Walter Kendrick: The Secret Museum - Pornography in Modern Culture (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1987)
I. Kendrick does not, as far as I could make out, provide an exact starting point for the “age of pornography” although he notes the end date as 1970. This period began some time in the 1840’s but it is not entirely clear what set it off. The sequestering of the sexual objects found at Pompeii? (The Pompeii excavation did not actually constitute a discovery of classical erotic objects. Obscene compositions from ancient sarcophagi and articles of everyday use were known in the 16th century and provided models for the erotic compositions of Giulio Romano and Annibale Carracci. Indeed even the scholarly work surrounding Pompeii is prefigured in the analysis of erotic objects by Pierre-Francois Huges d'Hancarville as early as 1782 (Cf. Jean-Pierre Dubost p. LXXXVIII).) The medical books on prostitution Kendrick cites? More importantly it is not really clear what distinguishes the age of pornography from the periods surrounding it. The most that can be said is that a new word was used but we are not told whether this new word signified anything particularly different in literary practice. It may have signaled a different style in censorship or a difference in the availability of pornographic literature, but even this is not shown with any degree of specificity.
In fact Kendrick’s history does not center on pornography or obscene literature itself; it is really a history of censorship. There is an interesting historiological theme lurking behind Kendrick’s use of discourse about an object – in this case censorious discourse – as a means of providing indirect insight into the object itself. The issue in historiological ontology he implicitly raises is whether events in the history of censorship resulted in changes in the object censored such as to produce a new entity – in the same way that Foucault’s folie was ostensibly a new entity. Yet Kendrick does not appear to decide whether changes in censorship, i.e. changes in discourse, were accompanied by changes in the object of the discourse, viz. pornographic literature.
Foucault’s style of cultural history is so influential as to be considered almost hegemonic. I can hardly pick up a piece of art historical or literary historical writing that has not adopted at least his manner and oftentimes his passion for close textual readings. As far as epistemic anarchism or historical relativism is concerned, Foucault has reached a level of influence that Feyerabend and Lakatos could only dream of. Still the different characteristics of Foucault’s approach to history are not all of a piece. From Les Mots et les choses onward Foucauldian history is almost exclusively text based. That is it takes what it considers to be significant writings, subjects them to in depth analysis and makes the claim that the representative text stands for the spirit (Perhaps “structure” would be more apposite) of the age. This procedure is often of doubtful value in Foucault himself who doesn’t sufficiently complement his close readings with more broadly historical techniques such as event narrative and statistical fact gathering. It is notable that earlier works such as L’Histoire de la folie dans l’âge classique did make reference to significant events such as the opening of Bicêtre. (Perhaps Derrida had this concession to extra-textuality and other traits of the early Foucault in mind when he accused Foucault of unwarranted essentialism: “La folie elle-même…(pp.51-97)” )Ben Wilson’s The Making of Victorian Values is clearly in the mold of the later Foucault but Kendrick perhaps wisely focuses on what we can agree are iconic events such as the passage of the Comstock Law (I assume subjecting Comstock’s actual writings to close Foucauldian style analysis would be an exercise in unabashed humanistic masochism) and adopts the more traditional technique of comparing the conclusions of competing texts.
Another Foucauldian theme, found in Histoire de la sexualité, is the idea that a division between the Victorian and the modern period in terms of the excessive prudishness of the 19th century and our sexual “liberation” in the 20th is not entirely accurate or does not present the complete picture. A better model would be the gradual internalization of a sexual policing mechanism that has its roots in the 17th century. Kendrick doesn’t really pick up on this theme either. He in fact ignores the complex concept of internalization altogether. Indeed the facts he relates tell a “guns and battle” story of a better organized censorship and a repression more rigorously enforced in the 19th century. Wilson’s work supplements Kendrick’s and provides a good deal of evidence that the improvements in the mechanism of 19th century repression were rooted in the religious revivals of the post Napoleonic era which spawned curiously obsessed anti-sexual fanatics.
