Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My Life in the LHC (Large Hadron Collider)

In the Belly of the Beast is Jack Abbott’s confessional about the life of crime that eventually earned him an all-expenses-paid return trip to prison, where he  finally committed suicide. My Life in the LHC recounts a similarly turbulent narrative. It starts with the collision of two protons in the Large Hadron Collider operated by CERN under the Swiss-French border. Told from the point of view of a Higgs boson, a particle that may, in fact, not even exist, My Life in the LHC introduces the reader to a new kind of underworld that is a far cry from the violent one represented by artistic criminals like Abbott and criminal artists like Norman Mailer. Mailer and Abbott shared an affinity for stabbing. Mailer stabbed his wife after announcing his candidacy for the mayoralty of New York, while Abbott’s return to prison was precipitated by an altercation with a waiter in an East Village establishment called the Binibon on the eve of receiving a laudatory review in The Times for In the Belly of the Beast. Book publishing and politics are both tough rackets, and perhaps the real moral of the story lies in the question of publicity. How far will an author or politician go when it comes to publicizing himself?
Of course, the author of My Life in the LHC didn’t have the kind of opportunities open to sociopaths like Mailer and Abbott in that it was only a subatomic particle whose non-existent mass meant that it would have relatively little pull—or gravitas. But My Life in the LHC is still a riveting story in the way that it plays upon Warhol’s idea that everyone has 15 minutes of fame. Here our hero’s fame lasts only a millionth of a second, but within that time, the narrator lives a life that is one of the great thrill rides of the century, something that makes the Coney Island Cyclone seem pathetic by comparison.  My life in the LHC reads like an accelerated On the Road. My Life in the LHC is, in this regard, a quintessentially American tale, told by an idiot and signifying nothing. Its great truth lies in the interstices, in the little turns in the tunnel, in the feats of engineering, and in the big magnets, which martyr themselves for the sake of science. 

Monday, March 29, 2010

Annals of Phallocentrism: Volume XXV, Number 2 (Spring/Summer 2010)

If you go to your local search engine and enter “plastic surgery to lengthen penis,” you will learn that there is a procedure performed by a Canadian surgeon named Robert H. Stubbs, who is a descendent of the famous British painter George Stubbs. Dr. Stubbs’s work is based on a procedure discovered by a Chinese surgeon, Dr. Long, who first applied it in l984 to deal with a young man whose penis had been bitten by a dog. Phalloplasty, as it is called, is also performed by a urologist named Dr. Whitehead at Mr. Sinai.  A Dr. Giunta, from an outfit called Aesthetic Plastic Surgery International of Alexandria Virginia, provides a series of before-and-after images of men who have undergone a similar procedure. (Dr. Giunta’s practice also performs gynecomastias, which is surgery for men with overdeveloped breasts.) The site is very graphic and, shockingly, the “after” shots don’t seem that much better than the “before." Bigger is usually, but not always, better. A Wikipedia article on the subject mentions microphalli (small penises) and several non-surgical techniques used for penis enhancement. Some of these techniques are: jelqing, a form of muscular exercise, clamping (cock ring or related device), stretching, and hanging.
What is the significance of penile enlargement as a subject? On the most basic level, it is something that many men consider regardless of their endowment. Chekhov reputedly said, “Dissatisfaction lies at the heart of every great talent.” It also is quite simply la condition humaine. People are never satisfied with what they have. Another reason for putting penile enhancement on the table is the passage of President Obama’s health plan. It is unlikely that cosmetic surgery will ever be part of any universal health care plan. Norway is one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, and certainly a hot spot for medical tourists, but let’s take the hypothetical case of Sven Wayne Bobbit getting his penis cut off by an angry Oslo lover; it’s unlikely that his cure would be covered by the socialized medicine offered to citizens of that country.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Reality Bites

What if someone took David Shields's Reality Hunger, a nonfiction screed about appropriation made up entirely of other authors’ sentences, and simply appropriated it? But doesn’t reality sometimes trump the best fictional offerings? For instance, Saturday’s Times reported the case of a 16-year-old New Jersey boy who was arrested for "activating a public-address system in a Wal-Mart store … and ordering 'all black people' to leave.” What is one to do with a piece of news like this? Is it a failure of education, a litmus test about in-grown racism and prejudice in our society, or does the incident merely illustrate the weaknesses of the store’s intercom, as some Wal-Mart executives apparently believe? “The store’s parent company … issued a statement saying it had modified its intercom system at the store to prevent such breaches,” the Times piece said. 

