see also: 'the ecstasies of eros'
THE TABOO ON
EXHIBITIONISM AND THE ORGY
It will be superfluous to remind of the many other factors that lead to the introduction of clothes. To begin with, there is the necessity to protect the body against extreme temperatures. Also increasing wealth induces man to cover his body with ever more layers of fabric, or to wear jewellery and attributes testifying to his wealth. Thus, social stratification is often expressed in erotic terms: infringement of all kinds of rules and the adoption of an appearance that is irreconcilable with hard labour (long nails, white skin...) are often signs of power or wealth. And the flaunting of wealth is only a special case of the general propensity to adorn the body with signs of all kinds of identity. In this book we should focus, however, on clothes as an expression of modesty.
Pictures of nudity can be seen on the following pages.
Other factors come to endorse such natural modesty.
Just like we stop working and talking when proceeding to intercourse,
just so do we stop making love when proceeding to every day business:
we neutralise our appeal and avoid looking at the
erotically charged parts of the body.
Conversely, for most kinds of work or non-erotic commerce, we
only need the eyes and the hands. That is why work attire or apparel for normal
commerce mostly leave only the hand and the face uncovered.
That holds also true of sculpture: the Greeks provided their sculptures of males with a rather minute penis, which especially catches the eye with the giant Hercules. In erotic pictures, conversely, the emphasis is on an often oversized penis:
The archaic sight of the genitals only enhances the propensity to hide them from view. Clothes, or other props like penis-shafts or bows around the foreskin, help to spare the eye this repulsive sight. That holds by extension also for other parts of the body: the lips, the nipples. Even the completely nude Greek boys in the palaestra wore a bow around their foreskin, and they withdrew in private when proceeding to making love.
Finally, sexual seduction is selective. When lovers engage in an enduring bond, they only
proceed to seduction when they want to
renew their bond. As long as they love each other, they do not flaunt
their charms before the eyes of strangers.
And it is not because in many cultures people
unabashedly walk around in the nude, that they do not have a feeling of
shame. The feeling often appears only when they proceed to
kissing, embracing or copulating. They do not hide their body, but
sexual intercourse itself (Lévi-Strauss).
There is, finally, a difference between leaving parts of the body
uncovered - being naked - and seductively exhibiting the body - being
nude. The reports of anthropologists are often biased in both directions,
and many a photographer arranged his photos to please the Westerner
When the partners have selected each other, they withdraw from the public sphere, although things might change sooner or later. For, as a consequence of the differences in beauty, not all the partners can obtain the partner of their choice. A majority has to content themselves with a less appropriate candidate. Or the position of the partner might change in the course of the relation, so that many a partner begins to look out for a better partner and resumes his seductive efforts. That cannot fail to provoke a corresponding reaction. The excluded partner might try to deter his competitors. But it is far more effective to curtail one's partner: to claim rights of ownership or to impose modesty. Here originates the widespread ambivalent attitude towards sexual display. Everybody is inclined to enjoy erotic display, not only of his own partner, but also of strangers. At the same time, one objects to the display of one's beloved before strangers, and tries to prevent strangers from enjoying it. That can amount to imposing the wearing of a veil or enclosure in a harem.
The less attractive partners are caught in a further
ambivalence. On the one hand, they are all too eager to relish the beauty
of the chosen ones. But, since they themselves are not attractive enough,
their admiration will never be reciprocated.
They are doomed to merely admire. Such
reduction to the status of a mere voyeur hurts their feelings of self-esteem. That calls forth feelings of revenge against beauty,
in the rejected men as well as in the eclipsed women.
The widespread indifference of woman for male beauty only enhances the
feeling of rejection in men.
In the end, the whole system collapses. Enters the free market of love, where everybody is
everybody's supply and demand. It is as if
modesty has disappearedand has become
obsolete altogether, since nobody belongs to
somebody and everybody to everybody. In the meantime, the justified
rejection of artificially imposed modesty often leads to a radical denouncement of
modesty as artificial. That only prevents a right understanding of the
universality of natural shame.
Neutralising the erotic spell, though, is not an easy task. The contrast between the repellent attire and the beautiful body that goes hidden behind it, only enhances the tension between revealing and concealing, as is apparent from the theme of Joan the Baptist and Salomé, or of the sexy sister.
in chapter VIII, we will see how even a body smeared with dirt can exert
an unusual attraction.
