So shame, which rightly belongs to the rebellious human will, gets deflected to the genitals, and every fig leaf so strategically placed reinforces the deflection. Our sexual organs become pudenda, literally “the shameful parts.” It’s curious that this term is more often used to describe women’s anatomy. Consider, for instance, Masaccio’s great Expulsion from the Garden of Eden: Adam bends forward in grief, his hands covering his eyes—but the eyes of the two, once opened, can’t truly be closed—and his penis clearly visible. This is intentional: we see him from the right, with his left foot forward. Had Masaccio placed the right foot forward, our view would have been blocked. But we see Eve’s wailing face clearly, because her right hand covers her breasts, her left her vulva, which is partly obscured anyway by her right leg. She and Adam are out of step. Adam’s posture suggests that he does not want to see, Eve’s that she does not want to be seen, though no one could be looking, as the angel with the flaming sword hovers behind them. Everything in their portrayal suggests that they feel two different shames. Adam’s is closer to the Biblical account, Eve’s to the Augustinian shifting of responsibility to the genitals, the pudenda. If Adam’s shame comports with the Genesis narrative, Masaccio’s overall depiction seems not to, since we are told that God clothed them in “skin coats” before he dismissed them from their Garden. But Masaccio restores them to the moment they discovered their nakedness, thus telescoping the story, emphasizing the connection between exposure and expulsion.
me, in Cabinet magazine (2008)