Saturday, January 24, 2004
London Consortium: "Shit and Civilization: our ambivalent relationship to ordure in the city, culture and the psyche

Course Tutors:
Parveen Adams, Mike Weinstock, Chris Turner
Venue: 10 Gower Street, WC1
Time: Fridays 10:30 to 1PM
Course Description
Sample Essays
2003-2004 Course Calendar
MRes/PhD 1

Course Description
Our societies are, quite literally, founded on shit. Civilization means living in cities and cities are confronted, in a way more dispersed settlements are not, with heaps of garbage and ordure. Ancient cities are now identified by the mounds raised above the surrounding terrain, called tells. Tells are heaps of rubble, garbage and ordure into which cities have crumbled. Cities have always left the poor to scavenge and to live from re-cycling garbage. In many contemporary third world cities slums have been built on and around the town dump.

Slums - favelas, barrios, shanties - have no sewers. Ordure is carried away in carts or by open drains. Yet we exhibit a fundamental ambivalence to shit, and see it as the opposite of civilization, rather than its inevitable accompaniment. It is repressed, literally driven underground by sewers, and driven into the unconscious by taboos and toilet training. Yet we cannot leave shit alone. We tire of aseptic modernist urban utopias, and seek the bustle and confusion, and the dirt of a 'real' city. The scatological urge - to joke and 'talk dirty', to break taboos, to return to the childhood freedom to play with faeces - constantly interrupts the attempt to ban shit from culture.

The course brings together two distinct disciplinary registers, architecture and the analysis of the built environment, and anthropology and psychoanalysis, to show this ambivalence. Thus the phenomena of the built environment and the cultural rules and psychical formations that seek to contain the pollution of matter out of place will be examined together. Shit in contemporary art and film will also be considered in the course.

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