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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Mar 082012
 

The Au carrefour étrange blog has several scans of vintage bondage and flagellation erotica from France. One of them is Les Confidences de Chérubin by G. Donville, originally published in 1939 and featuring beautiful spanking, lingerie and maid illustrations by Cheri Horouard, aka Herric.

Maid in uniform spanking young woman in bed

This is a great reissue the less fortunate will be able to buy, for lack of the original edition that not only is rare but does not approach within 100 euros you.
In addition to this text very pleasant, originally published by the great Jean Fort (Nettles White etc..), Whose narrator, Peter Thiverny tells, from initiation to sensual pleasure in voyeurism (parents) and the discovery of female buttocks (the young Monique and her swing) to various sexual practices including spanking with many companions of passage, and more so, this beautiful edition reproduces illustrations from the original edition (1939) Cheri Herouard (signed Herric).

[via Google Translate]

Man in turban and chains kissing foot of woman in quasi-Oriental headdress

While most of the illustrations are set in the present day, the one above indulges in Orientalist fantasy with the appropriate props.

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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Uncle Tom’s Cabin mantelpiece screen

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Sep 062011
 

Here’s an image cribbed from Reynold’s Mightier than the Sword (previously discussed), which shows a mantelpiece screen depicting a black man, brandishing a whip, standing over a black woman, who is half-naked. Another man observes from the background.

A lot of elements in this issue undercut its value as shock propaganda and add the erotic value. The woman is young and shapely, and positioned and dressed so that her breast just peeps from under her arm, and her upper body and arms are nearly uncovered. Her facial expression is hardly fearful or agonized, and seems to be one of ambivalent anticipation. Her dark skin depicted with subtle shading, giving a sense of the shape and texture of her body.

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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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May 262011
 

Gatrell, Vic. City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London Walker & Company, 2006 Pg. 331-44

Two women, one lounging with a birch whip, the other pushing a small boy towards the first

Lady Termagant Flaybum

 

The fill title of the above print, published by William Holland’s shop in 1786 by James Gillray (at the time an up-and-comer in his field), is Lady Termagant Flaybum Going to Give her Step Son a Taste of her Desert after Dinner, A Scene Performed Every Day near Grosvenor Square, to the Annoyance of the Neighbourhood. For a print commissioned as a particularly nasty bit of character assassination and slander, it’s a very well-done work. The faces are uncaricatured and finely detailed.

As Gatrell puts it, “The print carried its own pornographic shadow.” William Holland shared shop space with a publisher of flagellation literature, George Peacock. Peacock published works like Sublime of Flagellation: or Letters from Lady Termagant Flaybum to Lady Harriet Tickletail, of Bumfiddle Hall (c.1777-85) and Exhibition of Female Flagellants in the Modest and Incontinent World (1777). The latter claimed that women engaged in the pleasures of flagellation of their own and others’ children, as much as men. (I.e. projecting fantasies of sadism onto women.) Flagellation themes frequently appeared in Gillray’s work.

The “Lady Termagant Flaybum” name was already known, at least among the wealthier men who could afford such prints, before it was attached to Mary Eleanor Bowes (1749-1800). Born to great wealth and raised to be an educated and freethinking (and somewhat irreligious) woman, Bowes (later Lady Strathmore) was the partial basis for Thackeray’s novel Bary Lyndon. Her main character flaw was rotten taste in men (or maybe the pickings were just slim.) In 1777, she fell for and married all-around scoundrel Andrew Robinson Stoney, “the libertine adventurer incarnate,” as Gatrell puts it.

Stoney managed to get control of Bowes’ estates and used it fund his profligacy, while verbally and physically abusing her. (This came out in the divorce trial a decade later.) He coerced her into writing her own Confessions, a quasi-pornographic work detailing her own flirtations and adulteries, her attempt to get an abortion and her irreligion. When Bowes finally had enough, separated from him and started legal proceedings, his abuse shaded into revenge, stalking her and attacking her character.

Gatrell describes commissioning the Lady Flaybum print as “a resort to image magic against his wife in a culture highly respectful of the image’s power.” Gillray may have been incoherently instructed, as Bowes allegedly had an “unnatural dislike” of her eldest son (not her step-son), and there’s no evidnce she had anything to do with flagellation other than Stoney’s claims. Other Gillray prints picked up on Bowes’ supposed preference to cats over her own children by depicting her nursing cats at her breasts while her son cries, not to mention drinking with and sleeping with servants.

A few months after the publication of the Flaybum print, Stoney actually kidnpapped Bowes with the help of armed thugs and a bribed constable, and fled into the wilds with her, pursued by constables and angry locals. (Life was imitating a Gothic novel.) At last, she was freed and Bowes was stopped in a country field. She went back to London.

The legal battles continued while Stoney was in prison, with Stoney using his wife’s extorted Confessions against her. They were openly published in 1793.

You could see this sordid affair as a collision between the old idea of libertinism and the idea of equal desire between the sexes, and the nascent cult of motherhood that would come to full fruition in the Victorian era. Bowes was as much of a female libertine as it was realistically possible to be, and Stoney’s principal attack on her character was that she was an abusive mother. She had no character to salvage, no way to turn public opinion to her side.

The two semi-pornographic works Stoney commissioned (so to speak) were used to control and to damage his wife via her public reputation (and sad to say, few people cared much about her situation.) What interests me is that these works may have been read as pornography by people who didn’t know or care about the real person they refer to. Furthermore, these images and texts may have hung around and been read by people long after Stoney and Bowes faded from public knowledge or been relevant. I can imagine people in later generations seeing the Flaybum print as inspiration for masochistic erotic fantasy. The two women in the print are depicted as beautiful, not grotesque caricatures as common in such prints.

Gillray was an interesting artist of this period. Whereas Rowlandson was erotic but light and fluffy and never without a humorous or satiric point, Gillray tended towards the blunt and the direct. The rule in high art was to show the moment before violence, but Gillray showed the event itself or its immediately and bloody aftermath. This is not to say that Gillray couldn’t be subtle and witty when he wanted, even about sexual matters.

James Gillray's 'Fashionable Contrasts' (1792), showing male and female feet in shoes, indicating their wearers are in the act of missionary intercourse.

As another example of fetishistic or perverse (mis)reading, this image could be also read as fodder for foot fetish fantasies.

Oct 202010
 

The latest Overthinking It podcast (start at the 30 minutes mark) tangentially ties into the history of BDSM when they discuss the Jackass 3D movie and its relationship to the tradition of mortification of the flesh, which also mentions the Mondo sub-genre of exploitation film and the idea that what we see in the Jackass franchise is really only a pale, watered down of what you can see in the real modern primitive/body modification/shock carnival culture.

This struck me as a parallel to the idea that you can see lots of BDSM/fetish influences in fashion, music videos and so forth, but it’s still toned down and made acceptable to the mainstream. It means there’s still such a thing as alternative culture. (I was made aware of this when I was told that, during my former tenure as communications coordinator for a local BDSM organization, I chose poster designs that were too edgy for our avowed purpose of outreach to new people.)