see also: 'the ecstasies of eros'

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Chapter three of 'The erotic eye and its nude'

objet de désir


The erotic appearance of man is far from unequivocal. Rather, it can be compared with a text in which the words have more than one meaning. Thus, the lips often remind of the vagina, or a muscled and veined arm of the penis. The erotic charge of one element is often displaced to another. Purely visual similarities play a crucial role in this process, and it is often consolidated through language (think of the ‘labia’). But, in this chapter, we will show that such displacement is above all the result of the coordinated effort of three forces: the attempt to aestheticise the archaic sight of the genitals, the attempt to soothe the anxiety provoked by the idea of the lurid wound, but foremost the eye’s attempt to take the place of touch and genital feeling. Especially the last move comes down to a veritable seizure of power: it leads to the utter visualisation of the tactile and genital appearance, which culminates in the emergence of the phallic woman and the vaginal man.

Pictures of nudity can be seen on the following pages. Should you be under 18, or feel disturbed when watching pictures of the naked body, please refrain from reading this page further.


In the previous chapter we have seen that the genitals appeal to a rather archaic sensitivity. That elicits the attempt to replace them with more aesthetic substitutes. There are many possibilities. Equally in the preceding chapter, we have seen how Michelangelo had his Leda laid by a white swan, whose feathered neck, crowned with the horn of the beak comes to replace the veined penis, crowned with the glans. More obvious substitutes, though, are other parts of the body that are more apt to meet the aesthetic demands of the eye.

To begin with, there are the fingers and toes. The bones make these elongated members stiff, as does the blood in the erect penis, and they are crowned with nails, which have the colour in common with the glans, but not the slimy sight.

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alexander shakhabalov

Sexual arousal makes the veins swell under the skin, the effect of which is visible foremost on the back of the hand or the foot. That is why the single finger is often replaced with the whole hand or foot. The one member comes to be multiplied into a voluptuous profusion of members:

norm edwards

konrad gös

Also arms and legs are not only hard and veined, like fingers and toes, but muscled as well, and that can only endorse the evocation of the force of the erect penis:

tony butcher

On the photo below, the original member goes hidden behind a phallic profusion:


Also the nose reminds of the penis: it secretes slime, its back reminds of the shaft and the nostrils of the scrotum, while a moustache is an obvious substitute for the pubic hair. And, finally, there is the neck: the larynx moves back and forth under the skin just like the glans under the foreskin, especially when the head is thrown backwards and the neck is ‘erected’:

daley lorraine

Not only the penis, also the vagina is substituted with more aesthetic parts of the body in the periphery. A very subtle approach are the magnificent 'labial shapes' in Simone Stoll's 'Softbodies-extra':

simone stoll

The most obvious substitutes are the lips. These have colour, shape and structure in common with the labia, without being slimy. Often the focus is not so much on the lips, as rather on the opening:

eduardo segura

Also the eyelids remind of the labia, the eyelashes or the eyebrows of the pubic hair, the tear gland of the clitoris and the pupil of the vaginal opening, as in the well known photograph of Man Ray or with Konrad Gös:

konrad gös

The auricle is a hollow surrounded by folds reminding of the labia:

keith nicolson

martin vrakbo

stefan beyst

The armpits are a fold surrounded by hair, and they have the odour in common with the vagina. Also the parting of the hair on the head is often read as a vagina, which, in the photo below is emphasized through the profusion of limbs, but foremost through the upward movement of the knee:



Not only the archaic sight of the vagina unleashes the centrifugal displacement to the peripheral parts of the body. Also the anxiety provoked through the interpretation of the vagina as a cut plays an important role. A healed wound on a more neutral part of the body soothes the anxiety and serves the aesthetic move as well. Foremost the navel is predestined for such displacement,

andy metal

especially when it has the form of a fold, lies in the extension of a fold in the belly, and is embedded in multitude of suggestive, nearly visible hairs:


Even more appropriate to deny the idea of a wound are the hollows and folds that are formed when parts of the body are pressed against each other: the undamaged skin neutralises the slimy and gory sight of the labia. This holds especially true for the fold formed when the thighs are pressed together. But many other parts can serve the purpose:

paul politis

konrad gös

didier carre


How much these folds, especially those of the pressed thighs, continue to remind of wounds, may appear from the fact that they are often wrapped with cloth:

chris donovan

john healey

The healing move is completed when the seam grows together, as with a mermaid (see chapter VIII).

