Dominique Laporte’s History of Shit ties the concept of the individual to the fate of human waste and, in a twist that Georges Bataille would have certainly appreciated, the history of shit becomes the history of subjectivity. This conflation of the “highest” forms of consciousness with the “basest” of human products is examined in various instances of discourse and practice, language and experience. The subtitle to the French edition, “Prologue”, frames the book as a beginning -a prehistory to modernity and the modern subject.
In History of Shit, Laporte considers the semantic atrophy of the olfactory field, a condition he relates to the Royal Academy’s systematic cleansing of the French language, whose malodorous features were stifled by a thorough editing of its excremental vocabulary throughout the seventeenth century. Laporte’s earlier and better-known book, Le Français national: politique et pratiques de la langue nationale sous la Revolution Franaise, co authored with Renée Balibar, offers a detailed history of similar institutional efforts that shaped official French, focusing on the instrumental role of a streamlined and rationalized language in the construction of a centralized capitalist state. [...]