What is interesting about Foucault from a philosophical standpoint lies at least in part in the ontological issues his work raises. The idea that a novel discourse in effect creates the social phenomenon it chooses as its subject constitutes an important challenge to the empiricist attitude that the world is a given whose constitution and characteristics are independent of scientific discourse whose ideal mission in turn is to report observations and build theories based on those observation reports by way of generalization and logical deduction. The ontological implications of Foucault’s work raise thorny philosophical issues which I won’t get into here. Suffice it to say that, read uncomprehendingly or with hostility, Foucault appears to be either obviously wrong or simply engaging in a fancy way of stating historiological platitudes. That view cannot account for the tangible improvement in the writing of cultural history since Foucault. Those academic philosophers who claim that they have caught Foucault either fudging or evading preach to an empty room. Their views are simply ignored by working historians and those most directly concerned with our literary and artistic culture. But Kendrick, for one, does not show (nor apparently does he intend to show or even need to show within the limits of his chosen approach) that the apparently new discourse of pornography either created a different sort of sexual literature or significantly changed the way sexual literature was perceived.
On the whole Kendrick might be pursuing a Foucauldianism in name only with the splashy idea that there was a distinctive period in cultural history that could be identified with a lexical event, viz. the use of the word “pornography” to name and categorize obscene literature and art. The more subtle issues Foucault raises such as the internalization of sexual policing and the complex way words create and shape things are not broached. This approach is perfectly acceptable. An objective history of the sad history of censorship was much needed and speculation about that period is perhaps better served if we know the facts on the ground first (I know - that’s such a positivist attitude. But I don’t want to create any misapprehensions about my sympathies. Foucault’s method, which may with some justice be interpreted as relativist, constitutes a major contribution to our understanding of Western culture. And gun and battle political history in the Anglo-American tradition has produced enough academic faggots to fill a domed stadium with pipe smoke). Further complications arise from the fact that Kendrick’s “object” is itself a discourse, viz. erotic literature, at a remove from the non-discursive “reality” of sex - unlike Foucault’s insanity or life or language, which, however inaccessible they may be, are as much a part of reality as non-discursive sexual activity. In addition, Kendrick’s approach could lead to misapprehension such as when Ian Moulton implies that the term “pornography” does indeed have ontological import and that the bawdy and obscene writings of the 16th and 17th centuries, that the work of Aretino and the licentious lyrics Moulton publishes were somehow “before” pornography in such a way that they were essentially different. Nothing in Kendrick’s history gives any support to distinguishing among obscene works in terms of pornographicity, so to speak. Basically I can’t see any way that Aretino’s dialogues are not pornographic in the modern sense. (To be fair, Moulton’s intent is quite clear. He doesn’t want to get embroiled in a tussle with the lesbo left about the morality, lowness or censorability of sexual writing in the English 16th and 17th centuries. I agree that that would sidetrack his extremely worthwhile scholarly contributions. But his strategy, just like those expressed by several photographers in the collection, The New Erotic Photography, is simply to use a different term. Moulton’s term is not “erotica” but “erotic writing.” Aside from the fact that his definition of erotic writing seems to include scientific texts, I fear this transparent strategy will satisfy no one, least of all the censors.)
