Exposed
The Victorian Nude
Alison Smith
(Watson-Guptill)
As always, it's that old Pushme-Pullyou --- the nude. Is it art? Is it pornographic? What's the difference? Can we define Art as "a realistic representation, concerned with love and technical excellence?" And porn: "unreal, brutal, ugly?"

And, because of Victorian sensibilities (did they clothe bare legs of pianos as rumored?) --- how did the exhibition of nudes by artists such as Millais, Rosetti, Burne-Jones, Whistler and Sargent sit with the public? Were they shocked? Did they call in the sex police?

Martin Marone tells us that the English laws of the time --- especially the Obscene Publications Act of 1857 --- were the first to isolate sexuality "as a cause of social disorder." In other words, seeing a figure deemed to be obscene contributed to a public chaos, might cause the gentry to go out and commit the unspeakable. Smith cites the accusation that Victorian artists --- not Hugh Hefner --- led us inexorably into 20th century soft-core pornography.

Kenneth Clark's study The Nude defined our view of the Victorians actively suppressing the naked ("the raw, awkward, unclothed body") as opposed to the nude ("æsthetic, idealized"). However, Myrone points out that the worst of Victorian prudery came about at the same time as the most prolific production of nudes --- not only in painting, but sculpture, drawings, and photography. Foucault claims that Victorian repression was productive of sexuality --- for it generated "description, analysis, and repression," which in turn accelerated "the discourse of sexuality."

§     §     §

The singular characteristic of the more than 200 pictures represented here --- some exquisitely colored and enlarged --- might be described as painters, sculptors, sketchers involved in a game of Hide and Go Seek: where the most delicious of the private parts are shielded from the eyes of hungry viewers by a myriad of devices: hands, shadows, scarves, wings, leaves (especially fig), branches, drapes, boa feathers, general murk, the edge of the canvas, hips and legs, the body being half-turned away --- and, in one case, half-obscured by a giant snake.

On the occasions where there is no barrier to obscure what Restoration songsters dubbed the furbelow, it is rendered as a flesh-colored humplet --- with no more hair than a clam, without even the trace of a cleft.

Nudity in art, according to the editor, was traditionally permitted because of the classical influence --- women in pastoral settings, or in a classical pose: Eve in the garden, Psyche and Cupid, the Rape of the Sabines, the Sirens, Phyliss and Demophoon, Phryne, Dædalus and Icarus. As long as the art work was stitched in the Classic mode, there was implicit permission to abandon all garb --- suggesting rustic harmony, female virtue, and perfection.

Viewing nudity brought sexuality out in the open; this was thought to create an intolerable disorder in society. This mode of thinking survived for over a hundred years, terminating --- in England --- in the Longford Report of 1972. That closely written document concluded that there always has been pornography, there always will be pornography, and there is scant evidence that it creates public harm.

The usual excuse for censorship is that pornography is harmful to children, but the report suggested otherwise, which makes some sense: if you and I were allowed to join the discussions, revelations and exhibitions that take place daily in your typical schoolyard or behind the barn, we would quickly be dispossessed of the view that sexuality is not a part of the child's world view. Juvenile innocence is something that the adult world has dreamed up --- and has a powerful vested interest in sustaining.

Be that as it may, as a result of various Anti-Pornography laws on state and national books, being caught with representations of children in the buff is nigh about fatal. Several recent cases have defined this New Victorianism. Leading public figures including a military chief in Virginia and an appellate judge in California were nabbed downloading lurid images from the Internet --- and were whisked away by the authorities (who were quick to notify the working press). Long before their trials, the accused have been convicted in the newspapers and on radio and television, and thus have a good chance of enjoying considerable sabbaticals in the Greybar Hotel.

Which set us to thinking, as we were thumbing through the last few chapters, "The Modern Nude" and "The Artist's Studio." There are several full-page paintings, sculptures, daguerreotypes, and photographs of children in the buff, including Guglielmo Plüschow's explicit shots of street girls of Rome, alongside paintings of unadorned pre-pubescent boys by William Stott and John Sargent.

With such heavy penalties being doled out to those who possess such suggestive art, it gave this reviewer sufficient pause and, thus --- in the interest of personal freedom --- immediately after completing this review, we mailed off our copy of Exposed (I swear to you Judge, it was our only copy) to the Curators at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum with a brief note stating that it was a gift from "A Friend" (with an appraised value of $45).

