Thursday, June 18, 2009


I don’t know a whole lot about orgies, but I think they must run a high risk of disappointment. That’s how it is with desire and high expectations: however good the reality, it’s always easy to imagine something better. The modern orgy has so many historical precedents to compete with, not least that most ancient orgies involved excesses of food consumption as well as excesses of sex.

Suetonius, not exactly a neutral observer, tells us that Caligula invented “new and unnatural varieties of food and feasts,” drank pearls dissolved in vinegar and served “loaves and meats of gold.” This is gold leaf, I assume. Suetonius doesn’t mention butter.

One of Caligula’s successors Vitellius invented the Shield of Minerva, which I always think sounds pretty impressive – the brains of peacocks and pheasants, the livers of parrotfish, the tongues of flamingoes, the entrails of lampreys. When did you last eat the liver of a parrotfish? Not at a swinger’s party, I’ll bet.

For some years now the photographer Naomi Harris has been recording the activities of modern day swingers. The word “orgiast” sounds way too grand. These are just plain folks who meet up for parties in hotel rooms or each other’s houses and have sex of a rather premeditated sort. And of course a party always involves food.

I’ve always thought that people who don’t really care about food porbably don’t really care about sex either. And this is surely one of the problems with genuine promiscuity; to be totally omnivorous suggests a definite lack of connoisseurship, maybe even a simple indifference to what you put in your mouth.

And so Naomi Harris’s photographs show lumpen proles drinking boxed wine, having canned cream sprayed on their nipples, eating pizza in the bath, having sex and eating potato chips while watching the Super Bowl on a big screen TV. Most of the food looks pretty unappetizing.

There are however a few photographs that show a Thanksgiving dinner where all the diners are naked. Here the food actually looks pretty decent.

The problem is that neither the food nor any of the people look even remotely sexy or sensual or orgiastic.

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