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  • Mus(e)ing Bodies in Nancy Huston and Guy Oberson's Poser nue

This article examines Poser nue (2011), a critical commentary about the female nude by Nancy Huston alongside sketches of male nudes, couples, flowers and assorted body parts by her partner Guy Oberson. The article first examines Huston's presentation of nude models' and sex-workers' experience of nudity, which offers an intersectional study of modeling and victimization, and emphasizes the importance of mind and body as well as gender difference when it comes to desire and artistic creation. The essay ends with Oberson's more fluid portrayals of people and plants, and concludes that this clash of sorts between words and images is ultimately a lesson in love and art—that difference should be treasured as well as renegotiated.

Les Editions du chemin de fer are renowned for their experimental practice, bringing together short texts with artworks by contemporary artists, and questioning the relationship between words and images. Illustration in their publications thus exceeds a purely supportive functionality. Poser nue (2011) is no exception, incorporating a critical commentary about the female nude by Canadian writer Nancy Huston, and charcoal and chalk sketches of male nudes, couples, flowers and an assortment of body parts by her partner, Swiss painter Guy Oberson. The former draws on Huston's personal experiences of nude modeling and those of author Anaïs Nin and photographer Lee Miller; fellow muses turned voyeurs. Huston draws parallels between their experiences in the field of fine art, and the practice of pornography and prostitution (what she terms "le théâtre p & p" (Burqa 18)); the only tenable difference in her eyes being one of subjective, aesthetic judgement. In so doing, Huston draws attention to gendered power imbalances within both industries (Carnets 73), in keeping with a widely accepted feminist view and the male-oriented structures outlined in John Berger's seminal text Ways of Seeing, which I will draw upon throughout this article. And yet, here as in other works Huston emphasizes the pleasure to be found in being objectified, and rejects the conceptualization of the female nude or sex worker as a wholly passive or victimized individual. This nuanced outlook is an important contribution to feminist theorizations in these areas, belying the Madonna-whore complex and accepted conceptions of victimhood, and emphasizing the mental as well as bodily investment central to these employments.

This text is accompanied rather curiously by Oberson's drawings of men (including self-portraits), tulips, lilies, and hands, chins and feet. Aside from the jacket cover upon which Huston herself appears, the female nude is noticeably absent. On a corresponding basis, Oberson's oeuvres trouble gender binaries (along with those of East and West, power and fragility). As we will see, this runs counter to Huston's endorsement of sexual difference. I will begin by outlining Huston's take on the female nude and sex/uality, before exploring the ways in which Oberson's images concurrently complement and contradict Huston's key messages, their creative bodies wrestling with one another to produce what Huston terms "une troisième entité" (Poser, front sleeve). In so doing, I hope to convey how this interdisciplinary text constitutes an intellectual foray into not just textual-pictorial relations, but those between men and women, the masculine and feminine, allowing in the process for an innovative insight into the thoughts of muses and artists, in creative and X-rated worlds alike. [End Page 187]

Nude and Un/amused

This so-called third entity is introduced on the first inner sleeve of this work, and its meaning (taken from an extract of Huston's text) revealed on the last: "le désir entre vous [nue] et lui [artiste] fera naître une troisième entité qui n'est pas enfant mais effigie, magiquement vivante…" (46). In other words, the potential desire that can emerge between muse and artist is not only incidental but crucial to the work of art. The artworks displayed in Poser nue constitute the love children of Huston and Oberson's aesthetic, erotic encounter, born out of "une telle électricité" between them (46).1 In the same passage, Huston describes the artist's observing eye, "le regard à la fois intense et impersonnel de l'homme sur votre peau, vos formes." (46) Instead of condemning the male gaze, Huston presents the work of artist and model as a collaborative and pleasurable act: "Sentir qu'ensemble vous faites quelque chose de fort" (46). The act of observation is in this way depicted as a shared process, as is the final art piece, doing away with simplistic readings of the muse-artist dynamic. This also avoids reducing the female nude to the position of victim. While, as will be explained, Huston outlines the dangerous implications of nude modeling for women, she stresses the paradoxical pleasure to be gained from the reciprocal seduction of muse and artist. In this case, both are active participants in the production of art and desire, and it becomes impossible to conceive of the muse-artist relationship as an unambiguous practice: as art for art's sake, purely and simply. The opening and closing sleeves thus pre-empt the foreshortening of the space between muse and artist, writing and drawing, victim and perpetrator, and the body and artistic creation which defines this work, where women and men feature as nude muses.