II. Kendrick does not pay sufficient attention to France, the beating heart of Western pornography as of Western literature in general. There was in fact censorship in 18th century France but at least one of the censors was Crébillon fils, a case of the fox guarding the hen house if there ever was one (Cf. Roman Wald Lasowski, p. 1068). Now if the English had chosen some 18th century equivalent of William Wycherley to be in charge of licensing plays, the English theatre might not have descended into the childish pablum from which it has still not really escaped. I must admit that the 18th century Comédie-Française type of theatre didn’t fare much better than its English counterpart. The bourgeois drama developed during this period was if anything even more preachy and boring. The French “pornographers” Kendrick cites are those who have been popularized by opera or movies or other forms of popular culture – writers such as Choderlos de Laclos, Prévost and Sade. The “pornography” of the first two would probably be considered too mild for inclusion in your standard women’s magazine today. To his credit he does note the ambiguous and insufficiently recognized Rétif de la Bretonne. By way of literary historical aside, one of the foremost pornographers in 18th century France was also one of the world’s great philosophers and novelists – Diderot. The lesbian seduction scene in La Religieuse is as bold as anything in Baudelaire while the talking pussies in Les Bijoux indiscrets are an inspired pornographic metaphor. It is also widely believed that Diderot wrote the first and third books of Thérèse Philosophe, an hypothesis I regard as very possible since the tone of the philosophical discussions is different from the more gaillard narration of Mme. Bois-Laurier and broaches explicit political and philosophical issues as far as I am aware for the first time in modern Western pornography (The critique of Juvenalian works like Aretino’s dialogues and Ben Jonson’s plays addresses neither). In the end, however, it is most likely that Boyer d'Argens is the actual author of the entire work. The themes addressed are quite similar to those found in his non pornographic writings, and indeed d'Argens was a quite significant and unjustly forgotten figure in 18th century philosophy. He was part of the Frederick II circle in Prussia where he was a colleague of Voltaire and La Mettrie and he wrote several works in the vein of Montesquieu (A summary of the literature on the authorship of Thérèse philosophe can be found in Pierre Saint-Amond, pp. 1294 ff).In point of fact Diderot was a philosophical schizoid who could write wild rocambolesque porn on the one hand and denounce Boucher and wax ecstatic over Richardson on the other. The other period that deserves recognition is France before World War I, a time when Apollinaire’s critical work as well as his own fiction raised “low” pornography to the status of serious literature (One only begins to understand how deeply pornographic Picasso’s painting is after reading Apollinaire, Bataille and Leiris. Cf. also Diane Widmaier Picasso.) Another major French pornographer from the period is Pierre Louÿs whose voluminous coprophiliac writings are only now being published. Hopefully we will soon see critical editions.
IV. Kendrick’s ironies and bursts of rhetorical excellence have the power to bring a tear to the eye of even the most jaded libertarian. The end of the age of pornography with the complete collapse of literary censorship is much worthy of a cheer or two and Kendrick is to be admired for letting his contempt of censorship shine through in his final two chapters. It is almost beyond belief today that that masterpiece of ambiguous indirection, the masturbation scene in Joyce’s Ulysses should have merited immediate comprehension (particularly by those with the stunted mental capacities of most censors) much less suppression. I am intrigued that my beloved couplet mouthed by Buck Mulligan never seemed to arouse the censor’s ire. Here is my new and improved version:
I’m the queerest young fellow you ever did heard,
My mother’s a Jew, my father’s a bird.
It should be noted that the collapse of literary censorship was followed in our century by the equally stunning collapse of censorship in music. Moderately successful attempts on the part of sexual anorexics like Lynn Cheney to censor groups like 2 Live Crew were simply washed away under the flood tide of lyrics from Top 40 artists like Madonna and Rihanna and rap groups like Lords of Acid whose prosody makes 2 Live Crew seem almost quaint. Yet despite the liberation of musical lyrics, artists still regularly produce so-called broadcast versions of their songs with the nasty bits blurred out. As if anyone still listens to FM radio.
Incidentally, popular culture has begun to carry the banner of sexually free expression that the “high art” avant garde let drop after being invited into the faculty lounge by various formalisms, Greenbergerisms and lesbo left post modernism. This was only to be expected. Pornography that didn’t make the cut into the high art cool girl clique, whatever its intrinsic quality, was invariably characterized as low and dirty (Kendrick himself occasionally follows suit; he mentions more than once with apparent acquiescence the opinion that “low pornography” is the province of “leering sensualists” like myself, and while not meriting censorship, is unworthy of serious consideration as art. Such a view can only effectively be met by serious artistic criticism of mass market pornography.), no better than a fitting amusement for the sweaty masses. (The left likes low culture but only if it is authentic, i.e. created by a kid with a spray can; mass media culture doesn’t fit the bill.) And urban popular culture in general has been pretty much regarded by the bow tie and crumpet crowd in the same way, an object more properly of sociological analysis and not highbrow artistic criticism. So it is only natural that, once the shackles were lifted, those excluded from the chapel of High Art should join hands in that most modern Salon des refusés, the strip club. Moreover, the gap between Degas and Les Français peints par eux-mêmes (Cf. Hofmann passim) is not comparable to the gap between contemporary illustrators and rock & roll groups, for example, and the latest lesbo left deconstruction of the town sewage system you can see at your local modern art museum (a noisome image, I know). Much popular art today has been highly influenced by the avant garde of the 20th century and in fact is in many ways its true cultural heir. “High art” on the other hand has isolated itself from the original avant garde as from just about everything else; it has become the province of worn out sixties radicals and your basic academic faggot. In its defense there was a brief period when academe was more tolerant of sexual excess before the classroom putsch of the lesbo left. And indeed Kendrick provides an interesting insight when he shows how academicization was an important tool in providing an expert class who during the heyday of censorship could save valuable work from destruction. Not to mention that most popular art (along with most high art) remains garbage. But the distinction has reverted to good/bad, not popular/highbrow.
