Everything you wanted to know about spit.
Thomas, a journalist, considers two streams of consciousness that flow from the quarts of saliva that the human mouth generates each day. First, a cultural attitude of reverence, even holy awe: Scripture, Thomas notes, records that Jesus and Muhammad used their spittle to heal the deaf and blind and rejoin severed limbs; the Church made priestly saliva part of the baptismal ritual; Jewish sages mulled the question of whether saliva should be swallowed during fasts; folk rituals the world over recommend spitting to ward off the evil eye; and the exchange of this essential excretion is central to kissing and other emotionally exalted intimacies. At the same time, Thomas finds profound cultural revulsion for saliva as a spreader of germs and as the antithesis of polite manners; in many cultures, spitting at someone is the direst of insults—one that demands violent reprisal. These contradictory associations merge in the act of “gobbing,” a punk-rock sacrament of contemptuous yet respectful anointment in which the mosh pit deluges the band with spittle. Iggy Pop, who takes credit for inventing the tradition, considers it “a sign of love or something.” Thomas’ meandering exploration offers a variety of engrossing and repellent lore, from the world tobacco-spitting record (over 53 feet) to the hidden history of the spitball, the prevalence of spitting imagery in Shakespeare and Seinfeld and detailed procedures for “gleeking,” the covert saliva-spritzing technique favored by middle school hooligans. Thomas’ lightweight treatment of his subject eschews deep rumination and systematic analysis in favor of amassing factoids glossed over with offhand interpretations, all of which he conveys with breezy prose and droll, occasionally tasteless humor. Readers will laugh—and cringe—as he scrapes the bottom of the spittoon.
A messy, fun treatise that informs without edifying.