Monday, April 19, 2010

The Female, Nude

In November '09, I heard/saw Collin Kelley read from his new novel 'Conquering Venus' at The Tank in Manhattan. The intimacy of the space provided a perfect setting for the tenor & spirit of the novel which takes place, largely, in a Hotel room in Paris and the apartment of a woman the protagonist befriends to whom he finds himself irrevocably drawn. It is in these rooms where secrets are both withheld and revealed, where hearts come apart at the seams as soon as they are stitched up again.

What is withheld, what is revealed, this is the crux of Venus' seductive allure. Historically, the female body, once unclothed, is observed, critiqued, demystified, devoured. But the fact is, no matter the setting - whether in nature, in bed, on a pedestal or in a highly stylized room - the female nude, stands in contrast to whatever the surroundings. Artists have explored the potentialities of this contrast since the first [European] female nude was painted.

The female nude continues to fascinate, frustrate, and awe, this is especially true in this age of virtual - and therefore intangible - culture. The 'Storybook Burlesque' attested to this is their provocative set of 'literary burlesque' performances which punctuated various authors' readings at The Tank.

The Concretes' cover of the Rolling Stones' 'Miss You' provided the soundtrack to one of the standout performances. The pairing of Burlesque with Rock 'n Roll is a natural one: a certain illicit delirium sets in while listening and looking. The combination of the literary with the 'lewd' has traditionally chagrined as many as it has charmed, as the history of banned books, for instance, has proven.

There have been numerous Novelists, Poets, Philosophers, Artists, and Singer-Songwriters who have tackled the dual-natured subjects of the physical body with the philosophical and psychological - Anaiis Nin, Henry Miller, Erica Jong, Ovid, Sappho, ee cummings, Simone de Beauvoir, Dominique Aury, Michael Foucault, Camille Paglia, Marina Abramovic, Leonard Cohen, PJ Harvey - and who among us hasn't wondered why, given that we are all born naked, is the subject of nudity so unyieldingly

The good news is, nudity's taboo nature seems to be a code that's written in the matrix of our psyches and physical selves, and will forever provide fodder for Artists, Thinkers and Theorists. It could be argued that our very existence depends on this attraction to the female nude's forbidden essence.

There will always be those who oppose the presentation of unclothed and exposed flesh in all forms - and while exploitation is the dark side of all things taboo - the female, nude, in all its raw and uncensored forms, goes to the core of our freedom's expression.

So, back at The Tank, what struck me so powerfully about the Storybook Burlesque was, simply, the fact that
in this day and age of touch-of-a-button triple-X virtuality, the female, nude, is still oddly taboo.

1 comment:

Apollo said...

Wow. Your prose is incredible. The eloquence of your literary voice ... I digress. I would argue that the nude female body isn't what creates the "taboo" tag, but the implied sexual desire. The argument you articulate seems to be from a masculine take. Is that wrong?