littoral: of, relating to, or having a coast
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-an online dicktionary
The rhetorical form of clitoral theory is synecdoche, the ‘detail-figure,’ where a single part, or aspect, refers to the (w)hole.
-Elizabeth Hall in I Have Devoted My Life to the Clitoris
Nature is wont to hide herself(/hood herself).
-Heraclitus (and, of course, have fun parsing his name (undermine his synecdoche, recover the femininity, honor it, tell her she is something akin to beautiful…)
When was the last time you squatted in your childhood bedroom with a vanity mirror held between your legs, staring at the glass’s reflection of something both subject and object, a subject and object that might be brownish, goldish, pinkish, or hidden by damp pubic bramble and briar? Have you never done this? Have you ever done this? Are you ashamed to do this? Did your mother encourage you to do this? Did your brother encourage you to do this? Did the feminism you adhere to encourage you to look? Is the world between your legs animal, vegetable, mineral, or bird? Birds aren’t animals. They’re too smart to be animals.
Crows can count.
They can balance checkbooks.
Their stares can welcome you to hell.
I write about this form of looking between certain knees in contemplation of gaze theory, namely a branch I dub clitoral gaze theory. Thoughts on the clitoral gaze return me to autumn. This past October, as an art “critic,” I toured Killjoy’s Kastle, a lesbian-feminist haunted house staged in a West Hollywood park frequented by Russian immigrants. Big fans of chess. Within the kastle, weirdos and entertainers lurked. They performed the follies of lesbian-feminism as horrific/comedic spectacle.
Within the kastle, the clitoral gaze spooked and delighted me in preternatural ways.
After skulking through its entry, a brick-lined hallway filled with pro-womyn and anti-man slogans, I shuffled into a roomish alcove. There, a clutch of consciousness-raising phantoms reclined and squatted on the ground, bodies half-covered in white sheets. Low thread-counts hid faces. Near darkness filled the room (like an infernal amniotic fluid.)
From the waist-down, the ghosts wore air. Their legs fell open. They flashed their crotches. They cackled. Moaned. Our tour guide warned us against taking pictures of the ghostly genitals. We heeded her. We watched the shades hold mirrors to their beavers. Rats. Tarantulas. Theses animals emitted a stench that suggested that they were alive. Squeals erupted from under the sheets. The shades were raisining their own animal consciousnesses. They were also raising mine.
I glanced at the few men in my cohort of lesbian-feminist haunted house-goers. Even in the amniotic darkness, I could see them sweating.
The smell of their fear mingled with other smells.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Aristotelian mirror that’s held between certain legs by writers, thinkers, conversationalists, artists, and admirers of what is gently called the clitoris. I’ve been thinking about these people who deploy the clitoral gaze through their work.
(and again, let’s recall that not every clitoris is a clitoris though Gertrude Stein would have us believe so. Ms. Stein would have us believe that a rose is a rose is a rose is a rosebud is Marion Davies reclining on a waterbed in an unfinished wing at Hearst Castle. Sometimes a clit is a penis. Sometimes a penis is a clit. Sometimes a clit is not a clit. Sometimes its candy corn.)
(Break me off a piece of that klit-klat bar.)
(Clitoridectomy is a rite of passage in some neighborhoods/ It’s a rite of passage in certain nightmares/ a clit is not a clit is not a clit is not a clit in which case it is a phantom limb. a genital ghost)
(Behold, the ghost of a clit:
you’ll never touch it
for it doesn’t exist)
When women, cuz its women who largely explore the clitoris in a literary and/or artful fashion, set out to circumnavigate this peninsula, their work bucks against Puritanism and his cousins. Their work and worship taints Puritanism and clouds it in dank, littoral fogs. Such writers and thinkers and artists and beasts lead us back to our most animal sense: smell. Consider dogs greeting one another. Consider their anal and genital salutations. Consider the psychosexual worlds of Spuds MacKenzie and the Taco Bell chihuahua. I don’t know his name. He could be a bitch for all I know.
Elizabeth Hall, in her obsessive clitoral exegesis, I Have Devoted My Life to the Clitoris, writes, “The closest I come to romance, to anything resembling coquetry, is to walk down the street in the summer heat, sans panties, letting the heavenly stench of my pussy fan out into the atmosphere. It’s how I prefer to wander: cunt pressed to the skin of the c(l)ity.”
