Scholarly article on topic 'From Eroticism to Pornography: The Culture of the Obscene'

From Eroticism to Pornography: The Culture of the Obscene Academic research paper on "Economics and business"

CC BY-NC-ND
0
0
Share paper
OECD Field of science
Keywords
{eroticism / pornography / obscene / sexuality / taboo / transgression / culture / civilization / power / labor}

Abstract of research paper on Economics and business, author of scientific article — Aura-Elena Schussler

Abstract The purpose of this study is – following philosophical, psychoanalytical and literary research of the obscene – to demonstrate the fact that the transition from eroticism to pornography was achieved with the transition from the instinctual (animal) stage to the cultural (civilisation) stage, through transgression of the sexual taboo. This transgressive approach led not only to the undermining of the traditional values imposed by taboos (like the sexual one, Eros, or the death taboo, Thanatos), but also to the creation of new ones, under the sign of the obscene. Within these parameters, pornography is the central element, generated under the mark of pornotopia. Such a metamorphosis of the individual - from the position of the reality principle, characteristic of the profane world of labour, into that of the pleasure principle, characteristic of the sacred world of celebration – was achieved by passing pornography through the initial filter of Renaissance creations, followed by using it as a political weapon during the Age of Enlightenment and Modernity and finishing with current political discourse, and the exhibition of an obscene reality in what we call advertising and show business.

Academic research paper on topic "From Eroticism to Pornography: The Culture of the Obscene"

Available online at www.sciencedirect.com

ScienceDirect

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 92 (2013) 854 - 859

Lumen International Conference Logos Universality Mentality Education Novelty (LUMEN

From Eroticism to Pornography: the culture of the Obscene

Aura-Elena Schusslera *

aPh.D. at the Faculty of History and Philosophy, Field Philosophy, Babe^-Bolyai University, Str. Mihail Kogalniceau, 1, Cluj-Napoca _400084, Romania_

Abstract

The purpose of this study is - following philosophical, psychoanalytical and literary research of the obscene - to demonstrate the fact that the transition from eroticism to pornography was achieved with the transition from the instinctual (animal) stage to the cultural (civilisation) stage, through transgression of the sexual taboo. This transgressive approach led not only to the undermining of the traditional values imposed by taboos (like the sexual one, Eros, or the death taboo, Thanatos), but also to the creation of new ones, under the sign of the obscene. Within these parameters, pornography is the central element, generated under the mark of pornotopia. Such a metamorphosis of the individual - from the position of the reality principle, characteristic of the profane world of labour, into that of the pleasure principle, characteristic of the sacred world of celebration - was achieved by passing pornography through the initial filter of Renaissance creations, followed by using it as a political weapon during the Age of Enlightenment and Modernity and finishing with current political discourse, and the exhibition of an obscene reality in what we call advertising and show business.

©2013TheAuthors.Publishedby ElsevierLtd.

Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Lumen Research Center in Social and Humanistic Sciences, Asociatia Lumen. Keywords: eroticism; pornography; obscene; sexuality; taboo; transgression; culture; civilization; power; labor

1. Introduction

Tracing precise boundaries between eroticism and pornography is almost impossible because their evolution is marked by the sexual evolution of human nature, an evolution defined by the civilization process. The amendment of perspectives on sexual representations led over time to cataloging them in a pornographic or obscene position, which we find notably debated today. According to Freudian views, the human process of civilisation is a process of human repression. This is the reason for why this process led to the birth of taboos on certain activities in an individual's life. One of these taboos concerns the individual's sex life. In Georges Bataille's vocabulary, this phenomenon involves two concepts: the concept of taboo and the concept of

* Corresponding author. Tel.: + 004-0762-453388. E-mail address: aura.schussler@ubbcluj.ro

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Lumen Research Center in Social and Humanistic Sciences, Asociatia Lumen. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.08.765

