two mourning dwarfs surplus to the story show up in an unmotivated light

December 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

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Barbara Rubin’s 29-minute Christmas on Earth is the filmic record of an orgy staged in a New York City apartment in 1963. This double projection of overlapping images of nude men and women clowning around and making love is one of the first sexually explicit works in the American postwar avant-garde. Today Christmas on Earth generates a small but passionate discourse in avant-garde film circles. Many consider it to be an essential document of queer and feminist cinema, though others dismiss it as the worthless effort of a naive amateur.  watch

MAP: ORBIS

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All we are not stares back at what we are

December 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

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Everyone who was born after 1980 grew up with easy access to pornographic videos. Many children see explicit videos at a young age. Clark interviews people between the ages of 19 and 23 and asks how seeing pornography at such a young age shaped how they think about sex.  watch

PHOTOGRAPH: Rosa Rendl

then were mightily surprised that he should have aspired to a burlesque kingship which killed him

November 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

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How to see naked men
Seeing naked or near-naked men in the Renaissance does not seem to have been very difficult. I should point out that looking at naked people is not, necessarily, erotic. Indeed, the word for naked, nudo, in Italian had pejorative connotations, as suggested by the definition of “nudo” in John Florio’s 1611 English/Italian dictionary: nude, naked, bare, discovered; also poore, beggarly, and deprived of.

Near nakedness in Italian renaissance cities was rather more common than you might suppose. Poor people sometimes couldn’t afford many clothes, and the clothes they had were worn and tattered. This could pose a problem of accidental genital display. In fact, several Italian states passed sumptuary laws specifically disallowing the public display of genitals. Thus in Lucca, in 1342, it is forbidden for people over 14 to be seen publicly naked. Similarly, in 1375 in Aquila, short doublets are banned because they allow the genitals to remain uncovered.

Some occupations also  required workers to be near-naked. Sometimes for comfort – labourers may have stripped to their underwear in the hot Italian summers, and swimming and fishing were also activities that were done naked or near-naked…

Other jobs, such as dying and curing leather, involved some workers standing naked in vats of urine as part of the process.

Certainly in northern europe, these workers would walk near naked to and from work – in an age where clothing was relatively expensive, and washing was time-consuming, it would be foolish to risk dowsing a set of clothes in wet and smelly substances.

So although male genitals were certainly taboo, it seems they were sometimes seen – and near-naked men dressed in just their underwear was likely to have been a relatively common sight in the renaissance city.

How to see naked women
Female public nakedness or near-nakedness was much more unusual, and much more connected to transgression and public shame. There is some evidence in some cities that prostitutes, for example, would bear their breasts publicly. According to Michele Savonarola, in Ferrara, prostitutes were allowed to keep their breasts partially or totally uncovered in order to tempt men from the greater sin of sodomy.  The Ponte delle Tette in Venice also seems to have been a location where prostitutes would show off their breasts to passing trade.

There were also races in Ferrara and Rome where prostitutes would run through the city naked. This would take place at carnival time in Rome and on the Palio di San Giorgio in April in Ferrara and be closely related to marking the marginal positions of these groups. There was also  a ritual humiliation of adulterous women in Ferrara called the scopa where they were made to run naked through the city; in 1356 in Florence legislation was passed to punish female servants who broke sumptuary laws with being flogged naked through the city.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Martha Rosler

Yea, theyr Firmament-propping foundation shal be adequated with the Valley of Iehosaphat: whose sublimity (whiles it is in beheading) the skie shall resign

November 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

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Alain de Botton specialises in a kind of humdrum potted sagacity, the kind of stuff that has all the outward appearance of insight while managing to avoid saying anything at all. This mushy nothingness can take the form of pointless tautology (‘In a meritocracy, success comes to seem earnt – but failure deserved’), excerpts from the Dictionary of Twee Vacuousness (‘Magnanimity: the one who was right does not say ‘I told you so,’ the one who was wronged does not seek vengeance’), outright untruth (‘Choosing a spouse and choosing a career: the two great decisions for which society refuses to set up institutional guidance’), inspirational pap (‘Our real motivation comes from people who don’t believe in us’), and the final spluttering descent into total incoherency (‘The end logic of our relationship to computers: sincerely asking the search engine “what should I do with the rest of my life?”‘).

