Piper Wheeler

INTRODUCTION: NO GODS, NO DENTISTS


ISSUE 98 | TEETH | JUL 2021


Detail from the installation Border Unseen, by Mithu Sen, 2014

There are no dentists in utopia.

When I was a teenager I had a boyfriend who told me wide-eyed about a Nigerian classmate who didn’t brush his teeth but instead, early in the spring when the trees put forth tender stems, broke off a small branch and used it to prod his gum line and scrape his white teeth. He was wide-eyed, I think, because he was drawn into a fantasy that only modernity (read: whiteness, the West) brings decay. In the past, the fantasy went, we humans lived in a state of nature that existed in a blessed equilibrium, where because we ate only the unadulterated stuff of nature our bodies were “pure,” beautiful, unravaged by disease.

Mainstream thought has gotten smarter in some ways during the 15 years of my adult life, and among the most profound shifts has been the seismic realization that there is no untouched “other” who lives outside capitalism or modernity. It’s hard to believe that only a couple decades ago the dream of going back to nature was alive and tempting—as though there could ever be a “nature” that existed separate from and unaffected by human society. The idea that “we” lived apart from nature is a centuries-old illness, as pernicious as the delusion that there exists a mind apart from a body.

There are no dentists in utopia because dentists don’t care for people—they care for teeth alone. And their methods require a thoroughgoing alienation from processes of care and decay. But life is rot, and rot is life. (So teaches visionary and friend of the Hypocrite Alex Tatarsky.) Health might mean staving off decay, but can’t mean denying it: a true medicine must look out for fungi, bacteria, all the biota that swim through us and the world alike. Of course, attending to hygiene is a form of care, and that might mean removing or killing off some bacteria and parasites to allow ourselves to thrive. But caring for humans must always mean caring for the world because we’re part of it. Everything is soup—ourselves included.

What forms of care will develop once we recognize that we belong to the world? Perhaps in utopia we’ll each provide habitat for friendly nematodes who will live between our teeth and eat up the sugars from our food, delaying or transforming inevitable rot. Perhaps we’ll feed our tiny pets on our own plaque, like how some spas keep schools of fish that nibble the dead skin and calluses from customers’ feet. At any rate, there won’t be a person in a white mask who looms over you with chisels and drills. There won’t, maybe, be the feeling that our bodies’ dark crevices hide something filthy, shameful, and dangerous.

* * *

For this issue, our writers look the gift horse in the mouth and dig into its cavities. They grin, and we see gold. James Baxter finds redemptive possibility by juxtaposing two notorious works from the 1970s—the gluttonous film Le Grande Bouffe and Jean-François Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy. Two gorgeous poems by Catherine Kim speak for themselves, in three languages. An essay by Gabi Shiner looks at the traumas of incest and orthodontia through Jacques Lacan and Sandor Ferenczi. Sandow Sinai interviews composer Alex Temple, whose music explores trans stories and body horror.

Other writers excavate the bloody roots of settler colonialism. Avi Garelick investigates the life of terrorist rabbi Meir Kahane, whose exhortations to violence continue to inspire the Israeli right. Yuliya Komska looks at how toothpaste marketing and eugenics collided in 1930s Brazil, with specific reference to the advertising career of Curious George author H.A. Rey.

Even though we insisted on no dentists, somehow they drilled their way in. Sanders Isaac Bernstein takes a deep dive into the triumvirate of cultural imagination: capitalist, dentist, Jew. Brad Bolman explores the prevalence of anti-communism in American dentistry, tracing its historical roots from carnivalesque spectacle to contemporary lobbyists’ machinations.

Lean back, dear reader, and open wide.

Hypocritically, toothily yours,

Piper, Cat, James, Sandy, Kit, Nastya, and Erica.

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