Especially the displacement of the vagina to the back is very appropriate to efface any reminder of a wound. The slimy and gory wound is replaced with the undamaged fold of the buttocks:


Further backwards, the fold of the buttocks is dissolving into the even, undamaged surface of the back. Only its symmetry reminds of the wound:


The spinal column is an extension of the anal cleft. On both sides are two bundles of muscles which function as substitutes for the labia, while the whole is covered with undamaged skin: hollow, but not cut:

eduardo segura

The effect is continued in the two bundles of muscles in the neck, where the little hairs cannot fail to remind of the pubic hair.

The healing move comes to its apogee when the cut, opening up into the hole, is altogether replaced with the undamaged, convex womb that surrounds it, as in Brancusi’s ‘Torse de jeune fille’:



In displaced form, the genitals are no longer bound to a sexually determined body. Also a woman has fingers, toes, arms, legs and a nose, and also a man has a mouth, folds and hollows, and a back. Worse still: the body of the other sex is often far more appropriate to attract the displacement. Think of the female nipples, which are larger than male ones, become erect like the penis and have the same colour, without being slimy.

But the displacement of the penis to the female body is not obvious. It goes counter the ineradicable propensity to conform all the characteristics of a body to its sex. A voice sounds differently when is it supposed to belong to a female or to a male person. There are lots of examples that evidence this rule.

When this compelling rule is so often broken, strong forces must be at work to counteract sexual stereotyping. Driving force is the ‘perverse move’, introduced in the first chapter. When lovers are kissing each other, they close their eyes. But the eyes want to continue enjoying visual beauty: the lovers want see the exalted face instead of feeling it with the lips. And when the hand begins to touch, the eye only grants it its pleasure because it elecits new signs of exaltation on the body. The greedy eye then scans the body, until it finally comes to rest at the sight of the erect penis or the aroused vagina, the ultimate signs of exaltation. Stubbornly clinging to its desire for visual pleasure, the eye would like to witness even the merger of the genitals. But the penis then disappears in the vagina. When the eye is not prepared to give up its pleasure, it will have to prevent such merger and the impending advent of orgasm (see chapter I)

Such seizure of power trough the eye comes down to a veritable ‘castration’: seeing forbids genital feeling. The blindness for the ‘castrating’ effect of the eye is so general, that it is not superfluous to remind of the difference between visual and genital perception of the orgasm. With the eye, we only see signs of the orgasm: the blush, the erection of diverse parts of the body, the grimacing of the face, the heavy breathing of the chest, the twisting of the body, male and female ejaculations. With the ear, we hear the heavy breathing, the voluptuous moaning and ecstatic crying, and with the nose we smell the often dizzying odours. How eloquent these expression may be, they are mere outer signs of orgasm, not orgasm itself. It is a mistake to assert – with Linda Williams – that one can see the male orgasm, especially when she holds that the female orgasm is invisible, because one cannot see the contractions of the vagina. As a sign, the female orgasm is all too visible – how else could women fake it so readily for the male gaze? Precisely because the eye depends on signs, it is so easily betrayed….

