[Milton-L] "erotic" versus

richard strier rastrier at uchicago.edu
Thu Jul 21 16:45:53 EDT 2011


1) I do not think I've changed my position at all.  Certainly have not meant to.

If pornography is defined as "representations that intend to cause erotic 
arousal" (in some part of their audience), I am happy to reiterate the claim that 
PL and many other great works of art are (at least in parts) pornographic.  Of 
course, this is not the "sole" aim of these works or even of those parts of the 
works -- but I never claimed that it was.  I do want to claim that it is part of the 
aim of them, and that that's not something to be denied, argued away, 
condemned, or apologized for.  I see Mapplethorpe as in the same class as 
Titian (and parts of PL).  It seems to me important to defend the claim that high 
art can be, and intend (in part) to be, sexually arousing.  That has been my claim 
all along.

2) On the other hand, I'd be happy to drop the term pornography, and speak of 
high and low erotic representation.  As I said, I think "pornography" mainly 
functions as a legal category, and involves censorship or legal punishment.  If 
the claim is that lots of what is known as "pornography" is bad art, then I agree.  
Aesthetic badness  should not be legally punishable.  If the term simply names a 
kind of bad art, I guess I have no objection to it, but I think that it does different 
cultural work than that.



Richard Strier
Frank L. Sulzberger Distinguished Service Professor
Department of English
University of Chicago
1115 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637

---- Original message ----
>Date: Thu, 21 Jul 2011 15:44:16 -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>
>
>Yes, you did address that claim, Richard, but I see your last response
>as incompatible with some of your previous comments.  I think that you
>essentially have to abandon the concept of pornography to protect
>Mapplethorpe's work.  I would try to protect his work on aesthetic
>grounds.  I think your most recent response is your real position, and
>that some of your previous responses took the form that they did
>occasionally just in the course of the argument.
>
>My working definition of pornography is that it is some kind of
>representational product whose primary, and usually only, goal is to
>provide sexual stimulation for its consumers.  A typical pornographic
>film, for example, does not attempt to achieve more than just one
>emotion, sexual stimulation.  There's no real investment in plot,
>character, or setting, or even actors who can act.  Camera angles and
>lighting all tend toward the same effect.  There's really very little
>subtlety on any level.
>
>Jim R
>
>On Thu, Jul 21, 2011 at 2:53 PM, richard strier <rastrier at uchicago.edu> 
wrote:
>> 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.
>
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