These nuggets are all from his inevitable Twitter account; for the really heavy froth you’ll have to turn to his books. To be fair, Alain de Botton is a man of great intellectual breadth. In his many published works he has managed to be boring about Proust, anodyne about art and architecture, tedious about travel, and spend several hundred pages completely failing to understand love, sex, and religion. Aside from the general awfulness of his writing, it’s on these last two subjects (I don’t really like Proust) that his peculiar monstrosity really shines through. In Religion for Atheists (Penguin, 2012) he tries to reconcile the virtues of religious faith with a non-belief in an objectively existing God. That’s perfectly fine; plenty of worthwhile thinkers (Bloch, Althusser, Agamben, Badiou) have tried to do the same. However, for de Botton religion is useful because it ‘teaches us to be polite, to honour one another, to be faithful and sober’ and because it can help us learn ‘how to face the trials of the workplace with a modest and uncomplaining temper.’ No it’s not. Religion is fire and passion, a point of connection between humanity and the infinite, the cry of the oppressed creature, the foundation of universalism. It’s meant to be vast and terrifying and emancipatory. In the face of the vastness of the Absolute Other all human distinctions are meaningless; that’s why so many radical liberation movements have been religious in nature. What this book does is try to turn six millennia of blazing fervour into a half-baked set of minute consolations. It’s an act of hideous violence.

That’s bad enough, but How To Think More About Sex (Picador, 2012) might be the worst book ever written. It’s not too long, but de Botton manages to squeeze into its pages an entire compendium of some of the most grotesque and ungodly sexual acts ever committed. There are the infamous blood orgies of the Mughal emperors, in which the slit throat of a young harem slave was used as a lubricant; there are the thanatophilic séances of certain Theosophist sects, in which the spirits of the dead were summoned and subjected to days of sexual torture; there’s the story of the medieval Saint Quasivermus of Caenumia, who held that congress with earthworms was the only unsinful carnal activity. His book describes every possible interposition of body parts with orifices: there are toes in nostrils, the practice of ‘elbow-fucking,’ and one instance in which an entire dwarf is inserted into an anus. The whole book is awash in a queasy sea of bodily effluent – blood, vomit, bile, cum, pus, piss. Of course, none of this is in the text itself, but it’s the unvoiced content of de Botton’s continual refusal to follow his title and actually think about sex. What he does is recoil from it. For him, sex is for procreation and to stave off loneliness; it’s always a fundamentally selfish act. Most of the time it’s a case of ‘squandered human energy;’ he continually resorts to the idea of sexuality being somehow base: a vestigal, degrading, primal urge we’d all be better off without. At one point he even upholds impotence as an ‘achievement of the ethical imagination.’ None of which is necessarily objectionable – maybe we would be better off without libidinality, free to concentrate on more important things like compiling spreadsheets of sporting statistics and overthrowing capitalism – except for the fact that de Botton never actually makes any argument for this position; he just presents it as a given. He doesn’t seem to even consider the idea that sexuality might be fundamentally related to how we can conceive of ourselves as people, or even that it might actually be enjoyable.

Alain de Botton doesn’t understand sex or religion because sexual and religious experiences are fundamentally transcendental; they allow people to escape the bounds of the atomised subject. They point, however darkly, to something we can’t quite name or describe. They are experiences that are not yet completely banal, and there’s no room for that kind of thing in his watered-down gruel of a philosophy. Does Alain de Botton fuck? Of course he doesn’t. What happens is the female of the de Botton species releases her eggs in the water, and the male comes along later and fertilises them.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Rita Lino

The carnage continues every weekday

October 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

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Thirty-three-year-old Daryush Valizadeh, known to his predominantly heterosexual male fan base as Roosh, is a well-known pick-up artist within the worldwide “Seduction Community,” which relies on pop evolutionary psychology to teach the art of getting laid. Its origins date back to dubious neuro-linguistic programming “speed seduction” theories in the early 1990s, but the Community rose to prominence with investigative reporter Neil Strauss’s 2005 bestseller exposé The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, which spawned a VH1 reality show and drew aspiring “PUAs” to online forums and self-proclaimed gurus promising foolproof seduction strategies.

Pick-up artists believe that all women are the same: submissive, choosier than men when picking sexual partners, entranced by shiny objects. In the Community, players are self-made; most renowned pick-up artists claim they were socially awkward losers until they learned the tricks of the trade. If a pick-up artist hones his “inner game” (confidence) as well as his “outer game” (appearance), he can control his sexual future. When women come with cheat codes, rejection is not an option; if a play fails, the player tweaks his strategy instead of conceding defeat.

Roosh enjoys middling success as the author of the “Bang” series of travel guides, which trains readers to seduce women based on derogatory ethnic stereotypes. In Bang Brazil, Roosh warns his followers that “poor favela chicks are very easy, but quality is a serious problem.” He vows never to return to the Polish city of Katowice unless forced to “maintain the pussy flow.” Roosh’s predations haven’t gone without recognition. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization, included Roosh’s personal blog in a March 2012 report on American hate groups; it quotes an Icelandic feminist group that described Bang Iceland as a “rape guide.”