Equally significant is the transfer of the censors’ energy to visual art. If sexual literature was a candle in the darkness of oppressive Western culture, then visual art especially photography, film and videography is a halide lit stadium. The power of the image makes visual art the last great battleground against the forces of darkness and it will carry the banner in that battle where the stakes are the highest and the chances of success the most precarious. Consider what with a certain degree of bemused detachment one might call Mohammedan “culture” where beturbanned goddists long ago succeeded in banning imagery altogether.
In point of fact “low pornography,” the kind that only illiterate toothless ghetto riders like Samuel Pepys could ever indulge in, the kind that regularly gets mocked by faggoty sexual anorexics and the official family media for funny titles, the kind that, along with much of popular culture was allowed to develop its own traditions apart from the jealous guardianship of the cultural φύλακες, yes that kind of pornography is, along with rock & roll the leading art form in the world today, both for quality and seriousness of purpose (Of course seriousness is not inconsistent with enjoyment and even frivolity.) The problem is we don’t have an adequate critical vocabulary to help conceptualize our immediate attraction to porn and the states of ecstasy we feel when touched by it. I am convinced that the creation of such a criticism and consequent understanding would take reformulating our prevailing theories of art in general. This would include not so much denouncing various formalisms and their moralizing antitheses as putting these approaches in their proper place as only partial ways of viewing art in all its complexity. We would have to address the knotty problem of whether theoretical thought, sometimes dubbed philosophy, might in some way stand in complete contradiction with art such that the two are fundamentally incompatible, or whether a new form of thought and argument, a fuckosophy if you will can be devised to better reflect both art and what we consider to be valid truths about the world, if “truth” is the right word and the idea it stands for is not somehow inappropriate. It would also take reconsidering the concept of the creator and of the work and its physical boundaries. We would ultimately need to formulate a theory of pleasure and meaning, how the two interact and how art functions within the broader context of how we feel and how we live our lives. A tall order, but worthwhile if reflective thought is to catch up with advances in artistic production. If I can ever get my hand off my dick I might look into it.
A few benighted souls might wonder how High Art with its elevated capacity for discursive interaction with the viewer, its intense self-reflexivity and its lock on the aesthetic experience in the strict sense, which formalism has done its best to conceptualize, would fare in the new understanding. I daresay it has its place but that place is not a catholic identification with all art. So-called High Art is one approach to art. It is museum art or academic art. There is a role for academic art just as much today as in the time of Thomas Couture, but that role is not to provide a canon, to dictate what art can and cannot be.
