On I Have Devoted My Life to the Clitoris

Vi Khi Nao


Hall_Clitoris_front-over-large-381x580I Have Devoted My Life to the Clitoris
by Elizabeth Hall
Tarpaulin Sky
$14 / 98 pp.





Before and after reading Elizabeth Hall’s sexually radiating book, I Have Devoted My Life to the Clitoris, Hall has been an obscure figure in my consciousness. I had known and heard of her before, usually told to me as someone trembling like a leaf, wonderful, and intelligent. Her work was introduced to me by a mutual friend, Claire Donato, earlier on in my own book tour, and I was quite excited of the possibility of us all reading together like the three points in a triangle, clanging in the wind by the autumn light of our books’s lucent birthings. After all, who would want to miss an opportunity to read with the Burial matron from Poor Claudia and the Clitoris lady from Tarpaulin Sky?

The first time I heard Hall read was an ambient bookstore called Molasses Books. Hall and I had planned to read together in LA, but we had booked our reading too late and Skylight, BookSoup, Beyond Baroque, and other bookstores in the LA vicinity were booked to the brim. And, our reading in LA at Pop-Hop would not manifest until December. But we had this reading in New York in early Fall and it made our vocal hearts eager with anticipation. Before the reading, it had been raining sporadically through out the day. By evening, the dark sky of Brooklyn was drilling pluvial holes into the ground, flooding our boots and making our hearts and soles soggy with pre-ambient clitoral vocal beauty. Hall had been arranged to read last and by the time she opened her vocal cord, the Brooklyn crowd whose eyes have been swallowed by the pre-dimmed nebulous aura of the candles, (our only primary source of light) received her with intense applaud. After all, it marked one of the beginnings of her Clit book launch and tour, passing through Chicago and Philadelphia before landing here. Her voice trembled early on, not from un-experienceness, but from the tremor of being cloaked under the rain inside a packed houseful of seemingly eager and innocuous listeners. With large shelves full of books behind her, Hall’s voice quickly mastered itself as she launched boldly into the epicenter of the pussy and her research that made her work seems like an earthquake, widening the audience’s knowledge of the clit’s seismic activities. Her no-frill voice commanded the crowd and within seconds, the crowd knew more about the clitoris than different stops on the A train.

As the crowd soon learned, no one has made as much clitoral progress for women as Elizabeth Hall has done with her clit book. If the clit has an intellectual, historical, anecdotal, physical eye, it would take the form of Elizabeth Hall’s I Have Devoted My Life to the Clitoris. Elizabeth Hall, a clit custodian of clit texts, emerges from a seemingly endless, broad but limited engine of scholarly clitoral research to this translucent animal of enigmatic archivaling, documented, and micro-anthologizing of the clit, takes the readers and listeners into this erudite, erotic world where research meets pleasure. In fact, if Henry Miller were to read this book, he would feel compelled to mutilate or revise his phallic sensibilities, the ones existing in one of his tropics for a leaner (not necessarily tidier), more trailblazing sex – because there is nothing like the clitoris! Through the exploration of the diverse clitoral studies of the past and present and examination of the postsurgical, post-mutilation (vandalization) of the clitoris, Elizabeth Hall widens the circumference of our contemporary appetite by wittily confronting and shredding light into the specious, comedic testimonies and scholarly studies of her counterparts, primarily men & experts of the clit. As we read and hear her text in Brooklyn and outside of Brooklyn, we flicker through the corporeal pages of our thoughts: pleasure, pain, verve, awe, eagerness, sadness while Hall bestows us a clitoral journey that is personal, ceaseless, female, revealing, stimulating, mesmerizing, and transformative.

The first time I read this book I was staying in Queens, the last stop on Ditmar, I was aroused (how could one not be?), in part from the text’s erotic clinicalness, but also in part from being titillating by the raw, academic nature of it. It was an intelligent form of arousal, like an arousal from wanting to fuck someone wise, sapiosexuality or from being wise and not necessarily from someone who was drop-dead gorgeous. I learned a lot from Hall then and now, especially about the hyena’s clitorises.

The second time I read with Hall, she was hosting me a day or so at her apartment in San Pedro. She had been making large batches of granola bars and while laying in a pile of Hall sleeping bags (I discovered soon after how much Hall loves to camp –which continually surprises me because I am classy and redneck that way, demanding that the clitorises do not need to camp or love to camp), I observed her pouring oats into baking bowls. I thought: could this raw oats be the raw inspiration behind her Clit book? She told me that she would make these bars from a wonderful recipe she found online for her book tours and I thought this Clit girl could multitask, making her Clit book tour possible from denture-prevention. Her granola bars had piercingly less sugar than the ones brought at the store. As readers, we need our teeth, not only for beauty, but for reading purposes. Also, for sound quality purposes. When Hall and I read at Pop-Hop with Amina Cain, Myriam Gurba that evening, it felt private and intimate. There were so many readings manifesting in LA and many boring readers abandoned us for less sexier readings, but Hall put on her best reading uniform on and read us un-clit materials, probably newly born from her consciousness. Sometimes when I read this often side-by-side with Elizabeth Hall, I feel that she doesn’t even need to read from her clit book. She could be reading from a car manual or how to connect the modem to the internet and it would be sexy. She would make it sexy. Blown from the desert and captivated by feminine freedom, Hall when she performs her text, reads transformatively, body not locked in or enclosed by portals of hesitation or diffidentness or Victorian era censorship. Meaning, she strikes a provocative pose, legs H-shaped, limps angular and semi-contrapposto to the microphone stand, which provides depth of field to her long limps and opens her body to the reading space. Her reading voice, driven by openness and boldness, has always been organic and powerful, but her postmodern Renaissance, post-David, stance made her reading more so. Hall’s body posture in her feminine angularity made her lips more receptive to the readers and invites us into the deftly kind of semi-archival-able sexual education we all deserve.