The perverse desire to continue looking runs up against a threshold that can never be crossed. Orgasm, the kernel of the erotic proceedings, will forever remain invisible, how deeply it might move us. Only the genitals can feel it. That holds not only of the orgasm, but also of the sense of touch. When the hands are exalting the body, the eyes equally see only the signs of that exaltation. We easily overlook this fact, because the hands continue feeling while the eye is looking: while the eye relishes the sight of the erect nipples, the hand feels the warm swelling of the breast. Only in the preliminary visual phase of seduction are seeing and feeling one and the same thing, because here ‘feeling’ is ‘seeing’. Visual exaltation is apparent in the pure fact of displaying one’s beauty. Only in its own domain can the eye witness exaltation. There is, hence, a real gap between being enchanted through the intrinsic visual beauty of a face, and becoming exalted by the signs of exaltation on that very same face:



We understand at the same time that the aestheticising and anxiety-soothing centrifugal move away from the genitals described above, is prepared by a far more fundamental move: the ‘perverse’ move away from tactile and genital feeling towards the visual signs of it. The eye is not only out at enjoying purely visual beauty, as it is displayed in the reciprocity of showing and looking. More often is it eager to lay eyes upon the visual signs of tactile and genital exaltation. Such visualising leads to a grandiose unfolding of the array of visual appearances of the body beautiful.


The take over of the eye has an unexpected consequence: in that the greedy eye neutralises the penis, precisely the acme that it so dearly wants to see cannot take place.

In a first attempt at solving this problem, the greedy eye wants the desired body to bring itself to orgasm, or a third party to take over the role that it refuses to its own body. Then, the erotic appearance is no longer a part of the more encompassing whole, in which the lovers reciprocally admire each other’s display. It is transformed into the spectacle of a loving couple or of a body exalting itself before the eye of a third onlooker. The vicissitudes of the eye and its nude along this path will occupy us in chapter X. Here, we are interested in a third possibility: how the eye that is not prepared to give way to the penis, has the desired body transformed into a hermaphrodite in the real sense of the word: a being that possesses both sexual organs.

It is not difficult to understand how a body that is no longer involved in a reciprocal process of displaying and admiring, is transformed into such a hermaphrodite body. The seizure of power of the eye, which comes down to an elimination of the genitals and the hands, transforms the eye into a pure voyeuristic eye: it merely looks and does no longer arouse the desired body through touching, let alone penetration. Inadvertently, the exalted beauty is thus turned into a frigid beauty. Which only fuels the desire to lay eyes upon the signs of arousal on the desired body. The signs of arousal par excellence are the erect genitals. Thus, the eye must have the erect penis, in which it refuses to metamorphose, resurrect in the desired body, to testify to its arousal. Such projection pays: the eye can see the desired and the desiring body in one and the same glance. Through such transformation of the desired body into a hermaphrodite, the castration of the desiring body is made undone.

There are many ways to work that miracle. Starting point of the projection is the very void that is created in that the eye forbids the penis to penetrate the vagina. What the eye gets to see then is the vagina as a mere void – sheer nothingness. This can be seen on the masterly image of Didier Carré:

didier carré

It is obvious, then, to let the excluded penis protrude from within the void. In the print of Rops below the resurrection of the penis is endorsed by the protrusion of two erect nipples:

The idea of a resurrection of the penis from the void is rooted in the presence of the cervix in the hole. The reversal of the direction of the penis betrays that we are dealing here with the desiring penis. Such reversal makes the hermaphrodite body differ from the body that arouses itself, where the substitutes of the penis are turned inwards.

In second variant, the female genitals are so represented as to resemble the male ones. The labia maiora are the counterpart of the male scrotum, the labia minora of the shaft, and the clitoris of the glans. Protruding labia minora are an obvious substitute for the protruding penis:

tono stano

Also the pubic hair can serve the purpose when it has an appropriate shape.

