Apr 062012
 

Nude woman in nun's habit with her breasts being poked by two monkeys

My article on the strange case of Maria Monk and her connections to anti-Catholic propaganda and the nun as a fetish archetype has been published in Maisonneuve magazines 10th anniversary issue. (Print only, for the moment. And no, I don’t know what the monkeys are doing in the illustration.)

This was my first article in a national, glossy magazine for a while, and I hope this carries with it some prestige. It took several rewrites to get it done, but overall it looks pretty good. There’s only so much you can do in 1,500 words.

I had wanted to include a comparison between Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk and Story of O, since both are narratives of initiation. I wonder if there’s a more direct connection, if as a girl Anne Desclos (aka Pauline Reage) read some bit of Gothic pulp or anti-Catholic tract and it gestated in her mind the way Anna Freud remembered a snippet from a book about book on medieval knights and wove that into her fantasies.

An excerpt from an early draft:

While the content of Awful Disclosures and related works survive to this day mainly in anti-Catholic crank conspiracy literature, the format has been stripped of any overt political or religious message and used in a variety of pornographic works. The classic Story of O (1954), written by Anne Desclos (who once flirted with the idea of being a nun), follows a similar structure to Awful Disclosures. Like Maria Monk, O is initiated into a secret society where she is to serve her new masters sexually. The orders O receives echo the Mother Superior’s commandments to Maria Monk: “You are here to serve your masters… Your hands are not your own, nor are your breasts, nor, most especially, any of your bodily orifices, which we may explore or penetrate at will… both this flogging and the chain… are intended less to make you suffer, scream, or shed tears than to feel through this suffering, that you are not free but fettered, and to teach you that you are totally dedicated to something outside yourself.”

If Disclosures uses transgressive sexuality to deliver a warning of the dangers of transgressive religion, O is a sexual fantasy built on nun-like selfless devotion. Maria Monk returns to the Protestant world to bear witness, but O throws herself deeper and deeper into the underworld, attaining a kind of martyrdom.

I also wanted to include PETA’s campaign of images of people (usually attractive women) as animals in cages or even as packed meat products, images that require only the slightest shift in optic to become pornographic.

Apr 062012
 

It’s been said that Hallowe’en is Christmas for queer people, but if there’s a holiday for kinksters, it is Good Friday. This is the day when a man was tortured to death for trying to get people to be nice to each other.

While I don’t have this quite figured out yet, I get the impression that the primacy of the Passion, the story of Jesus Christ’s betrayal, murder and resurrection, was a late medieval invention, and earlier depictions of Christ in graphic art and storytelling focused on his life as teacher and miracle-worker. The violence of the Passion came later. One person I know suggested that the cult of the Passion coincided with the Crusades, violent art reflecting a violent society, or even as intentional anti-Semitic propaganda.

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Feb 182012
 

Mails, Thomas E. Sundancing: The Great Sioux Piercing Ritual Council Oak Books, 1998 Gbooks

In writing about the Sun Dance, one is tempted to being with a vivid description of the absorbing, flesh-piercing ritual. But to do so is a tragic mistake, for in focusing everything upon a single, albeit sensational, fraction of an entire and splendid religious ceremony, the overall significance of the four-day event is missed, and it is inevitable that the rest of the Sun Dance will be ignored and misunderstood — even by some Indians.

Pg.2

While working on Chapter 1 of the book, I wanted to spend a paragraph or two on the First Nations Sun Dance as an example of physical ordeals in religious practice. However, I wanted to make sure I got the details as correct as possible, so that sent me on another research trip. Sometimes you have to read a whole book just to make sure that a couple of sentences are accurate.

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Self-inflicted violence in religion: Jack David Eller’s Cruel Creeds, Virtuous Violence

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Jan 212012
 

Eller, Jack David. Cruel Creeds, Virtuous Violence Prometheus Books, 2010.

I’m going back into chapter one of the book (hopefully to get a draft done by the end of the month), and that means going back into religion and violence. Eller’s book is about the relationship between religion and violence, not only that humans incorporate violence into religion, but that we also invest violence with religious meaning.

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Karen Halttunen’s “Murder Most Foul”

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Dec 212011
 

Halttunen, Karen. Murder most foul: the killer and the American Gothic imagination Harvard University Press, 1998 Google Books

Halttunen’s book is about the transformation of how American society handles social deviance (violent crime, particularly) from the pre-industrial to the post-industrial.

