Man Farts at Cat, from the He-Gassen Scrolls (Edo Period, 1603-1868)

Man Farts at Cat

If a picture conveys obliterates a thousand words, then all commentary must surely be superfluous. But He-Gassen? The title alone makes conversation blossom. Westerners vacillate between translations: scholars prefer “Fart Competition,” while laymen know it better as “Fart Battle.” Tomayto, tomahto. Slapstick has nothing to do with conduits—of transcription. And bathroom humor is anything but a modern-day development. Indeed/indubes, this funny business requires a timeless kind of sensibility. Take, for example, the exemplar artifact informally known as “Man Farts at Cat.” Force of image communicates punch line with immediacy, save only perhaps the brief delay of a flatulent sonic boom. Note, too, the absurdist’s craft in that effective use of negative space: those salient, linear flourishes of gaseous superpower rendered as dark spokes of malodorous shadow-light. Oh, how colorfully and deftly detailed this rather minimalist scene is executed. Wiki historians explain with scaffolds of context that the time of the Tokugawa was “characterized by economic growth, strict social order, isolationist foreign policies, [and] popular enjoyment of arts and culture.” Visual gag, Japanese political cartoon with xenophobic edge, or undisputed masterwork—what eternal truths can “Man Farts at Cat” impart? Maybe none more than this: here lies in a paradox of preserved ephemera the still-lingering vitality of some anonymous artist who once laughed and passed his time away, thinking fondly of life in the Edo Period as nothing less than a real gas.


2 thoughts on “Man Farts at Cat, from the He-Gassen Scrolls (Edo Period, 1603-1868)

  1. There is something seriously wrong and awesome about this painting. That cat looks a lot like a rat doesn’t it? And speaking of “visual gag(s)” the guy trying to do fart battle on the left is wearing one!

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