(5) THE UNIVERSAL ABSENCE OF SHAME IN THE ORGY
and even collective copulation in all its forms.
While lovers withdraw from the group in the private
sphere, members of the community gather in a public place. The intention is that everybody gets involved. The desire to engage in sexual behaviour is
contagious and involves every member of the community.
As can be seen on the images above, that is not precisely a subject becoming to the image, even when the number of partners is reduced to three. The problem may be solved by showing a preparatory phase of the proceedings:
By far the most important handicap is the rather poor orgasmic potential of men: male orgies tend to be rather short.
For all these reasons, most orgies join the perverse move. The collective indulging in masturbation can be communicated on a rather large scale, especially with women. Also dancing provides ample opportunities for diverse forms of tactile and visual contact within a broad array of social patterns. Most appropriate for orgiastic purposes, though, are voyeurism and exhibitionism: the erotic appearance is public by nature.
A most cherished form is 'girl watching': the visual orgy
on beaches, market places, theatres, operas, churches, boulevards,
terraces, stations and metros (Ruth Orkin).
Although all the members of the community may flaunt their charms, more often only the most beautiful ones exhibit themselves before the eyes of the lesser endowed. These adopt a voyeuristic stance and communicate their collective enjoyment. The transformation of erotic seduction in a purely exhibitionistic performance guarantees an enduring arousal, which is channelled in communal love. It suffices to refer to the mannequin and the stripper, not to mention the belly-dancers, bayaderes and actresses (Jean-Louis Gérôme, Phryne remettant ses voiles).
But it is above all the nude in the image that is predestined to bring the visual orgy to its apogee. An early example is Praxiteles' Aphrodite in Cnidus (Knidos), a painted sculpture modelled after the widely admired hetaire Phryne:
Not only the seductive body is relished collectively, but also the body entwined. For a long time, it has been a good custom to collectively peep through secret peep-holes. Nowadays, the secret peep-holes of olden times are replaced with peep-shows. Under the cover of art, even the walls that separate the voyeur from the exhibitionist in the peep-show, disappear, as in the vernissage below:
Foremost the fetishised body lends itself for
orgiastic purposes. On a print of Hogarth we witness the collective
enjoyment of the sight of the fetish or orgasm (see chapter III). In the Japanese whorehouse, members of the 'community
of the Lotus' used to uncover the feet of their chosen concubine. While one shoe was going around as a goblet, the
other was placed in the middle of a circle. With the thumb and the
index, lotus seeds were propelled in the shoe.
The winner was rewarded by the concubine. Granted: that
lasts longer than a mere orgasm...
should remind that the collective enjoyment of the image often goes
hidden in the guise of sexual education: it
suffices to refer to the amply illustrated erotic manuals of the East.
A heavy taboo weighs on the orgy. That is why it often resurfaces under a repressed form: the irresistible urge to denudate oneself on desolate places, where one is in principle visible for secret eyes. The desolation is the reversal of the countless onlookers for whose eyes the exhibition is meant: that betrays itself in the nearly contained anxiety that someone might look on nevertheless (see the dream of nakedness with Freud). Most cherished are desolate places in nature:
or the ruins of public places - churches or cloisters, where the kick of the orgy is joined with the kick of transgression:
The sensation increases in proportion with the chance of being caught, which is above all the case in an urban context:
or by windows through which they might peep:
space and sacrality of the orgy are combined in the photo of
Nausher Banaji below. The
blind windows replace the community that is supposed to witness the
In essence, the orgy is not a sexual happening.
Sexuality is here only a means of communicating each other's pleasure. Also
banquets and drinking bouts are not meant to satiate hunger or to quench thirst. The theoretical confusion of orgy and sexuality
mirrors the generalised confusion - if not replacement - of the collective enjoyment of communal behaviour
through the enjoyment of the sexual act itself
and of what, precisely as a consequence thereof, is turned into a
transgression. That holds in the first place
of the already mentioned pleasure with which the body frees itself from
the fetters of clothing. In a
culture of exaggerated shame, the joy of exhibitionism regained is joined by the
pleasure in the transgression of the taboo on exhibitionism.
And under the regime of differential beauty and wealth, orgiastic
contagiousness all too often serves the purpose of summoning
up the energies that fails with waning love, if not to escape from the
confines of loveless relations. The
transgression of the taboo on infidelity can also be reinforced with the
transgression of the taboo on forbidden forms of sexual intercourse.