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Mighty Lewd Books, by Julie Peakman

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Nov 072011
 

Peakman, Julie Mighty lewd books: the development of pornography in eighteenth-century England Palgrave Macmillan, 2003 Gbooks

As in just about any discussion of pornography, this book addresses the problem of definition. Peakman “place[s] pornography as one genre within a superfluity of other types of erotica, erotica being used as an overarching description for all books on sex… either overtly or in a ‘hidden’ form; for example, through metaphor, innuendo or implication.” (pg. 7) She defines pornography based on carrying the intention to sexually stimulate. I don’t consider that an adequate definition, as texts that are not pornographic or even erotic (in Peakman’s usage) can be read pornographically. This is particularly relevant in discussing anti-Catholic propaganda/”Convent Tale” pornography. Peakman introduced me to the useful term of metalepsis, “layer upon layer of figurative terms (particularly metaphors) distancing the real subject (sex) under discussion…. It also reveals the multiplicity of images and understandings of men’s and women’s bodies which were current, many of them conflicting, some of them constant.” (Pg.9)

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Sexual Perversions, 1670-1890. Julie Peakman, ed.

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Nov 052011
 

Peakman, Julie (ed.) Sexual Perversions, 1670-1890 Palgrave Macmillan, 2009 Gbooks

Julie Peakman starts off with an interesting question: whether you accept Foucault’s theory about power and discourse or not, how to we explain one person’s choice of sexual acts and object over all the other possibilities?

It is the question of why a person might decide on any particular act which fascinates the historian. Why did some of these activities diminish over time (bestiality diminished when rural activities shifted to urban living), or expand (auto asphyxiation has become more widespread today as the word passed around of its link to sexual stimulation) – this is what really broadens our understanding about sex.

Pg. 8

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Veil of Fear: Convent tales

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Oct 202011
 

Schultz, Nancy Lusignan (ed.) Veil of Fear: Nineteenth-century convent tales NotaBell Books, Purdue University Press, 1999 Amazon

While Rebecca Read’s earlier Six Months in a Convent (1835) was a relatively sober and realistic work, Maria Monk’s Awful Disclosures (1836) heads straight into paranoid xenophobic “virtue in distress”. This is what happens if young women heed the siren song of Catholicism, and it was popular enough to sell 300,000 copies by 1860. The fears of a young republic with large, unassimilated immigrant populations that were often Catholic, and an economy shifting to industrialization with consequent shifts in gender roles, found expression in anti-Catholicism. “In times of rapid social change, such as that experienced in antebellum America, intolerance and demonization of marginal groups find fertile soil.” (pg. viii) One of the anti-Catholic agitators, incidentally, was minister Lyman Beecher, father of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

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David S. Reynolds’ “Mightier than the Sword”

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Aug 302011
 

It started with a vision of torture.

According to Harriet Beecher Stowe, the genesis of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, arguably one of the most influential books in history, came in Feburary 1851 when she attended communion service. After taking the bread and wine and thinking of the Last Supper and the Passion, a vision hit her, “blown into her mind as by the rushing of a mighty wind.”

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Aug 172011
 

Cinema Sewer 34, Danny Hellman, Cmm3C

Well, sooner or later, somebody had to make an image like the one above.

Danny Hellman created this for cover of the 24th issue of the Cinema Sewer zine, published out of Vancouver, BC by Robin Bougie.

It’s not the only Hellman that satirizes the Iraq and Afghanistan war, viewing those conflicts through the lenses of comic books and exploitation magazines (e.g. 1). This is an obvious take on the previously discussed Israeli stalag novels and the later men’s adventure magazines, referencing the notorious Abu Ghraib pictures. The brunette woman in the background represents Lynndie England, for instance.

The Abu Ghraib pictures put Americans in a quandary. The scenario was familiar, but the ones inflicting the suffering were “us”, not “them”. How could this be? This is what Other people do. It’s telling that England, a female soldier, became the most recognizable name and face associated with this scandal, linking political deviance with female sexual deviance.

I feel somewhat disappointed that this image is too knowing, too ironic to be a genuine expression of fantasy. Maybe we need to wait a few years before the psychosocial impact of the War on Terrorism percolates up from the collective subconscious. Or perhaps the torture porn film genre previously discussed is part of that response. Maybe in North America the feared Other is not the Muslim terrorist, but the out-of-control, paranoid police state. That at any second, for no apparent reason, we can find ourselves strapped to something in a windowless room where we are utterly helpless before an unknown person. Network television is already crawling with surveillance and confinement and competition. Somewhere out there, Room 101 is ready for you.