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In the Buff: Literary Readings, Pasties, and Jiggling Genitalia

March 4, 2013 | by

naked-girls-reading

The beautiful is always bizarre. —Charles Baudelaire

My first time with the postfeminist, burlesque lit girl culture—pasties, G-strings, audience clapping to jiggling booties—I was in a fun little Brooklyn bar called the Way Station. I had, minutes before, read from my own work, what I thought was a wryly humorous and oh-so-literary postfeminist exploration of time, culture, and relationships. I knew the term “burlesque” had been thrown around on the billing, but to my Midwestern sensibilities, burlesque meant feathers and brief flashes of almost breast, the inner curves of almost vagina, with the full monty saved for fictional accounts. This, on the other hand, was a literary reading. So you can imagine my reaction to the dancer’s G-stringed ass shaking so close to my face I felt an instinct to throw up my hands in self-defense. I don’t think she meant to shake her booty in my face. Not mine particularly. It was coincidental. But it felt so personal at the time, in the moment so intentional, that I was certain something must be happening creatively. There were the dancer’s pastied breasts on my author page, alongside my book, compliments of my publisher’s well-intentioned marketing attempts. Cosmic. There was a message in this. I wasn’t quite sure what the message was except that it involved pasties and butt jiggling. All I knew for sure was that it was disconcerting to an oh-so-serious, postfeminist, gender explorer.

If one is to take a Second Sex approach, the existentialist act of body on words or words on body would gather rave reviews from the Beauvoir and Jong camps. But there is a divide when it comes to dancing sex and pasties. This is not a pure body-centric expression; it is the hiding of sexuality for the purposes of the reveal, the tantalizing aspects, which is not to be dismissed. Tantalization is a very real and necessary art of the fiction writer, the poet, the creative nonfiction writer; however, the reveal of gender parts alone cannot be a purely feminist or postfeminist exploration. Still, let it be said, the reveal can be fun for those willing to put aside modesties for modesties’ sakes. And it is most certainly a good step on a more cerebrally engaging path, one toward body expression versus genitalia jiggling.

A few months later, I was asked to read again, this time at a bar in Chinatown named Happy Endings. The series, titled Derangement of the Senses, included literary excerpts, multimedia projections, musical interludes, and yes, young beautiful women strutting in pasties and G-strings. And yes, again, the dancer found me. I will tell you this with all certainty: this time, it was personal. The girl feathered me in a very specific way. I recall her sitting on my lap and it was strange in a What do I do, stuff bookmarks in her G? kind of way, but it was not entirely off-putting. In fact, it was enjoyable. If you’ve never had a pastied woman stroke you with a feather, you should try it. At least once.

Perhaps it was the darkness of the room or the breadth of media that added to the comfort level of this burlesque. It was a little bit carnivalesque. Or maybe I’m a two-time mark. (I’ve often held that everyone should try things at least twice; once simply doesn’t provide enough experiential data.) Or maybe it was because this dancer was far less a jiggler as she was a strutter. Her movements felt more complementary to a literary spirit—graceful, sultry, but still raw and vulnerable. Then again, I’ve always preferred a hard and elegant sexing to a quick and bouncy one. Ballet versus cheerleading, if you will. And this dancer had elegance. Or it could have been the feather.

If a writer holds the pains and joys of a topic at arm’s length, cloaks the experience, the reader will sense cowardice. And the cowardice will undermine the words. Hemingway had it right, in my opinion. “Just open a vein.” With that said, full-on buff while reading on stage, in front of strangers, is a risk. Naysayers condemn the brazenness, or the competitiveness of focus. How, they ask, is one to dedicate all attention to the words when faced with nipples and labia?

The Naked Girls Reading Series began in 2009 in Chicago. Later that year, burlesque performer Nasty Canasta started the New York City branch. She hosts readers/performers with porn names such as Gal Friday, Sydni Deveraux, Sapphire Jones, and Velocity Chyaldd. I attended their most recent performance, the Naked Girls Drinking show, at the Kraine Theater, on the first floor of KGB Bar. The Kraine is a cozy little theater space with velvet seats and an underworld setting. You walk down into something of a dungeon where, at the bottom, the girls sit side-by-side and robed, in five high-backed chairs. Nasty Canasta opens the book and the robes come off, and there they are, nude, wine in hand, books at the ready: Baudelaire’s “Get Drunk,” Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, Bukowski’s “Beer,” Philip Greene’s To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion, Reverend Jen’s Elf Girl, a drug epic about hipster, tripping youth in a sea of rednecks at a Charlie Daniels concert.

