To Be Naked

Let me commence with a disclaimer: I'm a stinking heterosexualist of the worst sort, and so a fair amount of what follows is framed by that personal context.

It was a sorry day when economists misappropriated the word "divestiture." To confuse a libertine's arousal from sight of flesh with matters pecuniary is a crime against nature. Removing clothing in the company of another doing likewise is supposed to inflame you, not make you beat tracks to your broker's office.

All words lead secret lives, but none more so than those concerning the state of undressedness, if I may coin a neutral word. The delightful mongrel nature of English, drawing upon so many different sources, shines in particular. Isn't it odd that Middle English, Latin, French and Greek have all contributed a word to describe the undraped state? And yet there are subtle differences in each, telling us something of the first speakers.

How about bare entering by way of Middle English? My Webster's Collegiate (10th edition) states the meaning originally implied the "removal of what is additional, superfluous, ornamental, or dispensable." Well! That surely takes the punch out of things, conjuring up mental images of a hairy lot living in mud huts, failing to appreciate the finer aspects of sexual arousal. Very pragmatic: let's strip and get this over with.

The Romans gave us nude. And in their usual no-nonsense respect for order, imparted a shade of "devoid of conventional covering." A step up from bare, perhaps, but still focused way too much on the complement of the set, rather than the desirable unbridled passions to be invoked by exposed skin. Conventional, indeed!

From the French comes au naturel, but now we're really retrogressing. I detest the implication here, which lies at the heart of nudism, that one sheds clothing to revert to an innocent state. Images of Adam and Eve arise. When I get naked with a woman, the last thing on my mind is innocence; I revel in the salacious thoughts sight and touch engender and seek peak upon peak (or peek upon peek, which is much the same). The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage got it half right when it states, "Inflame thyself...," but flopped on the prepositional phrase immediately following, which won't be repeated here so not to taint others.

Leave it to the Greeks to give us just the right word: naked. This actually derives from the root gymnos, which we recognize in the word gymnasium. Notably, in ancient Greek times, a gymnasium was also a place for communal bathing and philosophical quests.  Now you're talking my language! It has always seemed to me so shallow to divorce mental activity from sexuality. As I've written before, an orgasm is a terrible thing to waste.

And, of course, you've just got to love a culture which gave us Aphrodite, Dionysus, Priapus, Pan and the satyrs. I've always felt that if we're going to be stuck with a deity, it might as well be one who encourages a little fun. Choose wisely, since religion is all arbitrary in the long run.

So, which word sounds more promising for a night of excess?

  1.     Let's go au naturel!
  2.     Let's be nude!
  3.     Let's become bare!
  4.     Let's get naked!
It's no contest, isn't it? Option 4 definitely conveys impending carnal knowledge in a way the other three choices can't hold a candle to.

In any event, the previous three example words are so frail, while naked definitely sports an edgy tone. It conveys lubricity in a manner the others don't. I'm sure part of this is the inclusion of the letter k, what linguists refer to an "oral occlusive." Anything oral is fine by me.

That oral occlusive is also central to so many words uttered or written by the Marquis de Sade. And, of course, young Aleister Crowley's "three evil kings" would be impossible without it. Speaking of which, it's an interesting exercise to see how many different parts of speech you can come up with built upon the root of the third evil king. One night, after a gig, drummer Hubert and I set upon that task together and were quite surprised how many we arrived at.

I mentioned nudism above. I've always found this intensely repulsive, for several reasons. First is the typical nudist's insistence that the activity has nothing to do with sexuality. Now if that isn't a bucket of cold water! I remember bumping into an advertisement on the Web for some sort of pagan soirée to be held outdoors up north in Minnesota. Among the festivities was a nudist day--fun for the whole family by all accounts. The online reservation form had the usual disclaimer specifying that nudism is free of immoral thoughts. Anyone caught in an aroused state was subject to a stiff penalty. Ahem.

I call that New Age blueballs.

So, what about William Blake wandering naked in his garden, I hear you ask? That's different; he's different. Though much of his art and poetry bears an unfortunate Biblical tinge, I've always suspected Blake (one of the few entries in Bucke's Cosmic Consciousness to really deserve a place there) understood the notion of "inflame the senses." In particular, I don't consider his forays to the garden in the buff as a source of nudism. That he recited poetry aloud while promenading suggests something much deeper.

Incidentally, I spent an entire day at the house immediately opposite Blake's in London and looked for his spirit often. But it's hard to tell when a ghost is naked.

