Hysterical Literature


Hysterical Literature is a video art project created by photographer Clayton Cubitt. In the series of videos you see women sitting at a table with a book in front of them. They state their name and the name of the book and begin to read a passage from it. As the video progresses you begin to notice a change in the reader’s facial expressions and body posture. Her breath quickens and she squirms in her seat and eventually she can no longer control herself enough to keep reading. By this time you realize that the woman has just had a real, genuine orgasm.

Cubitt says of the project,

“The title is a winking reference to the quack Victorian medical theory of ‘hysteria’ in women, and the vibrators and hydrotherapy treatments used to ‘cure’ them. On an individual level, I’m interested in the battle the sitter experiences between mind and body, and how long one retains primacy over the other, and when they reach balance, and when they switch control.

On a larger scale, I’m interested in how society draws a line between high and low art, between acceptable topics of discussion and taboo ones, between what can be worshiped and what must be hidden.”

I was a little unsure about what to think about this at first. I think that’s kind of the point. You’re not sure if it’s supposed to be pornographic, or humorous, or art. Maybe it’s a combination of the three. For whatever reason though, I think it’s kind of great. You end up rooting for these women to keep reading, but at the same time you’re rooting for them to just give it up already.

If it is porn, it doesn’t contain any of the aspects of most pornographic material that treat women as objects and project false ideas about what gives a woman pleasure. These videos present female sexuality and pleasure in a whole new light. So many men (and women too unfortunately) have never experienced an honest-to-goodness real life female orgasm and part of the problem is that the methods for obtaining them are not talked about. The ideas that men get from watching porn about what is pleasurable to a woman are completely off the mark, and if that’s where so many men are getting their information it’s no wonder more women aren’t experiencing orgasms with a male partner.

I don’t see these videos as objectifying women in the same way that most porn does. You don’t even see what exactly is going on under the table. All you see is her reaction.

At the very least, these videos are pretty entertaining to watch. Just make sure you put on some headphones before you do.


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