[Milton-L] Sexy David

Oliver Wort opw20 at cam.ac.uk
Thu Jul 21 06:37:42 EDT 2011


I am thinking aloud, so excuse me, but just to add to Richard Strier's comments on Michelangelo's David: I wonder if similar could be said for the Farnese Bull (depicting the death of Dirce), which was excavated in 1546 in Rome and moved to the Palazzo Farnese? Not only is the little boy on the right of the scene, sat underneath one of the sons of Antiope, gazing up at that son's perineum, but so too is the viewer who walks around the sculpture. Because the sculpture is raised, our primary view of it is of glorious buttocks and bollocks.

Travellers on the Grand Tour, sexually excited by art, debated whether they would rather take Titian's Venus to bed (Venus of Urbino) or the Venus de' Medici. The latter usually won the debate, and to judge by the state of her bottom, to judge by its general grubbiness, visitors couldn't keep their hands off of it. Arguably these travellers were responding to the sculpture as those before them had done, since the Venus de' Medici is meant to have been exiled from Rome to Florence in the seventeenth century by Innocent XI precisely because viewers found it so stimulating. As for the other Venus: Mark Twain found Titian's painting obscene, not because of her nakedness, but because her posture elicited impure thoughts in those that gazed upon her.

Perhaps the modern perception of these pieces and their sensuality is dulled? Our familiarity with seeing nudes, and of seeing nudes 'in action', makes us indifferent to the pornographic potential of these pieces? The existence of something more explicit sanitises what came before... ?

-O.



On 21 Jul 2011, at 00:22, richard strier wrote:

