Toilet: Between the Faces and Faeces, Falls the Mirror and Ideology

The Punny Situation DonkeyDork95/ YouTube Public Domain

“Her waiting maids prevent the peep of day,

And all in order, on her toilet lay

Prayer-books, patch-boxes, sermon-notes and paint

At once t’improve the sinner  and the saint”

– Earl of Halifax (On the Countess Dowager of Pembroke)

Toilet, as every member of the bourgeoisie knows, is the integral part of their

individual thought processes. It is that symbolic space which can be bolted away from the

maddening crowd of reality and one can become something which one most desires in that

private space. Now there are further sub-divisions (two in fact) which constitute the

composition of this integral part which I claim to be the Toilet. The first constitutes the

Commode or the Squat system which is necessary for urinal and anal satisfaction, while the

second is pinned up in the reflection of the Mirror and therefore to construct the images of

our imaginary landscapes.

To talk about the first part of my sub-divisions, we can easily see the

role, that a Toilet plays in the Psycho-sexual development of an individual if we refer to the

second phase of the Freudian discourse, that is the anal phase. (No wonder Vidya Balan

comes up every second in the Television ads to point out to us “Souchalay Banao”) Freud

essentially believed that the primary focus of the libido was on controlling bladder and bowel

movements.1 The major conflict at this stage is toilet training- the child has to learn to control

his or her bodily needs. Developing this control leads to a sense of accomplishment and

independence.2 Control is therefore one of the key factors which lead up to the establishment

of an identity. But nevertheless, an individual is not born in a system which comes after it but

rather he/she is born into a system which is already codified into its rules and regulations and

therefore precedes the birth of the child. It has a history and the pattern or grand design of

that history is one of class struggle. This is where ideology comes in and I quote structuralist

Marxist, Louis Althusser when he said “We are always already in ideology”. Therefore the

structure of toilets is also something (although it might constitute the private space) which

cannot be talked about apart from discussing the ideology which constitutes it. Firebrand

Marxist philosopher, Slavoj Zizek also notes important aspects about the structurality of the

structure named “Toilets”. He mentions the names of three “big civilizations”3 and by

references to its political history connotes an interpretation of intricate links between the

toilet and ideology. In France, the hole of the toilet bowl is at the back so that when one

produces one’s excrements, the faeces disappear quickly. In Germany, however, it is quite the

opposite and the hole of the Toilet bowl is in the front, so that when one excretes, the faeces

are displayed in the bag (in front) and they do not disappear in the water. It is their custom to

sniff and inspect their excrements to detect traces of illness. Yes, it is very German and

therefore very hermeneutical. Lastly in the Anglo- Saxon world (USA, Britain), the toilet

bowl is full of water so that the faeces float in it before it disappears. Now let us point out to

ourselves the intricate link found out by the dexterity of Zizek which according to him is a

wild speculation. The analogy is drawn with the (racist) idea of the European trinity in mind,

ie, Germany-France-England, each of them standing for a particular political culture. France-

politically left and revolutionary; England- middle of the road and liberal; Germany-

Metaphysics, poetry and conservative. Now let us look at the structurality. France-

revolutionary, the excrements disappear very quickly, Germany- high hermeneutics (school

of interpretation), inspection of faeces and interpreting the illness, England and U.S.A-

pragmatic, let it float etc. Therefore we see that a Toilet or if I want to say like Foucault, the

coming into being of the notion of the toilet is strictly governed by the ideas of the ruling

classes. Ideology is always working even if we may not be aware of it, very unconsciously.

The unconscious, according to Lacan is structured like a

language. We have to be very careful when we read this line. The unconscious is structured

“like”, it is NOT language. The study of language demands its analysis on two axes. The

Paradigmatic (Y-axis) and the Syntagmatic (X-axis). The operation of the former revolves

around substitution, whereas that of the latter operates around combination. Language itself is

a sign which is made up of the signifier and signified. The signifier is the acoustic image

whereas the signified is the interpretation of this acoustic image which can differ from society

to society. To make this simple we need to exemplify it with the help of a painting, created by

one of the greatest artists and one of the flag bearers of Modernism- Pablo Picasso and the

painting which is concerned is LA Toilette (1906). The model selected for the painting was

none other than Fernande Oliviere, lover of Picasso. In the painting we see two women (both

being Fernande Oliviere), one is holding the mirror and the other seeing her image. This

painting will have to metaphorically translated as the self, standing in front of an(other) self;

the real, standing in front of the symbolic. So if a toilet is seen from the metaphorical angle

then let us just run the whole film of being inside the toilet and then the work which follows

after getting in. Let us do it in the form of a mathematical formula:

Let the Toilet be the “symbolic space” [also called bathroom{bath derived from the place Bath(connoting a Holy place or a place of purification)}]

If the toilet is the symbolic space, then the most essential component of this space is the Mirror(means of Ego formation).

Let the man entering the symbolic space be “X” from the outside space “Y”, interpellated with Ideology “z”.

Then X= Z x Y

But ideology contains “law” (L) which the pleasure principle inherent in man always tries to exceed. This exceeding factor is created by the imagination (I) of the expression of the repressed ideas due to LAW.

Therefore the symbolic space is always the negation of this ideology of the outer space and a creation of its own law, which is automatically anarchic ( anarchos= no rulers but rules)

X=  I – L/ZY.

Hence we can say that the toilet is always the negation of the identity created by the social

sphere and the creation of an individual space which , although is not totally outside society,

creates a different language of expression. Even in the epigraph we have a line saying:

Prayer-books, patch-boxes, sermon-notes and paint all at once.

So we see that although the various signifiers of prayer books, patch boxes, paint have

different connotations in the social sphere, here in the toilet (symbolic space) it is all

amalgamated in one line. Outside the toilet the language of society will not keep paint and

prayer in one mode of expression but here in the toilet it is getting that expression precisely

from the negation of  social Other. Therefore la prochain temp we go to the Toilet, do not

forget to take Conrad’s The Secret Sharer with you, so that the interesting notion of “L” can

be further developed. 

“Let us go then you and I

When the evening is spread out against the sky.”

Dibyajit Mukherjee
Dibyajit Mukherjee currently teaches as an assistant professor at the Ashram Campus of IEM. He is an author of 2 books. He is a radical thinker and a Marxist philosopher.

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