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‘My body shall be all yours’: the startling sexuality notes of Joyce, Kahlo and O’Keeffe

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An eye-wateringly explicit brand-new stage show celebrates sexual mail sent by famed digits through the ages

I did as you told me, you grimy little girl, and pulled myself off twice when I speak your character. He might be celebrated for his epic and allusive novels, but James Joyce returned straight-shooting to the point when writing to his partner, Nora Barnacle. This was the opening salvo of a character from 1908 and was one of ratings of explicit missives he moved her.

A brand-new stage show is celebrating such characters of libido sent by far-famed representations through the centuries, whether explicit or coded, sexual or nostalgic. Theatre-maker Rachel Mars is curating a selection to be read aloud in the implementation of its which is part of the Hotbed festival of sexuality at Camden Peoples theatre in London. These will be interspersed with anonymised modern meanings: texts, tweets and dating app sexts.

If emails have done away with the fine art of communication, then what future is there for the sexuality letter in comparison with the instant gratification offered by a flurry of Tinder contents? Theres a certain sensuality that is surely lost when long-awaited love letters are replaced by auto-destructing Snapchat messages.

The form of sexting is so immediate, does Mars. I am nostalgic for characters. Theres a craftsmanship thats been lost in conveying certain kinds of hope or anger or bodily know-how for someone else.

Big Big fat friends, long breezy ones, quick little merry cracks James Joyce in 1904. Photograph: CP Curran/ Getty Images

Mars isnt the only one who has recognised the supremacy of a good character in recent years. Blogger Shaun Usher obtained correspondence for his website Letters of Note, which became a publishing phenomenon and spawned the hugely favourite Letters Live episodes. Marss show will boast about 15 words, wandering from the sublime to the somewhat grubby. On the one handwriting, creator Frida Kahlos love letters to Diego Rivera are a event of fecund glamour. She rhapsodises over the dark-green miracle of the landscape of your body, use luxuriant, natural imagery to give physical libido: There was all manner of fruits in the juice of your lips, the blood of the pomegranate, the scope of the mammee and the purified pineapple.

Many of the words show intense hanker for an absent-minded admirer, such as artist Georgia OKeeffes letters to photographer Alfred Stieglitz in 1922: Its[ sic] my torso that wants you and this appears to the only envisaged or hope that I have it even seems to be my only recall of you two organizations that have fused have touched with completeness at both ends making a ended circuit. In another, she writes: I am on my back waiting to be spread wide-ranging apart waiting for you to die with the sense of you the pleasure of you the sensuousness of you touching the sensuousness of me all my torso all of me is waiting for you to touch the centre of me with the centre of you.

Novelist Radclyffe Halls letter to Evguenia Souline in 1934 is full of the bitter sweetness of break-up, more: I wonder if you recognise how much I am counting on your coming to England, how much it means to me it symbolizes the whole world, and indeed my figure shall be all, all yours, as yours will be all, all mine, beloved. You too get a sense of the precarious secrecy of a note, here use is not simply to conduct an adulterous occasion, but a lesbian one.

On the other hand, some sexuality notes are funny. Consider the desperation of Marcel Proust begging his grandpa for coin so he can go once more to a prostitute to dry his awful masturbation wont, after he transgressed a chamber jackpot and got too flustered to perform the first time.

One One of Georgia OKeeffes letters to Alfred Stieglitz in 1922. Image: Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

But it is the Joyce letters that form the skeleton of the evening, with Mars and other performers including Brian Lobel, Rachael Young and Naomi Woddis all reading his scatological themes. And they certainly are very rude, full of enthusiasm for anal copulation, in particular. You had an arse full of farts that night, darling, writes Joyce to Barnacle in 1908, big fatty comrades, long breezy ones, speedy little merry fissures and a lot of tiny little naughty farties.

I was thoroughly stunned by the Joyce ones, acknowledges Mars. Hes certainly massively into anal substance and scat. To find the specificity of amusement in that kind of non-normative practice, over a century earlier I found that delightfully offending. It shook me out of my nonsense viewpoint of these practices being new.

The project began when Mars was feeling depressed after the Brexit vote, far from home on an artists residency in upstate New York. A US academic came out on the foyer and, have committed themselves to applauded her up, read Joyces characters aloud for half an hour. It did the manoeuvre and now she wants to share this encouraging potential. Theres something joyous about doing something personal and taboo into a communal activity, she adds. I want to talk about bodies I want to talk about pleasure.

Sharing the very private formation of a copulation note in public will certainly prompt sniggers. But these letters also deserve to be celebrated because they remind us of the varied courses beings have always knowledge sexual solace and because used to describe that are able its own work of art.

Your Sexts Are Shit: Older Better Letters is at Camden Peoples theatre, London, on 4 May

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