Monday, 23 April 2018 06:00


The Electronic Nude and the Fleshly Garment

In our century, the erotics of dressing and the erotics of undressing appear in porno theaters and striptease acts, but only very rarely do they achieve an effective erotic transit. This happens in steaptease when, through an intense look at her audience, the stripper succeeds in inverting a relationship that is usually one-way. From the moment the spectator feels himself watched, it is as if the stripper`s nudity function like a mirror: he has to confront himself and his own potential nudity. Peep shows allow the spectator without being seen, and therefore reinstate the Greek metaphysical perspective, the rights of pure theory, cutting off all pos-sibility of transit.
In porno shows where actors couple on stage, a transit can be created only when the threshold of touch is crossed. The woman who sits on a spectator`s lap, or asks him to hold her wrists while her partner possesses her can occasionally be perceived as garment, covering, clothing. But this transit cannot last. In fact, in Western cul-ture, touching is a prelude to full possession that leads to orgasm as its natural conclusion. So the tension built up in the porno show remains inconclusive and quietly relaxes back to normal.
In reality, the erotics of our own times are moving toward much newer and more disquieting prospects than striptease acts and porno shows. These include the elec-tronic nude in computer graphics and the fleshly garment in Afro-American reli-gious possession rituals. Computer graphics seem to be able to generate an absolutely realistic image of a body that does not exist in reality. In contrast to a photograph, which refers to a living model, a computer-generated image is independent of the existence of an original. The electronically realized nude has nothing at all to do with the body. In a positive way it has carried to the extreme the Reformation and Mannerist impulse to undress. In theory, nothing prevents the electronic realiza-tion of perfectly realistic images of wooden, iron or glass nudes. So the body can be stripped even of the appearance of flesh. This subversion of the world of forms is accompanied by a potentially unlimited production of images.
At the opposite pole, the phenomenon of the trance, the basis of Afro-American religious rituals (candomblé, macumba, voodoo…), offers the image of bodies pos-sessed, inhabited and placed at the disposition of divinity. The Counter-Reforma-tion and Baroque impulse to dress the body becomes radicalized in these rituals. We do not see statues, paintings or drawings, but actual bodies dispossessed of their subjectivity, animated by a force that manifests itself in them. Possession cannot be reduced either to mere iconophilia or to iconoclasm. The possessed body is there in flesh and blood, but it no longer signifies itself. It counts for nothing except as a vehicle that provides an image to a divinity who will not tolerate being painted or represented theatrically in a mask. The divinity needs to don a face, a body.
The electronic nude made of light and the fleshly garment of the Afro-American religions seem to pave new ways toward erotic transit. But even in these areas, there remains a present danger of falling into metaphysic. We have not left Plato`s world of metaphysic as long the product of computer graphics can pass as superforms whose meaning ends in their visibility. It is not by accident that one of the first proposals for using new technology explored the possibility of drawing in single composite image the best features of various actresses, Greta Garbo`s eyes with Brigitte Bardot`s mouth and Rachel Welch`s breasts, for example. This reenacts the neoclassical ideal of beauty achieved by assembling the prettiest attributes of various bodies. But eroticism has nothing to do with such collages.
Likewise, we have not left the world of metaphysical thought when we think of the trance as a mystical unity of man and god, finally reconciled to each other in an environment of spiritual superelevation. On the contrary, the fleshly garment associates itself with the body`s otherness. Under these circumstances, the body is not a mere instrument of the subjective will; it becomes an element of ceremonial ritual which is finally free from subordination to myth. The trance never rises to theophany, nor falls into the delirium of pathology. It is ”an admirably regulated corporeal liturgy” often indistinguishable from conventional dancing.
Translated into 11lish by Roger Friedman.
Published in ZONE 4, Fragments for a History of the Human Body, edited by Michel Feher with Ramona Naddaff and Nadia Tazi, New York 1989.
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