III. Perhaps Kendrick’s most valuable contribution is identifying and highlighting the myth of the Young Person as the most persistent rhetorical and more broadly tactical tool on the part of censors. The idea is that a certain segment of the population is irreparably harmed by exposure to sexual material. Female young persons are sexual neuters who, when exposed to porn would collapse in psychotic hysterics and might actually turn to an honest living as escorts. A variation on this is the male Young Person, at heart a violent rapist whose latent tendencies will be unleashed and justified in his own mind by exposure to porn. Actual more or less reliable statistics (reliable partly in that the availability of pornography is the only identifiable independent variable in the periods studied; “studies,” to use the term loosely, prior to the 1990’s were tainted by confirmation bias, which is code for manipulating your statistics to reach the conclusions god wants you to reach) have shown a decrease in violent crime (or at least sexual violent crime), usually significant, when pornography is legalized or made widely available. (Cf. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101130111326.html and http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/everyday_economics/2006/10/how_the_web_prevents_rape.htmll and http://home.exetel.com.au/brendan/benefits.html) Porn seems to be a kind of Prozac for the alpha male. Nevertheless the myth of the Young Person is hard to root out and causes much harm to real children and innocent adults. Kendrick does not discuss its latest manifestation which began with the McMartin Day Care prosecution, an event which was an egregious example of prosecutorial misbehavior and outright fraud on the part of so-called child sex experts who, in a way that recalls Stendhal’s prêtre crotté manipulated their testimony into a source of speaking tours and lucrative consulting gigs (Mo’ money and mo’ money and mo’money!!!!). “Protect the kids” has not only become the excuse of real criminals such as Alberto Gonzalez, it has produced something of the next best thing to complete censorship, i.e. the actual or proposed prohibition of sexual art and literature in any context where it can become in any way available to humans under the age of eighteen - basically all possible public contexts and a large portion of private ones. The citizens of the internet are currently bravely resisting this assault on freedom, but, motivated as they are by hate, the Religious Right and their allies in the lesbo left are unrelenting in their attempts to eliminate sexuality. In overt totalitarian and Mohammedan nations access to most of the internet is currently blocked for political as well as moralistic reasons. On the table in supposedly democratic nations are opt-in ISP’s (adopted in Australia which, if it weren’t for the Australian Sex Party and Kink Ink Tattoos, I would describe as a backward society), .xxx domains and network routing devices that block porn. One can only hope that these measures will enjoy the same level of success as Soviet attempts to jam Radio Free Europe.
Religious bigots and other forces of oppression have created a myth of childhood innocence. This comprises the belief that humans prior to their eighteenth birthday are essentially unaware of sex, feel no natural sexual desires and would suffer some sort of psychological trauma if exposed to sexually stimulating art or literature or otherwise had sexual desire artificially inseminated into them. It is based on the assumption that any sexual activity on the part of a human being prior to the age of eighteen is non consensual or of such a special nature that makes consent invalid. To the contrary the only real special qualification on consent is not being aware of the consequences, such as the consequences of signing a contract, for example. The “evil” consequences of sexual behavior are either wholly in the minds of other persons or of a nature that can be remedied by less drastic means than outright prohibition. There is absolutely no moral or legal basis for the theory that if someone else will disapprove of what you do you must be prevented from doing it. For example, Amish children cannot be legally prevented from wearing funny clothing because other children might throw stones at them or because they might not get a job somewhere. In the same way children cannot be legally prohibited from sexual activity because they would be pelted by the figurative stones of external disapproval. Real consequences such as contracting STD’s are not solely the result of sexual activity. They are the result of sexual activity combined with not taking the proper preventative measures. Liberal democratic theory and any libertarianism not blemished with theocratic prejudices teaches us that, where two types of restriction are available to achieve the same ends, we must opt for the less restrictive option or risk creating new and greater problems. We could, for example, opt for the McDworkin proposal of male castration to prevent the spread of STDs. A liberal democratic state chooses the less restrictive option of instituting proper hygiene and condom use.
The period of most frequent sexual activity on the part of humans appears to be between the ages of twelve and twenty-four. Prohibiting sexual activity and exposure to sexual representations during most of this period doesn’t reduce the amount of sexual interaction. It simply increases the likelihood of uninformed and unprotected sex. Kultgen’s Men, Woman and Children is an amusing and disturbing recounting of how this may occur. Sadly practical utility rarely enters into the calculations of theocrats and other sexual anorexics, who operate on the principle of repression for the sake of repression.
