Article | NORLIT 2009: Codex and Code; Aesthetics; Language and Politics in an Age of Digital Media; Stockholm; August 6-9; 2009 | The Ontology of the Pornographic Image: Some Speculations

Title:
The Ontology of the Pornographic Image: Some Speculations
Author:
Michael Frank: Bentley University, USA
Download:
Full text (pdf)
Year:
2009
Conference:
NORLIT 2009: Codex and Code; Aesthetics; Language and Politics in an Age of Digital Media; Stockholm; August 6-9; 2009
Issue:
042
Article no.:
030
Pages:
375-386
No. of pages:
12
Publication type:
Abstract and Fulltext
Published:
2010-04-27
Series:
Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings
ISSN (print):
1650-3686
ISSN (online):
1650-3740
Publisher:
Linköping University Electronic Press; Linköpings universitet


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The remarkable foliation of porn studies in has led to a far more nuanced understanding of pornography. But what is largely missing from these discussions is any extended inquiry into what might be called the essence – the quidditas – of porn; the thing that constitutes it as porn in the first place; of what Andre Bazin; speaking about cinema in general; calls its ontology.

Common-sense might lead us to assume that porn is constituted by its subject matter; by what it is a representation of. But a little reflection calls this argument into question; for different pornophiles are notoriously various in what they crave; and the same material that seems so arousing under one set of circumstances can seem trivial or tawdry on another. If; then; we; at least provisionally; eliminate subject matter – that which is represented in porn – as its defining characteristic; as what is both necessary and sufficient adequately to define it; we’re left with looking at the transaction that takes place in the process of accessing porn; that is; the process of representation.

Andre Bazin has noted that the process of photographic represntation provides; with minimal mediation; access to the real; to some otherwise unrepresentable part of human experience. The ubiquity of the come shot; could then be read as the guarantor of that authenticity. Yet animated porn; to say nothing of strictly verbal porn that dominated the first great efflorescence of porn in Victorian England; provides no access to that authenticity; unlike Bazin’s photographic image; it gives us no degree at all of unmediated access to “the real thing.” Thus; if we take verbal; animated; and photographic porn as sharing the same “quidditas;” the question becomes what does it give us access to. This has to be the great challenge for porn studies; partly because it itself is so crucial for our understanding of the relationship of sexuality to representation; but even more so because it is a laboratory for understanding the nature of representation – especially pictorial representation – in toto. In fact porn is the ideal laboratory in which to explore the relationship between cinema as an access to the real and cinema as a conventional code; a language.

And they were both naked; the man and his wife; and were not ashamed.
Genesis 2.25

NORLIT 2009: Codex and Code; Aesthetics; Language and Politics in an Age of Digital Media; Stockholm; August 6-9; 2009

Author:
Michael Frank
Title:
The Ontology of the Pornographic Image: Some Speculations
References:

Bazin; André. “The Ontology of the Photographic Image;” tr. Hugh Gray; Film Quarterly; 13. 4. (Summer; 1960). 4–9.


Brooks; Cleanth. The Well Wrought Urn. New York: Harcourt; 1947. Print.


Gill; Brendan. “Blue Notes." Film Comment 9.1 (1973). Print.


Koch; Gertrude. “On Pornographic Cinema. ” Jump Cut 35 (April 1990): 17–29. Print


Lehman; Peter; ed. Pornography: Film and Culture. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press; 2006. Print.


Marcus; Steven. The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England New York: Basic Books; 1966. Print.


Ullén; Magnus. “Pornography and its Critical Reception: Toward a Theory of Masturbation.” Jump Cut 51 (Spring 2009): n. pag. Web. 22 June 2009.


Williams; Linda. Screening Sex. Durham NC: Duke University Press; 2008. Print.

NORLIT 2009: Codex and Code; Aesthetics; Language and Politics in an Age of Digital Media; Stockholm; August 6-9; 2009

Author:
Michael Frank
Title:
The Ontology of the Pornographic Image: Some Speculations
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