In a second phase, the projected penis is displaced to the more aesthetic fingers and toes, arms and legs. Triumphantly, they radiate from the (implicit or emphasized) void. Rather than denying it, they enhance its effect through contrast. The emphasis may be on fingers or toes,

konrad gös

manuel laval

fingers ŕnd toes,

j-f bauret

on arms or legs,

waclaw wantuch


on both arms and legs,

bob deweese

or on fingers and toes, arms and legs:.

ludovic goubet

j-f bauret

eric kellerman

gunter kremer

alva bernadine

The hole, which is in the centre of the attention with Goubet, is covered by the trunc with Bauret, and goes hidden behind an uplifted leg with Kremer. With William Ropp it is driven from the centre through the centrifugal violence of legs, arms and fingers, only to resurface in the upper and lower parts of the image:

william ropp

In the photo of Waclaw Wantuch the women is transformed into a profusion of erect protrusions. The effect is further enhanced in that the erect arms and legs end in the centrifugal radiation of fingers and toes encircling the void:

waclaw wantuch

Another impressive example is Rodin’s ‘Iris messagčre’. The artist emphasizes the opposition between the joined move of leg and arm pointing outward and the void in the centre, and through repeating the cut of the vagina in the severed arm on the opposite side.

The desiring penis may also be displaced to erect breasts and nipples:

alain paris

tono stano

tono stano

The élan of the nipples may be joined by that of arms and legs, fingers and toes:

dave krueger

Or, as in the photo of Yves Noir, through the overall erect stature of the body, which is further emphasized through the upward pointing chin and through the forceful tension in the triangle of the legs which, on its apogee, is streaming out in the feet, pointing into opposite directions:

yves noir

Also braids and locks can embody the desiring penis.Diekamp has the hair centrifugally radiate from a trunk that encloses the desired void:

volker diekamp

hermann foesterling

And the head, finally, can be read as the glans on the shaft of the neck.Amelkovich combines many of these themes in one and the same picture - the veritable counterpart of Didier Carré's photo with which we initiated this cycle:

igor amelkovich

As a result of this process, the female body is eventually turned into its very opposite: erect protrusions have taken the place of hole, hollows and undulations.

robert piccart

In fact, the female body is from the beginning constructed around the contrast between hole/rounding and protrusion: long legs and arms lend the female body an additional charm. But the opposition only becomes manifest when it is additionally charged with the phallic desire of the castrated voyeur.

The phallic charge of the body is anything but completed. For, in a third phase, the hermaphrodite only appears after the displacement of both penis and vagina. When the vagina is displaced to the lips of the mouth, the penis resurfaces in the protrusion of the tongue:

andy metal

The vagina can also be displaced to the hand(s), where fingers and thumb come to be opposed to the void contained within the palms of the hand. A good example is Rodin’s ‘La cathédrale’. When this artist retired himself with his models, he used to hang a leaflet on the door with the words ‘L’artiste visite la cathédrale.

In the photo of Alain Paris below, the opening between the fingers is gently replacing the original:

alain paris

And, with Sarcinella, the opening between the fingers is emphasized through the hollow in the neck:


In the representation of the Medusa (for example Carravagio) the vagina is displaced to the mouth and the multiplied penis to the locks turned into wriggling snakes.

The upward movement is completed in that wonderful photo of Wantuch, where the void between the legs goes hidden behind the hair on the skull, contained within the frame of muscled shoulders, tense arms and intertwined fingers:

waclaw wantuch

Both motives – the replacement of the archaic mucous membranes with undamaged skin and the soothing of anxieties about the cut – often work together. The vagina is then replaced with the undamaged skin of the womb that contains it. The phallic charge further comes to oppose the womb to the protrusion of arms, legs and head. A fascinating version is Ingres’ ‘Grande odalisque’. The armpit reminds of the fold between the legs, but the cut is denied through the emphasis on the convex breast. From this centre the elongated arms and legs radiate and end up in a profusion of fingers and toes.

We cannot but expect the phallic body to yield to the temptation of penetrating itself. We are then witnessing all the forms of masturbation, which will be dealt with in chapter X, together with the arousal of the body through a third party.


