"My body remains hidden throughout the day – either out of shame or utility – just as my mind is hidden in the photo shoot."

1. Everyone understands the difference between “knowing” something in abstract terms and concrete terms. I know that America is roughly five thousand kilometres away from Ireland, insofar as it was a factoid I had picked up when researching a trip I took there some years ago. This knowledge was abstract; its true significance was not revealed to me until I spent five or more hours on a British Airways flight, watching movies, itching for a cigarette (made worse, of course, by the wine that came with the surprisingly edible microwave dinner), making idle chat with those sitting next to me (which, given that I had the window seat, made going to the bathroom a production rather than a commonplace – “I’m really sorry but- “Of course, go ahead”, “Thanks, sorry, sorry, sorry” – if you fear social embarrassment get an aisle seat), and counting down the hours to arrival at Boston O’Hare. I now know what five thousand kilometres feels like; it’s real to me now in a way that wasn’t before ascending to thirty thousand feet and travelling at seven hundred miles per hour. This is now the way I feel about my body: abstract fears about appearing nude before someone, fears which boil down to a fear of ridicule and humiliation, never became concrete. These thoughts remain abstractions; indeed they have taken on an entirely new meaning and the meaning is not one which I can apply to my own life –  fearing nudity is now, for me, something other people do.

2. While awaiting the arrival of the FD photographer (we agreed to 7pm which then changed to 6pm and turned out to be 5:45pm – disruption of schedules makes the waiting less comfortable but also breaks it up in such a way as to restrict the amount of time available for that special kind of obsession that comes with being a mixture of excited and clueless about what is going to happen next) I felt like I ought to be nervous and shy about being naked in front of a stranger. Nudity is something which occurs daily, but always behind a closed door, a towel wrapped around the waist, or between bed sheets. Our bodies are always right there in every experience, not matter how extraneous they might be to that experience. Our nude bodies, however, bring this presence to light in a way that is starkly different to any other kind of experience. There is a confrontation here, one that is often met with retreat. This is what I thought: I should be shy, I should cover my balls, my penis, my skinny legs, and the small bony protrusion at the base of my sternum –the closest thing I have to a “deformity”, though it’s really a barely noticeable and something of a drama to even point it out (I’m not yet sure if it made it into the shoot!). The thought was this: these are things that should not be on display.

3. When the photographer, Kate, arrived, these feelings of hiding, of covering, were briefly intensified to the point where they were distracting me entirely (I think, though, that I had the wherewithal to offer her a cup of tea or coffee, or a towel for her hair given the rain that day). The rushing in my ears, the thumping of my heart, the same thought doing laps around the running track in my skull (the aforementioned list of particulars all highlighted and cast in a grotesque light which only a nervous mind can generate). These ideas disappeared as soon as Kate had me begin reading, hunched over the too small coffee table – too small for my books and note pad, too low and too far away to make the reading and note taking the comfortable experience it ought to be. Comfort is, in fact, a primary concern when engaging in any kind of reading or study: if you’re uncomfortable you get distracted – the ideas don’t seem to attain the vibrancy they ought to, largely because the desk is too low, and too far away, or you’re hungry or hung-over, or the three cups of coffee you had this morning gave just a little too much of a jolt and concentration is difficult.

4. The activity, me reading a book and making notes, isn’t especially interesting to watch. It isn’t very kinetic, though it is a very busy activity. The action is covert, hidden: as I read and take in the terms, see the structure of the argument, my body isn’t doing very much. I’m sitting still, focusing on the page. My mind is, on the other hand, filled with the concepts, bits of argument and counter argument, question and response. (The book for those who are interested is Dewey and His Critics edited by Sidney Morgenbesser (1977) – the essay I was reading is called “A terminology for Knowing and things Known” originally published in the 1940’s). The only movement which occurs is me turning the page, looking up and into the middle distance in order to consider a thought, jotting down a note in my scrawled note-taking handwriting. The action is minimal and it is difficult to attach significance to the movements which I make. The real work goes on behind closed doors. My body remains hidden throughout the day – either out of shame or utility – just as my mind is hidden in the photo shoot.

5. What the shoot taught me is that I’m not at all ashamed of my body – though of course if a magic wand was going around I wouldn’t pass on it – the thoughts I had about hiding or covering myself remain abstract. And I realized that I’m exceptionally lucky not to be in the position of actually being ashamed of my body. Such a fear of one’s own self must be paralyzing. To not be able to say “this is my body” with confidence (or at least without trepidation) must be a difficult thing, one which I sympathize with but cannot imagine: constantly hiding not only from others but from the sheer fact of your own body. The desires I have to change parts of my body and appearance are still with me, but they are more like proposals for courses of action, not sources of anxiety or impossibilities which all at once demand and elude fulfilment. I do not have to negotiate with mirrors – there are no concessions asked or offered, only a representation of the most important and pressing banality: my body.

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