Borborygmus Auscultation of Stomachless Ecologies


Konstantine Vlasis


Peer Reviewers: Alex Lubet and Lilith Todd




HDGC, or Hereditary Diffuse Gastric Cancer, is a rare form of stomach cancer caused by a mutation of the CDH1 gene. Screening protocols suggest upper endoscopy biopsies every three to six months, however, since HDGC is nearly impossible to detect in early stages, the recommended preventative measure is total gastrectomy (TG) surgery—a complete removal of the stomach. Modified lifestyles for stomachless persons include many changes, but some of the most quotidian aspects surround the novel anatomy of the intestines and their lively gastrointestinal conversations. One patient describes their own intestinal dialogue as “so loud and so rumbly that you could hear it across the room.” Another claims how their “gut has made lots of noise, but these noises [post-surgery] are new, and REALLY loud .” For these patients and others, sound and listening become key characteristics and significant aspects of a stomachless body.


This lyric essay explores how audible bodily expressions can, on the one hand, manifest feelings of uncertainty, fear, self-loathing, and physical alienation; and, on the other hand, serve as forms of empowerment, Lubet: Other terms that never mentioned but begging to be referenced are “disability” and “disability studies.” In DS terms, the artist lives with both an embodied “impairement” and a socially constructed “disability,” the latter owing to the socioculture’s lack of empathy for the patients’ involuntary loudness. According to the social model of disability, it is societal intolerance rather than the patients’ corporeal music that needs fixing. But DS has also produced another model, the affirmation model of disability, a “disability pride,” largely grounded in artistic production. Claiming in their Borborygmus Auscultation “empowerment, healing, and physical remediation,” such affirmation is achieved and well-deserved.Younge: If I remember correctly, this was discussed with somewhat of a negative connotation. It may be worth indicating this in some capacity. Ubiquitous listening may be considered non-consensual listening, or a listening that renders us passive. These technologies are therefore not necessarily assistive beyond any capitalistic sense.

Vlasis: Personally, I wouldn’t characterize post-TG anatomy as belying disability, but rather a change in lifestyle. This stance certainly warrants further dialogue. But I would never want to editorialize or trivialize the very real experiences of dis/ability individuals and communities.
healing, and physical remediation. Moreover, this piece is a meditation on environmental thinking, and questions the delineations between objects of listening (sonic phenomena as material objects) and listening-subjects. Here, borborygmus auscultation foregrounds the broader ecologies (from microbiomes to conservation field sites) in which listeners are enmeshed. 



I hear them—the growling agitations of bowel dwellings.


They are not spectacular. Lubet: Whether or not Borborygmus Auscultation is “music,” is it in any way aestheticized sound? youn(And is that a useful distinction?) The sounds are unintentional and beyond agency but there is intention and agency in the decision to include, choice, and ordering of audio samples as soundtrack to this lyric essay... Without knowledge of their origin, the sounds might seem at home in the environmental Sound Maps of composer Annea Lockwood.

Vlasis: I really like this question. And I’d love to make this more explicit in the writing.
They are not unique. Nor beautiful, nor ugly, or shrouded in mystique of any kind. They are not new, but they are also not normal (in the sense of the way things were). They are accented. They are calls. They are dictive utterances in bubbly twangs. They are a language always overheard but never learned. And now, out of necessity, the translative training begins:



“Hello! Welcome to your novel anatomy.”


To respond with anything other than pleasantries is a cyclical, unavailing venture; an unwelcome reply to rhetorical encounters. Eloquent expressions of gaseous and bile-ridden vernaculars are perhaps the best examples of “hot air”—literal assertions and empty threats. As such, it is silly to disavow their salutation. And so, I respond in kind:


“Yes, hi. Thanks.”



I hear them again. I feel them again—sonic-murmurations beneath the skin, twisting and turning within. Aural gestures are physical resonance. Material sound compels disgorging conversations. Porous membranes quiver with trepidation from internal specters. The multisensorial junctures boom in bulk and duration; swollen and tender from daily dialogues. And just as relief whispers the most tantalizing and beguiling secrets, bumbling viscera shout vexing tantrums in sputtering awkward outbursts.