In principle, the desiring eye of the female (or of a feminine man) can equally project the excluded vagina on a man. Also the male body provides many an appropriate substitute for the vagina: anus, mouth, eye, folds:

This holds especially for the mouth, which reminds of a hungry child that must be satisfied by introducing the nipple of the breast. Excessive eating leads to a fat belly, which provides, besides a multitude of folds, also a new opening: the navel, as in the statue of the dwarf Morgante in the gardens of Boboli (Cioli Valerio) below, where the emphasis on the open mouth and the navel is accentuated through the eyes and the mouth of the tortoise, whose shield only echoes the rounding of the belly:

A more impressive - and older - version of such male is the archetypal primeval father, as depicted in the image of Royo in the previous chapter. A younger - and less oral - version is to be seen on the photo of Maia below (and in the Jupiter, further below):

marcelo maio

And that reminds us of the fact that the openings need not necessarily be oral. More often, they are of a plain genital character:

tony butcher

chris reynolds

But the male body offers far less possibilities to oppose the hollow to the penis. Add to this that the expression of an aroused vagina is far less speaking than that of an erect penis. And, finally, we should not forget that, under the regime of the exchange of beauty for benefits, only the male is the desiring party. All this makes the projection of the desiring vagina on the male body far more scarce than the converse projection of the penis on the female body. But the feminine investment of the male body is not altogether absent.

The male organ provides practically no clues for the projection of labia or vaginal opening. Only the mouth of the penis and the opening of the foreskin are candidates. In the immediate vicinity of the penis is the anus. But, the point of view from which the anus is seen, hides the shaft of the penis from view. There are more possibilities when not only the vagina, but also the penis is displaced to more peripheral parts. The anus may be opposed to a tail, as with the devil:

milton montenegro

Far more appropriate is the displacement of the vagina to the mouth, especially when there is a beard and a moustache. The role of the penis can be played by the tongue, the nose, the points of the moustache, the beard, locks or horns that centrifugally radiate from the opening of the mouth:


Think also of the opening between fingers and toes, as in Dürer above and Ingres below. In Gös' photo below, the fold in the finger can easily be read as a nude seen from the back (see chapter VIII:

konrad gös

And in another of Gös' photos the gaping void of a barrel is encircled by a pair of muscled legs, while the one member is replaced with a profusion of hollows around the phallic power of the joined hands:

konrad gös

Even when - or precisely because - the impressive photo of Goran Bertok fits into a totally different context of self-mutilation, it nevertheless shows a profusion of hollows: in the belly, the throat, between the ribs and between the thumb and the fingers. All these hollows are opposed to the phallic power of larynx, locks, ribs, arms and fingers:

goran bertok

Thus, the eye conjures up the excluded genitals on male and female body alike. Next to the ‘phallic women’, there is also a ‘vaginal man’ or – to account for the displacements – the ‘vagoral’ or ‘vaganal’ or ‘wounded’ man. But it is probably preferable to speak of the (male or female) hermaphrodite: this term has the advantage that it emphasizes the process of projection and displacement, which is essentially the same in both sexes, and that it can be applied to the displaced forms.

A remarkable encounter of male and female hermaphrodite has been painted by Ingres in his ‘Jupiter and Thetis’. With Thetis, the emphasis is on the protrusions, while the vagina is concealed. With Jupiter, the mighty limbs and the staff frame the mouth surrounded with a moustache, the fold of the navel and the hollow between the toes. The reversal comes to its apogee when the male ‘vagina’ is fingered through female ‘penises’


Not only the perverse move is responsible for the transformation of the erotic appearance into a hermaphrodite. Also the scarcity of female beauty plays an important role. As we have seen, it leads to an indifference towards male beauty, which is only increased through the exchange of beauty for benefits. In the end, the isolated scopic drive in the male comes to be opposed to the isolated phanic drive in the female, or - to put it somewhat more graphically: the greedy eye and the erect penis of the male are confronting the beautiful body of the (frigid) women, as in Hokusai's print.

That cannot but stir the desire to restore reciprocity. The desiring male wants to be desired, and since he cannot but conceive of desirability as
of female beauty, he fills the empty space between desiring eye and desiring penis with the corresponding parts of a desirable female body. Conversely, the desired female wants to desire, and since she cannot but conceive of desire as of male desire, she completes her desirable body with a desiring penis. In both cases, the restorative move results in the construction of the desired female body with the desiring penis.