On Tuesday, the Times reported on the death of Wolfgang Wagner, the longtime director of the Bayreuth Festival. Katharina Wagner was Wolfgang’s daughter by his second wife, Gudrun. She had produced a partially nude Meistersinger at Bayreuth, which was booed by audiences. Along with half-sister Eva—the Times reported the two as not having "spoken to each other in many years”—Katharina was appointed to run the festival in 2008. The festival has long bent over backwards to distance itself from implications of Nazi leanings, due to Hitler’s renowned love for Wagner. (The Times reported in the same obit that Wolfgang's mother Winifred Wagner, “an ardent anti-Semite,” gave Hitler “the writing paper on which he composed ‘Mein Kampf.’”) Maybe Katharina should produce an opera at Bayreuth based on a genocidal 16-year-old let loose in an American discount store. After all, we’ve already had an opera about Jerry Springer, and a forthcoming opera about Enron is in the works. What better way for Bayreuth to finally expiate the sins of the past!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Human Scale

Lawrence Wright is a writer for The New Yorker who recently performed his piece, The Human Scale, at Joe’s Pub. Based on Wright’s November 9 New Yorker article “Captives,” The Human Scale deals with the aftermath of the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. (Wright is also the author of a book about Al Queda called The Looming Tower.) Bertholt Brecht, whose plays have been a signature of the Public Theater over the years (Meryl Streep starred in Mother Courage back in 2006), epitomized the conjunction of politics and theater. What is unusual about Wright’s approach is that it’s the conjunction of journalism and theater, replete with a video backdrop and Wright’s attempts to capture the accents of Palestinian and Israeli subjects. Magazine articles sometimes become the subjects of movies, but they are rarely developed as monologues. What is also unusual about Wright’s screed is that it’s an impassioned plea for equanimity. Passion usually tends to be one-sided. Twenty years ago, Gazans were living and working in Israel; there were tensions, but there was also a de facto reciprocity between the two societies. Now, in the aftermath of the Shalit hostage-taking, the firing of missiles into Israel by Hamas, and the Israeli army’s response, Gaza has been reduced to rubble, its citizens taken hostage by an act of hostage-taking. There could have been other solutions, Wright maintains, but the kidnapping served a perverse purpose, in that it facilitated the kind of polarization that nourishes extremism. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Lives of our Leaders: Why Does Obama Smoke?

If you are the President of the United States, you want to set an example, especially for the nation’s school children, who often see your face in the very classrooms in which they learn.  No president since Teddy Roosevelt has been more aware of his responsibility to the nation’s children than Barack Obama, just as no president was less aware than Bill Clinton, particularly in his attitude towards cigars. But Obama has been torn between his desire to do good and his desire to be cool. As must be plain by this point in his presidency, Obama is a bit of a Francophile. For starters, it's obvious that we can add his name to the list of Carla Bruni idolators. How do we know this? Because of the fact that ever since the Obamas started to socialize with the Sarkozys, Barack has been trying to make Michelle in Carla’s image. Michelle’s inauguration gown is only one case in point, her J. Crew outfits notwithstanding. Of course underneath this veneer of polite emulation is a seething desire to serve croque monsieur, pommes frites, salade lyonnaise, steak au poivre, and fromage at state dinners. It is understandable Obama would prefer baguettes to Wonder bread, though it took a dose of wonder and a ton of bread to get his health care plan passed in congress. But recent interviews with those who knew Obama during his years as a Columbia undergraduate recall an impassioned lover of early French cinema, in particular JeanVigo’s L’Atalante and Zéro de conduite and Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion and La Règle du jeu. Obama reputedly walked down Broadway from Columbia to see these flicks at a famous art-house cinema called the Thalia. In these films, all the major characters have Gauloises, the popular French cigarette, dangling from their mouths. It has even been rumored that Obama had the famous picture of Albert Camus, the author of L’Etranger, with a cigarette hanging from the side of his mouth, in his dorm room. Obama has definitely tried to control his smoking for the sake of America’s youth, but once he finishes his second term, he will undoubtedly be found wearing a beret on the Quai d’Orsay, cigarette smoke rising in curls from his Gauloise. Maybe Obama will even use the proceeds from his biographies to set up a book stall along the Seine, as generations of French smokers with berets have done. They say when Obama was a young man, André Malraux, author of Man’s Fate and Hope, and a statesman and lover in his own right, was another of his heroes. There must be plenty of pictures of Malraux with a cigarette hanging from the side of his mouth.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Perfect Nonsense

Mark Mitton is a meta-magician, a sorcerer’s apprentice. He is interested in how the mind makes patterns in a pre-conscious way. Magic is like mimesis—a revolution in the history of thinking. The magician, Mitton points out, must always understand what his subject is thinking. In this sense, his theme is epistemology. He teaches cause and effect to scientists and artists alike, and he is a figure in Manhattan’s nightlife, being a regular at Serge Becker’s exclusive club, The Box. Mitton wears a bow tie and suit and slicks his hair across his forehead like an English don. He’s a Haverford graduate who was born in Canada.

