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Kid Twist

Who, by doing once to please him
what she has done unthinkingly
thousands of times, could make
an epoch in the life of the author

Though I risk ridicule from the smug, and remonstration by the prim, I must confess that my consciousness is liable, and at no time more than the present, when the sun is high and the days long, the air hot and the streets redundant with pedestrians, to a certain prepossession, or engrossment, with those commonplace aestival abbreviations, shorts. The power of these abridged articles to domineer my attention (and, in off-seasons, to infiltrate my imagination) I can neither account for nor abate. Indeed, it seems that some bents are inborn. It has been well said that each of us is at birth an already developed photographic negative, the events of afterlife determining only the size of the print made from it, and, perhaps, the degree to which its sootier shades may be (up to a point) relieved in the printing by what is called “dodging” or deepened by “burning in.” But in this darkroom there is no cropping. We are all printed flush. Therapists who place the origins of (erotic) prepossessions in early childhood traumas mistake effects for causes, for no event would be traumatic without the prior disposition (or later determination) to suppose it so. No thing is prepossessive of itself, else all would be prepossessed whom it befell. It is only the (rough) coincidence of the psychical conditions that potentiate them, and not any virtue in the things themselves, that allows us to name any “fetish” after its objects. But this is misleading, for the same mind may find objects of the same name, or even the same object circumstantially altered, differently prepossessive, or not prepossessive at all. Not by their constituents, but by how these are three-dimensionally folded, are elsewise identical proteins bioavailable or inert. People sometimes speak of “chemistry” in matters erotic, and they are right in that reactions are spontaneous; but there is stereochemistry as well.

Nonetheless, the therapists are not wrong in looking backwards, for whether God (as Kierkegaard thought) or the Devil (as seems likelier) creates the potentiating condition, actual precipitating occasions are still indispensible, and of these the most searing is indeed the one by which consciousness is to its all-absorbing liability first introduced. In my case, it was a pair of pea-green shorts, watched from the window of my childhood fourth-floor apartment, on a girl in the park below. It must be explained that during the decades of the last century in which my early life and sexual prime unfortunately fell, girls (and it is only in connection with girls that shorts have, or have not, their prepossessive effect on me) did not wear their shorts particularly short. Those years were a trough between two waves of extreme abbreviation. Something like knee-length Bermudas prevailed. Such long shorts produce an apperceptive discord (if I may begin to adumbrate my personal theory of shorts) by appearing rather to conceal than to expose. We spontaneously refer them (knee-length cut-offs included, however contrary to fact we rationally know this apperception to be) not to long pants, but to shorter shorts, whose ideated brevity they fatuously exceed. Knickers, by contrast, though longer, never seem long, for these we actually do refer to long pants, of which they appear quaintly shortened versions. That an inch or two of longitude should, like the Continental Divide, result in so consequential a divergence shows how independent of empirical measurement the affective length of shorts is. Everything depends on the length, not we, but the shorts themselves, establish as criteriological; for were it in our power to decide arbitrarily to which pole, so to speak, the ankle or the hip, we refer them, the same shorts would be short or long, just as we wish. The green shorts in question ended suddenly, to my Bermudas-accustomed expectations, just below mid-thigh—an abrupt apocope that made them seem to end, and to seem humiliated to have so to end, just short of where they would have liked. The impression those shorts made, of being short against their will, the therapeutically-inclined are free to call traumatic if they like; it is certainly the principle, in the working out of whose various implications my philosophy of shorts largely consists; but the reader who considers how peculiar to me this impression was, and how unnecessitated by its cause, may perhaps better appreciate why I called the liability to such a prepossession a condition primary and innate. I will now add, it having endured for decades, lifelong, and conceivably—should the soul survive the body—eternal. For it remains necessary that the exposure to which any given pair of shorts gives access seem involuntary on the shorts’ part, and, but only by extension, on the girl’s part too: that the girl is wearing the shorts voluntarily, and usually with nothing further on her mind, does not come into it. Unless, indeed, by her very obliviousness of what her shorts are doing—where their hem comes, whither it tides, how it grazes her thigh when she walks, stands proud of it when she stops, or climbs it should she sit—she accommodates the impression that her shorts are agents independent of her will, whose own will, however, they are chagrined to find themselves helpless to exert.

