IT's new post

I don't know
Why you've gotta be so undemanding...

IT has continued her series on porno. You can also see the beginning of this series here and another post here and her piece about pornographic classifications here. There’s also a sexpol piece here which I think may be the best in the whole series.

Here are some comments:

Since I am trying to write a review of a book that distinguishes three regimes of seeing in science, I am, perhaps, hypersensitive to issues of representation and the ‘training’ of the people who represent and the audiences they represent to. The technique of the self, as Foucault calls it.

There is a pattern I’ve noticed on theory blogs of taking films or music – usually not novels, poetry or paintings – and subjecting them to theoretical glosses with an entire and easy assumption of the epistemological superiority of the theorist. It is as if the theorist’s position is not only self explanatory, but that the theorist knows better than the work of art itself. I’ve sometimes wondered if this is why pop cultural products of a certain kind are so popular among the blogs. It is easy to present oneself as superior in every way to, say, 300 – much harder to do that when analyzing, say, Proust.

Myself, I think even the lowliest work of art – a student film, Anal Cheerleaders 5 – retains a certain autonomy. In practical terms, that means that the thing retains the power to touch. The moment of touching can be a moment of sheer disgust. It can be a moment of rapture. But its distinguishing characteristic is that it is not in the hands of the spectator. For a fleeting instant, the audience is not superior to the work. How to explain this? There’s a famous anecdote about Lenin, recorded by Gorki. Gorki had taken Lenin to hear a performance of music. Lenin said, afterwards, that he would like to listen to Beethoven’s Apassionata every day, since it made him ‘think with pride – perhaps it is naïve of me – what marvelous things us humans can do – but then, according to Gorki, “screwing up his eyes and smiling, he [Lenin] added, rather sadly: But I can’t listen to music too often. It affects your nerves, make you want to say stupid, nice things, and stroke the heads of people who could create such beauty while living in this vile hell. And now you mustn’t stroke any one’s head – you might get your hand bitten off. You have to hit them on the head, without any mercy, although our ideal is not to use force against any one. Hm, Hm, our duty is infernally hard!”

Lenin had a very sharp sense for moments of surrender.

I think IT is more aware of the resistance of the artwork than other theory bloggers. And, by chosing to write about film porno, she has chosen to comment about a genre that implicates the spectator to an obvious and structurally expected extent. Just as you go to cook books to cook, not to marvel at the recipes - or most of us do - you go to porn to jack off, or as part of some foreplay ritual. So if you go as a critic, you have to self reflect a bit, have to explain your epistemological position a bit, have to discard the easy assumption of the theorist’s superiority. Like advertising, porno exploits the aesthetic moment of touch – exploits it like a pickpocket – and forces the critic to acknowledge it.

Anyway, there’s a theme in IT’s work, as she compares vintage porn to contemporary stuff, that goes back to her first posts. Her latest post puts it this way: “Contemporary porn is infinitely segregated. The atomisation of the 1950s filters through to a kind of obsession with taxonomy. The sheer hard work of contemporary porn, and its obsession with taxonomy, informs you that, without delusion, sex is just like everything else – grinding, relentless, boring (albeit multiply boring).”

It is the tie, here, between sex, work and boredom where I feel that the nature of porno as representation – as a work of art – is forgotten. Boredom floats, here, between the spectator and the actors. Is it that the porno actors are bored? Is it that the spectator finds them boring? I think that the line being blurred for someone as sharp as IT clues us into porn as a popular art. Popular arts are intimate like this, they work towards that blurring of the line. Few people, watching MacBeth, say, are thinking well, that is not how I would do it if I wanted to be King of Scotland. But if you watch a tv soap – if you’ve watched people watching a tv soap – you might actually talk back to the tube. “Don’t do it!’ “Oh, she’s going to be in trouble now.” “Oh oh, here comes X.” The idea that these are actors slips away, and with it Diderot’s Paradox of the Actor. Or, rather, one of the choices in Diderot’s essay – the actor as an instrument of spontaneity – is made, is systematically made, in the most unspontaneous of art forms, film.

I think this says something about the development of porn that forms the major theme in IT’s post. Although tv, film, music of a certain sort are parts of ‘popular culture’, I think they present themselves as intimate culture – and here I’ll just wildly speculate for a moment. When, in the seventies, the adult movie industry took off, porn was shown on the movie screen, in the heroic proportions that are natural to all things shown on the movie screen. But that posed the problem that Gulliver confronted in Brobdignag:

“That which gave me most Uneasiness among these Maids of Honour, when my Nurse carried me to visit them, was to see them use me without any manner of Ceremony, like a Creature who had no sort of Consequence. For, they would strip themselves to the Skin, and put on their Smocks in my Presence, while I was placed on their Toylet directly before their naked Bodies, which, I am sure, to me was very far from being a tempting Sight, or from giving me any other emotions than those of Horror and Disgust. Their Skins appeared so coarse and uneven, so variously coloured, when I saw them near, with a Mole here and there as broad as a Trencher, and Hairs hanging from it thicker than Pack-threads, to say nothing further concerning the rest of their Persons. Neither did they at all scruple, while I was by to discharge what they had drunk, to the Quantity of at least two Hogsheads, in a Vessel that held above three Tuns. The handsomest among these Maids of Honour, a pleasant frolicksome Girl of Sixteen, would sometimes set me astride upon one of her Nipples, with many other Tricks, wherein the Reader will excuse me for not being over particular.”

The audience in the adult theater was composed of people who were a bit bigger than a Splacknuck – which was Gulliver’s size – but they were still gazing at men with dicks the length of a man’s arm, approaching pussies as tall and broad as toasters. Porn (to continue my wild speculation) can’t stand this magnification. The more natural home for the stuff is the video, the tv or computer screen (although with tv screens getting bigger and bigger, who knows how this will upset the collective sensorium). I would be surprised if IT had actually ever seen a porno on the full screen – you have to be at least my age to have had that access, when adult theaters were springing up all over. Brobdignagian porn is mostly a thing of the past. As T.S. Eliot might have said, Splacknucks can’t bear too much hyper-reality. If my speculation is in the ballpark of reality, it would also help explain why, as porno shrank and became more commonplace, it also evoked less heated attempts to suppress it. The violence of gangbangs is rather magnified when the gangbangers are fifteen feet tall - and in fact the violent choreography of almost all sex is brought out at that range. Whereas porn among the lilliputians, which is what we have now, has to use intense close up to get the same sensorial effects.

I'll have more thoughts about boredom as an initiatory effect later.


roger said…
ps - OOPS! I forgot entirely that we live in gamer culture, where people really do say things like, that's not how I'd do it if I was gonna become King of Scotland. Drama has gone intimate - and spurted out into the public discourse. Right before the Iraq war, hundreds of pro-war bloggers, people who knew battlefields only as places where you played paintball, were making bizarre comments just like that. They'd played this war before, dudes! And every time, had racked up serious points.

I am an outlier here, doomed to wander the outskirts of intimate culture, but never to enter within. Call me Cain.
Dominic said…
I might have guessed you'd be into "Vision Thing". You will have to do a post some time titled "Another motherfucker in a motorcade"...
roger said…
Hey, I used that line in some post, recently!
roger said…
ps - it was a tossup between lines from More and lines from Lucetia, except that I thought IT might be insulted by a link that leads to Andrew Eldritch's bare torso. But hell, how can anybody resist the lines: "I hear the sons of the city and dispossessed
Get down, get undressed"?
it said…
I am never insulted! Er, probably...