In one trick, he convinces the spectator a wine glass is falling through another, when it’s just a matter of timing and lowering. But is this a theory of mind, or a theory of the autonomic central nervous system? Consider the hypno-disk. During a recent performance at a Soho loft, he asked everyone to stare at an object that looks like one of the dream sequences designed by Salavador Dali for Spellbound, the classic Hitchcock film that also deals with illusion and reality. After staring into the twirling disc for thirty seconds, the audience was asked to turn their attention to Stuart Firestein, a biologist from Columbia who specializes in olfaction and has worked with Mitton in other performances that combine science and prestidigitation. Those in the audience who had never taken mushrooms or LSD experienced what seemed like a hallucination out of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, as their contracted eye muscles unwound and Firestein’s head appeared to explode—an unforgettable moment that would inevitably make its way into dreams.

There was another trick.  Mitton is very democratic and freely gives away selected secrets. Everyone got a bag. The sound of an imaginary ball falling, he revealed, can be created snapping fingers against the side of the bag. Mitton does for magic what Derrida did for literature. He deconstructs while remaining one step ahead of his patient, so that despite all reason, a large element of irrationality, and hence awe, still prevail. “It’s got to make perfect nonsense,” he said, invoking the famous quote about the structure of comedy. 

Friday, March 19, 2010

Peyronie's in the Sky

On March 16, The New York Times reported on FDA approval of Xiaflexa medicine that combats Dupuytren’s contracture, in which gnarled fingers cannot be flexed. According to the Times, a host of celebrated talents, including Ronald Reagan and Samuel Beckett, were not able to straighten their fingers. It’s too bad they were born too soon to enjoy the benefits of Xiaflex. But Xiaflex also has other uses, to wit the treatment of Peyronie’s disease, which causes an abnormal curvature of the penis.

Viagra was originally a treatment for angina, but it went on to offer succor to an oft-underserved female organ that happens to rhyme with angina. Similarly, the successful treatment of Peyronie’s, a condition that may have led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment proceedings, was a byproduct of trying to help those who were too crippled to effectively give the finger. Can you imagine getting mad at a New York City cab driver and only being able to give him the curlicue? Actually, Peyronie’s is a bane to some and a badge of honor to others. There are women who look for Peyronie sufferers in sex boutiques, since the Peyronie’s patient (known by connoisseurs as a Pyromaniac) possesses talents that only the most refined of dildos have been crafted to duplicate. The Times article pointed out that Xiaflex will not be cheap, at an estimated $5400 a throw. However, the effects can be life changing, particularly if you are the president of a superpower. Many women who might otherwise have been fodder for the indiscretions of the executive branch have been forced to disagree with Sigmund Freud's “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Now, much to everyone’s relief, cigars can be cigars, and penises don’t have to go to rehab to get straightened out.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Life is a Dream

Life is a Dream (La Vida es Sueño) is the title of a classic 17th century work by Pedro Calderón de la Barca. But what if life is in fact a dream, the reality we think we perceive existing only in the mind of the dreamer? Who is the dreamer? And is he or she part and parcel of someone else’s dream, with the dreamer before that existing only as a figment in yet another imagination? Who, then, is the ultimate dreamer? Like Segismundo, the young Prince who has been husbanded away to prevent catastrophe, there is no end to doubting reality once the idea of this ultimate form of subjectivity is introduced as an explanation for existence. Bishop Berkeley believed all impressions were totally subjective, with reality only being verifiable by the existence of God. Esse est percipi—“to be is to be perceived”—was Berkeley’s mantra.
But the notion of life as a dream may be an excuse for irresponsible or immoral actions. This is something Calderón’s character grapples with. Is the dreamer allowed to rape and pillage at will, since his transgressions will essentially be victimless crimes? Are felonies simply quality-of-life crimes for dreamers?  Or is the dreamer obliged to deal with right and wrong, to censor his own wishful dreaming as it were, because of the fact that the universe he exists in, whosever mind it can ultimately be attributed to, is somehow lessened for being a high crime area? Are moral convictions earned even without the notion of a real world in which actions have consequences?  If I do something totally horrifying and conclude that it is only harmless dreaming, the horror is not less horrific. In fact, no longer being punished for his crimes, with no prospect of serving time in a penitentiary, the dreamer is never allowed penitence and the subsequent feeling of having paid his debt to society for damages incurred. Dreamers are as stuck when comes to solace as they are frustrated by the impossibility of consummation. The pure dreamer may never pay the piper, but he will also never satisfy any of his wishes.