Quickly the nakedness becomes secondary. I will admit to being distracted from Kerouac and Girl Friday’s remarkable reading, time to time, due to the martini tattoo strategically located where pubic hair might be. I couldn’t help wondering if it was a permanent tattoo or a temporary tattoo or maybe one of the other girls painted it on with black eyeliner (it appeared too neat for Girl Friday to do it herself, upside down and hunched over) and how much did it hurt if it was, in fact, a tattoo.

The pinnacle of the show for me was Bukowski. Bukowski goes best with nakedness and stage readings. Sydni Deveraux, a muscled, voluptuous, self-identified “Golden Glamazon,” read with such confidence and form that one almost forgot the outlines of her labia, which was fine, because you could always do a once-over and recount the outlines of her labia. I would not encourage this sort of gawking in a well-lighted space, though. Sydni has the biceps and pecks of a world-class body builder and she will kick your ass. You will likely enjoy getting your ass kicked, but still, she will fuck you up. I wouldn’t risk it unless invited. I believe she may have flexed her vagina at some point during the reading in a more than Kegel fashion; I’ve been trying to recreate the movement but haven’t quite worked it out yet, resulting in a cramp that might or might not have injured my clitoris. As Sydni read Bukowski’s account of drinking and blowing a 2.0-plus on his personal breathalyzer then losing his pants and upchucking his sushi in a self-induced, emasculating drinking competition, laughter and snorting could be heard throughout the audience. And all was good in the world of naked reading. Then came the second half.

The second half lagged a little, except for Sydni’s second reading of Bukowski. When things turned awkward, it was really awkward. The reader began with an understandably nervous air. A first-time unveiling sort of thing. And it should be stated that she was adorable in a Jean Harlow wig and what I remember as a derby hat, though it might have been a porkpie or some other concoction of millinery. What I do remember in finite detail are the socks. Argyles with sock suspenders. She was off to a good start. And then she read Faulkner. Now, I’m as enamored with Faulkner as the next lit nerd, but the Faulkner excerpt from An Error in Chemistry did not strike as powerfully appropriate. Perhaps if the reading had been more confident, the overall effect would have worked. But as it was, the Faulkner reading suggested an initiation: difficult to watch, difficult to turn away from. I’m sure she’ll find her stride in time and I applaud the costuming, a butch alternative to the other four readers, but first-time naked readers and sober literature may not be a good fit. Luckily, Nasty again took the microphone and finished us off with a reciting of Texts from Last Night (@TFLN) written by drunken and disgruntled personalities.

(A particularly entertaining element was the gentleman sitting to my left, a friend of a friend who had come to the city to accompany me to the reading. My date proceeded to interrupt Nasty’s scripted closing to repeatedly commend the troupe, via alcohol-induced slurring, and express his appreciation at witnessing its beauty. It was one of those truly ugly-beautiful moments that felt somehow appropriate to this journey of nakedness and literature.)

I am grateful to the Naked Girls. And more particularly to Baudelaire, Kerouac, Bukowski, Greene, Reverend Jen, and all those late night and drunken texters. Literature and humor and naked women are as kin as any best friends should be. Though I don’t have the confidence to read in the buff, witnessing such an act, as performed by Nasty, Gal, Sydni, Sapphire, and Destiny, made me proud to be woman, as strange as it is to write. I would be honored to one day hear them read my words.

When it comes to the sticky question of modern burlesque, let me say thus: I’ve attended shows I thought were well done, and I’ve attended shows that made me sad, a woman jiggling breasts for animals disguised as ultra-modern pub goers. If I didn’t have an overdeveloped sense of women on stages and what this echoed on a larger scale, perhaps genitalia jiggling alone wouldn’t be such an issue for me. Naked Girls, however, is different. They are all out there for an audience to see, and yet they are more in control, the focus of attention. The body expression exacts a very different reaction because, in this instance, it isn’t about jiggling to get the audience off. The body is a statement and challenge to not only the audience but also the writers and works the readers are reading—Bukowski, Hemingway, Baudelaire. It is something of a middle finger and a stroke, all at once. And it is a turn-on, sure, but you forget about all that because the words really do take center focus until they don’t, but then they do again. It is a sex-cerebellum clusterfuck. But sometimes, clusterfucks can be fun. You have to think in order to navigate them.