We did this in the hopes that the gentle librarians there in Simi Valley would not be shipped off to the pokey by the contemporary Victorian thought police because of what some might consider dangerous paintings and photographs hiding at the back of an otherwise worthy book of Art of the late 19th Century.

--- Ignacio Schwartz


The
Maimed

Hermann Ungar
(Twisted Spoon Press
Box 21, Prague)
Franz Polzer works in a bank, noting and filing papers. He speaks to no one, goes from his room to his work, and then back to his room. He eats a simple meal prepared by his landlady, the widow Klara Porges. He then sleeps, gets up and goes to work, arriving at exactly the same time he has for the last seventeen years.

But the widow craves affection, finally gets him to take her for a walk, and then seduces him --- much to his shame. Meanwhile, he meets with his friend Karl Fanta who has turned from being a handsome young man to a cripple who has lost both legs and one arm.

Karl whispers to Franz that his wife Dora is plotting against him, wants to steal his money, has hired on an attendant to kill him and take the inheritance. To get away from his wife, Karl and the attendant, Sonntag, move into Franz's apartment, and everything falls apart.

Well, not really. Like a Kafka novel, everything has been falling apart from the very beginning. Franz Polzer (the word means "weenie") worries about his fellow workers in the bank laughing at him; he worries about the widow stealing sheets of paper from him; he worries about how yellow and hairy she is; he worries about a hole in the knee of his best pair of pants; he worries --- as all good neo-schizophrenics must --- about worrying.

But with Sonntag and his knife (he used to be a butcher) and Karl his nutty ideas about people wanting to steal from him and kill him --- with all these right down the hall, things go from being screwy to being downright scary. Klara Porges gets pregnant, and Karl, lying next to her in bed, thinks,

    The child in her belly was breathing, the living child. Soon her belly would be opened and the child would lie before Polzer, naked, with tubular limbs and deep creases in the flesh at the joints, a girl, with a line between her legs...He did not want it, it should never be.

This meditation on his soon-to-be-born daughter leads him into a threnody on ugliness --- a song that is repeated again and again:

    She was ugly and everything was a torment, But everything had to be a torment and everything had to be ugly.

"Everything had to be ugly:" Franz with his "big red hands." Karl with his stumps and suppurating wounds. Sonntag with his blood-stained apron. Frau Klara, with

    the swollen belly, her breasts which fell to the side when she lay down, the hairs between them, her fat face, the hands that had grasped all over the bodies of the men.

§     §     §

This is an absolutely riveting tale, told with an absolute minimum of detail --- filled with quick, impressionistic sketches. With its repeated horrors out of the daily grind of life, it reminds one of the post WWI art of Weimar Germany known as Die neue Sachlichkeit --- "the new matter-of-factness," or "the new resignation," possibly even, "the new blah" --- with painters like George Grosz, Georg Schotz, Otto Dix, Otto Griebel, and Heinrich Maria Davringhausen.

The Maimed is thus first cousin to Die neue Sachlichkeit. There are no flowers here, no trees, no happy children, no happy people. The characters are trapped in a miserable merry-go-round, desperate for an escape and yet afraid of any escape that is offered to them. One is reminded of Sartre's La Nausée, West's Miss Lonelyhearts, the plays of Eugene O'Neill.

Kafka --- a contemporary --- is merry and bright compared to Ungar. At times, the world of The Maimed is so drab, so bleak, so miserable, so misogynistic that one wants to lay it aside, especially when the cripple Karl starts in to talking about Klara's body,

    Her stomach is ugly, isn't it? Covered with folds of fat? You must be able to see it when she bathes...You say she is not very fit. Her breasts, her fat stomach, slap slap, flabby as boiled pork. Just like that, Polzer, slap slap, the mother sow!

But The Maimed works on several levels besides one of naked disgust. There are the tiny details that tear the characters apart (and hold the novel together): the butcher's knife, and the blood-stain on his apron; Polzer's hat that people seem to laugh at; the Saint Christopher painting that hangs over his bed (that falls crashing to the ground); the suit that a stranger buys him; and --- again and again --- "the white part in Klara's hair." These are themes that bind the story tightly, symbols that come banging together at the very end when Klara Porges' head is found, in the stairwell, wrapped on a dirty cloth, chopped off at the neck.