But Roosh’s Denmark directory diverges from his usual frat-boy Casanova fantasies liberally seasoned with rape jokes. Don’t Bang Denmark—note the dramatic title change—is a cranky volume that (spoiler alert!) probably won’t help any Roosh acolytes score. Roosh calls it the “most angry book” he’s ever written. “This book is a warning of how bad things can get for a single man looking for beautiful, feminine, sexy women.”

What’s blocking the pussy flow in Denmark? The country’s excellent social welfare services. Really.  read more

ART: [unattributed]

I just don’t like the way it appears that women are too stupid to realize “he” includes them as well

August 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

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Samuel Pepys, the famous womanizer and diarist, was certainly no prude. This is a man, let’s remember, who brought his telescope to church so he could enjoy “the great pleasure of seeing and gazing at a great many very fine women” and who famously detailed his numerous extramarital affairs in a mixture of Spanish, French and Italian.

So what was the book that made even Pepys blush? It turns out to be a surprisingly modern exploration of sexuality written in the form of a dialogue between a teenage girl and her more experienced cousin…

The School of Venus punctures some common notions about pre-modern European sexuality, which is too frequently dismissed as ‘Puritanical.’ Although the book was a product of a misogynistic and male-dominated society, it is surprisingly frank about female sexual autonomy. Katy almost immediately begins wondering “why should not ones Finger yield a Wench the like pleasure” as a penis. Soon after, Frances speculates about the societal benefits that would result “if Women govern’d the world and the Church as men do.” Female multiple orgasms are referenced throughout, and there appear to be a few scattered allusions to the clitoris (referred to as “the top of the Cunt” which “stands out.”)

Some of the language in the text is also surprisingly modern, as when Frances advises her to acquire “a Fucking friend… one that will not blab” and Katy worries about how “to break the Ice” with Mr. Rogers, the friend with benefits she has in mind…

So what do we know of this book’s history? Scholars ignored texts like these throughout much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but since the 1980s historians of sexuality and gender have engaged with The School of Venus. James Turner’s Schooling Sex argues that the book is part of a larger “educational fantasy in sexual writing” which bounds female sexuality by a “set of male-ordered ‘rules.’” Turner also uncovers the publication history of the book, which was “simultaneously prosecuted to extinction and flaunted in the most public places.”  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Viola Cangi

Richmond Arithmetic versus Nottingham Marjorie: match postponed due to bent pitch

March 8, 2013 § 1 Comment

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‘Alternative’ nude modelling site Suicide Girls gives calculated instructions on their website about the kinds of photos, make-up and aesthetic sets they accept: ‘tasteful’, ‘picture perfect’ shoots with ‘a little bit of face powder and mascara and freshly dyed hair’, but specifically not ‘cheap wig[s]’, ‘top hats’, ‘stripper shoes’, ‘food’ or things that look ‘cheesy’, ‘gross’ or ‘creepy’.

Similarly, the ‘girl next door’ look of the Australian all-female explicit adult site Abby Winters represents an alternative to glamour photography, featuring make-up-less, ‘amateur’ adult models – but models are still required to cover up hair re-growth, remove piercings, and not have any scratches, marks or mosquito bites for the shoot in order to appear ‘healthy’.

Other sites I’ve shot for speak about the importance of models representing their ‘own’ sexuality, but then go on to qualify: “We might get you to tone down the eye make up a bit”, “Maybe don’t talk about politics”, “Lesbians don’t really use double-enders do they?” One company asked me repeatedly to stop wearing frills.

In doing so, these sites produce bodies of a particular class, size and appropriate femininity, which are marketed as ‘real’, but which are equally constructed, conventionalised and cultivated. This fear of replicating ‘cheesy’, ‘predictable’ mainstream porn means that depictions of ‘real’ sexuality are often similarly clichéd, albeit with a different set of aesthetics.

In their avoidance of ‘the mainstream’ (whatever that means), ‘alternative’ porn (whether it brands itself queer, feminist or ‘erotica for women’) can sometimes replicate and reinforce what Gayle Rubin calls ‘Good, Normal, Natural, Blessed Sexuality’: the sex is vanilla, and involves only bodies (without objects or toys). Sex occurs in the home, between members of the same generation and only within couples. The scenes are soft, gentle, usually in ‘natural’ light and ‘every-day clothes’ (which in my experience means we are expected to bring Bonds underwear).

To think that this could be any more ‘real’ than mainstream porn seems strange to me, especially when it is produced in an environment that is completely staged: our movements are restricted by camera angles, someone is standing beside us operating the equipment, many of us are professionals pretending to be amateur, and in true ‘documentary’ style, we are expected to cum on cue. These kinds of websites are marketable and loveable because they refuse to define themselves as ‘porn’ – even though, as Annie Sprinkle said in the Herstory of Porn, the difference between erotica and porn “is all in the lighting!”  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Elene Usdin

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