Writing about nudism

When I was a teenager, I ended up reading two books, by two different Japanese guys, within a relatively short span of time. The first book, by Fukuoka Masanobu (b. 1913, d. 2008), bore the English title The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming, and it was lent to me by someone I had a crush on at the time. The second book, called The Book of Five Rings in English (although my understanding is that it was originally either a scroll or a collection of scrolls, rather than a book per se), was by Miyamoto Musashi (b. 1584, d. 1645); it was lent to me by a friend's older brother, with whom I had started hanging out occasionally, perhaps in part because I had been seen to talk about Fukuoka's book from time to time.

Fukuoka's book, obviously enough, was (and is!) about farming – specifically, a technique of farming that did not rely on heavy industrial inputs. Miyamoto's book was (and is!) about using swords effectively in order to kill people (which is something that, as I understand it, he managed to do quite a bit of in his life). Neither subject had much to do with my life, either then or now, but the books are not just about those subjects; they are works of philosophy. Not in the sense of philosophy as an academic discipline, but in the more colloquial sense of a “philosophy for life”. In other words, both books can be understood, through a contemporary lens, as examples of self-help literature.

Don't get it confused, of course. They are absolutely about their respective subjects, and impart many lessons that could, presumably, come in handy if one wanted to be a natural farmer or a person who kills people with swords. But that's not necessarily why the books are shared and read. I remember that the blurb on the back of The Book of Five Rings had a lot of verbiage about how Miyamoto's words could translate into lessons for “business strategy”, that in fact a number of Japanese business executives kept his book on their front desks and Western executives ought to start doing the same. When I read Fukuoka's book (which, overall, was the more important of the two in my own life), I took a lot from his idea about a sort of considered laziness (my words, not his). When he affirmed that farmers, in the past, had had the time to write poetry and practice calligraphy and otherwise live a worthwhile life, I was into it. When he said that, whenever he was doing anything that he did routinely, he started asking questions of himself about whether he could get away with not doing that thing, whether there was a technique to reduce the amount of time he spent doing the thing, I was really into it.

So, for almost the whole time that I wanted to write a book or a zine about nudism, I wanted to produce something similar to what Fukuoka and Miyamoto had produced. I wanted to write something that furnished practical lessons about a subject that a reader might want to learn about, but I also wanted to convey something else, sort of between the lines. Something profound, I suppose.

The issue is that I don't have much to say that's practical, at least not in the same way as Fukuoka or Miyamoto. I certainly could say any number of banalities and/or absurdities about getting naked, recapitulating, for instance, this list of “100 nudity ideas to increase nude time and nudist friends” – but that's not my style. Alas, when it comes to what I want to be talking about, I don't really have the experience, and certainly not the know-how. I cannot offer a technique that is so refined that I have been able to furnish a name to it, akin to Fukuoka's “do-nothing farming” or Miyamoto's “Way of Strategy”. I can offer a “nudism-comfortism” that exists in contrast to a specialized and decidedly polemic notion about a “nudism-naturism”, but insofar as there is any technique here at all, it pertains to a way of thinking about nudism, and not the practice itself.

Unlike Fukuoka or Miyamoto, I am writing as a relatively young man, not as an old guy who sort of figured it all out already. But also, what works for me simply will not work for others, and I think it wrong to presume that it could. For instance, I have already mentioned that I am a man, but I'm a cis man at that. I also live in a specific part of the world. As a subject of diffuse systems of power – or however you want to conceive of things like race, class, (dis)ability, and so on – I exist at a particular point in that matrix, which is different from where others are at. I've certainly got my own body image issues, but I'm not and never have been fat by any meaningful definition.

The project, up to now, has mostly been one of critique. I have mostly been critical of naturism, which is, in my estimation, a failure from a philosophical and political standpoint. But I've also criticized anarchists, as a collectivity, for their failure to realize a “free body culture” (to use the German verbiage) within their own spaces, almost in spite of their professed ideas.

But critique, divorced from practice, doesn't amount to much.

The degree to which I have lived in accordance with what I think about clothes, comfort, nudity, and morality and/or ethics pertaining to the aforementioned items has been, up to this point, pretty limited. I have things to talk about, but I can't present myself as living, or having lived, an especially “nudist” life – by which I mean a life that involves being naked whenever it is eminently the most physically comfortable option. What I have lived, instead, is an anarchist life, which doesn't mean a life that is befitting of a “true” anarchist or any specific idea about anarchy and/or its aspirations (I would never presume so much about myself), but at least a life that involves engagement with anarchist scenes (and overlapping scenes), anarchist projects (and anarchist interventions), and stories about anarchist history.

So, I want to get from here – which may be different for me than it is for a reader in Europe, in Southeast Asia, or anywhere else, but by which I mean the prevailing culture as regards clothing and nudity in anarchist scenes writ large – to there – by which I mean a culture that is more comfortist in its orientation, or at least that allows space for the option of nudity, nudist-comfortist subjectivities, and even other things.

I don't know how to get there, but I have proposals. I'm not sure if I know how to articulate all of them yet, but I have said a few things already and I suppose I'll say more.

I am pretty sure that it isn't enough for me to simply get naked more often, as an individual. I would love to get to a different emotional place with stuff, to not care about a few things I still sometimes care about, but insofar as it just amounts to me getting to flex on others about how confident or unselfconscious I am being naked, that won't quite be enough to change my social context to the point that I feel less lonely as a conspicuously nudist sort of person. It's also not going to do much to keep my bare ass from getting incarcerated (or at least mixed up with the judicial system), depending on how I express any newfound devil-may-care attitude.

The sort of world I'm aiming for won't be bruteforced through brazen and unrepentant nudity, in other words – and certainly not by individuated action alone.

There is definitely something to be said for just doing the thing (in fact, there's a lot to be said for it), but it is not sufficient. And it cannot be said that reading theory, reading stories from history, and/or reading about the problems that other people have faced will never help others to do the thing themselves. So I write.