transgression. In his book, Eroticism: Death and Sensuality, Bataille (1986), analyses the emergence of taboos together with the differentiation of human nature from animal nature through labour and civilisation. These taboos or interdicts, as he names them at the beginning of the book, are of two types: the sexual taboo (covering reproduction, incest and the taboo of menstrual blood), and the taboo of death (covering the horror of a dead body and the interdict to kill). We could say that these two concepts are built on the Eros - Thanatos principle (the principle of life and the principle of death, which complete each other in this situation (Bataille, 1986)). For Bataille (1986), transgression does not represent the denial of the interdict, but its overcoming and completion. The sexual field is one of the topics culture has placed within the taboo category. Within these parameters, according to Plato's philosophy, in which eroticism is the path to gaining happiness and knowledge by passing from the sensible (material) world to the world of pure thoughts, eroticism is the action that transgresses, through its superiority, the sexual taboo, by using culture as a method of freely self-developing the Eros rather than repressing it. It is the process through which, for millennia, man has separated himself from the animal through organised labour, by assuming death, by imposing taboos on sexual life, with the awareness of an inner experience, superior to the outer, immediate experiences (Bataille, 1986). This inner experience that Bataille (1986) speaks of he also designates as specific to religion; he also opposes the religious field when eroticism intervenes. The inner experience that he ascribes to consciousness - entailing the feeling of desire in opposition to that of anxiousness - is the one which in fact generates the onset of transgression. This inner experience belongs to the individual's inner world, to what Bataille (1986) calls a "spirit" (subject) world, whilst the outer experience represents the part of human experience that brings him closer to nature, to original, to animal. It is the experience more likely to include the experiences that apply to our bodies, like pornography, for example. This is where the outer world belongs, the material world, the animal world, according to Bataille.

2. Eroticism and obscene causes

It is certain that this conflict, involved in shaping basic human instincts, especially the sexual one, led to the accumulation of a certain frustration within the individual, frustration that was often released under the auspice of orgies and sexual perversions. We might say that it is the moment at which sexual exuberance, meaning our animal instinct, opposes labour and order, meaning our humanity, to undermine the civilising dynamics and to reactivate the remnants of a repressed libido. Nevertheless, this leap is not made from the perspective of an unconscious, animal sexuality, but from the perspective of erotic transgression. This is because eroticism is the activity of a conscious being, whose sexual desire is the result of its inner experience. This is the reason why the idea of an erotic tendency in labour, that is, the idea of a "libidinal" labour, is presented by Freud (2010) in his book Civilisation and Its Discontents, where he notes the fact that labour can represent a manner in which to discharge libidinal, narcissistic, aggressive and erotic impulses. This idea is viable within Freud's context of libido, where he links it both to satisfying basic needs and to mutual human attempts to obtain satisfaction; or, in other words, the process of labour. Marcuse (1976), analyses the Freudian hypothesis of labour being that from which one could obtain the satisfaction of pleasure. He states that such a possibility for labour could only be applied to labour involving the body itself, activating its erogenous zones and altogether through the erotisation of the entire body, if we are to talk of (libidinal) pleasure. That is because normal labour, that which involves the individual in a social, organised and cooperative activity, is also that through which the individual does not satisfy his own impulses and needs, and thus is in conflict with the pleasure principle. This is why, according to Marcuse, a "libidinal" labour can, at most, be one performed as a "hobby" or a "game", either one performed in a "directly erotic situation" (Herbert, 1976, pp. 219). This aspect reconciles to some extent the conflict between labour and sexuality. This is because such a labour involves the body as a whole, by involving and stimulating its erogenous zones, entailing the erotisation of the body. But what happens when the sexual act itself represents the object of labour, as in the case of prostitution? At first glance, in this case, the Freudian perspective of "libidinal" labour, resulting in pleasure, seems to be viable. The example of prostitute labour contains all the elements of the

