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  • Violence and the Diagram; Or, The Human Centipede
  • Eugenie Brinkema (bio)

Being or relating, that is the whole question.

Michel Serres, Le parasite

The fistula in ano, an infected tunnel that connects the anal canal and a secondary opening in the skin, that external perianal opening which may be visible, and which usually results from anorectal pustules that produce the hollow damp antrum, the cavity which will have to be evaluated for depth and extent of the tract, and from which built-up debris renders (as in hot oil, tried from the fat; as in presenting for inspection or consideration; as in payment due, as though a tribute) a foul-smelling drainage and thin yellow exudate, a bloody brown percolation from the blocked septic glands, a forced draining in another organ that may allow feces to pass to the skin, & note it can be chronic, and of course, once ruptured, what is suppurating results also in swelling and chills and great pain, usually requires, as abscesses generally do, some form of surgery. And when the fourteenth-century English surgeon John of Arderne details his technique for treating [End Page 75] anal fistulae in his definitive treatise on the subject, his Practica the first medieval surgical manuscript to be accompanied by copious illustration of operation in hundreds of colorful marginalia, at the limit of linguistic description, carefully coordinated with the text but aiming to move from the word to show the fistulous holes, the curing needle going in the tender mouth of the “depe wonde,” or, in the most spectacular example, one that replaces procedure with affect, the pain of the iliaca passio in a twisted spiral, depicting not the guts but the observer’s speculation of their agony, he writes, as a preliminary to the image, each time carefully writes, the Latin phrase for as is here shown.1

Sicut hic depingitur:

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The conceit of Tom Six’s The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009) is simple enough to describe, and surely that simplicity accounts for some of the extreme reactions the film has generated: A German doctor named Heiter, an expert in the act of separating Siamese twins, has become obsessed with creation in place of destruction. Having previously sewn together what he calls “mein lieber Dreihund,” but having lost the conjoined three-dog creature to death, he acquires new bodies, two American girls and a Japanese man, to fashion a human centipede through the methodology that rendered the film infamous: a surgical procedure that joins multiple bodies into a single alimentary canal—anus to mouth, anus to mouth—in order to make possible the unwilling progression of, as Heiter pronounces: “A Siamese triplet connected via the gastric system. Ingestion by A, passing through B, to the excretion of C.”

There is little more to The Human Centipede than this technique of brutal sequencing—the text is consumed with the thing that the title names. But the film is invested less in the historicity of the made or its becoming than in the investigation of the Dingheit of the thing. Thus, the actual surgery (and its pretext for spectacular specular gore) is largely elided, eager as the film is to indulge a formal fascination with how the novel composite figure will move, act, eat, shit—which is to say how the abstractions of parts A, B, and C will relate to the constructed whole.2 This having been accomplished, the film ends perfunctorily. A too-quick resolution brings two police officers into the house only to be killed by Heiter at the same instant they kill him, right before which figure A slits his throat as an act of rebellion and right after which figure C, rigid hand entwined with the friend whose spine is her horizon, dies from an infected wound, the flank-flesh already gunmetal grayed. And so, the film ends on the weeping and hysterical middle-term figure, Lindsay—or, rather, B—alive, attached to death from the front, and to death behind, and in a house with no more living figures, either those who would torture, those who might save, or those desperate others who suffer...


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pp. 75-108
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