Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Nude" vs. "Naked"

Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995)
"Nude" or "Naked"?
(Image from New York Times)

Scholars on the Milton List recently broached a discussion on the lack of clothing that will have to characterize the prelapsarian Adam and Eve in the upcoming film version of Paradise Lost, a point that I remarked upon:
But the malingering question . . . is: Will this film's nudity strike audiences as 'pornographic'?
I repeated this question on the Milton List, adding a further reason for my inquiry:
My wife and I translate Korean literature into English -- she handles the Korean to English, I handle her English -- and a couple of years ago, we translated Jang Jung-il's book When Adam's Eyes Opened.

One of the stories in that book was very disturbing to translate, and if I had known in advance, I would have declined.

In describing my reaction to that story -- in which an unnamed man and an unnamed woman meet and engage in sexual intercourse for a week at an obscure beach -- I told an acquaintance, "The sex in the story wasn't erotic, but it wasn't pornographic, either. It was, however, explicit."

Jang's intention was for the story to serve as some sort of social criticism, as were all of the stories in the book, and for the most part, the book succeeds as a work of art that critiques Korean mores of the 1980s and 1990s.

In the sex-on-the-beach story, the man and woman [turn increasingly brutal and violent in their sexual relations and] kill each other in the end, and I have to say, as I told my wife when I'd finished that particular story, "I'm glad they killed each other!"

She laughed, but I meant it.

I think that sex in writing can play any number of roles -- erotic, pornographic, social-critical, and so on. Roles can even be mixed. Pornography is often used as lampoon (I almost want to pun and say 'lampoontang', but my puns often get me in trouble, so I'll refrain), so even that isn't entirely without socially redeeming value.

Anyway, my query was motivated by a desire for clarification in the definitions of the terms "erotic," "pornographic," and so on. Specifically, I asked whether these terms were different in meaning, or merely different terms for the same thing.
The discussion of "nude" versus "naked" -- along with other distinctions (e.g., erotic versus pornographic) -- continued on the list, and the debate grew rather emotionally heated as scholars took opposite sides. In this context, I was therefore fascinated to read the following remark in the New York Times obituary of Lucian Freud by William Grimes, "Lucian Freud, Figurative Painter Who Redefined Portraiture, Is Dead at 88" (July 21, 2011):
His female subjects in particular seemed not just nude but obtrusively naked. Mr. Freud pushed this effect so far, [John] Russell once noted, "that we sometimes wonder if we have any right to be there."
This use of "nude" and "naked" by Grimes implies a significant difference . . . but of what sort? Another passage seems relevant:
From the late 1950s, when he began using a stiffer brush and moving paint in great swaths around the canvas, Mr. Freud's nudes took on a new fleshiness and mass. His subjects, pushed to the limit in exhausting extended sessions, day after day, dropped their defenses and opened up. The faces showed fatigue, distress, torpor.

The flesh was mottled, lumpy and, in the case of his 1990s portraits of the performance artist Leigh Bowery and the phenomenally obese civil servant Sue Tilley, shockingly abundant
Grimes would appear to suggest that as the "nudes took on a new fleshiness and mass," they turned "naked."

I infer that critics sense a need for a distinction between such terms as "nude" and "naked," but I'm unclear on precisely what this distinction is. Some scholars at the Milton List argued that there is no distinction, but people like Grimes seem to be getting at some sort of difference.

Perhaps I should ask Grimes himself . . .

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At 5:26 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Will this film's nudity strike audiences as 'pornographic'?

Ask Michelangelo Buonarroti...

At 5:31 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

Nude seems to be more of an artistic term - nudity in an art-related context. Naked seems to be more of the default term for being nude.

That is the answer I would have given before reading the post, and it seems to fit the context in which the people in the post were discussing it.

As in, Grimes might be saying (consciously or not) that the more grotesque (to the audience) the portrait became, the less it came across as artistic and thus the more she became "naked" rather than "nude".

Since the artist's name is Freud, I'll throw out -- perhaps there is some tiny connection to non-physical uses for the work - as in giving out your personal information making you feel "naked." We don't use nude or nudity to refer to our feelings...

We don't have terms like "nude aggression."

Nude, used for the arts for so long, seems not to have the deeply personal, raw aspects that naked can carry in certain contexts...???...

At 5:44 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Dario, the Milton List did ask that question . . . and got various answers.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:48 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The Freudian suggestion is interesting -- we don't say "nude" aggression, which would lack force.

I'll blog on a similar point tomorrow.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:29 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

Jeff, I stopped writing for the Milton List. From now on, my only Milton place will be this site of yours, where not only the issues are interesting, but there is much more fun... and dialogue.

At 6:35 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Dario, you must have stopped rather recently. That is sad to hear. I strongly suspect that many will be sorry no longer to read your posts on Milton, Dante, and that other guy . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:10 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Yes, very recently: I mentioned it in my last post there.

Nobody complained, anyway.

Now I am off home, but will be sending you the complete TeaM and PL 575 files soon. I know that you don't like reading long texts on screen (nor do I), but you can 'pick at' a page every now and then.

[ "That other guy"? You weren't paying attention, were you? :-D ]

At 7:59 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Tasso, wasn't it? But surely he didn't object to your posts.

I must have missed, or misconstrued your signing off.

Jeffery Hodges

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