Passing a newspaper rack displaying the headlines announcing a politician’s death, I found myself so angry I wanted to spit.
I was delighted to experience a thing which people do in books, but which I’d never done myself! (I’ve seen people spit, of course, but I’ve never known if it was motivated by rage.)
So I stood, eyeing up the various full-page portrait photos, trying to fix the sensation – was it because I had a bitter taste in my mouth? Was it because I was dribbling with rage? The best way I can describe it is that I didn’t want to swallow.
That fits, colloquially – things are hard to swallow when they’re difficult to believe. We can’t believe someone has swallowed such a lie. I wasn’t going to swallow the most complimentary headline about this politician, and it wasn’t enough for my brain to note that, politely – my body was providing back-up.
And those phrases show that swallowing is also about the boundary between self and other – what do you accept, let into yourself, to nourish you and become part of you, and what do you reject?
Julia Kristeva argues that refusing to swallow is how we start to understand ourselves as separate beings. Someone tries to feed me disgusting food, I shake my head, they keep shoving it at my mouth – I realise that it’s me against them! I spit it out, I spit myself into self-hood.
I was quite young for most of this person’s political career, so my initial rejection of her wasn’t an adult one – my parents did the reasoning, and I just inherited their disgust, probably consumed with my tea in front of the BBC six o’clock news. So I’m not surprised that I had such a gloriously physical, full-throated reaction to her being beatified by the newspapers, and became spitting mad.
(I didn’t actually spit; I’m not a monster.)