Boodakian, Florence Dee. Resisting nudities

Boodakian, F. (2008) Resisting nudities: A study in the aesthetics of erotism. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

The erotic is that which interrupts itself, producing desire through moments of the
’discontinuous‘ that promise a continuity of ground between subject and object that is never there. The erotic is the fugitive wholeness of the object that is never won and the subject whose desire is never lost

(Comentario de Perry Meisel,  Professor of English, New York University)

Essentially,  I  take  Bataille’s notion that “consciousness of desire is hardly accessible: desire alone alters the clarity of consciousness, but it is above all the possibility of satisfaction that suppresses it” (Boodakian:2008;1)

Most of the philosophers and theorists, from Bataille, Barthes to Irigaray, Sontag, etc. insist on a clear and distinct consciousness as the base of erotic instinct, but I’m interested here in what develops between “instinct” and “aesthetic” and to what  degree  unconscious  mentation  is  at  the  forefront  of the erotic. What are the barriers to this unconscious mentation, how do cultural imperatives, especially regarding the nude body play into its development? (Boodakian:2008;2)

At the end of this book, my goal is to move the reader to an understanding of the aesthetics of eroticism as seen through the lens of something that transgresses consciousness, at the least, and moreover create a necessary link between the poetry of jouissance and the revolt of body and mind intrinsic to the (Boodakian:2008;2)

In other gender studies, such as Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, Butler argues, “There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; . . . identity is performatively constituted by the ‘expressions’ that are said to be its results.” One’s gender is a performance, it is what one does at certain moments, rather than a universal who you are. Stretching Foucault’s idea that ‘real’ identity doesn’t exist, that it’s just a way of talking about the self, a discourse, Butler confirms the idea that ‘identity’ is communicated to others during interactions, but this isn’t a fixed thing within a person. It is a shifting, evolving temporary construction. (Boodakian:2008;10)

The presence of multiple cultures and various power structures in most cultural groupings, along with the consistent presence of a gaze, even if it’s only one’s own makes the existence of a pre- cultural nude body impossible. If it did exist, how could we explain the disparity between the reactions to Janet Jackson’s partial breast exposure during the half time show of the 2004 Super Bowl which caused a huge scandal in the United States, and when televised in the Netherlands and other EU countries for example, it barely elicited  any  commentary?  The  cultural component  must exist for the nude body to exist, meaning in eff ect that the culturally constituted gaze defines the nude body it sees. (Boodakian:2008;11)

Although the discussion of resistance as part of the erotic aesthetic will be picked up in Chapter 6, there is a two-tier resistance at play in this study which can be identifi ed here. One part of the resistance comes from this sociopolitical dimension involving the pre-cultural nude body that is the aberration described above. The second part of this resistance comes from a more profound, internal tension that is
key to eroticism and is detailed in Chapter 2. In a sense this pre-cultural nude body that is an aberration of sorts is the precursor to the resisting nude. However, the former highlights an externalized resistance while the latter points to an internalized one. (Boodakian:2008;12)

Therefore, what gets attention seems important, but what doesn’t get read also draws attention to itself, simply because it isn’t observed. This is key to holistic medicine which the ‘anatomical atlas’ seems to move against and it is key to seeing the whole nude body. However, the culturally constituted gaze, as I’ll refer to the gaze of the culture in the larger  sense  established  earlier,  directs  the  viewer/reader away from the genitals; yet, the very attempt to pivot attention in one direction may lead the viewer/reader in the opposite.  For  example,  across  most  Western  cultures, the majority of restrictions are found for exposure of those parts of the human body that put in evidence sexual arousal or sexual dimorphism between male and female adults. However, the attempt to hide the genitals, to suppress a sexual viewing/reading often has the reverse eff ect. This fact dates back to the Middle Ages when men wore codpieces, 7  later tights and then, tight pants; all these were intended to cover the male genitals but at the same time display them. In the early twentieth century, exposure of male nipples was also considered indecent at some beaches. Ironically, as in the Middle Ages,  certain  men’s  bathing  suits,  while  covering the genitals make them quite obvious. This is also the case with the thong, which covers yet simultaneously exposes. The attempt at hiding certain body parts draws increased attention to those parts (Boodakian:2008;13)

the free democratic society erects itself as a barrier to the nude body and this will later contribute to the impossibility of the erotic in such a place. (Boodakian:2008;15)

In addition, in some cultures, the repeated attempts to cover  up  the  nude  body,  especially  the  genitals  turns  the culturally constituted gaze into something more dangerous, more powerful, that is, the development of a taboo and a symbolic system which equates exposed genitalia to the status of medical disorders (localized to a distinct point within the body) of the nineteenth century, that is “dismembered and separated from the rest.” The covering in effect acts as a kind of localizing, drawing attention to the genitals rather than away from them. In fact, this is often evident in camera shots that zoom in on tight jean-covered crotches, often “disappearing” the area above the waist. The act of covering itself creates the breaking down of the nude body into pieces, dismembering it, so that what is seen and what is not seen creates the taboo status of the exposed genitalia. As soon as this status is reached, you have what Bernardo Bertolucci describes, “when you go and cover a naked body, then it becomes titillating, obscene.” (on The Dreamers) It is  the  covering/clothing  that  creates  the  sexual  titillation, rather  than  the  fully  nude  body  itself,  something  fashion designers have been using to their advantage for decades. (Boodakian:2008;15)

And  while  this  works  to  enhance  sexual  titillation,  it  has nothing to do with erotic power. As Bataille puts it, “The whole business of eroticism is to destroy the self-contained  character  of  the  participators  as  they  are  in their normal lives. Stripping naked is the decisive action. Naked- ness off ers a contrast to self-possession, to disconinuous existence.” (Boodakian:2008;15)

in  the  case  of  children,  uninhibited  by such concerns, freely walking around nude in Western society, we now see the development of a auto-surveillance (discussed in Chapter 5) where children mimic the “covering up” they see in the adult world around them. In cultures where adults freely expose themselves in public places, like
on  beaches  and  public  pools  in  most  of  Europe,  Sweden and Norway, children run around nude without the reflex to cover up any part of their bodies. This observation is interesting since it emphasizes how the culturally constituted gaze controls the behavior of a child who is still quite young into conceptualizing his/her own nude body in terms of a viewer/reader. However, this study is primarily concerned with the adult nude body. (Boodakian:2008;16)

Men and women are socially sanctioned to deal with the gaze of the Other in diff erent ways . . . Women learn to anicipate, even play to the sexualizing gaze . . . It’s feminine to be on display. Men are taught to be a moving target. Get out of range of those eyes, don’t let them catch you-even as the object of their fantasies (or, as Sartre would put it, don’t let them “possess”, “steal” your freedom). (Boodakian:2008;17)

The nude male does suff er from the threat of actual punishment. Display is the punishment. “It seems that it has been intolerable, unthinkable for male evolutionary theorists to imagine the bodies of their male ancestors being on display,
sized  up,  dependent  on  selection  (or  rejection)  by  female hominids.” The power relation shifts here, once the nude male is on display, he is totally seen and the bearer of the sexualizing gaze is in control. There is a sexist tenet which underlies  Sartre’s  concern.  For  example,  John Ashbury  in New York magazine said of the entire genre of male nude photography,  “’Nude  women  seem  to  be  in  their  natural state; men, for some reason, merely look undressed . . . When is a nude not a nude? When it is a male.’(Substitute “blacks” and “whites” for “women” and “men” and you’ll see how offensive this statement is).” There is an overt desire by heterosexual men to contain the nude male body, to keep it from view and this is directly connected to the power relations in contemporary Western culture. (Boodakian:2008;18)