On Stage, Off Stage

Pornography is sexually explicit material intended to elicit erotic responses rather than aesthetic or emotional ones. This is not a judgement against eroticism, nor is it to imply that aesthetic or emotional responses are always preferable when sexually explicit material is the message. Pornography, though, is not limited to the representation of sexuality. We like to make finer distinctions between what could be called erotica and what is called pornography. I am not going to articulate these distinctions. One could also make a distinction between nudes meant to elicit an aesthetic response and a pornographic naked. The distinction between nude and naked is the distinction between posed and unposed. Degas had developed what he called a key-hole aesthetic, distinguishing between what in one instance we call nude in English and in another, we call naked. French has one word for both; there then must be more highly developed or articulate connotations for the one word, which is what Degas had done with his description of the key-hole aesthetic. Degas painted nakeds, not nudes, His unclothed women at bath were not posed. Can pornography have something unposed about its composition, its framing. This would then import the sense of voyeurism, but then so does Degas’s unposed naked, no? Moreover, there is still something different about what is intended to elicit the aesthetic and what is intended to elicit the erotic responses of the viewer, whether that viewer is put in the position of voyeur or spectator.

As referenced above, pornography permeates all commodities, all communication, all interactions in our society. One particular aspect of pornogrpahic photography is the close-up or the framing of the human body in detail, that is, a focus on parts of the body, parts usually associated with engaging in sexual acts; it may also have references to fetishes, but this is immaterial to our discussion here. There is no intention of metonymy in this close-up in-focus framing of body parts, most frequently genitalia; metonymy is a device where the part would stand for the entirety of the human person or body (of course, not the same thing).

How pornography permeates all interactions in our society is in how public space has shrunk and become oppressive, almost as if everything and everyone were in extreme close-up, as are sex acts in a porno film. At the same time, the boundaries of our private spaces are being erased, re-defined, made transparent for the voyeurism of the public who need to observe ever more microscopically because the spaciousness of space has been eliminated and revised not for our vision, not what we see with our physical eyes, but for (ad)visory claims, what is taken under advisement (notice we are under as a female porn star in a gang bang film). What we see has been refocused for us. These changes in the conditions of the Public and the Private are confrontations with our conventions of Public and Private staging; what was once distinct between the scene and the obscene. Obscenity is everywhere. The popularity and proliferation of what we call reality shows exhibits our need to be voyeurs, our hunger for the obscene.



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