08/23/15

Always A Happy Ending

Roman Orgy At Caesar’s Time, Henryk Siemiradzki,1872.

Roman Orgy At Caesar’s Time, Henryk Siemiradzki,1872.

The Sultanette Summer Reading Guide is here!

Too late for a summer reading list, you carp? Really? The Sultanette is willing to wager you’ve been more committed to polishing off pitchers of Margaritas than The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Besides, what I have to offer you, my discerning orgiasts, gives new meaning to the term, plot climax.

Clayton Cubitt’s Hysterical Literature is not so much a read as a voyeuristic read-to. A chance to sit back, plug into YouTube and make a dent in that literary bucket list. There’s Whitman’s Leaves of Grass read to you by Alicia, A Clockwork Orange (Amanda), American Psycho (Stormy), and Sleeping Beauty (Margaret).

Nude reading, Jiri Ruzek, 2010.

Nude reading, Jiri Ruzek, 2010.

There are nine readers in all – you my recognize some from their day (or night) jobs. But don’t count on them making it to the epilogue. About three pages in these diligent readers are done in, not by the mighty power of penned words but by the Big Buzzy. Out of sight below the reading table and manipulated by the unseen Katie James, this seditious sex tool puts a new spin on the narrative arc.

Hold on to your rosary beads, Holy Rollers! Before you jump to the conclusion that The Sultanette is exposing you to pornographic filth, a word about Hysterical Literature’s creator, Clayton Cubitt. An internationally exhibited photographer and filmmaker, Cubitt’s clients range from Nike to Microsoft, David Yurman and HBO. His editorial can be found in Vogue and Rolling Stone, WIRED and Smithsonian. Sanctimonious impulse satisfied?

Beyond playing nice with the establishment (he assiduously follows YouTube’s Community Guidelines) what qualifies Cubitt for this sly articulation of erotica must be found in his philosophy. As he explains to Toni Bentley in her profile “I’ll Read What She’s Reading,” in this month’s Vanity Fair: “I became interested in subverting people’s increasingly sophisticated images of themselves.” An agitator! Now we’re talking!

At a Book, 1882, Marie Bashkirtseff, Kharkiv Museum.

At a Book, 1882, Marie Bashkirtseff, Kharkiv Museum.

From the two readings I watched purely for research purposes (maybe it was three readings, all right five!) the stratagem Cubitt employs couldn’t be more basic or less lascivious: Woman sits at table in Charlie-Rose type black background with literature of choice, camera rolling. She has complete freedom over what she wears, hair and makeup.

In perky polka dots and librarian glasses, Stormy is cheerily earnest. Alicia is bare-shouldered and impish with a gamey curl to her upper lip. Amanda’s braids fall over ample breasts but all she reveals is her tattooed arms. Except for the tattoos peaking from the sleeves of Margaret’s white T-shirt, her only accessory is a kindle. Like the good Girl Scouts we are wired to be, they primly introduce themselves and the recitation begins.

Julie Nixon Eisenhower with Girl Scouts, 1969, Nat’l Archives.

Julie Nixon Eisenhower with Girl Scouts, 1969, Nat’l Archives.

Soon things go awry. There is a sucking up of air between syllables. A sudden “whoot” interrupts a prepositional phrase. Hands flutter to forehead. A surreptitious grin concludes a stanza of Leaves as if the reader shares an inside joke with Walt Whitman. Our readers forge ahead with the assignment. Stormy wrestles with sentences between gasps and laughter. Margaret resorts to speed reading Sleeping Beauty so she can get the job done before Mr. Buzzy has his way with her.

With each reading, the tension builds. You begin yearning for the defining moment. Not so much to watch an orgasm – leave that to punctilious porn – but to revel in that moment of psychic release. When desire trumps responsibility. When required reading is irrevocably eclipsed by uncontrollable, inescapable pleasure. Yes!

I realized a little late, while watching the series on a steamy Manhattan afternoon near an open window in my apartment, that I’d be wise to turn down the volume as each reader reached ecstasy. (Is that why the retired curmudgeon across the hall give me a foxy smile at the mail box yesterday?)

Passion Flowers & Hummingbirds, c1880, Martin Johnson Heade, Mus Fine Arts, Boston.

Passion Flowers & Hummingbirds, c1880, Martin Johnson Heade, Mus Fine Arts, Boston.

Hysterical Literature is engrossing because it teases us, in a full frontal world, to imagine what’s under the table. Because it reminds us that sex remains one sultry, torrid jungle we have been unable to effectively tame. Is this why 45 million viewers have logged into the series on YouTube since its debut in 2012? (Counting the pirated versions in 200 countries, the number could be closer to 100 million.) Why, as Bentley reports, the alt-porn star Stoya got more hits reading Necrophilia Variations then her X-rated clips on free porn sites?

Tools for Women, Sears Roebuck Catalog, 1918.

Tools for Women, Sears Roebuck Catalog, 1918.

Reading from her “dog-eared Penguin edition” of Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady (not viewable in the series), Bentley takes participatory journalism to a new high. “I never really understood the point of vibrators,” she admits in the VF piece “particularly if there was an able-bodied man around.” The Sultanette concurs: Why do your business at the self-serve island when a woman can always find a volunteer to man the pump.

MSH80_eruption_mount_st_helens_05-18-80But watching these intrepid readers expose their private joy of sex and books is an empowering celebration of the feminine mystique. A happy realization that in our superb individuality, there are as many orgasms as there are women. That our form of erotica is not a projectile vomit but a molten spring from the center of the volcano. Not a marking of territory but a leap into abandon. Not an ego skirmish obsessed with the size of weaponry but a sensual reconnaissance whose victory is sheer elation.

The Hammock, 1884, Henri-Pierre Picou.

The Hammock, 1884, Henri-Pierre Picou.

Bentley’s post-orgasm sensation is as thrilling as when she is “spun open” reading Portrait of a Lady. “Once I regained my breath,” she says, “I collapsed into a very particular laughter, a deep, rich laughter that is the spontaneous denouement of every Hysterical Literature session: a woman delighted, a woman who cannot believe she did what she just did, felt what she just felt. A woman drenched in joy.”

Still think it’s too late for a summer read? Before you hit the farm stand for that last batch of limp basil, shuck the final harvest of sweet corn, or marinate one more chicken teriyaki for the grill, why not head for the hammock with the handheld device of your choice and fill the denouement of August with some Hysterical Literature? Even the dog days of summer deserve a happy ending.