Laughter is as historically contingent as any other kind of language. And farts are a kind of language. They are inherently social in a way that defecation is not. They tend to take your companions by surprise. Furthermore, farts are an occasion for self-examination, for questioning the extent of our freedom and the nature of self-mastery. We can't help farting; it is a question of need. So part of what the Middle Ages wrestled with when people were talking about farts was this constant reminder of the needs of the body. Farting carries this reminder that the body behaves on its own, and there is nothing you can do about it. It reminds us that our bodily freedom is limited.
Farts carry anxiety and humor and disgust. People see themselves in the reactions of others and are thus intensely aware of themselves in those moments when farts manifest themselves. When you smell somebody you are closer to them than when you are just looking at them, but you are farther away than when you are touching them. Farts can create these moments rich with insight. I think much of the humor of farting is located on this very ordinary, humble level. |Valerie Allen|