§     §     §

This is one of two novels written by Hermann Ungar before he died in 1929 at the age of thirty-six. The present edition contains a brief fragmentary final chapter that the author himself rejected when the book was published in 1923. It should not have been included here; in four pages, it undoes much of the ambiguousness that lends such power to this story of cruelty and unrest and anxiety.

The translation by Kevin Blahut is fine. The design of the book is a gorgeous, subtle work of art all on its own.

--- Gunther Krause


In the publicity sheet that came along with Going Down, under "Advance Praise" from book reviewers, the authors say that

    Unfortunately no one would return our phone calls.

    (or the books...)

We can understand why. It's no-holds barred disgusting, and impossible to stop reading. We suspect that fellatio itself --- about which, of course, we know nothing --- would be a no brainer. You just do it, right?

According to the authors, no. They go into intimate detail stuff you don't want to know about and stuff I'm not going to tell you about position and angle and size and lubricants and, gleek, genital piercings (which can be found on 2% of gay men, they tell us --- and we want to know how they know).

The real interest in Going Down is that amidst all this foreplay and the ridiculous puns --- "Foreskin and Seven Years Age," "The Head of the Class," "Blow His Mind," and "Location, Location, Location" (ten years ago under a table in a crowded T.G.I. Friday's in Charlotte, North Carolina?) --- are the facts. There is for example a short essay (with a repulsive drawing) of how the gag reflex works when you are doing something called "deepthroating" which we always associated with the Nixon White House:

    The epiglottis is a flap of cartilage at the very back of your throat in the pharynx that normally rests in a somewhat upright position so air can go from your mouth or nose into your windpipe (trachea) and to your lungs. Or lung, if you've lost one to smoking. Ew. Anyway, when you swallow --- and deep-throating counts as that --- the epiglottis is pushed down to cover the trachea so food (or whatever) is directed toward your esophagus and stomachward. That's why you can't breathe when you're deep throating. Duh.

Then there are the minifacts sprinkled around on every page:

Largest penis in the animal kingdom Blue whale
Length of blue whale penis 11 feet
An 11-foot stack of pennies is equal to $22.44
Average number of erections per day for a man 11
Average number of erections while sleeping 9
Largest functional human penis recorded 11 inches
An 11-inch stack of pennies is equal to $1.87
Average number of sperm per ejaculate 280 million
Population of the United States Approximately 280 million
Average total lifetime ejaculate Approximately 14 gallons
Average speed of ejaculation 23 - 28 mph
Estimated number of times a man will ejaculate in his life 7,200

And then there is the list of contents of semen :

    Ascorbic acid, blood-group antigens, calcium, cholesterol, choline, citric acid, creatine, DNA, fructose glutathione, hyaluronidase, lactic acid, magnesium, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, purine, pyrimidine, pyruvic acid, sidiom, sorbitol, spermidine, spermine, urea, uric acid, vitamin B-12, and zinc.

which sounds suspiciously like the contents listed on the back of our One-A-Day vitamin pill bottle.

This beastly book, all 133 pages of it, includes a list of where you should "Take the Plunge:"

  • Every room in the house.
  • Including the basement.
  • Including the attic (watch out for that insulation!)
  • Someone else's house.
  • In the department store dressing room.
  • Behind a billboard.
  • While he's trying to talk on the phone.
  • At the drive-through.
  • Inside a tank.
  • In the police station.
  • In the House.
  • In the Senate.
  • In the Oval Office.
  • Under a Supreme Court justice's robe.

What Rogers and Perry don't bring up (they should be studying their Genet) is that fellation constitutes an act of naked courage. One is placing what most men think of as their most prized possession into an orifice that Gray's Anatomy refers to as the "Temporo-mandibular Region."

At the back of the lower jaw are found some of the most powerful muscles in the human body --- the Masseterm --- which are joined to a bone that holds hard, sharp, and durable incisors. Thus, one is entrusting a highly sensitive instrument of pleasure to what is, in effect, a reversed guillotine.

To say that this insertion is an act of faith is an understatement. It's passionate, blind, unequivocal faith. A man's most private and prized possession, the membrum vitale, could be quickly severed by a sudden and vicious snap of the teeth. Perhaps this is the source of what the authors claim is the supreme pleasure of it all.

If the authors are looking for a plug for their next press release, the best we can offer is the phrase that, in our mind, applies most succinctly to this thin but flagitious volume.

It's very spunky.

They can quote us on that.

--- Patricia Hill, M. D.