|Enjoy Cloaca, by Wim Delvoye|
Inspired by a line in Charles Stross’ Singularity Sky, I thought we might want to bring back one of those great words that gets lost in history.
“A cloacal smell plugged his nostrils, the distant olfactory echo of the corpses swinging from the lampposts in the courtyard.” p166
The cloaca is more than just an antiquated word that my spellcheck doesn’t recognize (funny I’m just now realizing that spellcheck is another word it doesn’t recognize.)
Barring the details, a cloaca is the back door to our body. Including the details, humans don’t actually have a cloaca, and neither do most mammals. But before we came on the scene, the cloaca was an essential part of the metabolism of advanced living organisms.
Prior to mammals, everything that left the body used the same orifice – solids, liquids and babies all came from the same place. And on a side note, as we develop in gestation from a potent zygote-ball, this cloacal hole is the first thing to deform our perfect mass of cells, followed by the opposite hole that becomes our mouth, so that we are essentially a bulging donut, hollow in the middle.
The word itself means “to cleanse” and is used to name the first sewers. In fact, the Cloaca Maxima was Ancient Rome’s first major sewer (and is another word, or name, that inspired me to write about it, caught while watching a documentary about the history of sewers). It was built in 600 BCE and still works today. Maybe that’s because it is presided over by the goddess Cloacina the Cleanser
|Cloacina the Cleanser|
The region of the body that houses this feature goes by many names (urban dictionary might give you some good ones, but I won’t get into it here), and the oil secreting glands in said region are polysemous as well. The oils that come out of this part of the body differ among animals, and for different purposes as well. Some use it to keep others away, some to make others come near.
You already know about this, because the smell of “musk” comes from this part of a Musk deer, although today we get it from a laboratory (and put it on our clothes and bedsheets and bathtowels while we clean them, to make them smell like an animal’s ass, I mean, to make them smell clean).
Finally, artist Wim Delvoye remembers the word cloaca, because he made such a machine the size of a room that does the same as our digestive system, although ours fits in our body. (See that picture on top, and get a new appreciation for your gut.)
Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca Machine circa 2007
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