What’s black and white all over, features beautiful women reading books, and is fantastically arousing? Hysterical Literature, the video sensation series created by NYC based filmmaker/photographer Clayton Cubitt that has been gracing YouTube since 2012. Putting the art on the table and the sex under the table, each installment features a different woman, all ethnically diverse, seated before a camera reading excerpts from their favorite books. Although that alone is enough to excite some, soon each reader starts to become visibly flustered, stumbling over her words, sweating and giggling, until eventually she surrenders to a person or object hidden from camera view under the table, and reaches her climax. Watching the intimate session is an experience as erotic as it is imaginative. Your mind races at the thought of what is happening off-screen to bring these women to the pinnacle of physical gratification for your viewing pleasure. Cubitt claims “messy, human, primal, animal things, unfit for public presentation to decent moral people” are occurring under the table. But the real star behind the series is actually a Hitachi Magic Wand, ‘The Cadillac of vibrators,’ wielded by an anonymous (female) assistant. The project arises in an age of social media and the infamous “selfie” where apparently everyone has a go to photo op pose (Insert duck face and a peace sign here). The artist wanted to create a situation that would make it impossible for a person to maintain their pose. The sessions are intended to explore aspects of feminism, mind/body dualism, and the contrast between culture and sexuality.
The title ‘Hysterical Literature’ itself references the long since forgotten and completely absurd “female hysteria” medical condition, where women were massaged to orgasm in order to rebalance the uterus and “improve” erratic behavior. The catchall diagnosis was practiced for hundreds of years through Western Europe and in some extreme cases women were forced into asylums and to undergo hysterectomies. Frightening. Cubitt says “the past’s confusion and shame attached to female behavior, especially pleasure, are something he wanted to explore in a modern context.” The idea for the series stemmed from a few previous works released that lacked the artist’s desired results. Touching on the distraction and fatigue of portrait models, ‘Long Portraits’ featured subjects making direct eye contact with the camera for five minutes or longer. There is no audio attached to the clips, making it seem too anonymous and not at all reflective of the person seated before the screen. Respectably, Cubitt also recognized this concept had already been explored by another notable artist, in Andy Warhol’s ‘Screen Tests’. A different piece aptly titled the ‘Hitachi Magic Interview’ included Cubitt himself asking a series of questions to a woman while a vibrator simultaneously distracted her. He found this to feel uncomfortably more of an interrogation, as he had to shout at the subject for her attention and responses. Cubitt also decided to remove himself from the project and stay behind the scenes, allowing for more self-expression to evolve from the female onscreen.
And what better way to evoke that then allowing each subject to read from one of her personal favorite books? “Literature is one of the most personal reflections of her as a person” states Cubitt in an interview. The participants were not selected at random, all exuding a strong sense of will, playfulness, and independence to the filmmaker. Some recognizable faces are featured including comedienne Margaret Cho, sultry x-rated starlet Stoya, and “hurricane of intellectual sexuality” Stormy Leather alongside fellow artists, writers, and previous subjects of Cubitt. Having one of your most intimate feelings projected before an audience must be an entirely liberating experience and one reserved for the exhibitionist. Solé (as seen in session 6) even gives a shout out to her folks on the official website, hoping they see the merit and are as proud as she is of herself. Filmed in stark black and white to create a sterile, non-sexual setting that also remained true to traditional photography, the subtlety of the short film series has enabled it to evade community guideline based online censorship and thrive on YouTube. Since it’s introduction to the Internet in August of 2012, Hysterical Literature quickly went viral and now boasts over 20 million views in 200 countries.
As for the mastermind behind the series, Louisiana native Clayton Cubitt began to gain recognition for his photojournalism following Hurricane Katrina. Currently, he is based in New York, steadily acquiring quite a hefty portfolio. Keep up the interesting, thought-provoking work. New sessions are filmed sporadically with allegedly only a finite number left, but you can sign up to receive the next installment at the website. Or revisit them all, hanging on to their every word. While mind and body struggle for the video starlet and the viewer, soon both descend into pleasure.