Hall is genius in urging us to consider the synecdoche intrinsic to clitoral existence and when my brain handles and massages the word synecdoche, I return to the sound of sin, and to Luis Buñuel (or was it W.C. Fields?) who argued that sex without syn is like an egg without salt.
What about a clitoris without salt?
Have you ever sprinkled salt on a slug?
My father taught me to kill them that way.
(…which is foreshadowing…(daddy theory))
I met Elizabeth last night at an appropriately named bar, The Spot.
We sipped clear beverages out of tumblers and talked about her devotions. We discussed men we’re related to and men we’re gladly not related to. We discussed our mutual interest in a field of study we call daddy theory. It’s not what it sounds like. It also is what it sounds like.
Why does the word daddy cling so strongly to the word issues?
That essential question propels daddy theory.
Elizabeth and I discussed Kristin Sanders’ forthcoming poetryish memoir, an ode to porn, country music, and the internet, CUNTRY, for in CUNTRY, Sanders transmogrifies the clitoral gaze. She writes, “What makes a good cuntry object is a hook, is the hook in the eye that she stares at you with. Fondle the utensils, kitchen appliances, push-up bra, vacuum cleaner nozzle – your accoutrements. Fondle the physical power of the man over the woman. The men are the hunters. Guns swinging, guns hard and erect as a spoon in her sweetpink.”
We all know that the clitoris is a spoon.
We all know that the clitoris is a gun.
In your bread.
Elizabeth’s work is kind of Kristin’s work and Kristin’s work is kind of Elizabeth’s.
Does it make me a cuntry girl that it fascinates me to engage men in the clitoral gaze?
Phallocentrism happens every day, in every way, our culture blesses hot dogs and bologna and breakfast sausage over and over and over and over easy, but how do men engage with this other mode of looking? Can they deploy the clitoral gaze in a way that isn’t othering? I mean, the clitoris is not the penis’s little sister. If anything, it would seem that the penis is the clitoris’s little brother, a ham of a little brother, a class clown version of the clit who can’t elegantly recede into the background (most of the clitoris you can’t see. Branches of it extend into the body, gracefully…) Instead of being good, the penis vies for attention in a host of inelegant ways. Screaming. Tapping. Shaking.
It might not be hyperbole to accuse it of being the master of tantrums.
A few weeks ago, at the party that welcomed Elizabeth’s exegesis into the world, I decided to honor the clitoris with chewing gum. I chose gum cuz it’s smelly and it makes you feel safe and bad at the same time. It reminds you of high school but also of something you’re not supposed to do in church. Chewing it stimulates glands. Gum also straddles the body and high art. Artist Hannah Wilke chose to work with it and, about her vulvar sculptures, she told Andy Warhol, “…my works are female organic forms [and] gifts for men…I am a female chauvinist artist.”
I followed Wilke’s female chauvinist tradition by standing at a podium in the humid Chinatown art space Elizabeth chose for her clitoral launch. I handed three packs of gum to people sitting on folding chairs in the front row of her audience.
The author of CUNTRY sat in this audience.
I told everybody, “You have 60 seconds to use this gum to make a clit. You can use whatever you need to to shape your form. Mouth. Hands. Go.”
Audiencefolk grinned, smiled, chewed, pinched, pulled, and crafted.
“45 seconds left,” I called out.
People rushed. People shaped. People giggled. People sniffed. People sweated.
“30 second,” I called out. “Don’t be afraid to show your neighbor your clit.”
Giggles. People brashly flashing chiclits.
“15 seconds. Finish those clits.”
The timer rang.
“Stop,” I commanded. “Hold your clits in the air.”
Fruit-scented clit effigies filled the low sky. I explained, “Because these clits form a constellation, we have a clitstellation.”
I turned on my camera and trained it on the audience.
“Say, ‘Clit!’” I commanded.
“Clit!” they chanted.
What amazed me were the expressions on the men participating in the clitstellation. Some with beards beamed so much glee. Some showed withdrawn politeness. Some happiness. Some disgust. One demonstrated ladylike abjection. He thrilled me the most.