It is interesting that Huston should focus so resolutely on the female nude then. To start my analysis of her arguments I would like to begin at the beginning, with the title Poser nue. To pose is always to perform, be that self-evidently or in a subtler way, when we are asked to look natural. The term repose is also noteworthy, meaning not to pose again but to rest, recalling the typical position of the (predominantly female) nude within Western art throughout the ages, lying down horizontally with the eyes directed towards the painter. The performative term pose thus also goes hand in hand, linguistically and socially speaking, with the standardized position performed by women throughout art history, as sexualized object of the male gaze. Huston implies a correlation between this aesthetic performance and that of porn-stars, asking why it is that artworks by Toulouse-Lautrec, Schiele and Picasso are revered (25), and those of porn-producers and unskilled artists vilified on the grounds of their lewd content. She demands why one work should be deemed less morally sound than another because of a lack of artistic ability (50). Why should the choice to poser nue be judged differently—ethically and morally speaking—depending on the aesthetic and social context in which a woman performs her nudity? Angela Carter argues that "there is no question of an aesthetics of pornography. It can never be art for art's sake. Honorably enough, it is always art with work to do" (527-39). Huston extends this perspective to the field of fine art, proposing that high art is "always art with work to do," too, albeit coupled with a potentially higher aesthetic value. It is worth noting that taste itself is a sensual term. Aesthetic judgement has to go [End Page 188] through the mouth; we distinguish between the estimable and condemnable by chewing them over. As Sigmund Freud would have it, the oral stage comes first. Huston cleanses our palate, reminding us that we have all too often confused the aesthetically tasteful with the morally sound, or artistic interest with asexual disinterest. Huston thus makes us rethink the condition of the female nude not just within pornography, erotica or trash imagery, but in the realm of high art. This perspective is reinforced by Huston's anecdotal style which reaches out to the reader, making for a simultaneously intimate and accessible narrative whereby the layers between reader and writer are progressively peeled back. This is reinforced by the use of second-person narration, and such phrases as: "les modèles de peintres—vous le savez, ayant vous-même fait partie de ce sous-ensemble de l'humanité—pensent à mille et mille chose" (13). The sleeve and opening references to specific times and places (starting with a dinner party) provide sufficient contextualization to disillusion us from assuming any direct communication between reader and narrator (we know the narrative voice to be speaking to the younger Nancy), yet the repeated "vous" builds a bond with all those "vous [qui ont] fait partie de ce sous-ensemble de l'humanité". A complicity is built between the writer and readers belonging to the same subsection of humanity (who exactly is implicated in her "sous-ensemble" is unclear), the ambiguity of its size and breadth allowing room for individuals belonging to more marginal sectors of society.

In alignment with this viewpoint, Huston compares nude models to prostitutes, asserting that modeling scenes of all types occur "comme la prostitution" (26). Not for nothing does Huston refer to nudes and prostitutes as apples (26): both are esteemed to be objects of consumption. The apple acts as a synecdoche, recalling the figure of Eve the temptress, and thus inferring which side of the Madonna-divide nudes and prostitutes alike belong to. Huston paints a scenario in which a woman is invited to pose for two male artists:

Deux hommes, maintenant, vous sourient. Au beau milieu de l'après-midi, dans un appartement tout en haut d'un gratte-ciel à Manhattan, ils partagent avec vous un verre de champagne et un joint de marijuana. Vous savez bien que ce n'est pas ainsi que se crée la peinture. Ici, l'art est un prétexte. C'est un voile léger et transparent que l'on a jeté sur la situation pour l'adoucir mais qui ne parvient pas à en dissimuler le caractère réel. […] Votre cerveau vous transporte ailleurs, comme il sait si bien le faire.