Another reason I'll cut Blake some slack is that he whispered into Allen Ginsburg's ear for a couple days running, back in the 1950s. I always imagined that as one bard passing the mantle onto the next. And a world without Ginsberg is very poor indeed.

One of my best friends in undergrad days was a confirmed nudist. He loved to frequent nude beaches, among other things. While implying some sort of return-to-nature theme, which certainly fit with his childlike, innocent view of the world, I always suspected a little more was going on beneath the surface. I remember him hooking up whatever that crazy electrical apparatus used by Scientologists is, and pegging the meter needle on the right while gazing at pornography depicting naked men in a shower room..umm..scrubbing and such.

My friend always amused me with his naiveté, and I mean that in a kind way. Irony and subterfuge were not in his lexicon. Though not a Christian, thank heavens, he probably came as close as anyone
I've ever known to behaving like the fiction called Jesus.

I had always assumed he was strictly homosexual (and also that it was none of my business one way or another), and yet one day, he breathlessly proclaimed to me with no end of excitement: "I ran into Gerry and we had sex. I had almost forgotten how much fun it is to get naked with a girl!" In one fell swoop, he had doubled his chance of a date on any given night.

The artlessness in his utterance was priceless.

And did you note? This confirmed nudist shifted gears and used the word naked.

In any event, though an epiphany to him, it certainly was something never far from my mind.

By early Norton Street days, my foray into the occult was full-steam-ahead. I well recall chancing upon Richard Cavendish's The Black Arts, which is actually quite a fine work, despite the somewhat steamy title. There it was on page 250:

Twelve demons provide good familiar spirits as servants. Eleven procure the love and complaisance of women and one makes women show themselves naked.
Hey, this sounds promising! Complacency is all well and good, but it was certainly the nakedness which caught my attention. The trouble was, Cavendish didn't provide the necessary details. This was clearly going to take more than Reese P. Dubin's paper megaphone to sort out. (See The Rise of Mysticism).

A year later found me hobnobbing in London, September 1975. Finally! At the Atlantis Bookshop in Museum Street, I tracked down a very old copy of The Lesser Key of Solomon--Goetia--The Book of Evil Spirits. Even better, the translation was undertaken by Aleister Crowley, making it a rare find indeed. (It was published in 1916, should you be keeping track). And there it was--a list of these useful demons and how to invoke them:

The Twelfth Spirit is Sitri. He is a Great Prince and appeareth at first with a Leopard's head and the Wings of a Gryphon, but after the command of the Master of the Exorcism he putteth on Human shape, and that very beautiful. He enflameth men with Women's love, and Women with Men's love; and causeth them also to show themselves naked if it be desired. He governeth 60 Legions of Spirits. His Seal is this, to be worn as a Lamen before thee, etc.
If it be desired, indeed! I mean can you really imagine someone saying to a beautiful woman, "No thanks. Please keep your clothing on"?

Of course, there are other cogent reasons to shed the drapery. I've already written in
Anasyrma of the night the comely Kay divested all garments to the fuming outrage of our town's aristocracy. Also see the excellent political example in A Couple of Enthymemes.

Anasyrma and exhibitionism wholly differ and have completely different targets. An exhibitionist is selfishly concerned strictly with the reaction of the actor, while anasyrma is focused on the reaction of the audience. An exhibitionist derives sexual pleasure from being seen naked. But not so with the practitioner of anasyrma, who seeks merely to shock others.

I've dabbled with anasyrma myself. Indeed, a fair number of incidents have led more than one person to proclaim I must be an exhibitionist. Absolutely untrue. For example, review
To Buy a Calculator to see how nakedness became a defiant act. Anyway, it was too cold in Dickinson that night to become stimulated. Incidentally, the gig where that occurred lies not far from Flasher, North Dakota. In addition to being quite an appropriate name for a town near the anasyrma of that evening, it's also the birthplace of a well-known philosopher and typist.

Later episodes include on-stage antics at the Bodega Bar, with two old crones lustfully chasing me to the broom closet, shrieking in their best Macbethian voices, "What's a-matter? Ain't you getting any?" And then there was the time I proudly paraded down Grand Avenue in the buff, carrying a toilet plunger. This was on the happy event of reuniting with my old gang for the first time since high school.

One of my favorite forays, however, was when a guy we all knew escorted a trophy girlfriend--an absolutely gorgeous creature--to 249 Norton Street. This guy's affinity for society always sort of sickened me. That night he was really putting on the dog to impress his new gal. Courtesy is not the word. No, it was obsequiousness oozing from the woodwork. A polite tee-hee now and then. Sucking up like you wouldn't believe. Failing to be himself.

