Nov 242011

Davis, Tracy C. “The Actress in Victorian Pornography” in Garrigan, Kristine Ottesen. Victorian Scandals: Representations of Gender and Class Ohio University Press, 1992

It was a widespread assumption in the 19th century that actresses were whores. The actress was the most common female occupational type in pornography of the period, and some pornographic works explicitly referred to actual actresses. Actresses in turn danced on the edge of decency in see-through white dresses, body stockings and “breeches roles,” i.e. cross-dressing as men.

In the weekly serial magazines, available for as little as one penny and with circulations of hundreds of thousands, actresses were depicted in knee-length skirts, exotic Oriental harem trousers, men’s fencing costumes or breeches, intermixed with nude or semi-nude pictorials included spanking and lesbianism. The sexualization or fetishization of the costume itself is what’s at work here.

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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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Is catfighting the fetish with no name?

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Nov 032011

1950's era advertisement showing illustration of two women in ripped clothing wrestling

Vintage Sleaze talks about 1950s era catfighting photosets and film loops. The author muses, “Seems to me if it were a real fetish, it would have a scientific name, and I can’t find one.”

I’m not sure what the author means by “a real fetish”. Even if there’s no fancy-pants Latin name for it, it’s a well-established porn market category, and is therefore “real”. (Gloria Brame used (and possibly created) the term “gender heroics” as an umbrella term for this kind of kink in Different Loving.)

Bram Djikstra talks about the catfighting/female wrestling kink in Idols of Perversity, arguing that this fetish is about confirming 19th centuries views of women as basically animalistic, but so physically weak that they have no real capacity for physical violence, so their fighting is strictly “play”.

The Irving Klaw-era catfighting may also have been a dodge to provide a more exciting visual experience than just women dancing or dressing and undressing, without going into hardcore and risking legal measures.

Licentious Gotham, by Donna Dennis

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Oct 102011

Dennis, Donna. Licentious Gotham Harvard University Press, 2009 Amazon

As I’ve observed previously, there’s a lot of historical coverage of the European/British history of pornography, but not so much of American porn, at least in the 19th or early 20th centuries.

Dennis’ book bears this out, saying that while there was plenty of porn produced in antebellum New York, it was largely pirated editions of English or translated European works, notably John Cleland’s Fanny Hill (1748), easily the most popular, and Laurence Sterne’s Sentimental Journey (1768, published in New York as early as 1795). Little if any was actually written by Americans, at least until during and after the Civil War, when demand grew greatly. (Illustrations may have been created domestically, though the text isn’t clear.)

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Aug 032011

Filament magazine has an article on representations of humans and especially human sexuality in prehistoric art. While humans were making art fairly early on, they didn’t depict themselves until much later, and representation of human sexuality was even later after that, on the cusp of the transition between hunter-gatherer and agriculture.

The first definite image of a couple having sex appears as late as 10,000 years ago. Now in the British Museum, the Ain Sakhri figurine was found in 1933 in the Ain Sakhri cave in the Judea desert, not far from Jerusalem. At first glance, it resembles nothing more than a small white pebble. On closer inspection, two figures are clearly carved into it. The slightly smaller figure wraps its legs around its partner’s waist. The slightly larger figure holds the smaller partner’s shoulders, in what appears to be a tender embrace. They are clearly sitting upright, having sex.

To its credit, the article includes the disclaimer that we are making assumptions on a small amount of evidence, and that calling these images “porn” is likely a gross misnomer.

Even more interesting, one of the comments says:

sex shares many of the chemical and mechanical aspects of violence-that-leads-to-killing-and-eating but the result is the opposite of killing-and-eating. those aspects make sex disquieting because in theory at any moment it could go the other way & blood would flow instead of other fluids. then there arose that issue of “dom” and “sub” – i am in the midst of exploring “victimhood” at the moment. this one pretends its going to kill the other one, that one pretends to give up, joy for both results instead of the far more basic singular pleasure of killing-and-eating.

For the purposes of the study of BDSM, when did symbolic or play activities first occur in humanity? When was an actual act of violence replaced by a symbolic act? Is this uniquely human, or do highly social animals like primates and dolphins do it as well?

Jul 272011

Nude woman bound to tree, nude man standing nearby, black and white

Back in 2004, German novelist Thor Kunkel claimed that he had discovered a secret chapter in the secrets-filled history of pornography: porn produced in Nazi Germany. From UK newspaper The Guardian:

Before submitting his manuscript to his publisher last summer, Kunkel had researched long and hard into one of the most subterranean aspects of the Nazi era – a series of erotic home movies known as the Sachsenwald films, shot secretly in 1941. Officially, pornography was forbidden under the Nazis; in reality, however, the films were not only screened privately for the amusement of senior Nazi figures, but were also traded in north Africa for insect repellent and other commodities.

Kunkel discovered two of the black and white films – the pastoral Desire in the Woods and The Trapper. In one of them, a man ties a naked woman to a tree. Incredibly, Kunkel tracked down the actress some 60 years after her woodland nude scene, living in an old people’s home outside Hamburg. “I found her via a photographer who had known her since she was 14, when she posed for nude photographs,” Kunkel says.