Huston thus problematizes the dividing line between male-female relations in prostitution and nude modeling. Her conceptualization of the female nude is therefore wide-ranging, encompassing prostitutes and porn-stars in addition to artists' models like herself, and her personal anecdotes thereby come to stand in for a host of other women. The wandering mind of the figure towards the end is also a reminder of Huston and other nude models' capacity for deep thought ("[qui] pensent à mille et mille choses" (13))—muses amuse themselves by musing, to while away the hours—; a process connected this time to a form of escapism during implied sexual services. Despite the apparent vulnerability of the young woman in this Manhattan scene moreover (with there being two men in a [End Page 189] skyscraper, inferring phallic dominance and a lack of easy exits, making for a modern, real-life version of Rapunzel in the tower), the narrative voice asserts that "Personne n'est vraiment maître de la situation" (15). Huston thus blurs the boundary between the role of nude model and prostitute, and problematizes easy readings of victimhood. The model's role is implicated within the creative process, and her mind ranges free during the modeling process, her role thus disproving a victimized position.

Huston indicates that those who usually occupy the space of the looked-at—nude models and sex workers both—can adopt a looking position, too, with strength and alacrity, as is the case with Lee Miller much to her partner's chagrin: "Quand Man Ray le voit [son art], il disjoncte" (35). It is for this reason that Huston made the heroine of Infrarouge a photographer, so as to "prendre une revanche sur les A., B. et Z. de ce monde, tous ceux qui feignent d'oublier que même les jolies têtes contiennent… des yeux" (59). This is not to say that she disapproves of traditional gender roles within artistic practice. On the contrary, she states that it is important to maintain sexual difference in modeling: "le mot sexe dit bien ce qu'il veut dire, à savoir scission. On ne mettra jamais de l'ordre là-dedans et c'est tant mieux…" (56). She acknowledges that gendered power dialectics can be subverted to the benefit of women (as with Miller and Nin, who gain the upper hand as photographers and writers), but she nonetheless stresses the need to preserve gender difference, recalling her controversially essentialist essay Reflets dans un œil d'homme.2 In keeping with this view, she suggests that the pleasure derived from posing naked stems partly from the recognition of one's own bodily beauty, and its effect on the male artist. She herself enjoys feeling the artist's eyes on her body, as he maps her skin and forms (45). Though Huston reminds us that the nude can think, look and talk, she does not downplay the significance of a nude's body, beauty and status as looked-at object when it comes to this role, or indeed the enjoyment to be gained from it. If love allows one to be appreciated for one's mind as well as one's body, Huston endeavors for the nude model to be respected in equally comprehensive terms here. If anything, this project like Terrestres three years later enables a marriage of true minds and bodies between Huston and Oberson, with the two sharing an intellectual oeuvre which draws its inspiration largely from the human body. Their genders are also, as discussed, unmistakable. In summation, Huston insists that we subvert but retain gendered and bodily dualisms, intimating that women look back in anger as women, and maintaining that mind and matter matter. Punk poet and sex-positive feminist Kathy Acker suggests that: "we still live under the sign of Descartes. This sign is also the sign of patriarchy. As long as we continue to regard the body, that which is subject to change, chance, and death, as disgusting and inimical, so long shall we continue to regard our own selves as dangerous others." (27) Thus, employing what Acker calls "the language of the body" amounts to rediscovering our female voice under a patriarchal system (23).3

Cross-disciplinary comparisons also shed some light on mind-body dualisms in Huston's corpus as a whole. Having modeled for a sculptor, Huston explains that "Rien ne vous a si bien préparé pour votre futur travail de romancière que le travail calme et concentré du sculpteur" (46). The sculptor drew inspiration from [End Page 190] her naked body, while she felt inspired by the creative space of his atelier: one in which the body's movements are never rushed ("Les gestes se font, pleinement, patiemment" (46)) and where "Touiller fait partie de sculpter, nettoyer aussi, et écouter la radio, et parler de la pluie et du beau temps…" (46). The nude looks and listens too, drawing inspiration from a space in which "la beauté doit se deployer dans un espace et un temps indéfinis" (46). Huston thus outlines her multi-generic initiation into the world of the writer, with Huston acting as her own literary muse, and the content of her narratives drawing from experiences of nudity and sexuality, image and flesh made word.