And then, I traipse down the hallway from the bathroom, stark naked, again bearing a plunger, turn right into the living room to find the two ensconced on the ugly seven-foot orange sofa, discreetly separated. I paused to bear greetings to both, giving no lie anything was amiss, and continue some indifferent conversation. The whole time, the guy was doing everything but covering the girl's eyes with an outstretched palm, fidgeting like one suffering from St. Vitus Dance. He was extremely displeased, the intended effect, naturally. Scowling.

And the girl just laughed and laughed and laughed.

Which really vexed him.

By the way, I repeated that stunt at another hippie house in another state in another year, with exactly the same effect. I came away thinking guys are sticks-in-the-mud, but girls just want to have fun.

Some twenty years ago my old professor Harry and his then inamorata (later wife) came a-calling for social hour one warm spring day. As we imbibed (scotch whisky, of course), the phone rang and it was my buddy Tim. I invited him down to join us, and then jokingly said, "By the way, Harry has taken all his clothes off." To which Tim tittered a bit at my outrageous banter. The guy never believes anything I say.

Twenty minutes later, Tim arrives and we chatted at the door for a moment or two before entering the living room. He gave a cordial greeting and nod of the head to Sue.

Then turning to the La-Z-Boy recliner, his eyes fell upon my world-class mathematical mentor, sprawled completely naked, holding a cocktail, as though nothing was amiss. It was hilarious to see Tim avert his eyes.

Ah yes, anasyrma. The world takes itself far too seriously latterly.

At a bar one night in Owatonna: a svelt woman walks in, unrealistically stacked, top-heavy I'd call it, bearing a skin-tight tee-shirt reading:

Stop looking at my tits.

I mean, more than three-fourths of her body was upstairs. That took my mind back to junior high days. Do you remember that cigarette slogan, "LSMFT"? Our thirteen year-old minds turned it into "Loose straps mean floppy tits." Another option for those of a more dainty persuasion was, "Ladies' seats make fine targets." You have to wonder if Liggett and Myers ever really expected anyone to read it as "Lucky Strike means fine tobacco." But I digress.

Anyway, I've always marveled at how many women complain of men's obsession with breasts. To me the reason was always obvious. By making such a big deal of covering them, what's beneath assumes an accentuated importance. I'm no historian of décolletage, but do know in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Europe, there was no such fastidiousness. You might expect such exposure and licentiousness in revolutionary France, but did you know that Mary II (of William and Mary fame in England) showed her maracas in public? Even earlier, Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, often went topless in court. Apparently the entire business of bouncing boobs out front became all the rage from tarts to queens.

The eminent diarist Samuel Pepys owned a collection of some one-thousand woodcuts, of which over 600 were of bare-breasted women, including nobility, suggesting it was quite the fad. At the same time, Inigo Jones, the noted architect, designed a completely bosom-exposing dress for the Henrietta mentioned previously. Had I lived then in the era of Pepys, Jones, Newton and Wren, I would have no doubt worn a cod-piece when hanging around court.

So what in the hell happened thereafter? I mean, I got sent home from the fourth grade for sketching a tit with a lead pencil. And I'm not a particularly good artist, either.

As we've seen, it appears there are some four reasons to be naked, at least. First, is the arousal of carnal desires, my favorite. Then is anasyrma which also appeals, deriving from sociopathy as it does. Next is exhibitionism, which is either an illness or little more than crassness. Last is, "let it all hang out" which seems to have little interesting merit at all. Chesty Morgan, move over. Though I consider brassieres a fiendish contraption, I do rather appreciate covered breasts. There is recourse to imagination first, then the chase, ending up with, "Umm...I think it's locked."

But in the end, it always comes back to, the act of removing clothing in tandem is one of humanity's greatest achievements. Lest you think this is a chauvinistic or sexist or even puerile attitude, let me leave you with something I bumped into this very week in my study of Latin. It's a fragment of a poem left by the great female Roman poet Sulpicia. Not much remains of her works, but notably, she composed poems of love, having the good sense not marry. In one ode, dedicated to her lover, Sulpicia writes:
Tandem venit amor, qualem texisse pudori quam nudasse alicui sit mihi, Fama, magis.
At last love has come, of such quality that to cover it would be more shameful than to lay it bare.
My sentiments exactly.

Next vignette: A Dream within a Dream

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