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" Live out of your imagination

not your history "

Stephen R. Covey

How Much is Too Much? “A Brief History of Nakedness” is selling well in Oxford this Week

June 2nd, 2010

A little bird tells me that copies of ‘A Brief History of Nakedness’ are now being snapped up by students in Oxford who want to decide for themselves whether it is as shocking as was claimed in last Sunday’s Observer. I feel bad. They should be studying for their exams and not leafing through my weighty tome.

Meanwhile it’s been fascinating to watch an item ‘go viral’. A blog ‘Heresy Corner’ picked up the story on Monday and used it to develop ideas about why it is that nakedness fuels such passions and prejudices and it’s traveled all around the net. And the comments on Facebook and on this blog have been so interesting. Take this quote from one that came in today:

“In making the naked body sacred you are honouring it, in honouring it you have to truly see it, engage with it, warts and all. Perhaps for some, it is more comfortable to hide behind the abstractions of academic life; it seems to me that if Conrad was attempting to subdue the power of the naked body and put it (in his view) in its rightful place then his words failed him miserably and betrayed his own deep vulnerability but in doing so, he exposes something of the collective struggle that exists beneath our culture’s bizarre and distorted perception of the naked body.

It is not nice to be on the end of someone’s unnecessary abuse but I think this illustrates why the book is such a gem – we need to talk about these things; our attitudes towards the naked body really do need some healthy change and healing, and the leaking out of all the nasty stuff is part of that process. It’s great that you have written this book; it helps us all to move one step closer to a better relationship with ourselves, each other and the world. Without our bodies we wouldn’t exist; if we can’t feel at home in our nakedness, then how can we truly feel at home with material existence; it’s little wonder we do the damage we do to each other and the world if we possess such a confused and low opinion of our own skin.” You can read the rest of Maria’s comment here.

Talking of feeling at home in our skin, the Wellcome Foundation have invited me to speak at an academic conference on nakedness they are holding in July, that follows on from their public exhibition on skin, which you can read about (and see a video) here. Tattooing is involved.

News of the ‘storm in a teacup’ has now reached across the pond and the University of Chicago Press, who distributes the book in the US, have published a nicely restrained piece drawing attention to it:

Nakedness from Many Angles

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While many of us were enjoying the unofficial first weekend of summer, tentatively exposing at least parts of our pale winter skin to the sunny skies, the very topic of nakedness and nudity was heating up the internet. Philip Carr-Gomm’s A Brief History of Nakedness is raising the question of how much we really want to know and how much we really want to see.

While the Telegraph finds Philip’s take to be self-affirming, allowing us all to be a bit more comfortable in our skin, the Guardian argues that the book is a case of too much information. Philip finds that the very attraction vs repulsion mechanism that differentiates the two reviews supports his analysis of the power of nakedness. Other bloggers, like Heresy Corner have taken up similar support of Philip’s argument. You’ll have to read the book and decide—How much is too much?