The 83-year-old was slightly taken aback by the novelist’s visit, but agreed to help. She could recall only two “polite, charming men” who approached her outside a tobacconist’s kiosk in Berlin. The men had driven her and her sister in a black Opel Admiral – the saloon car favoured by the Gestapo – to the woods outside Hamburg. There she had disrobed.

“She told me she and her sister had had a threesome with a man. I found this a bit surprising,” Kunkel says. The novelist never did discover who the director of the film was, but he used the movies as the framework for his 622-page manuscript, which his publisher, Rowohlt, had originally lauded as a “packed, minutely researched portrait of morbid Nazi society … and the demise of the Third Reich.”

Kunkel also interviewed 57 elderly German soldiers who had served with Erwin Rommel in north Africa, where much of the novel is set. They confirmed what he already suspected – that during the second world war, the German military traded Nazi pornography with the locals. The Sachsenwald films even ended up in the hands of the Bey of Tunis, a regent with a legendary collection of pornography. “It was the thing the locals were most interested in. In return, the soldiers got food, water and supplies,” Kunkel says.

There seems to be very little about these films, at least in English, and this whole thing might turn out to be a fabrication or exaggeration.

Jul 272011

Book cover. Man wearing officer's cap embracing nude woman, in leather harness, from behind. Title is Captured by the SS

Sylvia Plath wrote that “Every woman loves a fascist” and the Nazi can function as the absolute extreme of the “bad boy”.

A book published by Ellora’s Cave under the Taboo line, Captured by the SS by Gail Starbright, goes deep into this fantasy. From the description:

By the twenty-first century, Germany has all but taken over the world. Only one nation remains untouched…America. Only spies slip in and out of enemy territory. Within this shadowy and dangerous world of cloak and dagger, Isabel Riley is an American spy deep in enemy territory.

Isabel is detained at a German checkpoint by a black-uniformed SS officer. She’s arrested, taken into custody and interrogated.

But she soon learns her enigmatic captor wants more than just her secrets. He enjoys tying her up or teasing her with the tails of his leather flogger. But floggers and video cameras are the least of her concerns. In the eyes of the Third Reich, ownership is real. And a lovely American spy is far too tempting of a war prize to pass up.

Although I haven’t read the book, my response to the description was “Um…”

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Jul 212011

Here’s an interesting paper on the results of a survey of people’s subjective experience to pornography. The researcher assembled about 70 porn images and asked people to comment on how they responded to the images and what they fantasized about in response to the images. (I participated.)

In an argument loosely based on Mulvey’s concept of the male gaze, it has long been assumed that the subjective experience of pornography involved either the viewer’s sexual domination of the subject, or else the viewer adopting a like surrogate for the same end. In fact, these modes of encountering pornography appear to account for slightly less than one-third of responses to this survey. Even if we look only at responses in which the viewer is present in their narrative of the image, these simple modes account for only 63% of all responses. More surprisingly, from the traditional viewpoint, there is almost no difference in that rate by gender.

The takeaway is that, instead of a simple “male gaze”, people had a highly complicated and variable way of relating to images. Sometimes they are omniscient observers, sometimes they insert themselves into the image, sometimes they take the position of one of the people in the image. People spun elaborate scenarios about the action and experiences of the people in the image, based on the tiniest of cues in the image or the absence of details.

This suggests that people don’t take the pornographic image “straight”: they add a huge amount to the experience from their own imaginations and memories. When we read text, we complete the experience with our own minds, but it may be that we do when we see images, and that no two people see precisely the same image. People have active imaginations (not only sexual) and we cannot attribute the content of their fantasies solely to their media intake.

Anti-porn theorists generally posit that pornographic images encourage or foster imitative behaviour in the viewer, but this study suggests that it’s a lot more complicated. The viewer may select a woman who is injured or bound in order to fantasize about rescuing or healing her.

Another interesting point is the difference between putting a fantasy character in a “peril” situation, in which something bad is threatening but hasn’t happened yet and from which they could be saved, and outright violence or snuff scenarios.

This might have something to do with the hurt/comfort trope in slash fanfiction, in which one character in the story is physically or mentally injured and the other heals or tends to the first, creating an opportunity for physical/emotional intimacy. (Of course, this could also be read as an opportunity to indulge in latent sadism, displaced onto another character.) In the film of The Sheik, the Valentino character starts out masterfully masculine, but the emotional climax of the film comes when he is injured and prostrate before his female love interest.

This ties into Freud’s essay “A Child is Being Beaten”, which talks about the mobility of the fantasizer’s point of view in flagellation fantasy, and Anna Freud’s essay on fantasies in which they are constantly re-edited by the fantasizer. (More on this later.)

Jul 162011

Angela Caperton’s blog pointed me towards several Youtube clips from the documentary, Stalags (2008), about the Israeli stalag novels:

The Introduction

A discussion of the standard plot

A professor talks about his schooldays, when Stalag novels were circulated as porn, while the works of Ka Tzetnik 135633 treated the same subject matter but legitimately.

A publisher talks about the premise of the books, in which a “pinnacle of manhood”, American pilots, are dominated by women.

An interview with present-day Israeli who talks about his fantasies when having sex with a gentile German woman.

Interview with filmmaker Ari Libsker

I think this is an example of fantasy as a reparative/redemptive rewriting of an earlier experience, either first hand or indirect. Definitely gotta see this one.

More on Ka Tzetnik 135633 in a future post.