Perhaps ironically, given Huston's comparisons between her body and those of prostitutes, poser nue is a matter more meaningful for some women than others. This is best explained, in my opinion, by turning to Huston's astute distinction between nudity and nakedness in the English language: "alors que nude implique le recul, le regard qui cadre et met à distance, naked fait sentir toute la vulnérabilité d'un corps dévêtu, exposé, intime ou intimidé…" (41-42). Unlike the French all-encompassing term nudité then, the two anglophone alternatives emphasize the difference between a comfortable nudité (nudity) and a form of nudité of which we are uncomfortably conscious (nakedness). One has only to think back to Genesis when Adam and Eve "were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed," (2.25) before they recognized that they were naked, covered themselves with fig leaves and hid from God amongst the trees of Eden (3.4-7). John Berger underlines the fact that, "They became aware of being naked because, as a result of eating the apple, each saw the other differently. Nakedness was created in the mind of the beholder." (48) Our sense of nakedness—the self-conscious element of an otherwise innate and unconscious state of undress—is produced by our witnessing of others' nakedness.

Being nude is thus akin to developing a second-skin, one to make our nakedness bearable. By logical deduction, a sense of nakedness can be experienced when fully clothed. Such is the case with the writer Nad(i)a in one of Huston's most successful novels Instruments de ténèbres (1996), who upholds a resoundingly nihilistic and derisive worldview, and who constantly endeavors to deny her bodily drives and instincts. In fact, clothes are "une torture constante" for her, and a source of public humiliation, exemplified when a slice of pizza falls into the lining of her coat, oil dripping onto the post office floor while she pays for her stamps (127 and 59-60). We as readers can commiserate with her "Tragédie de la poche trouée", most of us having experienced similar instances of public exposure, when our bodies or the material contingencies of our everyday realities betray us (59-60). The comic capitalization of "Tragédie" is doubly ironic, since such banal incidents are anything but trivial: they are signs of our shared, bare humanity. This begs the question as to where art stands in relation to our nudité. Can it clothe us, so that we may be comfortable naked? Can it dress us so that we may undress a little more freely?

Huston, for one, seems to be more than comfortable with her nudity when it comes to artistic representation. She claims to have been unfazed by a public film-screening in which she appears naked, being "heureuse de sa beauté" (Poser 46). This indicates that Huston was able to adopt a certain critical distance vis-à-vis [End Page 191] her body image, admiring "sa beauté", its beauty—that of her body-as-work-of-art—, not her beauty per se. This is indicative of Berger's conceptualization of the nude. In response to Kenneth Clark's The Nude, in which Clark distinguishes between nakedness (being without clothes) and nudity (a form of art), Berger adds that nudity is not confined to art. It is altogether possible, for instance, to enact nude gestures or poses (53). According to him, "To be naked is to be oneself" while to be nude "is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself. A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a nude." (54) To be nude, then, is to be naked and not naked, clothed and unclothed at the same time, because our own nakedness goes unnoticed by ourselves:

To be naked is to be without disguise.

To be on display is to have the surface of one's own skin, the hairs of one's own body, turned into a disguise which, in that situation, can never be discarded. The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress.


In Huston's own words, her beauty "fait partie de la beauté du monde" (46), since as Berger proposes her nakedness becomes imbricated within the universal genre of the nude, being "treated as a thing or an object of abstraction." (62) In being studied as the object of artistic study, she is clothed by the skin and hairs of her own body; her body becomes a disguise.

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Hante-moi, hante-moi encore (back cover)