“Bass lines” of the gastrointestinal sort establish polyphonic cycles. Their melodies fluctuate without any supposed audible end and resound flora-themed stories. Duodenal microbiota no longer bound to stomach linings narrate these acoustic ecologies with gassy vibrations—gesticulating in time and space, in ears and thoughts, and in…








… gulps of water. Adhesive and cohesive tensions amplify sensory malfunctions. Cogs of a broken contraption erratically rotate in unidirectional clunks. Solutes and solvents grease the gears but stomachless-somas are tinged with years of digestible dissonance and comestible fears.


Usually “intestinal singing” is spurred by consumption of fluids, sustenance, multi-vitamins, and calcium citrate (among other things). It’s a form of composition that facilitates object-oriented interactions (and one can often “hear it from across the room”). The external stimuli that enter corporeal frames comprise a liminal process which belies almost all anthropocentric phenomenal realities. Extrinsic and intrinsic divisions don’t exist here. And, in this case, chewing becomes a transformative threshold:




Solid to fluid transformation makes things easier to swallow. Salivate and masticate. Peristalsis takes on a whole new meaning with pyloric absence, and foregrounds the ways that adaptation and endurance comprise ingestive operations. However, these metaphors of consumption are powerful and profound as they not only reveal spectrums of power and reciprocity alike, but characterize almost all organic interplay. Numerous tumors form from these sorts of intra-actions—and isn’t that the point? Seemingly stable states are the baseline imaginaries of a pure nature; of an environment in-balance. Accepted qualifiers of novel and normal help guide the guise, but they do not conform to sonorities of intestinal microbiomes, or really any other ecology of any other place or space of things:



“No ecosystem is, or has ever been, in equilibrium.”


And yet, will my ears always strain to hear harmony? To attain resolution? To question “health” and “healthy” and “ill” on the scale of making live or letting die? To perform anxieties of maintenance and control? And, if so, does this kind of conservation command fixation or mask mutation? Borborygmus auscultation is partly a listening to “toxic gifts.” It is a listening to beginnings and to endings, and of life-threatening and life-giving entities.  Yet, if these sounds are in any way exceptional, it is hubris that exalts them. They become justification for progressivist claims to action along the never-ending trajectories of knowledge, supremacy, power, and command. Surely, so too, does this listening constitute brutalities.


Broad questions of “why” and “how” take precedence during qualms about self-preservation. Lineal cellular disposition and carcinogenic environmental factors only dictate diagnoses. But to manage cancerous ecologies of the body is to map a “pathology of space”—a disease that “‘spreads’ or ‘proliferates’ or is ‘diffused.’” And once dispersal is discovered a game of roulette begins with pale, signet-ringed cells. Inevitably, both players bow out to genetic and medical authority. Tell me the statistics (one more time):



“We make our environments and they make us.”


Productions of all kinds are caught in that repetitive, positive-feedback loop. The sequence performs extensive structures and variations in rounds, where enteric vinyls spin on a system of survival. They will always keep spinning there unless removed—the terrifying and beautiful irony of all mortal essence, and the reason why any type of change involves an abundance of temporal precarity. Violence most quickly perforates the cycle, and has continued to sustain influence—rip out weeds in the name of species stability (even if the weeds are vital organs). The paradigm is viscerally palpable and paradoxically epistemic in scale: destroy to preserve; violence for peace; life for life. Well-known stories can sometimes be difficult to hear. Certainly, they can be hard to stomach. But you can hear them, or the lack of them, Todd: While dwelling in this more general sense of listening to stomachs of all kinds, I felt the absence of the absence of noises. How do we listen to silence differently? How does desire or fear of that silence contribute to the affective encounter with digestion’s noise? The final note of “the lack of them” seemed to me insufficient to capture the scale of a noise’s absence.

Vlasis: I certainly do not address the significant role of silence within the context of writing (or its larger context, as you describe). By “the lack of them”, I’m referring to the sounds of stomach biomes specifically, as they are no longer part of a TG anatomy. However, I agree that a deeper engagement with the notion of silence could strengthen my contribution.
if you listen closely:





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