27 April 2016



Of all human nudity — and there's no other kind of nudity — the penis is the only part that reveals more than, or something other than, nudity. It isn't skin, or it is no longer only skin, but is as uncovered as skin. There's nothing to push aside, neither hair nor lips, in order to expose the penis that the patch of hair presents and doesn't hide. It's there to be seen, not suspended between the thighs, as is it is often said to be, but in front, flanked by its family jewels. Nudity here lacks any reserve of modesty. The skin is not the luminous transparence of the body: it is only an organ and an additional limb. In truth, the body is left behind: we are before another presence that is singular, independent— and hanging out. Either the penis falls, almost shapeless and crumpled, an awkward pendulum, or it's erect, swollen, huge, powerfully in action, with meaning and presence only in ejaculation.

The mimesis of the body is struggling here, even broken. One can only paint a penis by nesting it in the hollow of thighs that are close together, like a little ball caught in the fleece of pubic-hair. That's the way it is often depicted in classical painting when vine leaves or shells are not used. One might say this shows the great beauty [venuste] of the penis (and therefore its feminization). But the erect penis can't be painted (or photographed) without being pornographic, that is to say, without revealing a methexis without mimesis, a contact, a contagion that dissolves the representation. The penis is the joker of the naked — but an uncompromising joker, forever too improper really to be put into play. 

Yet Carracci succeeds in treating the unbeatable. Polyphemus the Cyclops has just caught Galatea, the object of his romantic-desire, in the arms of Acis. He raises the rock that he is going to throw at the young man. Polyphemus s penis is thrust forward by the movement of his entire body (just as the piece of loose fabric to the right reveals his penis in its nudity). Although it's raised, the penis isn't erect: in this instant, it is held in the middle between its two possibilities. However, its tip is open: a lighter circle there makes this clear. Corresponding with his shining orifice are the nine mouthpieces of Pan's flute that the giant carries on his back. Ovid's text specifies that it is "an enormous flute, composed of a hundred reeds." 14 One hundred could be represented by ten, the tenth reed therefore being the penis. It isn't going to ejaculate; it's going to sing or whistle while Polyphemus shouts (polyphemus literally means "one who has many voices"). This musical sexual organ is raised like a little trumpet that has just escaped the embarrassment of being a misshapen trunk or a rubicund cudgel. Polyphemus has a harmonious boner, and for once the penis can exhibit itself right in the middle of a painting. However, this harmony is ironic: changed into a sonorous pipe, the penis misses out on the sexual pleasure it was after.

The irony is made even stronger by the presence of the volcano on the slopes of which the scene takes place (Etna, as Ovid specifies). To the right of the giant's head, we can make out a spurt of fire on the mountain, while to the left of his thigh, at the same height as his penis, a second crater holds open its fuming mouth. Sonorous or gaseous, this penis only spurts air.

There is more. Open, in the center of the scene, the phallic mouthpiece is eye-catching, but perhaps it also plays the role of an eye turned toward the spectator, as so often appears in painting. The Cyclops's one eye looks up at the sky; Galatea's eye, looking back, rolls upward; and Acis protects his eyes. But the penis offers to us a blind and obscene orbit, a sort of comic menace. It is as if to the spurt from the rocks beneath which the crushed Acis's blood will gush out to form a river, there corresponded a spurt of paint in our eye, which is nothing but Polyphemus 's furious spasm and the painting of desire, which cannot be represented.

— Federico Ferrari and Jean-Luc Nancy, Being Nude

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