This is further exemplified by the jacket portraits of Huston for the second edition, pre-empting the woman-centered narrative to come. The front image, an ochre watercolor on bamboo paper depicting Huston from mid-thigh upwards, is hazy like many of Oberson's works, the edges dissolving into the surrounding space and forming a halo around its subject (front cover).4 The result is a spectral [End Page 192] one, blurring the boundary between the corporeal and spiritual, as the title Hantemoi, hante-moi encore substantiates. Desire is thus presented to us as a type of haunting. This haziness also makes it difficult to discern individual features, aside from Huston's striking red hair which is also that which covers her face, making her anonymous. Her body is faceless and borderless, and her body—her "peau" and "formes"—is thus representative of the female nude. This is equally true of the back image of the same name, where it is impossible to establish with absolute certainty whether we are looking at Huston's front or back (back cover). One would assume the latter, to fit its structural positioning (the back page), yet the diagonal lines on each side of the body suggest a shrinking perspective and two hands placed to the back of the frame, implying either that Huston is sitting facing forward with her arms back for support, or bent backward with her head and arms facing away from the viewer. The entre-jambe shadow could also represent either pubic hair, or an exaggerated darkness between her buttocks and thighs, the back playfully performing the front. These portraits of Huston are therefore ones in which she is there and not there, exposed and off-limits to the viewer, herself and not herself. Huston as nude is thus inseparable from a long line of other nudes. The significance of Huston's nudity on-screen and on-paper is both reducible to her beauty and body, and that which exceeds it. In these scenarios, this universal and anonymous conditioning potential of the nude genre proves beneficial to Huston, enabling her to watch herself back and write about her experiences without shame.

Such is not always the case, particularly for women working in the sex industry. We have only to think of Quebecois prostitute and philosopher Nelly Arcan, and her autofictional novel Folle (2004), in which the narrator recalls her first pornographic photoshoot as an adolescent, where her clothes and gestures are designed to mimic those of a child. The narrator and her boyfriend fail to retrieve these photographs on the internet years later, to the narrator's disappointment (wanting proof of her past, youthful beauty) and relief (knowing deep down that, had they been discovered, their relationship would have come to an abrupt end) (Arcan 184 and 195). The nude figure in these photographs is evidence of her past employment as a porn-star—problematizing romantic relationships—, and a bleak reminder of her disturbing initiation into the industry. As such, the photographs leave the narrator exposed, vulnerable, naked. The images fit the pornographic genre as opposed to that of the nude, and though she is stereotypically beautiful—thin, blonde and busty—, partaking in an anonymous "beauté du monde" of sorts, it is not freeing but incriminating, proof of her past employment as a whore (the "bad" nude). Or put another way, if the genre of the nude is a universal, overarching term, it affects different women differently, clothing some and exposing others. To Berger's theorization of the nude, which depicts nakedness as a product of the observer, and which indicates the extent to which women have historically occupied the position of the looked-at nude within the artwork, and men that of looking subject outside of it, I would add that we must consider not just the possibility of a male nude as Berger suggests (64), but the possibility of the female nude herself as observer looking back at herself.5 Watching oneself back, like Huston during the aforementioned public screening, [End Page 193] allows women to adopt the role of surveyor on two counts: in the way Berger understands it (as a woman looking at herself as a man would, while often being observed by men too), and as a spectating subject outside of that limited role of woman-as-observed. Huston's retrospective positioning thus falls beyond a male-oriented paradigm of viewership,6 grants her subjectivity and agency, and disrupts the male gaze privileged in visual imagery (the structures outlined by Laura Mulvey in Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema still hold true over three decades later (26 and 29)). It is therefore possible to discern interesting nuances within Berger's gendered deconstruction of the nude genre when it comes to the pleasure of viewing: it is not always un-pleasurable to look back at oneself as abstracted object, but some may feel a little more naked than others.

These differences, as discussed, arise in Huston's view from the arbitrary social distinction between low and high art, nude modeling and pornography. The aesthetic and social context and reception of these visual works unduly privilege one over the other. It is touching then that she should finish with the acknowledgment that she still poses, albeit "autrement : en tant que romancière" (Poser 59). She thus ends by reinforcing her affinity with other nudes, both palatable and abject. Writing, for one thing, can constitute a performative and figurative form of prostitution: one often exposes one's body to the eyes of the reader. More overtly performative are the poses Huston adopted for several staged events, wearing men's clothes for "Le Mâle entendu" while she performed a reading as a man (see Garault), and a headscarf for "Belle comme une image" which she removed under the spotlight, deliberately illustrating her main message that all women are defined by their bodies, be they in burkas or bikinis, veiled or visually exposed (Huston, "Belle comme une image"; Huston, Sois Belle / Sois Fort).

Huston nonetheless professes to find nude portraits of herself as "une inconnue, un rêve, un bout de beauté anonyme…" (Poser 59) more interesting than these shots of her as a writer. It is out of respect and agreement with her point of view that I have hitherto focused on the female nude, and that I will henceforward center my attention on the male subject and more abstract creations of Oberson's making.

