Reading in the Buff, and Other News


On the Shelf

Illustration: Anthony Gross, 1940.


  • Let’s cut to the chase: I’m talking exposed peen. I’m talking gender-queering the Victorian classics. I’m talking nude men, reciting Jane Eyre, on stage, for you. It happens. Lara Williams, who attended a in London performance of Naked Boys Reading, writes, “Watching Naked Boys Reading is an experience akin to a hen do hijacked by a spoken word event: a unexpectedly cerebral night of nude performance art. ‘This is a male voice reading a female text written under a male name,’ says collective co-founder and self-styled ‘drag know-it-all’ Sharon Husbands, after his reading of the closing passages of Wuthering Heights. ‘It’s problematic.’ Husbands has a Ph.D. in gender and sexuality, and speaking with him before he gets on stage it becomes clear very quickly that Naked Boys Reading is an intellectually considered affair; not least when Husbands solemnly says things like: ‘The nudity provides two things: a new lens and modality for the texts, and the care-giving experience of being read to … We want to infantilize men in the same way women are infantilized,’ Husbands tells me. ‘We have to critique these structures.’ ”
  • On the other end of the performance spectrum, there’s Sam Gold, the director mounting a revival of The Glass Menagerie on Broadway, who aims for a remarkably unremarkable theatrical experience. Sasha Weiss writes, “At thirty-eight, Gold is one of the most celebrated theater directors in New York, a master at gently stripping both audience and actors of their expectations and creating a sense of collective interdependence. He does this by dispensing with theatrical conventions—showy sets and costumes, a clear separation between stage and audience, acting that titillates or entertains—so that the focus stays fixed on the bodies of the actors and their words. ‘I’m not very interested in pretend,’ Gold told me. ‘I’m interested in putting people onstage. I want people. And I want a world that reflects the real world.’ His pared-down worlds are, paradoxically, inviting: They corral everyone in the theater toward maximum receptivity. Once you learn the rules and submit to them, it’s as if you’ve been initiated into a family.”

  • Steve Bannon, meanwhile, continues to name-drop The Camp of the Saints, an obscure 1973 French novel that dared to be totally, frankly, brutally racist where others were only furtively, subtly racist: “Upon the novel’s release in the United States in 1975, the influential book-review magazine Kirkus Reviews pulled no punches: ‘The publishers are presenting The Camp of the Saints as a major event, and it probably is, in much the same sense that Mein Kampf was a major event’ … The plot of The Camp of the Saints follows a poor Indian demagogue, named ‘the turd-eater’ because he literally eats shit, and the deformed, apparently psychic child who sits on his shoulders. Together, they lead an ‘armada’ of 800,000 impoverished Indians sailing to France. Dithering European politicians, bureaucrats and religious leaders, including a liberal pope from Latin America, debate whether to let the ships land and accept the Indians or to do the right thing—in the book’s vision—by recognizing the threat the migrants pose and killing them all.”
  • We want our hermits to be sagely, transcendent ascetic types—usually they’re just creeps in the woods. Colin Dickey dissects the popular ideals of hermitage: “Hermits appeal to us because of the allure of simplicity. The hermit’s life is decluttered entirely from human connection or communion—living in a world without dentist appointments or small talk, distractions or annoyances. Living outside of our community, the hermit finds a necessary perspective: A God’s-eye view on the hustle and bustle of the world that consumes and distracts us. Hermitage has almost always been associated with religious or spiritual enlightenment—the purpose is never just to get away into nature but to learn from it. It’s a curiously goal-oriented project, even as its practitioners often reject such thinking.”