 Rae Bryant’s writing has appeared in such places as McSweeney’s, Story Quarterly, Blip Magazine, Gargoyle Magazine, Redivider, Puerto del Sol, and elsewhere.

46 COMMENTS

40 Comments

  1. JEM | March 4, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Have you heard of the Red Umbrella Diaries/Red Umbrella Project? Might be a good companion piece. The founder/director Audacia Ray is NYC-based. http://www.redumbrellaproject.org/create/red-umbrella-diaries/

  2. GZ | March 4, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    Opinion, not critique: Being faced with nipples and labia does not challenge me intellectually – it turns my brain into a seething brick. I am a man pulled beyond thought by female flesh. I cannot find a woman’s jiggling ass clever or puzzling (nor even beautiful in the strictest sense) but when I see one, things such as books become far less interesting. I understand Rae Bryant’s ‘clusterfuck’ thesis but for me this is like reading Dostoyevsky while being axed in the skull.

  3. Lisa Marie Basile | March 4, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    Thank you, Rae, for bringing this discussion to light. Very well written!

    I think sometimes people in literature are unsure how to imbibe burlesque or nudity when it is being presented alongside literature. Is it that we see one as high-art and one not-so-much? Is it that we don’t expect that burlesque is also an medium that can educate and titillate, much the same as literature?

    Someone in another discussion thread about this article stated that she wasn’t sure how to respond to “girls of a certain age” being “in-your-face” with their bodies. They mentioned they witnessed feminism’s birth. Considering Rae Bryant’s initial disconcerted feeling as a postfeminist, there are some points to discuss. It’s entirely fair to be thrown off by nudity at an event. Typically, one doesn’t encounter this so often. However, it is growing more and more common, especially in New York.

    I don’t think there’s anything anti-feminist about a woman who derives pleasure and power from performance. One is allowing oneself to be the subject.

    Burlesque is only in-your-face in that a one walked into an establishment and consented to watching it. It’s not being forced on anyone. And, it can add a lively mix to the literary scene. It’s not just about marketing. It’s about the senses. One of the reasons why some reputable publications, institutions of presentations of literature fail or become stagnant is that they don’t embrace other art forms. The podium can get dusty. It’s OK to try new approaches. I consistently see people on their phones at events, bored. One cannot deny that burlesque leaves you talking and thinking about something.

    And it’s not a thumbs-down to feminism. It’s one approach to the expression of it. More so, women of all ages do burlesque. It’s not, then, limited to some radical new, young group of feminists. It sounds to me there is limited understanding of burlesque, and nudity, and its place in literature. That’s understandable. It is an odd amalgamation, but sometimes it’s OK to be different and open-minded. There’s no competition between the two. It’s art.

  4. Rae Bryant | March 4, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    Heh, yes. I have always been partial to the nude female form on canvas. It is affirming to see women forming themselves in any medium, without the aid of a man’s paintbrush, which doesn’t mean every form elevates. I avoid generalizations on art, when at all possible.

  5. GZ | March 4, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    The Basile comment is extremely thoughtful and articulate, but she talks about theory when I am talk about blood. The podium is very dusty, but wrestling with texts never has to be. I just can’t wrestle so well when I’m aroused. This must sound terribly unsophisticated but for me it’s true. Everyone agrees that it’s OK to try new approaches, to be different, open minded etc but if literary burlesque is art, it isn’t necessarily literature.

  6. Rae Bryant | March 4, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    Oh, and thank you, Lisa. Much appreciated!

  7. Rae Bryant | March 4, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    GZ, it’s a good point you make. Arousal and clear thought do not always go hand in hand; however, when it comes to art, do you feel there is room for the “alternative consciousness.” Burroughs, Poe, Hemingway… men who not only had room for the discourse, alternative as complementary to craft and experience, but also engaged–alcohol, drugs. Does the nude female form not create something of an alternative state or arousal, ax to head, as you mention here? So many female muses have been had by so many men. I wonder if the muse might be allowed out of the head and into her own venue?

  8. Lisa Marie Basile | March 4, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    Hi GZ,

    Thanks for your comment, and your honesty. I hear you.
    I guess I didn’t take into account ‘blood,’ as you say, because the male gaze is a whole different topic entirely. Or, is it? Is not literature subject to the male gaze as well? One includes nudity and one doesn’t.

