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.

Jul 142011
 

Cover of 'Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk', showing nude woman praying and monk about to beat her with whip

Anti-Catholicism has always been the pornography of the Puritan. Whereas the anti-Masons had envisaged drinking bouts and had entertained themselves with sado-masochistic fantasies about the actual enforcement of grisly Masonic oaths,* the anti-Catholics invented an immense lore about libertine priests, the confessional as an opportunity for seduction, licentious convents and monasteries. Probably the most widely read contemporary book in the United States before Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a work supposedly written by one Maria Monk, entitled Awful Disclosures, which appeared in 1836. The author, who purported to have escaped from the Hotel Dieu nunnery in Montreal after five years there as novice and nun, reported her convent life in elaborate and circumstantial detail. She reported having been told by the Mother Superior that she must “obey the priests in all things”; to her “utter astonishment and horror,” she soon found what the nature of such obedience was. Infants born of convent liaisons were baptized and then killed, she said, so that they might ascend at once to heaven. Her book, hotly attacked and defended , continued to be read and believed even after her mother gave testimony that Maria had been somewhat addled ever since childhood after she had rammed a pencil into her head. Maria died in prison in 1849, after having been arrested in a brothel as a pickpocket.

Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics

Brian Busby also has some posts on Maria Monk, alleged author of the anti-Catholic classic Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, calling it “the best-selling work of fiction ever set in Montreal”. More likely it was written by American anti-Catholics who knew how to appeal to a nation steeped in Gothic/sentimental literature.

This book used common Gothic tropes: virtue in distress, murdered children, imprisonment, underground passages and chambers, arbitrary authority, cruelty and claustrophobia. It didn’t stint on describing and depicting the abuse of the nuns:

Most 19th century editions feature the same 38 engravings, all depicting characters and scenes in the book. There is, for example, the ‘inhuman priest’ Bonin in action pose. According to the book, it is he who, with an undisclosed number of nuns, trampled Sister St. Frances to death. Many of the images feature tormented nuns, women who have endured rape and torture, such as the ‘melancholy’ Sister St. Martin and ‘Mad Jane Ray’. In the illustration below we see Maria herself, recovering from ‘the cap’, an instrument of punishment described as ‘small, made of a reddish looking leather, fitted closely to the head, and fastened under the chin with a kind of buckle.’ The reader is told that it was ‘common practice to tie the nun’s hands behind, and gag her before the cap was put on, to prevent noise and resistance.’

Bondage, flogging, branding… it’s no wonder that the ‘awful disclosures’ found readers amongst those attracted to the works of Sacher-Masoch, Sade and Mirbeau. Indeed, the book has at times been packaged to attract just such an audience.

The book had a long life, with many legitimate and pirated editions. More than a century later, Monk’s book was still being used, turning up in leaflets opposing John F. Kennedy’s US presidential campaign. It still turns up cited on anti-Catholic kook websites.

Has this particularly anti-Catholic brand of pornography been rendered obsolete as fantasy material by the assimilation of Catholics in North American society, the diminishing power of the Catholic church and the general secularization of society? A cursory search of Imagefap revealed a fair number of “nun” galleries, and searching for “nun” on Literotica produced one page of stories, so perhaps this particular kink still has some life in it.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Awful Disclosures bear a lot of similarities: highly political works which used the language of Gothic sentiment to make their point and involved audiences who might not have been involved in other discourses. One was progressive and humanitarian, the other was xenophobic and bigoted. One was inspired by truth, the other by paranoid fantasy. It indicates just how powerful a discourse this is.