Nudity: A Cultural Anatomy (Dress, Body, Culture)
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We alternately think of nudity as a perversion and a state of innocence. Why is our response so contradictory and why is nudity treated so differently in different contexts? Drawing on popular culture, literature, philosophy, religion, and firsthand interviews in order to answer these questions, Barcan encounters morticians, nudists, strippers, nurses, tattooists, artists and pornographers. Shining a light on a topic that has been largely ignored despite its ability to titillate, shock and entertain, Nudity is a fascinating blend of meaningful minutiae and big philosophical questions about this most unnatural state of nature.
(1996) argues in her study of black nineteenth-century showgirl Josephine Baker. The Victorian theatrical entertainment known as tableaux vivants involved often titillating imitations of “high art” nude paintings (Blessing 1997: 50). 35 Nudity: A Cultural Anatomy This suggests another submerged element in the nude/nakedness opposition: that of social class. It is permissible for the high art nude to arouse desire – indeed, Kenneth Clark insists that it must – but too overt a display of
hand, “body” is a feminized term in the Western philosophical tradition and nakedness is the feminized opposite to nudity. And of course, most nudes in art are females. On the other hand, the male body can subtly stand in for “the” body, since the conceptual and linguistic assumption of a generic Man implicitly treats the “normal” body as male, and the female body as an exception, the marked term. The idealizing tradition thinks of actual bodies 37 38 Figur e 1.1 Albrecht Dürer. De Symmetria
37–8). Historically, the discourse of protection applied not just to images agreed to be erotic or pornographic, but also to fine art, where idealist aesthetic discourses did battle with moral discourses. Attempts to bring aesthetic rather than moralistic discourse to bear on female nudes were part of a modernizing governance project of the late nineteenth century. Discourses of moral improvement through art accompanied the rise of public galleries and museums. But the aesthetic discourse doesn’t
nakedness was the state of the damned and the dispossessed. Clothing the naked was a biblical injunction, and missionaries went to “extreme lengths” (Harris 1994: 530) to ensure that Aboriginal people were clothed. His citation from Bishop Augustus Short, for example, makes it evident that to many Christian missionaries, clothing represented a form of salvation: Many young adult natives, who would have belonged to the most degraded portion of the human family, are now clothed and in their right
pre-, non-, antisocial clothing cultural changeable visible lies corrupt human society social These terms are valued according to context, blurry at their edges, and occasionally reversible. As we will repeatedly see, the valuation depends on the context, and on whether the nakedness is metaphorical or actual, represented or corporeal. To such lists of oppositions, we could also add an aesthetic binary – beautiful versus ugly. This is an important consideration in a study of nudity, since the