    I am focusing on the pairing of burlesque with literature, and what it means for both mediums. The assumption that nudity or burlesque may be less feminist or academic or educational than literature (and therefore should not be paired with literature) is up for contention here. PS: I am not suggesting that Rae suggested this.

    Also, it’s not necessarily “literary burlesque,” as sometimes the dancers aren’t doing anything specifically “literary.” We’re just talking about how to react when one sees burlesque at a literary event, or how one sees burlesque in general (as this thread has steered from literature to feminism and burlesque).

    However, as a writer and former performer, I do think that there are parallels one can draw. It’s not “literature” in the terms of device—of course not. But it does have a theme and a story arch.

    GZ, this is a decent and worthwhile discussion, and it is probably best measured performance to performance and performer to performer.

  9. Miracle Jones | March 4, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    Burlesque is at its best when it has narrative logic of some kind, even if it is the narrative logic of the whiskey shot, the unexpected slap, the angry alley rut. Literature is at its best when it has some kind of sexual skill and brazen urge toward aggressive nakedness. I think the two disciplines have a lot to learn from one another still.

  10. Lisa Marie Basile | March 4, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    Miracle, agreed. I think , depending on the situation, that the marriage of the two can be lovely.

  11. GZ | March 4, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    Rae Bryant,
    Of course, that ‘alternative’ consciousness is present in much of literature and each of the authors you mention found a unique way to achieve it, but the experience of one who reads or listens to a work is another matter. Viz. Burroughs might have been in morphine bliss, severe withdrawal, lusting for Moroccan boys or wrapped in the sticky act itself when his ideas took form – yet I might be a neurasthenic youth reading Naked Lunch amidst the dusty stacks and laughing ad hyperventilation. That youth attends one of these events – the g-strings turn him into a stiff, purple mess, and maybe he still laughs at the talking asshole routine but the experience of the text has been wholly changed. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but I’m less interested in ‘dusting off podiums’, sexual transgression or gender politics than what is actually on the page. In my mind, the books we’ve mentioned are already alive and don’t require any carnal reinforcement. I concede that certain works would benefit greatly from vaginal flexion, a Jerry Falwell biography for perhaps. Because it seems to me Burlesque is the perfect form to lampoon or satirize a text. It seems to me that putting any work of literary art on stage with men or women shaking their genitals has to be somehow degrading to a text.

  12. GZ | March 4, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    Even if I’m way off base with my comments, ‘Literature is at its best when it has some kind of sexual skill and brazen urge toward aggressive nakedness.’ Strikes me as a bizarre statement.

  13. Rae Bryant | March 4, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    Hmm, degrading is certainly possible. Yes. But I wouldn’t go so far as to categorize all venues in such a way. “Vaginal flexion.” I don’t know why, but I like it.

  14. Rae Bryant | March 4, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    Oh, right. On the state of consciousness while reading, listening… I find this interesting, yes. But I would offer that Burroughs and Hemingway, both, read while on substance, as well as wrote while on substance. They most certainly listened to Kerouac, Ginsberg and Passos, respectively, while on substance. I would certainly say all these contemporaries had significant parts in the priors’ craft developments–i.e. substance was a large part of craft, which includes reading and listening certainly. Or maybe I’m misunderstanding your position…

  15. Lola | March 4, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    What is the point of this article? There are so many important subjects to focus on these days… but frivolity wins the battle.

  16. Terry | March 4, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    Wilson asked something similar of the pickets, Paul and Burns. Performance, the female body and how it affects the public is a necessary, artistic discussion. I’m glad to see it.

  17. Rae Bryant | March 4, 2013 at 9:11 pm

    Lola, I understand where you’re coming from in a Sandy Hook way. There are many national and international tragedies that require attention and discourse. But in an arts and culture discourse, female form and performance is not only necessary, it is sorely required. Obviously, Lola, is an androgynous name, so I can’t tell if you are male dismissing female form exposed or female dismissing female form exposed. These potentially could be two different discussions, though, both intriguing. Or perhaps you identify androgynous. I can tell you with certainty, that as female identifying female, women exploited through art, academics, culture, etc. is a very important discussion. I, for one, would like to see much more of it. I am very appreciative of PR to offer space for it. And the concept of burlesque and how the female form expresses in a larger societal and artistic venue, especially as it relates to literature and more traditionally male forms, white male forms at that (or perhaps you would say literature has not been governed by white male voices?). Regardless, I find it fascinating. For a woman, raising a woman, female form on a stage and engaging with art, is one of the most important concepts, if one is to believe art to be a form of “soul,” both individually and collectively. Of course, it is easy to understand how a man would not connect to the concept.

