nameless sodomites

(There will some be free verse that is flagrantly sacrilegious and violently carnal, and there will be some outrageous art, and, yes, this posting’s about oral and anal sodomy between men, though with a mostly historical and literary cast  — so you might want to exercise your judgment.)

It began with Penn State academic librarian (and my friend) Christopher (Xopher) Walker coming across a Facebook posting that began with the words “nameless sodomites”, which seized his attention. It was a publisher’s blurb for a new book in Italian on men’s sexuality and criminal behavior:

When I searched for the expression, I unearthed a reference (by the Cambridge Medievialist William Burgwinkle) to (Saint) Peter Damian seeing nameless sodomites through the confessional curtain. I then suspected that the phrase might have had some currency as a fixed expression — but in any event it’s a poetically arresting phrase, with the rather antique sodomite paired with an allusion to the medieval custom, in some places, of burning sodomites at the stake after priests had taken anonymous confessions of their mortal sins. Later custom, in the U.K. and the U.S. at least, was for sodomites to be named and shamed in court and then publicly hanged.

The texts. The book Xopher wrote about:

Infami macchie : Sessualità maschili e indisciplina in età moderna. a cura di Fernanda Alfieri e Vincenzo Lagioia Collana: I libri di Viella, 274.

infami macchie ‘infamous spot, stains, or (more pointedly) sins’.

The Burgwinkle quote:

(#1) Burgwinkle, “Visible and Invisible Bodies and Subjects in Peter Damian”, in Troubled Vision: Gender, Sexuality and Sight in Medieval Text and Image, ed. by E. Campbell & R. Mills (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004)

About Damian, from Wikipedia:

Saint Peter Damian (Latin: Petrus Damianus; Italian: Pietro or Pier Damiani; c. 1007 – 21 or 22 February 1072 or 1073) was a reforming Benedictine monk and cardinal in the circle of Pope Leo IX. Dante placed him in one of the highest circles of Paradiso as a great predecessor of Saint Francis of Assisi and he was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1828. His feast day is 21 February.

And on Burgwinkle and his 2004 CUP book Sodomy, Masculinity, and Law in Medieval Literature:

(#2)

William Burgwinkle surveys poetry and letters, histories and literary fiction – including Grail romances – to offer a historical survey of attitudes towards same-sex love during the centuries that gave us the Plantagenet court of Henry II and Eleanore of Aquitaine, courtly love, and Arthurian lore. Burgwinkle illustrates how “sodomy” becomes a problematic feature of narratives of romance and knighthood. Most texts of the period denounce sodomy and use accusations of sodomitical practice as a way of maintaining a sacrificial climate in which masculine identity is set in opposition to the stigmatized Other, for example the foreign, the feminine, and the heretical. What emerges from these readings, however, is that even the most homophobic, masculinist, and normative texts of the period demonstrate an inability or unwillingness to separate the sodomitical from the orthodox. These blurred boundaries allow readers to glimpse alternative, even homoerotic, readings.

William Burgwinkle [PhD, Stanford 1988] is Lecturer in French and Occitan in the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages in the University of Cambridge and fellow of King’s College. He is the author of Love for Sale: Materialist Readings of the Troubadour Razo Corpus (1997), Razos and Troubadour Songs (1990) and co-editor of Significant Others: Film and Literature, East and West (1993).

Sodomy and sodomites. Although the use of these terms has been variable over times and places, and has often been unclear, for definiteness here I’ll take sodomy to refer to receptive non-vaginal intercourse, either oral or anal; and sodomite to refer to a man who engages in such an act with another man.

(In its narrowest use, sodomy and sodomite refer only to receptive anal intercourse between men. In broader uses, the terms take in both partners in anal mansex; sodomy covers acts with partners other than two men; and sodomy covers some number of “acts contrary to nature” beyond oral and anal penetration.)

In the Western religious and legal traditions, sodomy is an offense on one (or both) of two grounds:

first, it’s an offense against “natural” masculinity: the affront is in a man taking a penis into his body (as a woman does in vaginal intercourse). This is the basis of the prohibition against sodomy in the Hebrew bible (in Leviticitus, in the Pentateuch), where the text calls for an offender to be put to death.

second, it’s “contrary to nature” in failing to serve the “natural” purpose of sex, namely procreation. This is the basis for the Roman Catholic church’s labeling oral and anal intercourse (in either role) as grave sins, along with masturbation (of oneself or another), artificial contraception, and a number of other sexual practices.

Though a sodomite is enacting a “feminine” role in sex, against the “natural” order of things, he is also, paradoxically, venerating the penis and so celebrating masculinity, sharing it with another man, and in fact magnifying his own through coupling with him; it’s not uncommon for a sodomite to feel intensely virile or manly in an act of sodomy. For others, the subjective experience is of recognizing and appreciating their partner’s superior masculinity. For still others, the experience is of passing a physical test, showing that you can “take it like a man”. For still others, taking semen into their bodies is absorbing the essence of masculinity, literally incorporating it; this is the emotional payoff in sodomy as a rite of passage for young men, especially in warrior societies. In all of these cases, the acts serve as rituals, even sacraments, of masculinity.

