Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Ask Wednesday: What does “Underthebelly” mean by his moniker?

Not what I thought

Edited by Morris Dean

One of our highly valued contributors and commentators sometimes comments as “Underthebelly.” Recently, in a public comment, I asked him whether we might do an interview on what that moniker suggests by way of its “connotations, allusions, [and] implications?” – and what he actually means by it.
    Underthebelly told me he wasn’t particularly fond of the interview as a form of discourse – “it takes up space that a short bio would fulfill much better” – so he jumped right to it and wrote me a response:
This got me to thinking about what intent I had when I picked the name. I didn’t want to use the term “In the belly of the beast,” but I did want to allude to the fact that although not in the belly of the beast, I was close enough to hear the heartbeat.
    As best I can remember, the first time I heard the term “in the belly of the beast” was in the Army, where I also heard the term “in the heart of the beast.” The latter referred to command central – the great monster that decided your fate.
    I believe the very first time I heard “in the belly of the beast” was when I was drinking with a couple guys out of 1st Cavalry. One of them said, “They load us on the damn choppers and drop us off right in the belly of the beast and then they are gone just as the shit hit hits the fan.”
    But where did this phrase come from? I know that the drunken soldier did not coin the phrase. Somewhere back in time it must have had a deeper meaning. Although I have searched for quite some time, I haven’t found an answer that suits me.
    I did find statements by three people who seem to be at the same crossroads as myself:

(1) The first time I heard it, it was the title of a book by convicted murderer Jack Henry Abbott (In the Belly of the Beast). It was composed of his letters from prison to Norman Mailer.
(2)The original expression “in the belly of the beast” is a reference to [the] biblical story of Jonah (though "beast" is not used in the scripture, it is a popular reference):
Jonah 1:17-2:10 (King James Version):
    1:17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
    [Jonah's prayer from the belly of the fish...]
    2:10 And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.
So there is more than one way to get out of the belly of a beast.
    The Jonah story sounds like it could be a possibility. However, that would mean a preacher at some time in history changed the word fish to beast, and it had to be a very important preacher for so many people to be willing the change The Word of God.
(3) I’ve been trying to find the origin of this New Leftist phrase, which refers to liberation struggles within a capitalist, imperialist system. Via the internet, a librarian in Indiana has suggested what seems to me the most likely source: a speech by Che Guevara in which he said something like this (as recalled by the librarian): “I envy you North Americans. You live in the belly of the beast.”
    I found the Che Quevara quote in other places using the alternative, “In the heart of the beast.”
    I was surprised by the next thing Underthebelly wrote me, it was so interview-like:
Where have you heard it before? Do you have knowledge of the source? Somewhere there is an answer as to why I picked that name.
    Well, the only source I could remember was the title of that Jack Henry Abbott book, about which I thought I had read in something Mailer wrote.
    But where I might have heard of it seemed beside the point, for I had never thought that "Underthebelly" was a reference to “the belly of the beast.” I told Underthebelly that my associations were completely different, having literally to do with being under the belly, maybe near the penis or the scrotum, or perhaps the rectum….
    Underthebelly’s reply was about as good as it gets in terms of an interview-ending quip:

Well, that interview would have taken a strange twist.
Copyright © 2015 by Morris Dean

1 comment:

  1. There is of course William Butler Yeats'
    The Second Coming:

    "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"