  18. Miracle Jones | March 4, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    Lola, the Politics of the Live Reading is probably the most interesting topic facing literature going forward today, since writers are expected to now be both 1). visible so we can gawk and 2). representative of something other than mere text. Analyzing how burlesque and literature intersect is a brilliant, radically incendiary departure point for such a conversation since the two forms are so different from each other (at least on the face of it) and as GZ points out, the appeal of “literature” and the appeal of sex have been seen in most of history as diverging, not dovetailing. Is sex a drug and distraction? Or is it something higher? What does it mean to combine burlesque and literature? Does it mean anything? If you are going to be forced to experience both at the same time (or the same evening), what is that going to do to you as an audience member, as a critic, as a thinker, as a genitalia-haver? Does it create a hostile environment? Does it create some weird syncretism that we ought to be applauding? What should it do? If it does something, how can it be done ethically? What’s more wonderfully frivolous than commenting about junk on the Paris Review?

  19. Chelsey Clammer | March 4, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    In response to Lola:

    I am a creative nonfiction writer who focuses on looking at traumatic life events and seeing how we can heal/change from them. A few months ago, my aunt told me that she didn’t approve of what I was writing, because I was talking about my deceased father’s alcoholism (her brother). She said I shouldn’t write about these topics, because they shed an ugly light on her brother. She said I should “keep these things in my journal.” And that I should use my writing skills for good, like “writing about starving children.”

    While I do understand that there are many political and global topics I could focus my writing on, I choose to not do this, because literature and art are still HUGE factors in our lives. They are what makes us, what helps us to connect to people, to engage with the rest of society. If we were to not only stop doing these creative endeavors, but were to also stop writing about them and the larger social complexities they evoke (sexism, feminism, equal rights, etc) then where would be as people? What would become of this world? Of us?

    Furthermore, literature and art are creative forms that help to change an individual’s response to the world, to open her/his eyes to what is going on inside of them, as well as in a larger social context. It’s how we relate to each other and the world. And isn’t that just as important as writing about politics? Can we really place a value on global, social, and personal issues by saying “x” is more important than “y”? There are many writers out there who ARE writing about global issues. And the writers who write literature are just as important, because without literature and art we wouldn’t be aware of ourselves and who we are in this world. And if that were the case, then how would we even be able to work on global issues? There’s a phrase that says “you can’t be a friend to someone else until you are a friend to yourself.” If we don’t also focus on our own lives/creative endeavors/relationships to people and society, then we wouldn’t be in the right place to where we could talk about and work on larger issues. You need both. And you especially need writing like Rae Bryant’s because of all of the complexities she brings up and ways in which she gets people to think—not just about the issues, but to understand how excellent writing and art affect us all. How literature and art are what makes us human.

  20. Lola | March 5, 2013 at 9:47 am

    Sorry to disappoint you. I am a woman and I am a feminist. Again, with so many important subjects to be discussed, I am surprised…

  21. Rae Bryant | March 5, 2013 at 9:58 am

    No disappointment to be a woman and feminist, Lola. Certainly not here. If I understand your position, though, there are only certain topics related to women and body expression that are feminist worthy and discussion worthy?

  22. GZ | March 5, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Rae Bryant – My position was a bit vague, but I’m talking about the existential distinction between the writer and reader of a specific text. You bring up some excellent points but what you’re talking about sounds more like the dynamics of influence.

    I meant vaginal flexion both literally and as a clumsy metaphor for feminine erotic critique.

    Apparently ‘Lola’ was not a reference to the Kinks but that was an acute deduction on your part.

    It seriously disturbs me to hear intelligent people peremptorily dismiss discussion of art (or feminism).

  23. Rae Bryant | March 5, 2013 at 11:16 am

    GZ, very much agreed. I like your style.

  24. Chelsey Clammer | March 5, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    Lola, it needs to be stated that these issues and discussions are aspects of our lives that feminists have been wrestling with for a long time. For instance, in a 1988 article titled “Women’s Performance Art: Feminism and Postmodernism” Jeanie Forte states that through the lens of post-modern feminist theory, women’s performance art can be inherently political. She says, “All women’s performances are derived from the relationship of women to the dominate system of representation, situating them within a feminist critique. Their disruption of the dominant system constitutes a subversive and radical strategy of intervention vis a vis patriarchal culture.” (http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/3207658?uid=3739256&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21101911635857).

