Category Archives: eroticism

“Pornography is […] like the Western and science fiction […] a form of pop art” –Leslie Fiedler

While I’m researching my master thesis on the possibility of pornographic art I stumble across new information all the time.

One of the best finds was the cluster theory of art by Berys Gaut which I found via Ian Jarvie (was happy to see mentioned by Simon Fokt).

But the best was this: as I was writing a possible rationale for why pornograpy had become salonfähig in the 1960s and 1970s and I wanted to write about nobrow and Sontag and Fiedler I did some extra research on Cross the Border — Close the Gap and found the whole transcript of the 1969 Playboy article[1] including the page scans and including the illustration by Karl Wirsum (above).

A way out of the ‘tautological genre-trap’

I finally started writing my master thesis for a degree in philosophy.

The subject?

“Can porn be art?”

The answer: “Yes it can be but usually it’s not.”

Anyway, to get to this answer, one needs to define art and porn.

Defining art is notoriously difficult.

Defining porn less so. First you need to get rid of the tautological genre-trap (see genre theory, corpus and tautology).

Page 135 from ‘Theories of Film’ (1974)

I finally read the original page on which the problem of the tautological genre-trap is first elaborated [above].

The page is from Andrew Tudor’s 1974 Theories of Film, the chapter’s title is “Critical Method: Auteur and Genre”, the page 135.

The text reads:

“To take a genre such as a ‘Western’, analyse it, and list its principal characteristics, is to beg the question that we must first isolate the body of films which are ‘Westerns’. But they can only be isolated on the basis of the ‘principal characteristics’ which can only be discovered from the films themselves after they have been isolated. That is, we are caught in a circle that first requires that the films be isolated, for which purposes a criterion is necessary, but the criterion is, in turn, meant to emerge from the empirically established common characteristics of the films.”

Tudor calls this an ’empiricist dilemma’.

More philosophically, you might call ‘genre’ an ostensive definition.

My way out of this quagmire?

Make use of Venn-diagrams. Some works are part of the ‘western’ set but can overlap with other sets.

Kings and philosophers shit – and so do ladies

Kings and philosophers shit – and so do ladies(Montaigne (1533-1592) in his Essays)

Der kleine Narr illustrates the first draft of the translation of my “Satirical pornography and pornographic satire, the caveman is agitated” chapter in The History of Erotica.

Mind the turd.

A nude woman isn’t indecent

Via peeking into Art/Porn: A History of Seeing and Touching (mentioned in previous post[1]) come Diderot’s thoughts on the difference between decency and indecency, or, by extension, the difference between erotica and pornography. According to Diderot, “it is the difference between a woman who is seen and a woman who exhibits herself.”

Here are Diderot’s thoughts in full from an unidentified translation:

“A nude woman isn’t indecent. It’s the lavishly decked out woman who is. Imagine the Medici Venus is standing in front of you, and tell me if her nudity offends you. But shoe this Venus’ feet with two little embroidered slippers. Dress her in tight white stockings secured at the knee with rose-colored garters. Place a chic little hat on her head, and you’ll feel the difference between decent and indecent quite vividly. It’s the difference between a woman seen and a woman displaying herself. (translator unidentified[2], probably John Goodman)

French original:

“Une femme nue n’est point indécente. C’est une femme troussée qui l’est. Supposez devant vous la Vénus de Médicis, et dites-moi si sa nudité vous offensera. Mais chaussez les pieds de cette Vénus de deux petites mules brodées. Attachez sur son genou avec des jarretières couleur de rose un bas blanc bien tiré. Ajustez sur sa tête un bout de cornette, et vous sentirez fortement la différence du décent et de l’indécent. C’est la différence d’une femme qu’on voit et d’une femme qui se montre.”

Please do not take Diderot too seriously when it comes to eroticism, I’ve previously written on Diderot’s hypocrisy. In my view, if it isn’t indecent, it isn’t erotic. That is why I do not consider many pieces of erotic art, erotic at all since they do not provoke erotic arousal. Shame is the most powerful aphrodisiac.

In praise of pornosophy

Art/Porn: A History of Seeing and Touching (2009) – [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

I want to read Art/Porn: A History of Seeing and Touching (2009) by Kelly Dennis.

Besides that pornosophy is my area of expertise, the book looks rather more clever than many porn studies that have recently flooded the American market and finding smart sentences such as the following has whetted my appetite:

“We can now see that the “sister arts,” the paragone, the hierarchy of genres, and even ekphrasis are all rooted in an opposition between word and image, between an acceptable literary pictorialism and a less acceptable pictorial literacy.”

I found this book while googling paragone and ekphrasis mentioned in my previous post on Baudelaire[1].

On the cover of Art/Porn is one panel from the Every Playboy centerfold, by decade series by Jason Salavon.

RIP German sex educator Oswalt Kolle (1928 – 2010)

Oswalt Kolle played a significant role in the sexual revolution in Germany.

Of all sexual revolutions (see here), the one that occurred in the 1960s was the most pervasive, due to mass media, the pill and general economic prosperity.

It was a funny revolution. A friend once told me that it was just an excuse for all alpha males to bang as many women as they could get their hands on. This is an exaggeration, of course, but contains some truth.

It was the start of sex education in state schools, like the Sexualkundeatlas of 1969, but also of state-funded sexual education films Helga – Vom Werden des menschlichen Lebens.

Illustration Zázrak Lásky (Czech translation of Wunder der Liebe by Oswalt Kolle). For more visuals of Oswalt Kolle’s products, see my old page here[1].

Icon of Erotic Art #55

There is a scene in the film Story of O which juxtaposes a woman’s face in the throes of orgasm and the face of another woman who is being tortured. Supposedly, the facial expressions of both women cannot be distinguished, at least, that’s what the film claims (I don’t know whether the same claim is made in the book).

This is the first thing that came to my mind when I laid eyes on the recently published supposedly long-lost upper section of Gustave Courbet’s masterpiece The Origin of the World[1], a painting of a young woman’s face and shoulders which was — again supposedly — severed from the original work.

The woman depicted is the Irish redhead Joanna Hiffernan, who must have been around 23 when this work was painted. Joanna “Jo” Hiffernan (ca. 1843 – after 1903) was also the model of and romantically linked with American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who painted her as The White Girl. Courbet also painted her as La belle Irlandaise and Le Sommeil.

I think the work is fantastic (regardless if it is a part of L’Origine or not) and frankly, just as exciting as the world famous beaver shot of the lower section. I love orgiastic faces (and swooning women) and I am not the only one. There is the website ‘Beautiful Agony,’ of which the name at least seems to corroborate the claim of the narrator of the Story of O.

The upper section of ‘L’Origine is Icon of Erotic Art #55.

The fascinating and revolting love lives of gastropoda

Having recently seen the documentary film Microcosmos (to be viewed in its entirety on Vimeo here[1]), I’d like to share these two pictures of snails mating.

These images are instances of zoological horror or the zoological fantastique, depending on your view.

Both horror and the fantastique are just as much rooted in fascination as in revulsion, ergo in ambiguity of emotions. And what could be more ambivalent and cause more ‘mixed feelings’ than slimy slugs and snails ‘getting it on’, an act which may involve hermaphroditism, firing love darts (a source of the Cupid myth, state some sources), apophallation (gnawing at stuck penises) and even sexual cannibalism?

Of course, the attentive reader will have noticed that in the photo of ‘Courtship in the edible snail, Helix pomatia’ the soft bodies of the snails look exactly like the labia majora of an adult female human mammal.

It needs not to be said that the whole field of animal sexuality is highly fascinating and has been represented in art not often enough. Apart from Microcosmos, there has been Green Porno and the magnificent films of Jean Painlevé (Acera, or the Witches’ Dance[2] comes to mind).

Zola and pornography

La Grande épidémie de pornographie  (1882) is a caricature by Albert Robida first published in La Caricature. It is reminiscent in form and content of Pornokrates[1] by Félicien Rops, which appeared three years earlier.

The litho fits squarely in the late 19th century debate on naturalist literature and the writings of Emile Zola, which were equated at the time with pornography. There is a fine caricature titled Naturalisme[2] by Louis Legrand which illustrates the ‘warts and all‘ naturalism which was criticized in numerous anti-Zoalist tracts. This anti-Zoalism is an important episode in the development of the etymologies of pornography and erotica, since the first traceable instance of the use of the term pornography as an expletive is in the essay “La littérature putride” (1868), directed against the French writer, although Zola never wrote anything even remotely pornographic.

This anti-Zoalist diatribe helped the notoriety of Zola’s “putrid” novel Thérèse Raquin. Zola capitalized on it for publicity and referred to it in his preface to the second edition. Then there was Albert Millaud who in 1876 denounced Zola’s novel L’Assommoir even before its publication was complete: ‘It is not realism, it is smut; it is not crudity, it is pornography.’ (“Ce n’est plus du réalisme, c’est de la malpropreté ; ce n’est plus de la crudité, c’est de la pornographie”).

Towards the end of the century, three complete anti-Zola works appeared: La Flore pornographique (1883), Le naturalisme ou l’immoralité littéraire (1894) and Zola contre Zola (1896). They were all written by the same author, a French bookseller by the name of Antoine Laporte. His pamphlets are most enlightening. Negative criticism is often the best guide to a work. Where else would we find out about the emasculation scene in Germinal?

French censorship largely left Zola in peace. No major trials are recorded.  In England, the powers that were reacted differently. English censorship was led by the National Vigilance Association who targeted Vizetelly’s unabridged mass-market translations of Zola’s work. A personal disaster for old man Vizetelly.

See also: Criticism of Zola by Max Nordau in his book Degeneration