Iago's Clyster: Purgation, Anality, and the Civilizing Process
Abstract

This essay reconsiders and historicizes the question of Iago's apparent anality. Rejecting traditional psychoanalytic interpretations of the character as a "repressed homosexual," Saunders attempts to distinguish early modern conceptions of anality from the contemporary/post-Freudian understanding of the term. He goes on to delineate the central role of an anal-erotic lexicon of cleanliness and control in the ideological production of both the "civilized" European subject and his "barbarous" Other. Ultimately, Iago's anal discourse becomes the signifying chain that links "the civilizing process" to the development of modern racism; all share a cruel logic of abjection, sustained by the crudest somatic metaphors. Combining archival research with theoretical work by Norbert Elias, Dominque Laporte, Gail Kern Paster, and Frank Whigham, among others, Saunders's argument is grounded in a close reading of Shakespeare's Othello, beginning with a detailed discussion of Iago's viscerally unpleasant (and largely uninterpreted) reference to "clyster-pipes." Scholars interested in sexuality, the history of medicine, and the history of racism, as well as those with a more general interest in the character of Iago, will find much of interest in this fascinating study.