    And this article is from 1988. As we grow and change as a culture, especially through art and performance and the onslaught of “neo-burlesque,” we need to continue the conversation in order to subvert different aspects of how the male gaze, sexism, and the body as it is performed function. As a culture, we are constantly facing new theories and challenges as we grow. There will never be an end-all point, or a moment in which these discussions are not important as they affect and represent how our culture functions, how it is that the dominant system of patriarchal culture is something we must continue to question and subvert.

    And furthermore Lola, I am interested in what you would rather be discussing. And when you state that, I want you to think about how gender and culture function within the dominant/oppressive narratives of our society. The issues of gender, oppression, representation and the gaze (how we look at things and how things are interpreted) is present in any discussion about anything, whether overtly or subtly. It is always there, and it is not something that we can ignore, nor should we try to. And since you identify yourself as a feminist, I’m curious about what your definition of feminist is, and how you, a feminist, can really believe that gender, performance, and creative endeavors are not important topics. All of this is to say that it strikes me as odd that a feminist would be surprised by someone wanting to discuss issues about gender and, well, feminism.

    Furthermore, Lola you state that this topic/dialogue is “frivolous.” But your comments are very frivolous and not engaging with any sort of discussion. I would love to hear your own thoughts on these matters and help to explain to me how this topic is not important to the lives of women.

  25. Lisa Marie Basile | March 5, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    I’m not sure who can decide what is an “important discussion.” If we all decided it wasn’t important to discuss performance and women and sexuality, then I’m pretty sure we’d be facing a pretty dark time.

    Everything is “important” should we find it so. I know it’s important to me, as a woman, as a feminist, as a performer, as a writer. As a human. I also think news, current affairs, politics and the economy are important topics. But if we continued performing and creating and being without taking into account the nuances and perceptions and implications of what we’re doing, we’d be shouting into a void, bobbing noiselessly, never know how to grow or evolve. Never finding new ways of understanding one another’s motivations and inspirations. That’s SO bleak.

    For one to say “this isn’t worth our time,” is just aggressive and regressive. I bet you didn’t mean to imply that to such a degree, but, you know, people are going to respond as they have.

    I am searching for an analogy. It’s like deciding which books are important. Is Twilight good? People say it’s not well-written (it’s not), but it sure has brought to light myriad issues that need to be discussed in today’s Tween-girl culture.

    Is Twilight important when compared to Sandy Hook? Obama? Is the obsession with man-as-saviour -and-controller not important as well? I mean, sure, things APPEAR “frivolous,” but at the end of the day, they have an impact on us.

    I think it’s fair, and right and necessary and obvious to discuss these things.

  26. Cris Mazza | March 5, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    The Naked Girls Reading Series seems to be a work of performance art. The materials being used to make the art are young women’s bodies, their brains, and works of writing by (white) males. The young women’s brains read the work by the white males, juxtaposing the literature (or the sound of the text) with the visual of the female body … albeit, the female body only in the particular context of the Burlesque (i.e. not the female body, say, sleeping or bathing or riding a bicycle, also not the female body at 50, 60 or 70 years of age). It is not all inclusive of all literature, all literary experience, or all aspects of the female form. Like any art, its value is to be found in the responses to it, thus Bryant’s essay. If it provokes, it has done its job. I don’t believe either this performance art nor the response to it by Rae Bryant is suggesting this is the only way literature can be effective. Thus, I didn’t understand the comment that included: “writers are expected to now be … representative of something other than mere text.” Why? And how did text become “mere”?

  27. Lisa Marie Basile | March 5, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    GZ—
    Thanks for your comments. They’re interesting!

    On the degrading: respect my work. I respect the work of other authors and poets. I respect literary readings. Even if I don’t respond to someone’s work, it doesn’t take away the merit they may deserve.

    If they were to read at an event, say, at an academic institution—you’re right—perhaps burlesque performers wouldn’t be an interesting or necessary addition to the panel.

    If you’re invited to read at a show where burlesque is involved, and you accept, you go into it realizing your work is entering into a different kind of performative space. You don’t have to say yes.

    If you should say yes, you realize that there are multiple mediums on display. If you don’t want your work “degraded,” don’t put your work on display besides burlesque performers, but know that keeping an open-mind can only serve. It is a performance to performance basis. Isn’t it?