Monday, March 15, 2010


There is nothing worse than coming upon a like-minded person. You feel the carpet has been pulled from under you the moment they start to identify with what you’ve said. It begins like one of those tremors that precede an earthquake. The tectonic plates begin to shift and before long there is a full eruption in which your own singular experiences are usurped by an outpouring that turns your inner life to Pompeii. If there is one thing that is nice about any experience, good or bad, it’s that it’s yours. Possession is nine tenths of the law, but now it turns out that your life history is not so special, and the selfsame set of occurrences have been the province of someone else, who has in all likelihood done a better job. Curiosity is nice, but it’s terribly deflating to come upon someone who understands exactly how you’re feeling. If they’ve been divorced as many times as you, then somehow the pain is trivialized. The same is true of the death of a parent or loved one. They have been through it all. After all, at some point everyone goes through it. But what good is such knowledge? The economy of scale produced by the fact that calamity occurs on more than one playing field doesn’t reduce the individual impact. Rather, it spreads it thin. If everybody breaks their leg, gets cancer, or is cheated on by their lover, it shouldn’t lessen the fact that this is my broken leg, my cancer, my cuckold’s horns. And just remember, the converse applies too. Hearing someone talk movingly about a life-changing experience, there’s always the temptation to say, “Me too!” But it’s precisely at times like these that it’s best to shut up. 

Friday, March 12, 2010

What to Bring on the Ark

Biblical level catastrophes have been making headlines with increasing frequency. So here is a list of essentials to take with you on the Ark:

Don’t go anywhere without the DVD set of Antonioni’s trilogy, L’Avventura, La Notte, and L'Eclisse  (the stock exchange sequence in La Notte with Alain Delon is as essential as K rations). Life as we know it could not continue without Bergman. How could we understand personality without Persona, endure the absence of god without The Silence, Through a Glass Darkly and Winter Lights, comprehend marriage without Scenes from a Marriage (Paul Mazursky would never have been able to make An Unmarried Woman without it), or appreciate life in general without Fanny and Alexander, which has nothing to do with the Romanovs, and has still less to do with Franklin J. Schaffner’s Nicholas and Alexandra? Tolstoy told Chekhov that his plays were almost as bad as Shakespeare’s, but we need to make sure there is room for War and Peace, Anna Karenina, The Three Sisters, The Seagull, Uncle Vanya and The Cherry Orchard, along with Lear to deal with problems of aging, The Tempest and The Winter’sTale to reinforce the notion that nothing is over until it’s over, and yes, Cymbelline to remind us that beauty can exist without perfection. Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf is great to have in any storm, along with The Wasteland  (a poem that is starting to have practical applications in our polluted world). Make room for Dante’s La Divina Commedia, Balzac’s La Comédie humaine and Hitchcock’s Vertigo, along with two chickens, two turtles, two lambs, two snakes etc.  

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Great Escape

Certain kinds of escapist entertainment are like sugar: you end up with a sickening feeling of insatiable stimulation that often leads to sleeplessness. Such is the effect of sadomasochistic pornography, whose imagery is invasive like a computer virus. James Cameron’s Avatar naturally falls into the category of escapism, with its facile Manichean world and its latter day superheroes, in this case oversized blue creatures with tails and their man-made doppelgangers, who provide a repository for human consciousness. The movie is crudely and obviously anti-American, and yet the fundamental twist upon which the drama unfolds has a sweetness that defies ideology. It’s like the old westerns about the singular band of cowboys who doff their chaps and end up joining the rednecks. In recent times, there’s the case of Joe Dresnok, the American who defected to North Korea 44 years ago and is the subject of the film, Crossing the Line. Avatar earns its stripes simply by the grandeur of its ambition. It may be a fundamentally escapist piece of cultural entertainment, but it’s also a cultural event in which a huge segment of society, literally everywhere, has stopped to watch the show. In this case the rows of viewers, staring up at the big screen, eyes covered in 3-D glasses, are a spectacle in themselves. Classic Greek theater, medieval passion plays, Shakespeare’s Globe—all provided this kind of invention in their day. Avatar takes all the current conventions of genre cinema, orchestrating the visual effects and emotional manipulation on such a grand scale that you are confronted with a piece of candy of historical importance. The impact of this kind of iconic escapism is almost communal. The audience so totally gives itself up to the event that the experience is selfless. In other words, it’s a great escape—the likes of which  is only pulled off by by the most ingenious con men and magicians.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Nature Abhors a Vacuum