> Michelangelo's David seems to me one of the great pieces of gay erotic art in 
> world history.  Surely (!) the sculptor knew that when one stands in front of the 
> thing looking up, the genitalia are (as they should be) front and center in one's 
> vision.  Important that there is no fig leaf!  I can easily imagine finding that 
> statue intensely erotic.  And why not?
> 
> (As a footnote, I add that when I sent a postcard of the David from Florence to a 
> friend in the US, it seems to have been impounded by the US Post Office.  They 
> knew it when the saw it!).
> 
> 
> 
> ---- Original message ----
>> Date: Wed, 20 Jul 2011 15:57:21 -0700
>> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu (on behalf of Brendan Prawdzik 
> <brendanprawdzik at gmail.com>)
>> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Fallen vs. Unfallen Sex  
>> To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>> 
>>  We would not call Michelangelo's David "naked,"
>>  right?  But we would call it "nude."  David is a
>>  nude.  David also appears "nude" from our
>>  perspective, for we view him from an aesthetic
>>  distance, as art.  "Nude" (but, crucially, not
>>  "denuded") carries a sense of moral indifference.  
>>  To be "denuded" is to be discovered (both senses) as
>>  naked.  
>>  If Michelangelo crafted a David who knew that his
>>  unclothed body was being viewed and scrutinized by
>>  us, might we not then, seeing in his face and
>>  gestures signs of this self-consciousness, call him
>>  "naked"?  It seems that the "naked" body is being
>>  watched, and is conscious of this fact.  The "nude"
>>  body of David is but an aesthetic form.  It does
>>  not know that it is naked, that is, that we are
>>  looking at a semiotic nudity.  In this sense, it is
>>  not naked.  But Milton does not use "nude," does
>>  he?
>>  The key passages for this sense of nakedness as
>>  observed unclothed body would be 9.1054-59, and
>>  10.115-23, 220-23.
>>  When the Son asks, "that thou art naked, who/ Hath
>>  told thee?" we see clearly that nakedness, at least
>>  in the sense in which we typically use it, entails
>>  the sense that one is naked.
>>  Yet "naked" appears often in Book 4, too: "in naked
>>  Majestie seemed Lords of all" (290); "So passd they
>>  naked on, nor shunned the sight/ Of God or angel"
>>  (319-20); "her swelling Breast/ Naked met his under
>>  the flowing gold of her loose tresses hid: he in
>>  delight ... smiled" (495-99); "to our Sire/ Brought
>>  her in naked beauty more adorn'd/ More lovely than
>>  Pandora" (712-14); and the passage of the bower
>>  described by Michael, where the sex does not have a
>>  manifest observer, but multiple implicit observers
>>  -- God, angels, author, readers, and of course,
>>  Satan.
>>  "Guiltie Shame" is the key culprit here, no?  It is
>>  what moves "naked" from knowing oneself naked, sans
>>  anxiety (see 4.319-20), to knowing oneself naked,
>>  with debilitating anxiety.  In addition to the key
>>  passages from 9 and 10, one might
>>  quote Animadversions:
>>  "Oh what a death it is to the Prelates to be thus
>>  unvisarded, thus uncas'd, to have the Periwigs
>>  pluk't off that cover your baldnesse, your inside
>>  nakedness thrown open to publick view."
>>  On this note, may I propose two things?  First,
>>  that pornography is infused with the sense that it
>>  is being watched, and plays to the emotive effect
>>  (as others have said) that comes with watching sex
>>  that knows it is being watched, without the
>>  spectator having his (pardon the gendering) own
>>  nakedness, own gaze, "thrown open to publick view."
>>   It plays to being mastered as an object that is a
>>  subject aware of its objectification.  (Upon this
>>  consciousness comes "Guiltie Shame," without which
>>  pornography merely becomes aesthetic, erotic.  On
>>  this note, the meaning of "pornography" is bound not
>>  to the form but to the eyes and culture of eyes that
>>  views the form.  Yet the form also responds to the
>>  culture of eyes.)  Second, that both unfallen and
>>  fallen sex is sex that knows that it is being
>>  viewed.  However, after the fall, guilty shame
>>  enters the scene as the eyes that observe now have
>>  an intense, painful, withering power in the
>>  imagination.  (Do Adam and Eve know the *word*
>>  "naked" before the Fall?!)  Even if the sex scenes
>>  were physically identical (the possibility of which
>>  I must doubt), the psychological experience of the
>>  sex would be -- and clearly is, with a view to the
>>  evidence -- essentially different. The best evidence
>>  for this, in my view, is the phrase "[Eve's] Eye
>>  darted contagious fire."  I believe that darting
>>  eyes, as appear also in 8.62-63, evince a gradual
>>  transformation of subjectivity, from "naked" (as
>>  nude) to "naked" (as painfully knowing oneself to be
>>  naked).  I believe that the seduction scene, where
>>  the use of "gaze" becomes abundant and exceedingly
>>  complex, shows the culmination and fruition of this
>>  process.  
>>  It is also here where Eve first raises the
>>  hypothesis of her secrecy, of being "secret"
>>  (9.811).  
>>  Brendan Prawdzik
>> 
>>  On Wed, Jul 20, 2011 at 3:00 PM, richard strier
>>  <rastrier at uchicago.edu> wrote:
>> 
>>    But how can sex between A and E be "casual," and
>>    it's certainly not "retail."  I
>>    don''t see how any of this is relevant to PL --
>>    though I must say that, even to a
>>    mere male, the distinctions you note seem pretty
>>    obvious.
>> 
>>    ---- Original message ----
>>> Date: Wed, 20 Jul 2011 17:39:28 -0400
>>> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu (on
>>    behalf of "Carol Barton"
>>    <cbartonphd1 at verizon.net>)
>>> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Fallen vs. Unfallen Sex
>>> To: "John Milton Discussion List"
>>    <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>>> 
>>> I think the distinction between fallen and
>>    unfallen sex might be
>>> easier for women to comprehend, Richard (and
>>    that's
>>> not--intentionally--a sexist comment). There is a
>>    real distinction for
>>> most women between making love (unfallen sex, if
>>    you will) and the
>>> sort of wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am engagement that
>>    occurs between
>>    casual
>>> partners (or those involved in a retail
>>    relationship).
>>> 
>>> Nudity and nakedness are different? I had no idea
>>    . . . but with a
>>> heat index of 102F and climbing (around 35C for
>>    those who don't
>>> Fahrenheit) I think I'd welcome being either one
>>    . . .
>>> 
>>> Best to all,
>>> 
>>> Carol Barton
>>> 
>>> 
>>> ----- Original Message -----
>>> From: "richard strier" <rastrier at uchicago.edu>
>>> To: "John Milton Discussion List"
>>    <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>>> Sent: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 3:51 PM
>>> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] It's Confirmed!
>>> 
>>> 
>>> Well, I don't hold the view (which some
>>    philosophers--e.g. Roger
>>> Scruton) hold
>>> that great art can't be erotically stimulating.
>>     Seems like a silly
>>> view.  Lots of
>>> great Renaissance art is very sexy.  MIlton
>>    insists -- surely with his
>>> male readers
>>> in mind (but not only, of course) -- on Eve's
>>    gorgeousness and her
>>> absolute
>>> nakedness. No reason for us, or her, to feel
>>    ashamed, and no reason
>>> for us (or
>>> her, or Adam) not to feel erotically aroused.
>>> 
>>> And, to say something that will surely
>>    invite/incite some responses, I
>>> think the
>>> supposed contrast between the fallen and unfallen
>>    sex of A and E to be
>>> quite
>>> unconvincing.
>>> 
>>> And, finally, I think the supposed distinction
>>    between nudity and
>>> nakedness
>>> (Kenneth Clark) also to be bogus (let's all
>>    pretend to be very
>>> high-minded!).
>>> 
>>> 
>>> 
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