V. Pornography is an important participant in the philosophical discussion of the nature and extent of human freedom. In this regard Isaiah Berlin’s distinction between political and individual freedom provides an interesting thought experiment. Which is preferable, a benevolent despotism where individual freedom of behavior is guaranteed but political decisions are made solely by the monarch and political dissent is prohibited, or a working democracy where political opposition is tolerated but otherwise all freedom of speech and behavior is strictly regulated by the will of the majority? Berlin weighed the competing claims of political liberties vs. freedom of speech and behavior trying to see if there is any justification for the primacy of political liberty. Berlin comes down definitively and appropriately on the side of individual rights or what he calls negative freedom. The freedom of the majority to exercise its will over all the members of a society, or so-called positive freedom may be “only a craving for the certainties of childhood or the absolute values of our primitive past.” (p. 217) Anyone who advocates the primacy of positive liberty manifests a deep and dangerous “moral and political immaturity.” (Ibid.) Not to delve too deeply into this complex issue, it should nevertheless be noted that never in history has there appeared an example of a humane despot who allows complete freedom of individual behavior, but every working democracy in our time (with the possible exception of The Netherlands) constitutes a more or less disagreeable example of majoritarian imposition on personal freedoms. The current situation in the Mohammedan world, where we find oppressive secular dictatorships replaced by even more repressive (as far as civil liberties are concerned) majoritarian theocracies, seems to sail closer to the shore of reality. Also it is difficult to formulate a clear distinction between political speech and speech regarded as private behavior (and thus falling under the right to privacy, not the right to politically free speech). It may turn out to be difficult to conceive even theoretically a situation where one could be banned without banning the other. Cases of civil disobedience where a type of behavior was both a political expression and such as would be banned by a repressive majority would seem to cause problems for both options of the thought experiment. And, as formulated by Rawls (p.202) within the context of an overall political theory, the foundation of a state with an acceptable system of justice can give individual rights serial pride of place since the main role of political freedoms is to guarantee individual freedoms. In a characteristically vague move Rawls does assert that an ideally just state should be able to tolerate “marginal” losses of one sort of liberty or the other. But later (p. 395) in the course of criticizing Utilitarianism on civil liberties Rawls specifically mentions sexual practices abhorrent to the majority as protected freedoms in his version of contract theory. (Since Mill undertook to defend the freedom to divorce at a time when divorce may have been abhorrent to the majority, a contemporary Utilitarian could very well be motivated to find grounds within Utilitarianism for extending the same protection to sexual practices even if majoritarian distaste is intense enough to cause a hypothetical decrease in good for the greatest number.) Berlin wrote at a time when the greatest threat to individual liberty was perceived as coming from the political left. As of the present writing the balance has shifted if only because the right is currently in the ascendancy. The political left and right both work with conceptions of the precedence of the right or the good over the just, to use somewhat modified Rawlsian terms. The good in the case of leftist views is a condition of economic equality; the good for political conservatives usually consists in the dictates of some sort of god or other. Rawls’ conception of basic social goods should elicit a response like Berlin’s. And let me repeat it here. The basic individual freedoms of speech and behavior can never be denied in the name of political liberties. The freedom of the majority to impose its will (which only deserves the name “freedom” when contrasted with non-democratic oligarchy or one person rule) can never justify the denial of freedom of behavior to individuals. Never. Well, almost never. It may be more apposite to say that the benefit of the doubt always goes towards preventing the majority from assuming the right to restrict freedom of individual behavior. Any restriction must be universal. That is, every other stable society must also deny the same freedom. The result would be that the example of the Netherlands would blow up much of the legislation of the rest of the world. I know, the word “stable” appears to give the goddists an opening a mile wide. “How can a societeez be stable dat don’ follow de wayz of de Lawd” he said pupils permanently pointing to the top of his cranium. However, “stable” can be given a reasonably precise working definition sufficient for the present purposes. A society is stable if it is not in a state of civil war as defined by international monitoring agencies. Or perhaps a society is stable if it ranks in the lower half of nations in the world for the incidence of violent crime or theft of property (a very generous criterion indeed). The Netherlands more than qualifies on both counts. Also cultural reasons cannot be adduced for the denial of freedoms. No “We just want a nice country where we can play golf with our own kind and not have to rub shoulders with those so-called gays or drug dealers.” No one can say that they just want a “nice” community or that too many people would get upset if such behavior occurred in their midst. And of course certain predefined activities such as political speech and sexual behavior should be placed permanently off limits. Abortion? Most certainly. Drugs? Almost certainly. The tyranny of the majority, to use Mill’s apposite phrase, is always in conflict with the most basic conception of human freedom.
