Obscenities offstage: Melbourne’s gay saunas & the limits of representation

Walsh, Russell (2007) Obscenities offstage: Melbourne’s gay saunas & the limits of representation. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


Obscenities offstage is conceived and designed as a study in performance. It is alert to the dangers inherent in positing erotic fields, especially so-called 'gay saunas', as objects of study, dangers that have dogged the scientific research, both qualitative and quantitative, undertaken in this field since the 1960s. The dangers arise precisely because the positing of the sauna as a coherent unitary object to be studied by the researcher as a coherent unitary subject naturalises a discrete relation that is in effect utterly bogus. The project reconfigures the epistemic stage of sauna research. It recognises that the scene of the gay sauna resists anything more than incomplete, inconclusive or reductive representation, not through some teleological or mystificatory agency, but simply because it is technically, that is, materially and socially, designed to do so. With its focus on producing effects of ambiguity, anonymity, darkness, disorientation, excitation, hermeticism, muteness, obscurity, seclusion and synaesthesia, on producing these effects as the commodities on which its commercial viability effectively depends, the gay sauna can be recognised as a zone in which the knowledge sought by the physical and human sciences is necessarily and always located just out of reach, offstage. Performance as an episteme [sic] offers methodological opportunities here that have hitherto been unexplored. Performance produces effects of knowledge not in spite of but through the production, articulation, shimmer and play of contingent reality effects, and importantly for this project through an ontological intervention that deconstructs the 'naturalised' opposition of absence and presence. It is with the commonplace performative force known as 'offstage'—in Latin, obscaenus—that the current project strives to know the gay sauna, and yet let it remain 'obscene'.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
URI https://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/960
Subjects Historical > RFCD Classification > 410000 The Arts
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > School of Sport and Exercise Science
Keywords obscenities offstage, gay sauna, performance, Melbourne
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