It’s very strange to imagine — let alone to actually see — the insides of one’s own body. Today I went to the hospital and had a flexible sigmoidoscopy: the bottom third of my colon was examined for polyps, or other signs of incipient cancer. (Nothing was found; I got a clean bill of health, at least as far as the lower third of my colon is concerned).

The procedure is done without sedation, and it didn’t hurt — it was barely noticeable. After I had cleansed myself with the requisite laxatives and enemas, the doctor inserted a small tube, with a light and a miniature video camera, up my rectum. I was lying on my side, and I could see the camera’s output on a video screen. The camera went up my insides for a distance of 60 centimeters. I saw the opening of the rectum, some minor hemerrhoids just inside, then a sort of glide through the twists and turns of my colon: it was a fleshly tunnel, mostly smooth, with networks or meshes of blood vessels visible just beneath the surface of the skin. At one point, a bit of excrement — which appeared somewhat greenish in this light — floated in the tunnel, but the doctor (I mean the device he was controlling) pushed it aside and continued inward. Finally things became a bit congested, at which point the instrument reversed and came back out. The whole thing was over in ten minutes.

Now maybe this is the sort of thing you (my readers) might rather not hear about. But it wasn’t grotesque, or even particularly scatoalogical or sexual in how it felt. It was more just the odd sense of displacement, seeing an unfamiliar, indeed alien, landscape that yet exists just inside me. When we speak of “interiority”, we usually are referring to the mind, to the recesses of thought that other people can’t know, that even I myself can’t really know, but only vaguely feel and sense. And yet what I saw on that video monitor, although in a certain sense it isn’t me at all, but merely part of a hole that runs right through me — correction: not although, but precisely because it is a hole connected on both ends to the outside — was a deeper “interiority” than any to be found in depths of my thought (or in the convolutions of my brain). We are living organisms, which means that we exist by separating the inside from from the outside; but the Inside really is nothing other but the Outside, folded back upon itself to constitute the interiority that is “me.” (This is what Deleuze says, more or less). To see inside myself (with all the sexual, as well as mental and physiological, connotations of “inside”) is to sense both my precariousness, and the miraculous strangeness that I should exist at all. It’s to be displaced from myself, to realize that intimacy — including self-intimacy — is always with someone who remains a stranger.

4 Responses to “Insides”

  1. Adam says:

    Of course we want to read about this kind of stuff. Nobody else blogs about it.

  2. John Drake says:

    As Dawkins is fond of saying Lewis Wolpert said: It is not birth, marriage or death, but gastrulation, which is truly the most important time in your life.

  3. Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

    “On one hand, the skin marks a boundary, separates the inside from the outside. It guarantees the distinction between me and the world. It protects me from the insatiability of your desire; it preserves my guts from spilling out, and oozing in a sticky, shapeless mass all over the floor. But on the other hand, the skin (like any membrane) is not an absolute barrier; its pores, orifices and chemical gradients facilitate all sorts of passages and transfers. All along this surface, inside and outside come into intimate contact. Nutrients are absorbed, poisons excreted, signals exchanged. This is how I remember you, flesh sliding over flesh. My skin is the limit that confines me to myself; but it’s also the means by which I reach out to you.”

  4. Funny, just last night (Tues, 5/4), I watched _House_, the series on Fox about the brilliant, crippled, drug-addicted, misanthropic, quite-lovable doctor and his team who work to solve unsolvable cases in a race against time. They are found of showing the insides of poeple. Last night, they gave a girl a camera in the form of a pill; as it went through her digestive track it would take pictures every few seconds; they showed its travels. Often they do this. Give a person and injection and follow the medicine through the veins until it reaches its destination, etc. No, this can’t compare to the sense of watching the camera probe through your own intestines, but in a sense, it can?