George Steiner was a Franco-American literary critic and essayist.
His anti-pornography essay “Night Words” (1965) was the first of his writings which came to my attention in my capacity as pornosopher in the early 2000s.
Although I did not agree with them, his points were well-written and intellectually interesting.
“My true quarrel with the Olympia Reader and the genre it embodies is not that so much of the stuff should be boring and abjectly written. It is that these books leave a man less free, less himself, than they found him; that they leave language poorer, less endowed with a capacity for fresh discrimination and excitement. It is not a new freedom that they bring, but a new servitude. In the name of human privacy, enough!”
But then again, he also found the pearls and showed an appreciation for Diderot, Crebillon fils, Verlaine, Swinburne and Apollinaire. Pornography as such is just not very interesting, it is only interesting where it intersects with other genres or with other domains of interest in meaningful ways. In that sense, it is very similar to other art forms.
“And it is true also that the very posture of self-indictment, of remorse in which much of educated Western sensibility now finds itself is again a culturally specific phenomenon. What other races have turned in penitence to those whom they once enslaved, what other civilizations have morally indicted the brilliance of their own past? The reflex of self-scrutiny in the name of ethical absolutes is, once more, a characteristically Western, post-Voltairian act.”
The book was on David Bowie’s Top 100 Books .
Yesterday, as I was reading up on the recently deceased Monique van Vooren, I searched for Fearless Frank (1967) on YouTube and stumbled upon Fearless Frank, or Tit-bits from the Life of an Adventurer (1978). This is a BBC television film directed by Colin Bucksey, an adaptation of Frank Harris’s autobiography My Life and Loves (1922-27) starring Leonard Rossiter as Frank.
There is an amusing scene at 56:29 at the Cafe Royal with Ernest Dowson, Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, Lord Alfred Douglas and Whistler which gives an idea of the boasting of Harris.
And at 35:20 one hears Carlyle say to Frank:
“I did not consummate my marriage Frank … my poor Jane died a virgin.”
A quick search finds that the phrase “Jane Welsh Carlyle died a virgin” is featured in David Markson’s ‘novel’ The Last Novel.
Part of the fun of the writings of Frank Harris is not only the sex bits, but the self-aggrandizing demeanor of Frank.
This is a very enjoyable play, I imagine it to be the best quick introduction to the person and writings of Frank Harris.
At first I thought I’d not pay her death any attention, since I do not own a copy of The Undergrowth of Literature, the reason I discovered Mrs. Freeman in the first place. But I changed my mind when I found out that the Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library had a copy of this book in its warehouses, so off I was.
Leafing through the book (200 pp.) one finds references to other studies of porn from that era but most of all one is struck by the female point of view. Mrs Freeman is one of the first porn researchers to put forward that female sexual fantasies can be found in women’s magazines:
“I have merely made a survey of current fantasy literature which overtly or covertly, supplies the stimulus which so many people need, from the romance of Woman’s Own to the sado-masochism of Man’s Story” — p. 1
As always the negative criticism is most amusing:
“[the book is] nothing more than a collection of quotes, précis, paraphrases and photographs from current pornographic publications and glossy magazines … there is no love like the liberal prig‘s love for perverts and perversions”. –Stephen Vizinczey,The Times, 4 November 1967
Since Undergrowth is not in Google Books, I thought I’d give you the index. This may be useful to the aspiring pornosopher although apart from its focus on herstory it does not come near the qualities of Sex in History (1954) and Eros Denied (1964).
Gillian Freeman also wrote the thought sequences dialogue for The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968).
I wonder who is inheriting Mrs. Freeman’s library.
Makavejev is also the filmmaker who made a portrait of my hero Wilhelm Reich (W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism, 1971) which I have never seen but which I am about to see in the YouTube version above. Quickly scrubbing through it, I noticed that the backdrop for the promotional poster of W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (A lady sticking her arm triumphantly through an empty picture frame, to her left stands a chair with a white rabbit on it. The backdrop is a striped wall) which is used on Film as a Subversive Art (1974) can be seen at 31:19.
Update: The YouTube version above appears to be uncensored, even the penis plaster caster scene is without the hippie-like flowers it usually comes with.
“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.
Via peeking into Art/Porn: A History of Seeing and Touching (mentioned in previous post) 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, probably John Goodman)
“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.
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.