LI’s search for the embourgeoisification of volupté – its routinization and removal from the line of radical materialist thinking associated with Epicurus in the seventeenth and eighteenth century – has turned into a continual stumbling upon fortuitous themes in the history of pornography. Such is the life of bloggery.
In trying to find some interesting 18th century erotica that we could use here – and also, we always like interesting 18th century erotica – we stumbled on the Eros-Thanatos site,which has a few rare texts, including a whole book by Hughes Rebell, that weirdo among weirdos in the porno universe, as well as the dada writer Renee Dunan, a woman of who operated between naturism and surrealism and apparently produced a ton of pamphlets of the kind just adored by the police – there is nothing like seizing artistic studies of nudes. In fact, police and criminologists get so carried away by the idea that one of them, the eminent early 20th century professor, Ludwig Kemmer, accidentally produced an under the cover seller entitled “Die graphische Reklame der Prostitution” and in the process made himself a type – the pedagogue fascinated by the vices leading his students astray – that went into Professor Unrat, and hence into The Blue Angel of Marlene fame.
In Professor Rath, the Weimar crackup becomes fate. In the world turned upside down, the disciplinarian is disciplined, the first shall be last and the nationalists aren't going to like watching Prussia lie at the feet of that French sounding wench, Lola, and turn a blind eye to her infidelities. A quick perusal of the Eros-Thanatos site shows that such abjection is a very popular subject – in fact, the books and stories collected on the site are weighted towards the flagellation narrative in a rather dreary way. It isn't, I should confess, my particular yen. In the nineteenth century, after the pleasure-pain calculus of the utilitarians became a sort of official ideology of the modern capitalistic nations, flagellation seems to have taken over from the formerly popular anti-clerical topos in porn.
Jeremy Baron’s article, Spare the Rod, in the Spring 06 issue of Sexuality and Culture, traces that phrase, which is not in the bible, back to its real origin, along the way exploring the figure of the female dominatrix. The word dominatrix itself, according to Baron, is first recorded in the 10th century, used by Canoness Hroswitha to show “a fragile woman who is victorious and a strong man who is routed with confusion.” The phrase spare the rod and spoil the child, deriving from a set of admonitions in Proverbs, first occurs in Hudibrus, the 1662 Samuel Butler poem. But as Baron points out, the lines are entirely about sexual courtship, not about educating children:
Love is a boy by poets stil'd;
Then spare the rod and spoil the child.
A Persian emp'ror whipp'd his grannam
The sea, his mother VENUS came on;
And hence some rev'rend men approve
Of rosemary in making love.
As skilful coopers hoop their tubs
With Lydian and with Phrygian dubs,
Why may not whipping have as good
A grace, perform'd in time and mood,
With comely movement, and by art,
Raise passion in a lady's heart?
It is an easier way to make
Love by, than that which many take.
It is odd to think of the millions of pious folk who quote the phrase with an entire innocence of its context.
According to Baron:
“In the seventeenth century physicians became interested in the association between beating and sexual pleasure. Distinguished Renaissance anatomists made the first medical explanations for this phenomenon. In 1629 Johann Heinrich Meibom (1594–1655) [the oil-secreting gland of the eyelid is called Meibomian] suggested that potency was stimulated by pathways from the warmed buttocks that increased blood flow to the organs of generation(Meibomius, 1643; Meibom, 1718). We do not know whether Butler read this 1629 edition or perhaps the fourth edition of 1643. In 1669 Dr Thomas Bartholin (1616–89) [who had described the human lymphatic system: it was his father Caspar after whom was named the small lubricating gland near the vaginal opening
in mammals] wrote to J.H. Meibom’s son Heinrich (1638–1700). This letter established, perhaps for the first time, that women too were sexually excited by buttock-beating, ‘Women too are raised and inflam’d by Strokes to a more easy concepcion’ (Bartholin et
As Baron points out, the law in the seventeenth century was clear: men could lawfully beat their wives. There is a long and depressing chapter on the history and prevalence of wifebeating in Edward Shorter’s History of Women’s Bodies, which I’d recommend for the strong stomached. Shorter’s larger case – that men were generally indifferent to their wives in rural European society, even to the point of finding their injuries or deaths less traumatic than the deaths of cows or horses – seems exaggerated, but he does collect a good deal of ethnographic evidence of extraordinary domestic brutality.
What is interesting is that it is within these cultural parameters that two behaviors arose: one was punishing children with spanking or whipping on the buttocks, and the other was the lubricious dominatrix, the whipper of men. Sex is the ultimate bricoleur, of course, the goddess who sees in the human body a thousand and one affordances never before discovered. Martin Amis, who has not always been a rotten egg opining about issues he knows little about, like the Middle East, but was street knowledgeable about the human middle, genitals with all the trimmings, once wrote:
"Gore Vidal once said that the only danger in watching pornography is that it might make you want to watch more pornography; it might make you want to do nothing else but watch pornography. There is, I contend, another danger. As I sampled some extreme productions on the VCR in my hotel room, I kept worrying about something. I kept worrying that I'd like it. Porno services the "polymorphous perverse": the near-infinite chaos of human desire. If you harbour a perversity, then sooner or later porno will identify it. You'd better hope that this doesn't happen while you're watching a film about a coprophagic pigfarmer - or an undertaker."
I’ll continue this in another post.