The requisite discomfiture on the part of the exposing articles receives remarkable reinforcement, and for reasons not as obvious as it may seem, from the character of the limbs exposed. The thighs are, of all, the body part least responsive to consciousness. I do not say that the other parts are equally so responsive, only that the thigh, with its “vast smoothness” and limited possibilities of motion (most of which belong to the flexor muscles of the pelvis anyway), is the least. Into the disposition and action of every other part—into curling toes, akimbo elbows, contracted abdominals (v. Lessing, Laocoön), tensed 1 shoulders—a mood, mentality, meaning or motive may be more or less readily imported; but into thighs*, what? Their impassivity makes thighs seem as embarrassed for the means to resist their exposure in shorts, as seem shorts, to remediate their own unwilling brevity. The impressions naturally reciprocate—so naturally, indeed, that the ingenious reader may be tempted to normalize my prepossession a little, and impute it to a displaced erotic fixation on naked thighs. And it is true that when stockings are worn under shorts, the prepossessive power of the shorts collapses. But this collapse of interest is due, not to the concealment of the thighs as such, but to the shorts appearing (vicariously) to have been willfully lengthened, or to have willfully lengthened themselves. And though it is true that, even as between reciprocals, one may have precedence of the other, and thighs in this way potentiate an interest in shorts, the reverse, if anything, is the case with me, as may be easily demonstrated by considering the prepossessive power over me of each factor apart. Thighs not in shorts – becurtained by skirts or cocooned in jeans – are prepossessive only in so far forth as they excite speculation as to what their concealed regions would look like, not bare, but bared (involuntarily) in shorts – a speculative interest not put to rest, by the way, by one’s having observed the thighs entirely bare, as in bed, for instance, but not, or not yet, bared in shorts. Whereas shorts apart from thighs, as are sometimes seen displayed in shop windows, though they suggest thighs indeed (else this prepossession with shorts would be a fetish pure and simple), are “measurable in their category,” and may appear long, short, very short or too short without their being worn at all. And finally, were a fascination with thighs prevenient, as Grace is said to be, or original, like sin, miniskirts, which, like shorts, implicate the thigh, would be similiarly prepossessive, whereas in fact the animus of these two styles of abridgement diverge. Miniskirts always seem just as short as they wish to be. Nor is the girl wearing one ever oblivious of its hem. Flouncing miniskirts move with the girl; sheath-like ones, as her: both are too obviously exponents of her will to be thought, as must shorts be, entities apart. And when shorts, even the shortest, by virtue of being skin-tight or sheer (or gratuitously worn over stockings, for that matter), cease to be so thought, they cease to be shorts altogether, being referred instead to athletic gear or to lingerie.

The respective incapacities of shorts and thighs meet, so to speak, at the inseam, for it is in their upper inner quarter (I assume an inseam of between three and six inches) that thighs are least expressive, being mostly adipose, and it is at the inseam where shorts are, and do not merely seem to be, at their most helplessly short. The other parts of the garment can after all be manipulated to change its visible length: the waist can be pushed down or pulled up, the hem can be allowed to ride up or fall down, or rolled up and, if so rolled, unrolled, and in these ways the shorts become longer or shorter at their own behest or at the girl’s. But the inseam is fixed: there is nothing either can do about it. But it does not follow that all cut-offs are contraindicated on the grounds that their frayed or rolled hems betray the intentions by which their visible brevity was produced, or suggest the contingency of its being altered still further, for this would be to import the girl’s will into the shorts, not the shorts’ into the girl. Prepossessively speaking, a girl in shorts is thighs and oblivion, nothing else; and lengths longer than the current, to which the latter are compared, are suggested by frayed hems and (virtually) presented by rolled ones. Likewise by very short high-waisted shorts, for these suggest the greater cover they could have effected, had their tight cinching not forbidden them to be worn lower on the hips. They are shorts in bondage, so to speak. The opposite “low riders,” by contrast, seem too obviously coquettishly pushed down to qualify as prepossessive. The principle is indeed violated by any shorts that suggest, by cut, use, or allusion, the possibility of being worn under some other garment whose coverage they have temporarily voluntarily forgone. Prepossessively inert, then, are bikini bottoms (which, were gross exposure of the thighs all that were desired, would be ideal), boxers, bicycle shorts, running and gym shorts, and all lingerie-like or lingerie-inspired styles: hot pants, shorts with frilled, lace or scalloped hems, and all those with elastic waist bands; any made of satin or knitted jersey, for these directly suggest undergarments, and all made of Lycra, spandex or leather, for these fit so closely they could conceivably be used as such.

That extreme cut-offs fail prepossessively when they allow the poor pallid front pockets to peep forth, like albino blind worms; that madras, tartan and pinstriped shorts seem shorter than solid-colored shorts of the same objective length; that denim commends itself as a material on the grounds of its being easily permanently creased—these, and all such determinations, made and still in the making, though reducible to the principle stipulated above, must each be first arrived at empirically, by the collation of countless instances peremptorily arresting. Such an abundance indeed provides that a non-zero number of criteriologically satisfactory sightings be made every summer. But to meet criteria and to satisfy a prepossession are different things. For how would this prepossession be satisfied? It has been observed, with respect to sexual love, that “the will is infinite, and the act a slave to limit,” but in a case like mine it is not clear even what the act would be. Yet the solicitations, to consideration of eligibility at least, number in the thousands every year. Multiply these thousands over decades and behold, a non-trivial portion of my consciousness is, has been, and must be always, prepossessed by an importunate and unsatisfiable longing. I do not claim that this makes me the type, or the martyr, of human consciousness; the pedophile is that; only that it is as vain to remonstrate with him, or with anyone, as with me, for we none of us choose our prepossessions, and we can none of us revoke them, though we may be more or less miserable in the degree to which circumstances baffle or stigmatize them. That the disharmony between the heart’s desire and the way the world is is not felt as constantly or as acutely by most remonstrators is owing to their having diffused over many notional objects a desire that in some unfortunates is concentrated on one eternally importuning.

[1] Girls’ thighs, be it understood. Men’s thighs may acquire physiognomy, so to speak, by musculature. See The Duchess of Malfi, II, v.