    You’re right. It isn’t about “dusting off podiums,’ entirely. But if someone produces a Lolita-appreciation evening, and they book a reader whose work is influenced by or translates Nabokov along with a performer who translates Lolita into performance art, why not be open to both mediums? Ideas of high-art, literature and story-telling are subjective and, you know, fluid.

    Nabokov’s work doesn’t need tits and ass, you’re right. But if done well, alternate interpretations and parodies and illuminating performance—whatever the medium—is interesting. Let’s not make this a black and white issue.

    Nudity doesn’t have to equal ‘trashy’ or ‘dirty.’ It’s just nudity. It’s up to us to reappropriate our bodies. Also, it’s good fun. That never hurt anyone.

  28. Lisa Marie Basile | March 5, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    My note should read “I respect my work.”

  29. Lisa Marie Basile | March 5, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    Forgive me if I am wrong, but when the comment, “writers are expected to now be … representative of something other than mere text” was written, the writer meant that with today’s focus on social media (Facebook author pages, Twitter pages for books, Instagram images of book readings, blog interviews, online literary journals) and performance (with more reading venues and literary salons and readings than ever), many authors are presenting not only their work but their personality or their brand. Plenty of people use Pinterest, for example, to brand their literary aesthetics.

    Many authors are taking marketing into their own hands through these generous venues. That’s not to say that literary parlors weren’t also revealing author-as-person in bygone eras. There’s just a considerably greater amount of outreach and presentation in the digital age, so authors are sort on display more widely.

    I do think the “mere” was meant to suggest “only” and not “unimportant.”

  30. GZ | March 5, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    Lisa Maire Basile
    I agree, these issues are not black/white. As to degradation, I was thinking from the perspective of the text rather than the author or performer. I’m sure David Shields would slap me. In a more inclusive context, I would agree with Cris Mazza’s comment about performance art.

    Nudity is not inherently dirty or trashy but burlesque embraces just those qualities in order to achieve its ends. These women may be doing something literary, reclaiming their sexual bodies, creating satire or challenging mores but they do so heavily roughed, topless, and wearing costume jewelry. They are not simply nude, and one looks for fig leaves to find perversion. Whether ironic or not, these women make use of prurience – therefore it must be part of the discussion. To stop at ‘nudity isn’t dirty’ might even be disempowering.

  31. Lisa Marie Basile | March 5, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    I agree. Stopping at ‘nudity in’t dirty’ isn’t a goal of mine. I think one can be “dirty” in the sexual sense, for ourselves, for others. That’s good dirty.

    I was using “dirty” in the sense that it might be something broken or muddled or inappropriate and unwanted, to some degree. As in a religious person feeling dirty for doing something profane. Nudity doesn’t always have to be something that leaves the realm of the positive, the beautiful, the sacred, the meaningful, the glorious, etc.

    It was vague.

    I also don’t think burlesque always “embraces just those qualities [dirtiness and trashiness] in order to achieve its ends.” There are plenty of ends. There are plenty of ways to define it all. I thinks it all based on the performance and the performer’s desires, and either way, it doesn’t matter. If it makes a person feel good, that’s one thing. But spectators will be talkers, which is also a good thing.

  32. Franky Vivid | March 7, 2013 at 11:29 am

    Rae, thank you for the beautiful piece. But thank you even more for the comment below it where you compare the nudity of the ladies to the muse in her own venue and, better yet, the “alternate consciousness” like a drug. You truly understand the magic of the event. If you’re ever in Chicago…

  33. bob | March 11, 2013 at 10:01 am

    Lola, “There are so many important subjects to focus on these days”

    Name one. There’s a good chance I’ll tell you it means nothing to me.

    A petty, narrow minded and essentially bigoted comment.

  34. Rae Bryant | March 14, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Franky, I adore Chicago! Yes, hope to be in Chicago soon. And I should be thanking you and Michelle. The series challenges conventions, celebratory.

  35. Jayne | March 15, 2013 at 4:08 am

    I’m not dismissing the discussion of the relationship between literature and burlesque and its feminist readings. I’m a feminist myself and I think it’s really interesting. But I was really let down by this article, it feels like incoherent rambling to me with hints at points thrown in here and there. I don’t think that there are subjects that should be confined to personal diaries, but I do think that is indeed the best place for half-formed ideas, ramblings, and mind-wanderings. Good to know you attempted the vaginal flexing move, I needed to know that.