But, it’s hard to talk about Hall’s presence without paying great tribute to the title of her petite great book: I Have Devoted My Life to the Clitoris. The title speaks for itself, requires no translation, and should be taken for face value. But, should it? Both words “devoted” and “clitoris” belong in the title obviously and not too far from each other and probably could lead a “life” on their own, but these words are neonatal to our modern tongue and require intense babysitting from our mother Hall. Part of the word “devotion” came from the Latin vovere “to vow” and well, “clitoris” from Greek kleitoris. To spend a life devowing the clitoris – isn’t it a bit much or too harsh? When I think of vows, I think of nunhood. By the time, you finish reading her Clit book, Hall seems to say that she, herself, has –anecdotally and clinically – de-nunned and de-hooded the clitoris and that the readers should at least be halfway there. When she invests her time and travels all over the United States to read, her voice is holding your hands, guiding you to a casual place where Foucault would like to call institutions of separation: one vaginal flap from another so you could see the eye or center of the female desire. But with a mother or no mother, there is no guiding light on how to receive or embrace or interrogate Hall’s text: we simply must allow ourselves to experience it and let its clitoral wind takes the sailboat to wherever it wishes to anchor. After exposing myself to Hall’s title and text, I have no choice but to demand that my clitoris take me to a Greek island as I have viewed the “new” clitoris as no longer a cloistered nun, forced to live under vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty of the male gaze, desire, inspection, history, and clinical scrutiny, but a head devoid of coif and veil and headdress and full of female wealth, autonomy, and self-governing soveignty. Though nowadays, according to Hall, the clitoris could still keep its headdress on and still lead a free, orgasmic life.

After our reading at Pop-Hop, Hall and I drove back to her apartment in San Pedro. The drive wasn’t long, but it gave me a place in transit where I could absorb more the beguiling content of Hall’s being. During the drive, Hall gave me a compact, compressed autobiographical portrait of her economical-social and cranial existence. She grew up in the South, from a working class. As she disclosed to me before the reading, over salad and spicy chicken wings, she didn’t ingest her first taco or Mexican food until she was nearly in her twenties. Hall is a sharp, astute learner and she quickly acclimates her indigent background for more contemporary brushstrokes. Though, I believe her background to be no less inferior than her coeval consumption. She told me about the rare ailment of her convalescent brain – how it endured experimental surgical procedures as a toddler from a private clinic that provided care pro bono and its preexisting conditions, not resolved in her youth, contribute to her chronic migraines and insomnia. After sharing various accommodations with Hall, I quickly learn that Hall is a light sleeper and consumes most of her nocturnal hours reading. These mundane facets of Hall’s personality and corporeality augmented my perception of her work. I feel great tenderness towards her. I believe it made me appreciate her research and text with more depth and reverence and I realize, no time is as important as this time with Elizabeth Hall, where I am lucky enough to share this reading space with her religiously and repetitively and be a witness in her making of history.

But, let’s get to the point: Hall and I have done many successful readings, but it is inevitable that I would talk about my latest reading with her. Hall and I and thousands of others had nothing better to do than to attend the recent AWP in DC. Gathered there like migratory literary birds, Hall and I shared a hotel at Holiday Inn, where we Uber ourselves lazily to the conference and Uber ourselves back to the hotel at night like Vampires not on skateboards. Our off-site reading took place on the last day of the conference at Rhizome, in a house that Virginia Woolf could have easily lived in. The reading was obscenely long due to the massive lineup of 14 readers. Yes, 14! I must admit, despite the strength of the reading, I felt asleep midway. When it came to Hall’s turn, the audience leaned eagerly to gather every single word that exited her mouth into the basket of their ears. They leaned in so heavily and slanting their bodies towards her it would seem from an aerial view of her reading that one couldn’t tell if the audience had come for a reading or to get their ears pierced by Elizabeth Hall. But they loved her work and they loved the way she interwined researched facts about the clitoris and her own personal, sexual anecdotes with her own clitoris. The audience were very much interested in knowing about the clitoris and Hall very much wanted to disclose that knowledge to them. In the midst of Hall’s reading, one of the readers died! I mean passed out. He passed out. At first I thought it was from too much literary clitoral exposure. Like someone who had heat stroke from being ovetly exposed to the sun, not wearing proper sunscreen protection and air ventilation. It never occurred that a reader would need clitoral fortification. Much later, when the noise of pseudo death passed and I learned that the reason why Hall’s reading was disrupted was that one of the audience members passed out from excessive inebriation. Hall’s patiently and cordially waited for the awkward moment of inebriated, phallic intrusion to pass before resuming graciously. She recaptivated the air and the audience and the evening continued to unfold warmly, with intense interest and micro-giggles.

Your own reading experience with Hall as a reader or as an audience member should never required you to pass out, but if you do, pass out, that is, you will have plenty of literary nurses who look like horses to care for you. I write these lines waiting at the Denver airport where Hall, Caroline Swanee Swanson, and I would soon read at Innisfree Poetry Bookstore in Boulder, arranged generously by Steven Dunn, author of Potted Meat. I want to close this before opening the next unexpected, thrilling chapter to my new reading experience with Hall. I have always felt that the birth of Elizabeth Hall’s I Have Devoted My Life to the Clitoris as a powerful female engine of sexual openness and I, like the rest of the world, can’t wait for this engine to continue to rock this world.