Freudian equation. We have labour, we have the erotisation of the body and we have pleasure, so, in conclusion, we have "libidinal" labour. Up to this point, nothing changes; the parameters are the same. That which makes the difference is the unknown item - the client. As we know from Hegelian philosophy, working for another is labour determined by something other than the self, which makes the distinction between human and animal labour. Because it is labour performed, not in favor of satisfying our own instincts or basic needs, but the rather those of the Other, he states, it is also that which elevates the human above nature, because the element of the Other is the one missing from the animal, who, through its actions taken to fulfill its biological needs, does not labour but merely satisfies its instincts (Hegel, 1977). If we apply this theory to our issue, we notice that the prostitute, in fact, does not labour to satisfy her own sexual pleasure, but the pleasures of the client. She works for an Other. Even if she is repaid with money for the services she performs, the libidinal pleasure belongs to the client, as he is the one seeking it, while the prostitute only uses the offered erotic pleasure as a means to make a living. Although the sexual element and the erotisation of the prostitute's body intervene, this aspect conflicts with the pleasure principle, as the only pleasure gained by the prostitute is the remuneration or the gift, not the libidinal pleasure. The pleasure principle, governed by the battle between Eros (the principle of life) and Thantos (the principle of death), has the purpose of satisfying the libidinal impulses with the release of the instincts. It lies within the basic instincts which culture has repressed in the name of civilisation. This is why the pleasure of labour is only half libidinal in the case of prostitutes. If we are to talk of a libidinal labour par excellence, the prostitute should, within the labour she performs, satisfy her own libidinal needs. And that does not happen, as the activity she performs has a strictly financial purpose and is not aimed at releasing her own libidinal tensions. This is why, as Marcuse (1976) notes, such labour conflicts with the reality principle and constitutes more of an anomaly. From what we've seen until now, the prostitute's work doesn't seem to be "libidinal" par excellence, even though it brings into play the satisfaction of the sexual instinct; this, as we have seen, belongs to the client. However, it does not fit the parameters of normal and pure labour either, due to the sexual element contained within it and which, from the position of the pleasure principle, contradicts the reality principle (Herbert, 1976). The latter is maintained by Western culture through the dominant social organisation of labour, along with the repression and control of basic instincts under the auspices of the psychic apparatus. Of the findings made up to this point we can conclude that labour, which separated us from animality through the restriction of basic instincts and which brought us closer to civilisation by establishing taboos, is also what brought us from the sphere of nature to the sphere of culture.

3. The culture of the obscene

If we want to establish whether we can or cannot speak of a culture of the obscene, it is necessary at the beginning to define the obscene. The etymology of the term comes from Greek. In Greek, the term 'obscene' - ob skene - designates what we could classify as something that is outside or behind the scene. The idea is related to the violent scenes in Greek plays from the 5th century, which were presented in this masked form - outside the scene. Beyond the definition's nature, the causes of its construction are also significant. The cultural basis of this taboo also seems to be the reason to define obscenity within the parameters of sexual repression; as long as sexuality is a taboo it is understood that any action that contains sexual characteristics fits within the parameters of this taboo. The desire to transgress this taboo has found a way to release its sexual instinct through jokes. Along with a culture of instinct suppression, a culture of liberating these instincts is born. The human psyche has found, within the playful manifestation of humor created by licentious jokes, a possibility for the satisfaction of the pleasure principle. According to Freud (1960) in Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, this manifestation of obscenity at a discursive level by using sexual innuendo in jokes is a consequence of the individual's libidinal tension. This is why jokes of a sexual nature entail a release of sexual tension. Usually, as Freud mentioned, the feminine element is the target of this manifestation, as a consequence of the sexual tension that it generates for the male element. However, the relationship is not linear. It does not occur between the

person making the joke (self) and the object of the joke (woman). It is rather a relationship that involves a third element, namely an outsider, a third person embodied in the male audience. As Freud (1960) observed, when a male finds his libidinal impulse inhibited by a feminine presence it develops a hostile manifestation towards the female gender through obscene jokes relayed to her in the presence of a male audience, which is seen as an ally in the libidinal conflict that has been triggered. This is best outlined in the pornographic creations of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, where a usually male narrator addresses a male audience (inside the narrative), having as a target the male reader. The central subject of the sexual assault is none other than the feminine gender. Hence a double psychological activity takes place, one aimed at pleasure and the other at power, both rolled on a common element - the feminine gender. The resulting mental excitement functions as a libidinal tension-release mechanism that underlies the pleasure principle. In another context we encounter obscenity as a mechanism that targets the raw and immediate playback of reality, as suggested by Jean Baudrillard's (2003) study of obscenity in Passwords. For Baudrillard, the time variable within the obscenity concept is changed, in that obscenity does not fall under either profane time (typical for labour) or sacred time (typical for celebration). This changes the perception of reality. Profane time is, in Bataille's (1986) view, typical of the profane world, that world in which the man is subjected to interdictions and work. Sacred time, on the other hand is, according to Bataille (1986), the time which belongs par excellence to the sacred world, the world of the gods, the sovereigns and of celebration. But, one of the pertinent questions would be: of which reality are we speaking? The question is pertinent because, if we remain within the parameters of Herbert Marcuse (1976), the reality principle can only be one that favours work and order (profane time) to the detriment of disorder and sexuality (sacred time). The hypothesis which seems to result from this equation is that of a parallel reality to that created by labour, which is a consequence of the latter, because the prohibition created by the labour reality gives rise to transgression, which comes from a reality of obscenity. This parallel reality to the routine established by society can be seen today in the form of show business society. The purpose of the shows offered to the contemporary public exists under the incidence of the same transgression mechanism of interdictions. Inside such a society, the traditional values established by the civilising process and by the implementation of taboos are undermined. The show played is no longer one of metaphor and seduction or of modesty and decency, but rather a show which lacks the civilising filter. In other words, making use of the etymological elements of the term 'obscene', we could say that today, the curtain behind which the Greek actors played their violence scenes disappears, so that everything is revealed as clearly as possible to the public. Practically, the ancient ob skene is transformed, in the contemporaneous show, into 'on skene'. The obscene is the element that stops the exposed reality, situating itself neither on the side of profane time nor on that of sacred time. Even if the spectacle is tied to a celebration, and so to sacred time, the show's reality is an opposite of celebration. In a society guided by the norms of obscenity, by rendering a reality without boundaries containing only complicit elements, sacred time does not exist. What we have here is just another form of the alienation of the individual, but this time, it's happening in the field of obscene reality.

