Thinking the Nude

Humans like clothed life. We enjoy cooked food. We dress and live our life clothed with culture, religion, tradition, science and technology. Nudity is nauseating us yet in the artistic works we can trace that it is celebrated. Nude is artistic-metaphysics par excellence. It is usually abstracted from the dimensions of the particular. The nude portrayals are anonymous to us. Even if we know them like Adam of Micheal Angelo, Adam is sufficiently distant to us across time and space and does not upset our aesthetics sensibilities. The artistic works usually manifest the nude as fixed, immobile and timeless beauty. These works of art take us to the sublime.  Such works raise the raw naked question: What is human life?  This question strikes at our very birth and death. Job from the bible seems to answer it for us when he says, ‘naked I came, and naked I will go’ (Job.1:21) It reveals the vanity of clothed life. Nude, therefore, does not represent the body. It represents an idea or better still an ideality. It stands for the idea/utopia of human life that is exposed to our gaze that is immobilised before the fixity and eternity of the beauty of the nude.  What is the idea that the nude portrays about our life? Can we really think the nude?  In our days the nude seems to have met its end. People are hurt by the portrayals of nude images of gods and goddesses. We have lost the distance that the nude marked and made us comfortable.

To a large extent, the nude fails as well as succeeds. It is an absolute-being-in-itself that is simultaneously an absolute-being-outside itself.  The nude is silent. It is wordless. It does not speak. Since it does not have the luxury of verbal language, the nude is even more naked. Therefore, it is always ek-static/ outside itself in a state of utter disorientation. But the nude breaks the silence. It speaks without speaking.  We are faced with the gaze of the nude. The meaning that the nude communicates without speaking exceeds our systems of signification/meaning.  It becomes an open sign that speaks directly to the onlooking spectator. Its speech cannot be closed to one singular meaning. It speaks without speaking in many tongues. The spectator and his or her gaze also contribute to the polyvalent speaking of the nude.

This is why the nude can be called pure signification. It is the first exposition of our life. It manifests our raw life.   In it, the nude, nudity and the flesh melt into one another and/or oscillate in a movement that refuses to resolve into a standstill closure. The nude is always open and does not come to the closure of signification. It is fecund in meaning and keeps generating it in its interaction with the onlooker. The nude lives on the liminal edge questioning the clothedness of our life.   Nude is completely detached from clothed life. It shares our life with animals, plants and other life that do not need clothes. It seems to remind us what Derrida said when he wrote: The animal, therefore I am. The nude interrogates the clothed life of its onlooker.

Perhaps we need to strip bare our clothed life to understand life itself. Our naked coming and naked going is hidden from our consciousness because we are totally immersed in the clothed life.  Maybe we have to come to terms with the nudity of our clothed life which has very often become the hiding place for many evils.  Nudity introduces us to an endless interrogation of our clothed life. Very often our clothes fail to hide our nudity. Nudity is an open signifier that semiotizes and hence takes up the clothes of meaning that remain open. Therefore, the nude is not really nude. It clothes itself in the intersection of its gaze with the gaze of the onlooker. Clothed life is a closed signifier. It has reached the closure of its meaning and has attained a fixation and a kind of semantic immobility and hence we can think that clothed life is actually nude and tending towards nudity. This means we can think together nudity and clothed life. They do cross each other.

But the nude that artworks have revealed are portraying the immanence of our raw life that is totally exposed and unprotected. This means our clothes, cultures, science and technologies etc., can never fully protect us. We are always naked even in our clothes.  We have to come to terms with the fact that our life that is always as Heidegger tells us is moving towards its own impossibility/ death. This is the naked fact of our life. We are born naked and we die naked even in our clothes. We are prone to disease and death and hence stay naked in our clothes. This nakedness in our clothes reminds us of our finitude and frailty. Our clothes cannot save us from it. We are still nakedly finite, frail and fragile in our clothes of all hues and colours.

Acceptance of nakedness makes us real and humble. Otherwise, we live under the false security provided by the mask of clothing. The nude is divine. It makes us transparent.  God loves nudity. The masked/ clothed is a hypocrite to the divine. The nude is a sign of human and divine authenticity. Clothes/ masks are often a sign of inauthenticity.  The reflection that I have done here does not leave us with a choice between nudity and clothed life. We have seen how the nude can be clothed and the clothed can be nude. We have thought the nude and the clothed together. We have attempted to arrive at non-dual thinking that thinks beyond the either/or structure of our habitual thinking. The reminder that naked we have come and naked we will go invites us to choose authenticity and humility. We are always naked before God. We cannot always hide our nakedness by clothing in our society. One day or the other we have to face our nakedness.  True life is always a naked life. Let us have the courage to choose the nudity of our naked life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao