Category Archives: literature

“Is the Bible Indictable?” by Annie Besant

As you may have heard, I have resumed my work as pornosopher and I am currently writing my master’s thesis which investigates whether porn can be art. In my research I get lost very often (which kind of seems to be the purpose).

However, it is time for me to stop getting lost, because I have another paper to finish on political myth, a paper which I have tentatively titled “Mythe, meute, Europa,” which translates as “Myth, mob, Europe.”

Before I start that work, one of my most satisfying finds of the latest obsessive quest: Annie Besant’s sublime pamphlet: “Is the Bible Indictable?” (illustration).

Besant asks (in 1877, mind you!):

“Does the Bible come within the ruling of the Lord Chief Justice as to obscene literature? Most decidedly it does, and if prosecuted as an obscene book, it must necessarily be condemned, if the law is justly administered.” 

RIP Gillo Dorfles (1910 – 2018)

Gillo Dorfles  was an Italian art criticpainter, and philosopher best known for his 1968 book on kitschKitsch: The world of Bad Taste.

He was 107.

The photo: When I just started buying books, somewhere in the late 1990s, I saw this at Vulcanus, a book store in the Volkstraat 3 run by a lady named Yvette. I didn’t buy the book. I see they have it at my university. Maybe I’ll lend it one day.

“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.

But the best was this: as I was writing a possible rationale for why pornography 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).

Everybody continually kills the Mandarin

Examining the bibliography of Art and Its Objects for my thesis Can Porn Be Art?, I came across Alain‘s System of the Fine Arts which in turn led me anew to the “killing of the hypothetical Mandarin“, a subject I had contemplated in some detail for the first time in 2013. I spent about six hours on the subject over the afternoon, time I did not spend on my thesis.

A new element in this afternoon reading and studying binge was “Killing a Chinese Mandarin“, an essay by Carlo Ginzburg (the current heir to Umberto Eco?) first published in 1994 and essential to the parable, referencing Aristotle’s Rhetoric, “Conversation of a Father with his Children” and “Letter on the Blind” (Diderot), Charles de PougensModeste Mignon (Balzac), Ordinary Men (Christopher Browning) and David Hume.

As far as I’m concerned Alain made the definitive statement about the “hypothetical Mandarin” when he said “everybody continually kills the Mandarin“, proving that we are all victims of collective guilt, a point particularly poignant in the current migrant crisis.

Having lost a lot of time (time I should’ve spent on my thesis), I decided to write this snippet reporting my vagrancies. As I was thinking of a picture that could illustrate it, I suddenly thought of Death by a Thousand Cuts. Are we not guilty — with every Chinese product we buy — of the violations of human rights in China perpetrated on a daily basis? But then I couldn’t. The image is just too cruel.

Instead, I give you a cover of Alain on Happiness [above], from whence came Alain’s dictum on the mandarin, not referenced by Ginzburg in his sublime essay on emotional and social distance.

A book about nothing, or, in praise of plotlessness and the antinovel

I’m rereading Writing on Drugs by Sadie Plant, a book which is brilliant in its lateral connections, arguing amongst other things that the Industrial Revolution in England goes hand in hand with the legal use of opium as recreational drug.

Speaking of opium, I’ve published a photo of an oozing, exuding, secreting and leaking poppy seed head.

But that’s not what I wanted to show you.

On page 47 in Writing on Drugs is Flaubert and he is cited stating his desire to write ‘a book about nothing‘ (‘un livre sur rien’), in other words a plotless novel, an antinovel as it were.

“What strikes me as beautiful, what I would like to do, is a book about nothing, a book with no external tie, which would support itself by its internal force of style, a book which would have hardly any subject or at least where the subject would be almost invisible, if that can be so.” (Flaubert, Letters 170).


Did Flaubert fulfil his ambition?

Maybe he did. The closest he came to writing about nothing was in his Bouvard et Pécuchet and Dictionary of Received Ideas.

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili + Bomarzo + elephant = bible illustrations

It’s funny on how returning to the blogosphere after saying goodbye to it for quite some years, I bump straight into an old virtual friend when searching for “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili + Bomarzo + elephant”. The friend in question runs the fascinating culture blog Journey to Perplexity.

The reason I googled the words above was that my Dutch edition (translated by Ike Cialona) of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili claims that Colonna’ work inspired these works of architecture:

  • Grotta di Buontalenti by Bernardo Buontalenti and Giambologna’s famous Bathing Venus in the Boboli Gardens
  • Ercole Ferrata’s Elephant and Obelisk
  • Giovanni Battista Vaccarini’s u Liotru
  • Gigantomachia fresco by Giulo Romano
  • Santa Maria della Salute by Baldassarre Longhena
  • Park of the Monsters at Bomarzo

One thing leading to another, as they usually do, I found this [2] fascinating woodcut, of which the colour palette reminds me of Japanese woodcuts.

[Update: added illustration in 2023]: Apocalypse imageby Georg Lemberger. Featured in The Apocalypse and the Shape of Things to Come (1999) by Frances Carey.

I wonder if the plate is part of Cranach’s illustrated version of Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible? Anyone?

The ‘fantastique naturel’: the weird axolotl


The Weird (2012) – [] [FR] [DE] [UK]

I’m into weird stuff and anthologies. So I’m happy with the new book The Weird, dedicated to 20th century literature in the category weird fiction, a book I discovered while researching Dino Buzzati (check out this [1] and this [2]). It was put together by Jeff VanderMeer and his wife Ann.


Yes, there is a but.

The cover of this anthology is ugly beyond belief.

Beyond belief is perhaps putting it too strongly and I don’t like negative criticism without at least providing an alternative.

So why not have put an axolotl on the cover? A good choice since there is also a short story by my favourite author Julio Cortázar in the anthology titled “Axolotl” and the axolotl is a creature like the star-nosed mole and the baby armadillo by Dora Maar which belongs in the category ‘fantastique naturel‘ and the fantastique is the natural precursor of weird fiction.

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

Poe’s impotence

Somewhat of a surprise was waiting when I finally held all 700+ pages of Marie Bonaparte‘s The Life and Works of E. A. Poe: a Psychoanalytic Interpretation in my hands and skipped to the psychoanalytical interpretation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “Loss of Breath.”

There, on page 373, Marie Bonaparte utters what any man dreads to hear: that he is impotent. Ouch. Poe must have turned in his grave when he heard of his post-mortem psychobiography and Bonaparte’s concern with his vita sexualis.

In “Loss of Breath”, my favourite Poe story, Marie Bonaparte finds the ultimate proof of Poe’s impotence. She equates the breath of Mr. Lackobreath, the sorry protagonist of the tale, with “pneuma,” “life force,” hence “sexual potency.”

To strengthen her argument, she cites Baudelaire who once said “There is not in all of Poe’s work a single passage that tends to lubricity or even to sensual pleasure“.

Not only was Poe impotent, according to Marie Bonaparte, he was a “repressed sado-masochist and necrophilist” (299) and his body of writing was the product of neurosis.

Illustration: photo of a silicone packer[2] by Canadaworker from Wikimedia Commons.

See also my two previous two odes to the flaccid phallus, the limp male member: Un priape marchant sur des pattes de coq[3] and votive phallus[4].

The History of Erotica, from Caveman to Marquis de Sade

In September 2009 I bade you farewell.

I’m back with a book, a history of erotica which starts in prehistory and ends for now with Henry Fuseli,  J. – J. Lequeu and Marquis de Sade.

It features some 250 images and about as many citations.

It is for the time being only available in Dutch and costs 25 euros.

The book was presented on the evening of valentine’s day, 2011.