Bouquets with a Difference

Oberson's collection of red and black chalk drawings on white and grey paper are mostly composed of male nudes, shifting from the emphasis on the female nude's experience within Huston's narrative. If anything, his privileging of the male nude alludes to its relative underrepresentation in art, and to the over-prevalence of female nudes in life drawing sessions and artists' studios.

Many of his drawings also defy gender categories altogether. Bodies blend together, melt into thin air or are stretched out like carcasses, topped with severed heads.7 Life meets death, man meets woman, and the border between inside and outside, foreground and background blur, as the chalk's line thickly smudges into the paper beneath and around it. The spine and pages of the book also add movement and texture to the sketched bodies, the middle crease deepening with use to forge furrows across the figures' limbs, and light playing differently on the [End Page 194] bodies depending on where the book is viewed and how the pages are turned. The bodies thus take on new identities with every (re)reading. It is also interesting that the first and final drawings should be of the calla lily and tulips, "Callas dans jardin rouge" (6) and "Tulipes" (8).8 In spite of its delicate appearance, the calla lily is poisonous, and a tulip is associated both with heaven on earth (Turkey) and the brevity of life (Netherlands). The calla lily is also native to the Northern hemisphere, while the tulip originates from the Middle East (the name deriving from the Turkish tülbent, turban).

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Sternum 1 (27); Callas (63)

Oberson's selection thus symbolizes strength in fragility, the divine within our earthly reality, the Orient meeting the Occident, and on a simpler note, red or black against white (incidentally, the tulip is drawn in black and white, and the calla lily in red and white). Opposites attract. In addition, both lilies and tulips contain male (stamens) and female (carpel) reproductive parts, a botanic emblem of bisexuality, and the drawings are also reminiscent of certain gender-neutral body parts. The first tulip for instance is cleft in the middle as though between two legs, and small hand-like shapes emerge from the last ("Callas" (63)), the human body peering through a floral curtain. Conversely, the human nudes resemble plants too, one head atop a torso as thin as a stem in "Sternum 1" (27), and the chalk powdery like pollen. The bodies presented by Oberson are thus fluid and intertwined, overflowing the scission which Huston considers endemic to life drawing.

Plants often rely, moreover, on other animals or natural elements to procreate and proliferate their seeds, in the same way that the nude's body requires an artist's intervention for the work of art to come to life. In the case of Huston and Oberson, I would say that the beauty of their love child (the "troisième entité") is not to be found in single art pieces which an individual sitting between artist and muse allows for (such as her portrait on the front and back), but in the meeting of her written narrative and his art pieces. I would also suggest that its beauty is a discordant one. Huston focuses on the female nude "qui pense" and "qui a des [End Page 195] yeux"; Oberson draws male or genderless nudes and shows us that men can be looked at, too. Huston iterates the status quo; Oberson provides an alternative. This is in alignment with the views of Anna Rocca. Rocca explains that illustration is no longer simply a matter of reproducing a story ("en lui donnant sens") but reflecting "un moyen de connaissance souvent plus riche et plus complet que le langage" (99). Such is the case with Poser nue, as with several of Huston's earlier oeuvres illustrées, where images act as more than illustrations in the literal sense of the term. Their significance exceeds a supportive role, with many of the scenes and messages contradicting rather than complementing the written text, and it is unclear, even, whether the images or text came first. If their creative strategy is anything like that for Terrestres, as outlined in an interview for Bibliothèque de Toulouse where they take the stage together, then it is Oberson who initiates the process. In the case of Terrestres, the images were initially presented in an exhibition, and it is Huston who responded to Oberson's images (sent mostly by email) with a poetry collection entitled Spire, not the other way around (Huston and Oberson, "Rencontre d'auteurs"). Either way, the pictorial and written bodies retain their respective autonomy within the shared space of this publication, communicating with one another but never acting as one. I would go as far to say that this is indicative of Huston's comments about couples who both communicate in a language other than their mother tongue, as mentioned in her novel L'Empreinte de l'ange (1998). Something is always left off-limits to their lover; presumably because a shared intermediary language veils the nuances and memories proper to the mother tongue.9 They and their other halves will always remain two parts, never fully bridging the gap between self and other.

