[Milton-L] "erotic" versus

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Wed Jul 20 19:43:22 EDT 2011


Do you really think it's impossible to have an aesthetic experience of
an artwork involving a nude without it being sexual?   Seriously, what
you seem to be advocating sounds like a response mocked by old SNL
skit with Dan Ackroyd.


I could be misunderstanding you, but you seem to be insisting that all
nudity in art necessarily provokes a sexual response in its viewers.
You also seem to be denying that there is any possible response to
nudity but a sexual one.  Because of those assertions, you don't
distinguish between art and pornography or between the erotic and

You might want to consider the ramifications of those identifications
upon our understanding of the art of, say, Robert Mapplethorpe.  Was
Mapplethorpe a child pornographer?

Harold Skulsky's declaration of your "correctness" seems therefore out
of place, because if Eve's nudity was necessarily and at all times
sexual then Milton's Adam would be walking around all day with an
erection and would hardly need to be teased into excitement.  It seems
to make more sense to say that Eve's nudity took on different meanings
at different times -- unnoticed at some times (say when Adam was
talking to Raphael), aesthetically beautiful at others, sexually
desirable at still other times.  The point is not to exclude the
sexual but to keep from making the sexual out to be the only thing:

Two of far nobler shape erect and tall,
Godlike erect, with native Honour clad
In naked Majestie seemd Lords of all,
And worthie seemd, for in thir looks Divine
The image of thir glorious Maker shon,

Milton's description of Adam and Eve's "naked Majestie" leads him to
contemplate their relationship to "truth, wisdome, Sanctitude severe
and pure."

So passd they naked on, nor shund the sight
Of God or Angel, for they thought no ill:
So hand in hand they passd, the lovliest pair
That ever since in loves imbraces met,
Adam the goodliest man of men since borne
His Sons, the fairest of her Daughters Eve.
Truth, wisdome, Sanctitude severe and pure,

The point to Milton about Adam and Eve's nudity is that they "thought
no ill" -- it is the perspective of the viewer, not the nude state
itself, that matters.  He is hardly limited to the sexual in his
consideration of Adam and Eve's nudity.  Milton, in his fallen state,
could consider these possibilities, and by suggesting them encourage
us to as well.

Brendan's post was very good, but I would disagree that unfallen sex
is aware that it is being watched (unless I misread him or there was a
typo).  The participants in unfallen sex, being unselfaware, would
probably be caught up in their awareness of their partner and would
somehow, if possible, forget themselves even more.

What I am suggesting, therefore, is not for a neat separation of the
sexual and aesthetic but for distinguishing between art and
pornography by the possible -range of responses- provided by art,
which is wider than that provided by pornography.  Most pornography
does not rise above the sexual, and the sexual in pornography usually
does not proceed from intimacy, just physical desire -- and most of
the time even that seems to be lacking.  There are borderline cases,
of course, but they are relatively few, and only an artist is capable
of producing a borderline case, not a pornographer.  Artistic or
aesthetic responses can include the sexual but are not limited to it.

Your appeal to Titian is a very good one, I think.  Yes, the image
depicted is sexual.  But that image alone would hardly make for good
porn.  First her handmaid would have to join in the picture and then
the plumber and the mailman would have to show up.

I'm currently doing some reading in late 17thC, early 18thC Pietist
writers and I am impressed with the range of opinion toward sexual
intercourse.  The key debate here seems to be the morality of sexual
intercourse during pregnancy.  Pietists such as Spener argued for the
morality of sexual intercourse during pregnancy because he did not
believe that intercourse was only for procreation.  The pleasures of
sex were ordained by God as well as the emotional bond created between
the couple, both of which remain even when procreation is impossible.
I don't think Milton was limited to a view of sex in which human
beings were guided by uncontrollable responses -- it's more that we
need to exercise additional self control because we are capable of
uncontrolled responses.

Jim R

On Wed, Jul 20, 2011 at 5:17 PM, richard strier <rastrier at uchicago.edu> wrote:
> So how is a viewer who is sexually attracted to (some) women (and perhaps
> [some] men as well) to react to a painting of a mythological erotic scene by, say,
> Titian?  Do we want to have a "relationship" with Danae?  Does the painting
> inspire a "desire for companionship"?  Do we care about her "as a person"?

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