The Guggenheim is a carcass, stripped of all its usual exhibits. The couple making love on the ground floor is the only piece of punctuation. So it’s appropriate that one of the side exhibits, in a room off the rotunda, is called “Contemplating the Void” (Aristotle’s dictum, “nature abhors a vacuum,” is scrawled on the wall), in which 200 artists and architects propose how they would fill the perennially dramatic central rotunda of the museum. The sculptor Alice Aycock’s design consists of a jellyfish and a teacup, while another artist displays pictures of reddened labia. The palette of the Tino Sehgal work that occupies the rotunda is the human body, and the work is aleatory by nature. Whoever enters the museum becomes a part of a piece, a massive chain letter started by a child asking, “What is progress?” The food chain ends with an elder concluding, “This is progress," and then posing a whole new set of questions. But what is progress? Putting one foot ahead of the other?  Is regress progress, in that it teaches you something about yourself? Is progress technology, which increases both possibility and dissatisfaction? Once you reach the top, you take note of the couple still making love. They are smaller, and their estheticized passion is met with growing indifference from the crowd in the lobby. Descending the ramps after the experience is over, an observer comments about her interlocutors, “They pass you like former lovers. They don’t recognize you. They don’t know you.”

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Motiveless Malignity

Is there a dark force of ultimate malevolence in the universe? Is there an Evil Empire? Is the Manichean universe portrayed in the world of superheroes and in popular entertainments like Star Wars a reflection of some reality that underlies the model of human character by which we award or punish acts for being either beneficial or deleterious to mankind? For instance, there is one mode of thinking that tries to look compassionately on even the most evil character. The families of most crime victims cry out for retribution, but there are cases in which the survivors of terrible crimes talk about praying for those who have taken everything from them, of turning the other cheek rather than demanding an eye for an eye.

Still others attempt to psychologize and even empathize with murderers, as Truman Capote and Norman Mailer did in In Cold Blood and The Executioner’s Song. In the case of Jack Abbott, Mailer’s writing made a cause célèbre out of a career criminal who went on to both write and kill. But when does extreme evil defy explanation? Recently, a surgery tech was sentenced to thirty years for exchanging needles with patients, who then contracted Hepititis C. Does addiction explain or excuse her crime? And then there was the famous case of Nushawn Williams, who had unprotected sex with many women knowing that he was HIV positive. A pair of career criminals, Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, murdered the wife and daughter of William Petit in Cheshire, Connecticut. They were caught fleeing the house just after setting fire to it. 

“The motive-hunting of motiveless malignity” is a phrase Coleridge used to describe Iago. Certain kinds of extreme evil defy explanation. Hitler and Stalin have unremarkable psychohistories. As a boy, Stalin read poetry and flirted with the priesthood. Hitler was an art student and painter. How do we explain murderers like Idi Amin, Slobodan Milošević and Robert Mugabe? Can we blame the Second World War on the Versailles Treaty? In Hitler’s Willing Executioners, Daniel Goldhagen indicts a whole people for crimes that defy rationalization. When someone dies of a terminal disease, survivors sometimes seek the solace of cause-and-effect in the notion that the illness was brought on by stress or diet. Explanations are always reassuring, since they imply the existence of a universe that is ruled by reason. What is far more frightening are the elements of human behavior that lie beyond understanding. Meyer Levin wrote a  novel called Compulsion  based on the Leopold and Loeb case. That murder shocked the nation, and still provides one of the great examples of gratuitous iniquity.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Kissing is the ultimate form of intimacy. It’s not surprising that prostitutes will rarely consent to kiss a customer, though of course Marlene Dietrich, who plays a tawdry Weimar cabaret singer, does administer some pecks to her aging prey in Der Blaue Engel. But Herr Professor was not seeking sex; he was seeking love, a commodity that can’t be purchased, even in those precincts where civilization lays a cover of legitimacy on whoring. But getting back to kissing: sexual intercourse plays second fiddle to long hard kisses. There is simply no comparison. You can fuck anyone, but you can’t kiss everyone. It’s easy to understand the reasoning behind the hijab, which some Muslim women use to cover their faces. The lips of the mouth are the most explosively sexual of body parts. Labia are no match for the quivering sentries of the mouth, whether they are laced with collagens or not. And when it comes to orifices, the vulva can’t compete with the mouth, which also leaves the ears, nostrils, and anus far behind. A mouth is a world. Vaginas don’t talk, but the mouth is the receptacle for the emotions distilled by the higher brain, so that a kiss on the lips is, in fact, the instant where mind and body are united. There is nothing more vulnerable than the lips, and their power to transmit emotion is such that it creates a kind of temporary madness in which bad teeth, bad breath, and expectorate all lose their ability to produce an adverse impression. Love is the Trojan horse that allows the tongue entrance into the mouth.  When we think of French kissing, we are brought back to classic daguerreotypes of lovers on the Pont Neuf, but the kiss has a long and venerable provenance that goes back to the days when France was called Gaul.  