So it’s no surprise that cultural understandings of sodomy and gender are often complex, as Burgwinkle suggests.

In any case, sodomy is a surprisingly rich area of study from the religious, philosophical, anthropological, sociological, legal, historical, and literary points of view. A few books from this gigantic literature, including two chosen for their cover art:

(#3)

(#4) nameless here refers to sodomy, “the sin that cannot be named”

(#5)

Sodomitical art invades the museum. Encountered by accident while I was assembling this posting, a news report about a show at MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona / Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art), 10/16/15 – 1/17/16:

Censorship has been a hot-topic, no matter what the medium is. Last week, MACBA’s director Bartomeu Marí decided to cancel the show The Beast and The Foreign, due to Ines Doujak’s work Not Dressed for Conquering that depicts former Spanish king Juan Carlos [who ruled 1975 to 2014 and oversaw the transition from Franco to democracy] and Bolivian Labor leader Domitila Chúngara [a woman and a feminist] during a sodomy act with a dog on [top of a pile of] SS [Nazi] helmets. After four days, the museum decided to open the show and the latest news is the resignation of the director.

Ooh, sodomy and bestiality. The work:

(#6)

The next year in Germany, at the Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart: Ines Doujak, Not Dressed For Conquering, 10/15/16 to 1/15/17, notes from the museum:

Let’s enter the a-historical and hermetic world of fashion to dirty its surface.

For the exhibition Ines Doujak. Not Dressed For Conquering, Württembergischer Kunstverein temporarily assumes the guise of a fashion store – to be precise, an assortment of various pop-up stores.

The show is based on the long-term Loomshuttles / Warpaths project by Austrian artist Ines Doujak (*1959 [in Klagenfurt]) that, in different forms and formats, explores the links between textiles, fashion, colonialism, violence and globalized production conditions. It comprises Doujak’s “eccentric archive” that focuses on the history of globalization based on textiles from the Andean region; an open-ended series of sculptures, performances, writings and video works along with various, constantly evolving fashion collections.

The exhibition Not Dressed For Conquering features a selection of all these elements, reorganizing and extending them. The focus is on eight fashion collections showcased in the specially designed pop-up stores, each following different themes and motifs. Among them, the fire of burning factories and the burnout – in the literal sense too – of low-wage workers,  animal and human skins, carnival and masquerade, and the devil himself. Under scrutiny are the supply chains of global trade, tightly organized by means of barcodes, automated cranes, containers and mega ships, or the long history of degrading workers to the level of “intelligent apes”.

The collections consist of fabrics in which the various themes and motifs are directly inscribed and of patterns, garments, outfits and accessories derived from them, but also of writings, publications, objects, videos and pieces of dance and music in which patterns are transformed and translated into motion and sound.

Employing the glamour of the fashion world, Doujak not only spotlights the exploitative structures, gender and class orders of haute couture and mass-market clothing. Harking back to the resistant, anarchistic practices of textile design ranging from Andean weaving traditions to Dapper Dan, the iconic New York tailor to the eighties’ hip hop scene, she creates another, a different fashion that counteracts the status quo. This idea is also embodied by a group of “looters” and “rioters” who act as a kind of inverted gatekeeper at the various pop-up stores.

This other, resistant fashion again is the focal point of a number of performances and workshops taking place during the exhibition, combining tailoring, dance, music, film and politics.

Performance, film and song are translations in motion of the rhythmic textiles of cultures which, using the off-beat phrasing of music, are a vibrant visual attack where the colors must talk to each other or literally argue. The intention is for such motion to break the cultural paradigm in which patterns exist only within borders, so that they may permeate the world at large.

Nameless sodomites, in a poem. Tough stuff, and not especially sympathetic to Father Damian:

Judgment Day

Nameless sodomites
Came to him
Behind the screen
Confessed their sins —
Details, my son, you must
Give me every
Shameful act, to be
Inscribed in the
Index of infamy —
Sobbing, each
Poured out his
Last confession,
Received the blessing.

Trembling before his
Vengeful God,
Blindfolded by an
Acolyte, stripped of his
Rags, led into the
Courtyard for the
Rite.

Priests process
Onto the balcony,
Look down on the
Spawn of Satan in the
Square below.

The acolytes roughly
Fold the wretches at the
Waist, efficiently
Impale them on iron
Rods of justice.

Unmanned by agony, they
Shriek their contrition. Then are

Roped to crude planks,
Consumed by holy fire,
Cleansed of their sins.

Father Damian is
Once again
Aroused in satisfied
Reverence for the
Rite of holy sacrifice.

The ashes will be
Swept up by acolytes and
Tossed on the monastery’s
Ordure pit.

3 Responses to “nameless sodomites”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    The name of the author of the books in #3 and #4 is pure lagniappe. (Pseudonym, maybe?)

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