The flesh is weak

Other people’s words about … well, elimination

Writers don’t often describe bodily functions in literature (other than sex). After all, reading is about escapism, right?

But in ‘The Prophets of Eternal Fjord’, Kim Leine describes the main character’s afflictions with — ahem — a sensitive colon so evocatively that his physical suffering becomes embedded into the story.

His intestines are in an uproar. He senses the ominous ripple of diarrhoea in the bowel, the quivering alarm of the sphincter.
(p. 114)

Morten Falck is an eighteenth-century missionary in the Danish colony of Greenland.

His bowels emit a series of shrill tones of varying intensity. He grimaces, then collects himself.
(p. 127)

This is a story of suffering, weakness, morality, intestinal discomfort and (perhaps) redemption.

It gushes from him the moment he pulls up his cassock and sits down on the privy seat, a mud-like mass, almost without smell, an inexhaustible landslide of brown. His intestines writhe in agony, and yet there is a considerable element of joy at being able to release, to discharge this spray of filth and empty the bowels. He groans, bites his hand and chuckles. His sphincter blares and squelches, and then there is silence. He feels more is to come and shifts his weight from side to side, bent double, his head between his bony knees, his hands massaging his stomach, but nothing is forthcoming. It is as if something is stuck inside him, a thick log of excrement blocking his passage. But most likely a fold of the intestine, he considers. He recalls images of the corpses he dissected and drew as a young man, and he sees now his own colon in his mind’s eye and the blockage that has occurred. He imagines its slow release and the sudden slop that comes with it. The thought of it helps. A new deluge is evacuated and his anus trumpets a fanfare.
(p. 151)

Seriously, how can you not admire such a vivid description of intestinal torture?
Come on, admit it — we’ve all been there at some time!


4 thoughts on “The flesh is weak

  1. Indeed we have. The flesh is, perhaps, strong, after all, that it goes on. We ‘live to fight another day’, as the saying goes–and it’s usually better than that!

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