4. Pornography and Obscenity

However, the power of discourse together with the will to know, to explore and to exploit in an almost microscopic way the sexual area, determines us today to talk about a culture of the obscene and, implicitly, about a culture of pornography. Walter Kendrick (1997), in his book The Secret Museum: Pornography in modern culture, states that the obscene represents a cultural phenomenon based on and constituted by the pornography phenomenon. In today's context, the obscene is viewed from an angle where sex, as act and as organ, is played in pornography under the incidence of a reality in which the boundary imposed by society's rules is dissipated in favor of something repressed, of a collective fantasy inside which the satisfaction of erotic compulsions becomes achievable. From this perspective, pornography becomes a libidinal 'recycle bin', where we find whatever eroticism did not completely assume at the time of the transgression of sexual interdicts, and sexuality was not

capable of achieving due to the same interdicts. This political discourse of pornography emerges from that angle of pornographic activity in which the emphasis falls on the subversive element, powered by an accelerated technologisation of everyday life, including the intimate area. Rick Poynor (2006) highlights this phenomenon in his book Designing pornotopia: Travels in visual culture, which emphasises aspects of a consumer culture, characterised by the world of advertising, which, from one year to the next, develops a working mechanism built on the specificities of the pornographic apparatus. The evidence of this is a reality, rendered by an avalanche of images that do not only transform us into a perverted society but also limit our imagination - everything sex-related is offered to us on a silver platter. Basically, the advertising industry is trying to implement the removal of the common man's sexual fantasies from behind the scenes and to post them instead in his immediate vicinity, in what Steven Marcus called in his 2009 book, The other Victorians: A study of sexuality and pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England, pornotopia. Created in 1966, by Steven Marcus, pornotopia is a term designating a "fantastic" world, in which each individual, regardless of gender, is always ready to face sexual challenges. This individual is a type of Nietzsche's super-human, in the sense that pornography is the area of the strong, powerful human, who manages to wrench himself free from his civilising tutelage by imposing a new subversive culture. The Foucauldian relationship between dominant/dominated (Foucault, 1979) is dissolved in this world, as both sexual desire and sexual potency are two elements that are held by both genders (male and female) and a possible slave/master dialectic between the protagonists is dissolved in favor of the pleasure and performance experienced by them. Thus, pornography becomes representative, at a symbolical level, of a State within a State. This phenomenon arises through pornotopia. We are dealing, on the one hand, with the rule of law - the question of who owns the entire cultural and historical tradition - plus taboos in the name of moral values, and on the other hand, with this new formation - pornotopia - lead by the obscene, which is the antithesis of the moral precepts of the rule of law (ideas sustained by the accusations brought against pornography concerning damages to the individual's liberties and moral integrity). However, the values proposed by pornotopia are much closer to what the contemporary individual is looking for. These include a certain complete freedom of expression, built on, and around, the concept of genitality and the obscene. For that reason, the sought-for genitality is not limited only to exposure and exhibition or to its voyeuristic approaches - as the body-flesh has already gathered its laurels - but to what genitality can transmit in relation to gender differences and sex changes, as well as sexual orientations and travesties. These situations generated by pornotopia also involve the creation of a political discourse of pornography. It consists of dissolving the interdicts and the social norms and, last but not least, of releasing the individual from sexual pressure, characterised by the monitoring and supervision of this natural act, a representative activity for both the Renaissance and Modernism. If we look back, we can see that the evolution of pornography and implicitly of sexuality was, and still is, a phenomenon created by culture. If the Renaissance tried, through the works of Pietro Aretino (2012, 1993) Ragionamento della Nanna e della Antonia or Sonetti lussuriosi e dubbi amorosi, to dissolve the dogmatic conscience of the individual, being held under the auspices of the Church, the Enlightenment and Modern era bring new perspectives with themselves through the works of Sade's (1990) Philosophy in the Bedroom or Justine. If the Renaissance works had as structural characteristics an initiation of a type of discussion between a prostitute and a novice in this line of work (Ragionamenti), in the Enlightenment and Modern era political accents are introduced into this speech. The writing started to be better structured and the substrates containing political messages became more obvious. These works were being used as a political weapon in Enlightenment France against the royal family. Such an example is the pornographic pamphlet of François-Marie Mayeur from 1789, L ' Autrichienne en goguettes, ou, L'orgie royale, where the main target of the obscene jokes and exuberant sexual manifestations is Queen Marie Antoinette. The transition from the initiation-type of discussion between prostitutes (Nanna, Antonia, Pippa) to the usage of obscenity and pornography with the purpose of undermining social values (Philosophy in the Bedroom or Justine) can be observed because high society characters - priests, emperors, queens, aristocrats, military or political faces - are placed next to courtesans or prostitutes of the lowest kind and thereby constitute elements of subversion and transgression of the sexual interdict through obscenity and pornography. We should not neglect the fact that this

