[Milton-L] "erotic" versus

richard strier rastrier at uchicago.edu
Thu Jul 21 14:53:36 EDT 2011

Dear James,

I'm losing my sense of what's at issue here.  Perhaps if you would remind me of 
how you define "pornography," that would help.

I thought I already countered the (supposedly on my view)  "all nude images 
must perform essentially the same work" claim in my mention of "complexity."

---- Original message ----
>Date: Thu, 21 Jul 2011 14:22:38 -0400
>From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu (on behalf of James Rovira 
<jamesrovira at gmail.com>)
>Subject: Re: [Milton-L] "erotic" versus  
>To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>Richard: Thank you for your responses.  In this post, you sound to me
>(as I suspected) as someone who is looking at the same middle ground
>as I am from a slightly different vantage point.  A problem enters in,
>though, when we collapse the distinction between art and pornography.
>At that point, all nude images must perform essentially the same work,
>and that collapsing creates different problems, as is evident in your
>response to my Mapplethorpe question.  You actually avoided my
>question about Mapplethorpe.  I didn't ask if it should be censored or
>if it led to brutality against children.  I only asked if it was child
>pornography.  This question does lead to these other questions, but
>it's the starting question.  Your answers have to do with the nature
>of audience responses, while mine had to do with the nature of the
>artwork itself.  How we should respond to pornography is a question
>that we ask after we have defined it.
>I do agree that a response of sexual arousal to a work of art does not
>invalidate a work as being artistic, even if the intent of the work is
>to arouse.  But, as we move further and further away from porn and
>more into art (acknowledging a middle ground or gray area),
>identifying the intent to arouse becomes more and more difficult.
>Continuing with the example of Mapplethorpe, I spent a little bit of
>time looking over Mapplethorpe's nudes on his website.  HIs nudes are
>certainly beautiful, but not necessarily arousing for me: the formal
>qualities of his photographs -- geometric proportion, interplay of
>shades gray between black and white -- are what seems the most
>striking.  His 1986 photograph of Lydia Cheng makes his subject look
>like architecture or a bronze sculpture, as does his 1982 photograph
>of Derrick Cross.  His photograph of Patti Smith in 1976 emphasizes
>vulnerability, which is one heck of a thing to emphasize about Patti
>Smith in the 70s.  The formal qualities of these photographs overwhelm
>their sexual content and actually seem to approach Milton's "Naked
>majestie" at times.
>Can a viewer still respond sexually?  Of course, but in these cases
>it's hard to see that the photograph attempts to provoke that
>response.  Most pornography only aims for that response.  I appreciate
>Brendan's follow-up, but I think he has a somewhat rosier picture of
>pornography than I do.  Most porn is bad porn.  When it's not, it's in
>danger of becoming art.
>Jim R
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