  36. Malina | March 17, 2013 at 3:49 am

    Sounds to me like a writer who might have a contact here at the Review was given the chance to write a blog post without having essentially any idea what they’re talking about. I’m not against anything you say, and I totally get the need for the discussion, but…

  37. Sam | March 19, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    Wreaks of sour grapes to me, Jayne and Malina. Or ancient sour grapes. Or a henpeck, which is one reason so many younger women like myself spend so much time apologizing for my sour feminist kin. I, for one, or actually not one, many as shown here, find the article fresh and the voice interesting. Flex away, Rae! I hope to read more from you.

  38. Sam | March 19, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    Add to that, there are several burlesque dancers or one time dancers who have commented here, I checked sites and names, who not only find the article well thought but applicable. Franky, for instance, is one of the founding members of Naked Girls. He seems to think the article hits home. Sometimes commentators/disgruntled writers who were likely rejected by The Paris Review are trolls. One more thing. Feminism is a living breathing entity. No one owns it. Do not put your feminist brand on others. Women are not cows. They can have their own feminist understandings and how it applies to them.

  39. Rae Bryant | March 19, 2013 at 10:04 pm

    Hmm, let me put the speculations to rest , if I may? 1. No, I’ve not danced burlesque. 2. I have danced on stage, classically trained ballerina. 3. I have been partially unclothed in front of a camera for money, modeling. I’m not proud of it but there was a photographer who captured me against my consent, less than covered. I am a mother. A teacher. A writer. An editor. A wife. A human. A rape survivor. I am many things. I resist the label feminist exactly for the herein exemplified attitude and top down directives that some self-identified feminists seem to think they are so entitled to place on other women. I don’t like when men try to direct women, but I most certainly detest when women try to direct women in the name of feminism. I find it offensive and counterintuitive to the work and suffrage before me. Additionally, I am tired of being prim. And proper. I like the female form. About time it has space off a man’s canvas and page and a prude’s whip, for that matter. Balls out. Hell yes. No more for the sake of a conventional ideal of “woman.” Lay down the boxed canon. And anyone woman who hides behind anonymoity to take pot shots at other women is no woman at all. Break it the fuck out, sisters. Proud and independent. Heh. Now you want to go isms? Let’s get it on. I’ll buy the first round.

  40. Cedric Ceballos | March 5, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    Never mind the gender politics: neo-burlesque is aesthetic effrontery. Embarrassing red-lipsticked playacting by oversexed nerds. The “tasteful” stuff is still redolent of abominable “Kustom Kulture” krap.

    Reading and burlesque? Well, it’s corny. And burlesque is corny, so…works, I guess!

6 Pingbacks

  1. […] essay “In the Buff: Literary Readings, Pasties, and Jiggling Genitalia” is  now at The Paris Review, online. A big thank you to Sadie Stein, Lorin Stein and the rest of the Paris Review staff for […]

  2. […] essay “In the Buff: Literary Readings, Pasties, and Jiggling Genitalia” is  now at The Paris Review. Here’s a little […]

  3. […] Morals, released from Patasola Press, NY, in June 2011. Her stories and essays have appeared in The Paris Review Daily, StoryQuarterly, McSweeney’s, BLIP Magazine, Gargoyle Magazine, and Redivider, among other […]

  4. […] stories and related essays can be found at Three Rooms Press’ Have a NYC2, McSweeney’s, The Paris Review, and Gargoyle […]

  5. […] Pen/Hemingway and Pushcart as well as shortlisted for the Pen Emerging Awards. Her work appears in The Paris Review Online, Huffington Post, McSweeney’s, Gargoyle Magazine, and Redivider, among other publications. She […]

  6. […] “My first time with the postfeminist, burlesque lit girl culture—pasties, G-strings, audience clapping to jiggling booties—I was in a fun little Brooklyn bar called the Way Station. I had, minutes before, read from my own work, what I thought was a wryly humorous and oh-so-literary postfeminist exploration of time, culture, and relationships. I knew the term “burlesque” had been thrown around on the billing, but to my Midwestern sensibilities, burlesque meant feathers and brief flashes of almost breast, the inner curves of almost vagina, with the full monty saved for fictional accounts. This, on the other hand, was a literary reading. So you can imagine my reaction to the dancer’s G-stringed ass shaking so close to my face I felt an instinct to throw up my hands in self-defense….” READ MORE […]

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