[Milton-L] O Eve, in evil hour...

James Rovira jrovira at drew.edu
Wed Nov 23 21:36:27 EST 2005


I think some criteria for the difference between pornography and art 
have been formulated, and they're sensible.  Some of what I've heard has 
to do with intent -- pornography really has no goal beyond sexual 
arousal, while nudes in art pay attention to form, lighting, etc., 
usually to make the subject beautiful.  The intended effect upon the 
viewer is entirely different in each case.  Mapplethorpe managed to 
combine these concerns, so his photos of flowers are at least as erotic 
as his photos of nudes (this combination also complicates his work 
legally), but I think he's an exception.

In my own thinking the first difference between Degas and Debbie Does 
Dallas is context.  Where do you go to see the former, and where do to 
go to see the latter?  What is your mindset when you approach the former 
venue compared to your mindset in the latter venue?  When I saw the full 
nudity in Salome at the Orlando Opera I went to see a drama and 
understood the nudity to be a factor in the dramatic tension, not to be 
something that creates arousal (honestly, I was more curious about how 
good the -opera- singer would look naked).  Context isn't the sole 
determining factor, of course: content can still be pornographic in an 
artistic setting, but it will seem inappropriately placed:  "Shocking." 
Cheap thrills and even cheaper media coverage.

Kierkegaard does quite a bit of thinking about this topic in _Concept of 
Anxiety_; sensuality per se is not sin, and certainly not in a state of 
innocence/ignorance, but once spirit posits a differentiation between 
mind and body (postlapsarian state) sensuality becomes inextricably 
bound up with sinfulness.  I don't recall him considering the 
possibility of a postlapsarian innocent sensuality; sometimes the 
aesthetic personality can acheive this, but more often the aesthetic 
personality collapses into itself, into what Kierkegaard called the 
"inclosing reserve," the demonic.

Jim Rovira


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