entire subversive process has been created by the obscene area of pornography ever since the Renaissance took root in a cultural-obscene tradition, and which we find today, as stated above, in the show business society and advertising world, from which they penetrate the common individual's intimate area, shaping and transforming his consciousness from one of inner erotic experience to one of an outer pornographic experience.

5. Conclusion

If the transition from the animal world to the culture world, specific to the human being, was accomplished through the process of labour for an Other, the transition from culture to obscene was achieved by undermining the traditional values created by civilisation. If eroticism exists to transgress the sexual taboo through inner experience, pornography exists to undermine this experience and to bring to the surface the outer experience, meant to create a culture of the obscene. The pornographic sphere, through the frustrations of human nature which resulted from civilisation, has been used to create a world in which the boundaries imposed by society would be dissipated under the auspices of pornotopia. The creation of a parallel reality to the order established by labour, through the disorder established by sexuality, led to the formation of a cultural dialectic in which the dominant/dominated - master/slave report would be dissolved in favor of an obscene value, given by the show business society and the world of advertising.

Acknowledgements

This work was possible with the financial support of the Sectoral Operational Programme for Human Resources Development 2007-2013, co-financed by the European Social Fund, under the project number POSDRU/107/1.5/S/76841 with the title „Modern Doctoral Studies: Internationalization and Interdisciplinarity".

References

Aretino, P. (2012). Ragionamento della Nanna e della Antonia. USA: Create Space Independent Publishing Platform.

Aretino, P. (1993). Sonetti lussuriosi e dubbi amorosi. Roma: Newton Compton. Bataille, G. (1986). Erotism: Death and Sensuality. USA: City Lights Publishers. Bataille, G. (1976). Œuvres complètes - Volume 8, L'Histoire de l'érotisme. Paris: Gallimard. Baudrillard, J. (2003). Passwords. London, UK: Verso.

Foucault, M. (1979). The history of Sexuality. Vol. I. An introduction. New York, USA: Pantheon Books.

Freud, S. (1960/ Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious. New York: W.W. Norton& Company.

Freud, S. (1991). Cap. IV. Angoasâ si civilizafie în Opere I. Totem Ci tabu; Moise [2 monoteismul; Angoasâ în

civilizatie; Viitorulunei iluzii. (pp. 289-365) Bucuresti, România:Stiintifica.

Hegel, G.W.F. (1977). Phenomenology of Spirit. USA: Oxford University Press.

Herbert, M. (1976/ Eros and Civilization : A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud. USA: Beacon Press

Hunt, L. (editor). (2006). The Invention of Pornography, 1500-1800: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity.

New York: Zone Books.

Kendrick, W. (1997). The secret Museum. Pornography in modern cultur. Berkeley & Los Angeles, California: University of California Press.

Marcus, S. (2009). The other Victorians: A study of sexuality and pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England. USA: Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick.

Marquis de Sade (1990). Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and Other Writings. New York, USA: Grove Press. Poynor, R. (2006). Designing pornotopia: Travels in visual. USA: Princeton Architectural Press.