A good example is Donatelo's David. The beautiful young boy enjoys the beauty of his own body that makes him independent from the unattainable woman. The entwining of the bodies is replaced with the closed circle of the eye
admiring the beauty of its own body. This image - as it were the sequel to Hokusai's octopus - embodies the complete visualisation of genitality: the penis that was out a penetrating the vagina is replaced with the eye admiring its own body.

The counterpart of such 'feminine' self-sufficient withdrawal in itself is the aggressive triumph of the 'phallic woman': desirability and desire in one and the same body. Here, the emphasis is on the desiring penis.

In both cases, the eye enjoys its own body, or to be more precise: the part of its body that belongs to the other sex. The eye can look directly
at its body (David), but more often it prefers to resort to a mirror or an image. Or the enjoyment is mediated through the eye of a third party, as is the case with the transvestite (see chapter V). In all cases the voyeur tries to restore the broken reciprocity of showing and looking, the entwining of scopic and phanic drive,through projecting its own showing and looking: from within his own body, he looks at the aroused appearance in the mirror, from where his own gaze is summoning up the transport of his own body.

Also the merger of desiring penis and desired body can be described as a hermaphrodite body. Unjustifiably
though, since a real hermaphrodite has the sexual organs of both sexes, whereas our 'hermaphrodite' has only the desirable body of one sex, and the desiring organ of the other. Real hermaphrodites are the representations described above. On the diptych below you can see how also in this third kind of hermaphrodite body, the genitals can be displaced to more peripheral parts:

da vinci

da vinci

The visualisation is completed when the identification of desiring body and desired body leads to the replacement of the desiring organ itself. That is the case when the male wants to be transformed in the desired female, and the desired female in the desired male. An illustration is the self-portrait of Schiele: a gory seam runs over the scrotum, no member is to be seen, the abdomen is transformed into a womb, the upper part of the body is adorned with female breasts, the arms hold their own head, and the legs are cut off, not otherwise than the penis. Only the angularity of the skinny body are the last testimonies to the dissolved masculinity.


The preliminary stages to such transformation can be seen in the painting where Schiele is looking into a mirror over the shoulder of his model, not by accident a pubertal girl that nearly shows the signs of feminists.


So strong is the ‘perverse’ desire to witness the tactile and genital exaltation, that the erotic eyeall too easily overlooks the fact that it is merely enjoying signs: to maintain its position, the eye should above all not remember that those signs only refer to what is doomed to remain invisible forever. Therein, the eye resembles the devotees of the golden calf: they take the representation for the invisible original. They are worshipping an idol - a fetish.

Through forbidding precisely what it wants to see, the erotic eye creates the very void that is doomed to remain empty forever. What is supposed to disappear in it, resurfaces from within. Out of this move is born the

primeval fetish

. The propensity to aestheticise the genitals and the attempts to soothe the anxiety about the wound, make the original representation move centrifugally to the periphery. Thus, the primeval fetish becomes unrecognisable. It goes hidden behind ever new

fetishes of the second generation

: fetishes of the fetish. Like with the golden calf again, also these fetishes of the second generation use to be worshipped with a devotion that is meant for the original that goes hidden behind an aesthetic veil.

Thus, voyeurism is the mother of fetishism. The further vicissitudes of fetishism will be dealt with in chapter VI.


Let us, finally, remark that the occurrence of the processes described above is not confined to the domain of sexuality. We also see them at work with the draughtsman who cannot play the piano - were it merely for the fact that he has decided to draw
: in a remarkable series of eighteen drawings, the piano is eventually transformed into an animated being that radiates the very vehemence that the draguhtsman could not unleash within himself. Although what is visualised here is not the invisible orgasm, but the equally invisible music:

from '18 pianos'

Beyst,November 2003

From the same author:
'the ecstasies of eros'

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see also:

waclaw wantuch gabriele rigon craig morey
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