Widgets Magazine


Under the Table

The female orgasm, and yes, I said the word orgasm, is nearly as mysterious as how to make eye contact with phone-facing Stanford students. Many have tried, but few have succeeded at understanding this complex mind and body experience. One exploration worth exploring is Clayton Cubitt’s “Hysterical Literature” video series, available for your viewing pleasure on YouTube.

The premise is this: Women enter into a room, sit down at a table, and read an excerpt from a book of their choosing. As time progresses, the pace of their reading begins to change, as does their breathing and body positioning. Some women take less time than others, the shortest just over four minutes, the longest just past 11. Under the table, an unseen assistant pleasures the women with a vibrator.

As a viewer, the experience is intimate yet reserved. You can’t help but burst out laughing at the contrast between the austere black and white film-style and the overwhelming pleasure experienced by the participants. My personal favorite was Toni, an older woman who read from “Portrait of a Lady” by Henry James. Touted as a great work of 19th century realism, “Portrait of a Lady” is invariably regarded as literary art. In contrast, decked out in a slightly cocked black hat, Toni reminded me of a rock and roll mom — sexy yet responsible.

James’s words are so dense, so very literate, and Toni’s chosen passage focused on the personality of Isabel Archer — an overly confident female eventually devastated by her own independence. Toni’s occasional pauses, intakes of breath and sighs of pleasure, offset the overwrought vocabulary in a humorous way that juxtaposes flesh female reaction with textual feminine personas. As a viewer watching Toni, you don’t know what to focus on — her body or her words. Similarly, as a participant, she doesn’t seem to know where to focus — on sensation or cognition. Through these videos, Cubitt, a NYC-based photographer and filmmaker, seems to be questioning the role of sex in manifestations of culture such as literature, as well as the duality of sensual experiences — impact is felt on any and all planes.

The final moments of the videos are arguably the most impactful. After the women have gone beyond their tipping points, they restate their names and book titles, tying together their minds and bodies. The camera remains tight on their faces as they react to what they just experienced. Their smiles are shy yet pleased, embarrassed yet overcome. This moment is joyful and embarrassing and confusing, and everything a good moment should be. In the end, viewers are left to wonder not just about their own sexual experiences, but also about pleasure as a state of mind and body.

Fabulously constructed, and visually stimulating, this YouTube video reflects a much larger questioning on the part of the artist. Where and how does female sexuality fit into the structure of society? Cubitt asserts that the expression of female pleasure should be interwoven not only into art, but also into the daily turnings of life. While perhaps not visible to those around you, personal pleasure is necessary, beautiful and possible whenever you so choose.


Contact Hannah Broderick at inbloom ‘at’ stanford.edu.