VI. I have to confess myself almost as thoroughly baffled by the prosecution of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary as I am by the furor surrounding Manet’s Olympia (The prosecution of Les Fleurs du mal is a different story. Baudelaire broke genuinely new ground in pornography, not to mention blasphemy. It is noteworthy that England saw no exemplary prosecutions in the 19th century (The less said about Lawrence the better). I assume English writers were sufficiently cowed by theatrical licensing and the dustup over Byron that they refrained from writing anything anyone with any brains would want to read. Dodgson made a mockery of the Victorian system of writing adult novels aimed at the twelve year old mind by creating pedophilic children’s literature only adults could understand. Joyce is Irish and Finnegan’s Wake wasn’t written in English anyway. I exempt Virginia Woolf from this comment as I do from any other insult I may deliver from time to time against what we with straight faces refer to as English literature. Brains, or, to put things both more accurately and more politely, reflective thought is a positive hindrance to an appreciation and understanding of Woolf’s purely aural a capella splendor. Hers is a prohibitively sensual experience that helps us touch the world with our nerve ends and not through the vapid mediation of analysis). There is as much sex in Le Rouge et le noir or in any given book by George Sand as in Madame Bovary. Indeed the descriptions if anything are slightly more explicit. Balzac features lesbianism and kept women (Who could forget La Torpille?) And of course major 18th century writers created scenes so racy they would cause even Emma Bovary to retreat behind her veil. Even somewhat of a bégueule like Beaumarchais included an openly unwed mother (lol!) as a character in Le Mariage de Figaro whom Da Ponte and Mozart did not see fit to omit (However, any Mozart lover who has not read Beaumarchais’ play would be well served to do so and to note especially Marceline’s (Yes, Marcellina) great speech denouncing men who seduce and abandon young girls and then humiliate them in later life). So what gives? Kendrick might provide one piece of the puzzle. He repeatedly emphasizes how advances in the level of literacy among the general populace and the decline in book prices may have made pornography, not to mention capital L literature such as Flaubert’s, available to a segment of the population that would have simply had no access to Diderot, Stendhal et al. when they wrote. Wilson throws additional light on the matter when he describes the generation coming of age in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars as a group pretty much afraid of its own shadow. It expressed its fears in the form of various Xtian revivals and a turn for the worse as far as morality was concerned. One has to assume not unreasonably that the situation Wilson describes in England was mirrored in occupied France. In a word, what had been permitted before the Restoration was now subject to censorship. The world was vastly different in 1857 from what it had been in 1830. Stendhal’s description of provincial piety and the depressing example of Chateuabriand lead me to think that French religious revivalism was every bit as pervasive and pitiful as the English version. This generational shift in attitude was absorbed as mother’s milk by the offspring of the post-Napoleonic lot such that today we call them the Victorians (even in France) and hold them responsible for the mid century literary prosecutions. Their own suitably morally cleansed offspring witnessed the revenge of nature in the form of the epidemic of hysteria at the end of the 19th century in which the “water cure” (an early fuck machine) and psychoanalysis could flourish.
VII. Philological notes: Re: p. 288. The etymology of “to fuck” seems pretty well established: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=fuck The German cognate is ficken which seems to have a basic sense of “to rub” in Low German. The etymologically unrelated French foutre does have a sense of “to do” as in “Qu’est-ce tu fous là? (“What are you up to”). But it is not a source for the English term.
Re: pp. 43-44.I had always thought that the English term for irrumare is “to skull fuck.” However, a quick stroll through the internet seems to indicate that no one else had the same idea. Perhaps classicists and skull fuckers don’t rub shoulders much. The difference between skull fucking and fellatio is active vs. passive. In a blow job the girl (or whoever) is the active partner. She uses her hands and manipulates the man’s penis with her lips and mouth. Cowgirl front and back are also forms of sex where the female is the active partner. In skull fucking the man is the active partner. He grabs the girl by the back of the head and thrusts his penis into her mouth just as in vaginal or anal coition. The woman is somewhat inert. She is presumably more concerned with trying to breathe than tickling the male glans with her tongue. Skull fucking is definitely aggressive and forms part of the arsenal of rough sex. In this way Catullus is absolutely right to use the term in the context of a threat. I find the difficulty of translating Carmen XVI not so much in the term irrumare as in capturing the word play between being an upright citizen or a wuss and being able to get it up or not. Perhaps the best strategy is a loose adaptation. You can find my own obviously jejune and heterosexualized version here.