In this way, the multi-generic character of Poser nue reflects Huston's theorization of love and gender: much can be gained from an interchange between fine art and literature, our mother tongue and another, between men and women, but this should never be undertaken at the expense of difference. Much of the pleasure and beauty of difference (linguistic; generic; disciplinary; gendered) consists in keeping some secrets, even in the act of exposure, and in the production of a third entity that transcends dualisms: self-other, male-female, word-image, mind-body. Huston's anecdotal and theoretical work on nude modeling, moreover, blurs the boundary between the realms of art, literature and "le théâtre p & p", and between the roles of victim and perpetrator, author and sex worker. In so doing, she demonstrates due recognition of the problems affecting porn stars and prostitutes specifically. Her intersectional reading of photoshoots and on-screen nudity, for instance, alludes to a sense of entrapment felt by those initiated into pornography or prostitution: locked away in a tower at the mercy of dominant males, or haunted by images that capture a traumatic memory. And yet, her assimilation between nude modeling and prostitution also acts as a reminder that all women who pose—muses and sex workers both—rely simultaneously on their beauty and brains, many venturing into creative industries themselves, and that being objectified or revered for one's looks can be a pleasurable and productive experience. Agency can be gleaned by women as observer or observed. Readers belonging to the said "sous-ensemble" may find comfort in this valuation, and others are invited to reconsider unilateral preconceptions of the female nude; to [End Page 196] imagine one that knows her own mind perhaps better than any other (male) thinker.

Polly Galis
University of Leeds
Polly Galis

Polly Galis was recently awarded a doctorate in French at the University of Leeds, funded by the Leeds 110 Anniversary Research Scholarship, and supervised by Prof. Diana Holmes and Dr. Claire Lozier. Her thesis explored representations of sexuality and corporeality in the literature of Annie Ernaux, Nancy Huston and Nelly Arcan, from a francophone feminist perspective. She acted as tutor and lecturer in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures at Leeds, being made Associate Fellow of the HEA. Her publications include articles for L'Esprit créateur and Cahiers de L'IREF, and she is co-editing a forthcoming special issue̶—also with L'Esprit créateur—entitled "Challenging Normative Spaces and Gazes: The Body in 20th- and 21st-Century Francophone Culture" (summer 2020), as well as an edited volume for Peter Lang, Queer(y)ing Bodily Norms in Francophone Culture: Transformation, Fragmentation, Aestheticization (December 2020).


1. Though the man mentioned in the given quotation is a sculptor, not Oberson.

2. Huston, Reflets dans un œil d'homme. In this critical essay, Huston adopts a staunchly materialist viewpoint, stressing the bearing of our anatomy and evolution on the way we behave (80). Hers is a problematic position as far as female emancipation is concerned, since she interprets certain aspects of gender inequality as being necessary to human survival. For instance: the longevity of human genes relies on male promiscuity, while women are required to remain monogamous, to provide a stable familial setting for their children, and to thus secure human lineage (22). She even goes as far to imply that the male gaze is genetically programmed (9).

3. Acker's particular language entails listening to our body's movements and patterns such as regular breathing. Acker 27.

5. Berger's theorization of woman-as-surveyor (earlier in the same work) does not go far enough. He explains that women have historically been "kept" and protected by men, and thus came to view themselves as men might do causing woman to "continually watch herself." This caused "women's self-being [to be] split in two," as woman-as-observer (male "surveyor") and women-as-observed (female "surveyed"). As a result, women transmute themselves into visual objects for men in compliance with their perceived male tastes. By emphasizing men's role as looking subject, however, Berger's theorization of women's surveying experience never goes beyond a (doubly) male-oriented version (of looking at themselves as a man would, while men look at them too). Berger 46-47 and 64.

6. Such as that outlined by Berger, as cited above.

8. Images available at Buénard 8, 10 and 63.

9. In Saffie's words: "Lorsque deux amants ne disposent pour se parler que d'une langue à l'un et à l'autre étrangère, c'est…comment dire, c'est…ah non, si vous ne connaissez pas, je crains ne pas pouvoir vous l'expliquer". Huston, L'Empreinte de l'ange 230.

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