File spoon-archives/marxism-thaxis.archive/marxism-thaxis_1998/marxism-thaxis.9804, message 27

Date: Wed, 01 Apr 1998 11:51:09 +0000
Subject: Re: M-TH: Porn and Sex Debates

LeoCasey wrote:

> First, it seems to me that Mark's argument about the violence of pornography,
> especially as interpreted by m.,  is not so much an argument about
> pornographic representation, as it is an argument about representation in
> general. Every claim that is being made about pornography therein -- captured
> in the fundamental idea of the reader/viewer using the representation in
> violation of the absent will of the represented -- could be just as easily
> made about non-sexual representation.

There is a lot of truth in this. That's one reason why I kept contextualising 
porn in the material reality of the sex-industry.

> Indeed, in reading Mark's original
> comments and m.'s commentary upon them, I was struck by how much the argument
> owed, probably unconsciously, to a tradition in Western metaphysics and
> litertaure which sees acts of representation as violent. In his _Of
> Grammatology_, Derrida analyzes precisely this tradition in the form of
> Rousseau's and Levi-Strauss' theories of writing. This type of reading is
> interesting, even tantalizing, when approached as a point of entrance into
> questions of literary interpretation, which may be what captured m.'s
> interest, but it is considerably less satisfactory, I believe, as a mode of
> social analysis. The violence of representation is, I would insist, a
> metaphorical violence, and the metaphorical should not be collapsed into the
> literal. But this is precisely what Mark's analysis of pornography as violence
> does.

You might be doing me too much justice here. I think Malgosia's interpretation 
of what I was trying to get at, was right, and proibably said it much better 
than I did. But it's not the violence of the representation which exercises me, 
which has to do with the relation between the work and its author, surely, but the
subsequent relationship betyween the work and its observer/consumer. 

Doug reminded us that works of art wander off and live lives of their own, 
and there is much truth in this too, but I don't think it gainsays my point, 
actually. But the cumulative, insidious effect of our enforced, conscripted 
complicity with (dehumanising) pornographic imagery  is actually one of the 
ways in which "Art" on a mass scale has come to live its social life, inside 
ours. It is therefore problematic, and invites us to reconsider the 
relationship of observer and observed, and the ways in which
the observer (spectator) is her/himself pre-emptively, and cynically,
observed by those who wish to profit from it. 

Pornography humiliates, as Malgosia says, but it does so not accidentally, 
as a side-effect, but with deliberation and forethought.  Without that 
tendency to crush and overawe us, its tendency to produce boredom might 
really be overwhelming. The mass nature of porn production means that it 
has no choice but to form the cultural soup we have to swim in, a discharge 
of effluents, no choice but to engender ennui and tedium, therefore no
choice but to humiliate us like soldiers on parade, to enforce our attentive
complicity in its parodic strutting and squawking facsimiles of what is or 
ought to be most truly human, particular, loving and decent. This is 
another reason why militant hatred of porn that is mass-produced by 
the sex industry ought to be a normal response among us.

(People mocked my citation of a charming episode from War & Peace, but 
it does show what a gulf, a real chasm exists between what is arousing 
for us and what was arousing 140 years ago, and that was also part of my 
point: the constant spectacle of porn does inure us, habituate us, make 
us cynical, covered in scar-tissue, does it not? Just because fundamentalist 
christians say this, does not make it less true: we live in a debauched age 
and that is not mere hyperbole. And I do not plan to let the fundamentalists 
have all the best tunes. But at this point I want to repeat that I value 
the insight which Yoshie has into the relationship between deviancy and 
normalcy and I urge her to strip that insight from its cultural-studies sheath).

> (In passing, it strikes me that this is not unconnected to the issue of the
> meaning of sexual fantasy. The fact that I may fantasize about being raped,
> does not mean that I want to be raped, especially because my fantasy may not
> be at all based on the terror and the physical violence of rape, but on
> involvement in sex without consent, and hence without responsibility. That is,
> the fantasy of rape may be inviting because it allows me to imagine sex
> without guilt.

May it also be inviting for another reason, to do with abandonment and to 
do with being fixated as the delicious centre of the world in the eye of 
the beloved? But that notion, which your words seem to invite, is destroyed 
exactly by the anonymity of porn, which can produce only humiliation for 
just this reason: in the act of simulating something essentialy human, 
it dehumanises the process and us as well; it is therefore a fundamental 

> If we collapse the image into the reality, the metaphorical
> into the literal, we really misunderstand what is going on.)

No doubt true.

> Moreover, I find the language with which this category of pornography is being
> discussed as incredibly hyperbolic, and not simply on the part of Mark,
> although it is clearest in his case, where pornography becomes an
> instrumentality of evil.

Probably we do need to stand back one more time and define terms (one of
 my problems is lack of time; Yoshie just rightly invited me to 
put my science money where my mouth is, but I literally don't have time 
to dig out all the citations, and now I am setting myself up again!)

> I sometimes wonder whether we are discussing the same
> thing.

I'm sure we are discussing overlapping but highly distinct things.

> time and time again
> Yoshie's view of the "withering away" of the institution of heterosexuality is
> confused with a "withering away" of sexual acts between individuals of
> different genders. Her point is that the very notion of human identity, an
> inner truth of the person, based solely on sexual acts -- a notion which only
> appeared historically at the end of the European Renaissance -- will not
> survive an end to oppression based on sexuality; in this respect, not only
> heterosexuality, but also homosexuality and bi-sexuality, will "fade away."

I agree with this, for what it's worth.

> Indeed, all of these terms have social meaning only in relation to each other,
> so the end of one necessarily involves the end of the other. The only thing I
> would anticipate about sexual acts in a society where there is no longer
> socially normed sexual identities (and I think that Yoshie would probably
> agree, if I do not misunderstand here) is that they might well be a great deal
> more diverse, since the pressures towards social conformity would no longer
> hold. The inability to separate the sexual identity and role from the sexual
> act is, therefore, an inability to think critically about the dominant
> ideologies of sexual oppression.
> This inability is also present, I believe, in the way in which the category of
> the 'natural' is being tossed around in these discussions. That is, it is
> being used as one of the poles in an antinomy of nature and culture. It needs
> to be pointed out that this form of the natural-cultural distinction is a
> fundamental form of ideologies which justify power relations in the West, and
> not simply sexual power relations. From Aristotle on, for example, slavery in
> the West was defended as the natural order of things -- some human beings were
> naturally dependent upon the rule of others. The ideological structure of
> racial oppression took the form of identifying the European with culture ( and
> therefore history), and the non-European with nature (who therefore is pre-
> historical); the ideological structure of sexual oppression the form of
> identifying the man with culture (the world of work and poltics) and the woman
> with the natural (the world of the family and childrearing. The notion that
> heterosexuality -- a sexual identity and role which is really the recent
> historical product of the modernizing West -- is natural, and that other
> sexual identities and roles are not, privileges the sexual identity which is
> the social norm at the expense of the sexual identities which deviate from the
> norm. It also is so poorly suited to understand the sexual as a point of
> intersection of the natural and the cultural, since they are posited as
> opposed forces.

Yes, I agree, my only question is whether it makes any sense at all to bend the
stick so far in the opposite direction to patriarchal conceptions of
heterosexuality that we lose all sight of the *materiality* of our anthropological


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