Humanities and Nudities

Here at Naturist Fiction, as it turns out, we are celebrating back-to-back birthday bloggers. Last Monday, Robert’s regularly scheduled post coincided with his birthday, and he wrote of his quest to produce a substantive novel. Today, it’s my turn to post… and I turn 51, for the record. Thinking about birthdays, and the clichéd but beloved phrase “birthday suits,” led me to reflect a bit on the role of nudity in conception and in childbirth, and how essential nudity is to our humanity.

I’m a teacher and researcher in the area known as the humanities. The field is generally recognized to comprise language and literature, philosophy, history, and a few more disciplines, in close alignment with the fine arts and social sciences. The humanities—and the liberal arts in general—are currently much maligned in a climate of governmental, corporate and administrative obsession with the STEM disciplines. (This, even though numerous CEOs claim that their top hiring picks are liberal arts graduates, because of their skills in communication, creativity, and empathy.) Some scholars of the history of the humanities posit, however, that the humanities, by definition, are always in a state of crisis, always vulnerable because they are inherently tinged by individual and cultural fears of a failed future.

With a basis in the humanities, what could it mean to define the “nudities,” with that deliberately odd, striking plural form? Perhaps the nudities are not so much a set of academic disciplines or areas of study, as they are outlooks, attitudes, and strategies that focus on our essential, and often vulnerable, bare human condition. The plural form ‘nudities,’ of a word rarely if ever used that way, invites multiple perspectives and considerations of what our natural state can mean for different people or peoples, at different points in time and space. How might an understanding of the nudities affect how we think about crime, abuse, and trauma? About environmental contamination and climate change? About health and well-being? About history… including the history of clothing, which is part of the very human practice of adorning our bodies?

Can you imagine a researcher’s presentation, in which she or he says, “My focus on the nudities informs the conclusions I’m going to make about the adverse health effects of microplastics / about protest theater under dictatorships and oligarchies / about the commodification of folkloric textiles in tourist markets / about the formation of body image in toddlers / etc. / etc. / etc.” I think that if this hypothetical researcher were to begin by saying “My focus on nudity [singular] informs…,” then the meaning is perhaps just as clear, but also too narrow for many listeners to accept as a lens through which to study a problem. The “nudities,” however, opens that right up to a much greater semantic sense. Its slightly odd plural might not squelch the giggles that many listeners would get on hearing the singular “nudity,” and yet it seems to take on a more formal connotation in the plural. If we have a shared humanity that we fruitfully engage through the humanities, then I think our shared human nudity can be enlightened through engagement with the nudities.

But all of this is only hypothetical, of course. The researcher could certainly also begin by saying, “My focus on naturism informs…” Nothing wrong with that at all. Perhaps the nudities are merely another term for naturism broadly writ. Yet I still like the idea of the nudities as a concept, as a set of ways of understanding the place of humans in the world, that puts our bare bodies front and center. It’s a concept that includes naturism as a starting point but moves beyond it. The nudities could even, most desirably, prove to be a way of prescribing positive change for the future, in everything from architecture to transport, politics, law, medicine, education, you name it. That’s my birthday-suit wish for today, anyway, for when I blow out those candles…

Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, and an unknown artist’s Vitruvian Woman

There is so much we still don’t know about our own bodies – on a societal level as well as on the level of each individual – but keeping them covered up all the time only hinders the development of new knowledge. We naturists know the benefits of being nude-centric, and every day we strive to educate the world a little more about just how many of the solutions to life’s conundrums, great and small, can be illuminated through a focus on the nudities.

6 thoughts on “Humanities and Nudities”

  1. What I appreciate about this blog is that there are, as you recognize, a variety of perspectives on “being naked” – even when thought of in a positive light, as will be the likely case with most of us who find relief in getting out of our clothes.

    Hope at least some of your birthday celebration will have been an your preferred (non)attire.

    1. Thanks, Allen! I remember reading some old usages of the word “naked,” maybe 18th-19th centuries, when it didn’t really mean “nude” but rather “wearing only underclothes.” How nude is nude? It’s an intriguing conflation of nudities. There’s a Spanish phrase I think is funny, too: “en paños menores.” If you’re “en paños menores” you’re dressed in “small cloths” – garments that don’t quite cover all those beautiful appendages. And the phrase goes along with the sense of the English phrase “Are you decent?” as in are you acceptably covered. “En paños menores” would not be “decent.” Endless variations, no doubt, in all the languages.

  2. Interesting food for thought.

    One thought was that “nudities” allows consideration of a range of aspects / situations / attitudes relating to nudity. Thus there would be naturism / nudism (in their various flavours), as well as events such as World Naked Bike Ride, the way different cultures have different standards regarding changing into and out of swimwear on a non-naturist beach, birthing pools, communal showers, artistic nudity, etc.

    And (OMG) sexual nudity. Included but not emphasised, as it would be just one among many.

    (Belated) Happy Birthday!

    1. Thanks, Tim! Yes indeed, the nudities should encompass the array of circumstances, events, attitudes and strategies you’ve illustrated, and it should be broad enough to hold a place for sexuality just as the humanities do. I appreciate your help in getting this hypothetical concept set up!
      Thanks for the birthday wishes!

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