If you’re at work, we would suggest watching Clayton Cubitt’s video series “Hysterical Literature” with headphones on. You won’t be at risk as a woman sits at a table with a book, states her name, and begins reading. But in a few minutes, your co-workers will want to know why they hear sounds of a woman stuttering, breathing deeply, and eventually moaning.
In Cubitt’s series of artworks dedicated to female pleasure — the first three of which are now available on YouTube, and thus embedded below — a female reader sits clothed from the waist up with a book she has chosen and begins reading the novel or poem aloud normally. While she does this, an unseen worker is, well, working under the table to bring the reader to an orgasm. How and when she gets distracted is the kernel of Cubitt’s interest in the series.
“I’m filming these very demurely, almost clinically aloof,” he tells the news site Alternet, “in an attempt to provide a mysterious place for the reveal to happen, without ever having to reveal anything.” Among the choices of reading material are Supervert’s “Necrophilia Variations” and Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.”
Our hats are off to Cubitt for his novel attempt at combining something ostensibly high-minded — like a poetry reading — with something cheap — like a video of a woman being pleasured with a back massager. Indeed “Hysterical Literature” is like any good work of art in that it seeks to generate and reflect tension and ambivalence, and in this case, that ambivalence is between what’s acceptable and what’s not.
We write this even as we admit that most attempts to combine High and Low culture are quickly and justifiably placed in the latter camp. It’s not hard to imagine someone making videos like these with an entirely prurient interest, and if he called himself a pornographer, then he would be. Of course, if he called himself an artist, then he would be, too.
“Session One: Stoya”:
“Session Two: Alicia”:
“Session Three: Danielle”:
— Reid Singer