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Chicken in Every Pot

Freegans rummage through garbage for food. Such scavenging might be expected in a scene from Preston Sturges’s Depression era masterpiece Sullivan’s Travels, in which a film director intent on making a movie about real life descends a little farther into the great melting pot than he had meant to and almost succeeds in getting his goose cooked.

Freeganism—a neologism created from the words “free” and “vegan”—emerged in the prosperous, go-go years of the ‘80s and ‘90s, when food was so plentiful that stock market profiteers and hedge fund managers regularly tossed it over their hedges. The desire to save, recycle and prevent waste came amidst the kind of prosperity in which waste was looked on as a form of social elevation, and the pragmatic values upon which America’s particular brand of capitalism was based were openly flaunted in favor of a more magical notion of entitlement.

There may have been a thousand years of Rome, but the American Empire now looks like a wobbling giant, a Gulliver pierced with arrows by hordes of Lilliputians, ready to be tied up like a roast. Now, Freeganism has turned from philosophy to survival tactic. Indeed, prosperity seems far away in these times of recessive inflation. The paralysis of our banking system calls up memories of the Weimar Republic. The shadow of death haunting the urban population in Fritz Lang’s expressionist masterpiece, M, mirrors the dread of an anemic culture.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Coitus Interruptus

Shame performs a useful function from an evolutionary standpoint. The notion of covering the genitals goes back to the Adamic myth and The Fall, but how can one make sense of this prerogative in a liberal, rationalist or Enlightenment context? Surely there is no sense to the notion that men and women must cover themselves up. Why are the vagina, breasts or the penis any different from other elements of the flesh, like the heart, the eyes, the ears? Why are orifices like the nostril, the belly button, and the mouth freely revealed, while the vulva and the anus are considered off limits? What is so sacrosanct about the nipples of women that they must be clothed with a bra?
Further, why do we have secrets at all? Why is there a disinclination to reveal things about our selves, particularly those things that relate to areas of the body that are covered up? Why are defecation and micturition activities that are not discussed in so-called polite company, and why do we employ clinical-sounding words when referring to these activities, instead of saying shit or piss—in polite company that is? Why do college educated people insist on using latinate words like coitus instead of fuck?
Let’s take the breast. The breast is a source of fascination because it provides the nourishment for the infant. Thus, it is not surprising that for Homo sapiens, blessed or afflicted with consciousness, the breast would have extraordinary significance. Attachment for an infant becomes a signal for mature love in the adult. When a woman shows her breasts to her lover, she is offering the prospect of a vintage form of attachment, distilled from the emotions of motherhood and infancy. The breast is not simply epidermis surrounded by fatty tissue. In the mind, it performs another function. There are many breasts, of many shapes and sizes, and, from a rational standpoint, there should be little shame in showing and appreciating each and every one of them.  Go to any nude beach for an hour and breasts, however perfectly formed, become as uninteresting as the gulls or the seashells. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. St. Tropez is legendary for its topless beaches, but the only extraordinary thing about an afternoon of breast gazing in St. Tropez is the stiff neck that results from the head moving from side to side too many times. On the other hand, a woman walking into a room with a tight-fitting blouse that emphasizes her endowments has a great effect. She covers herself because without covering she might be cold, but she also dresses in alluring ways to hold out the possibility of that form of irrational engagement known as sexual attraction and love. The privacy and sacredness of sexuality performs a naturally selective function for the human species. It makes no sense at all and yet it is the humanized expression of man’s animal nature. Ironically, it is nudism that is unnatural for man and woman.