forth (eds), Cultures of the Abdomen: Diet, Digestion and Fat in the Modern World, New York: Palgrave, 2004.”

So don’t believe what you hear! Our universities are in good shape. Led by thinkers like Dr Kakatoscopy, Australian academic life is not only in safe hands, it is audacious, innovative, and in some places—the University of Queensland for example—it is setting new and courageous standards for the world.

Posted in For the Record, Notes.

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