[Milton-L] Debbie does Eden

rabowitz rabowitz at aol.com
Wed Jul 27 16:57:02 EDT 2011

I don't know if this is off topic but in Harold Bloom's new book--The anxiety of Influence: Literature as a way of life-- I don't remember the exact quote but I am pretty sure he says that Satan and Milton and young Harold Bloom were all hot for Eve.

I have never seen an adult film and am hardly a worldly libertine. But I have covered the adult industry and been in a longterm relationship with a well known adult star and PL and porn in 2011 have nothing in common. If you understood the implications of the comparison, you would not make it. However, you are correct that for the directors in particular there is artistic ambition though, except for John Stagliano, never of the Miltonic variety. And, Stagliano's self-proclaimed masterpiece is 101/2 hours long. Samuel Johnson would do a lot more than not wish it to be longer. Yrs., Richard

On Jul 27, 2011, at 12:25:49 PM, "Hannibal Hamlin" <hamlin.hannibal at gmail.com> wrote:

From:	"Hannibal Hamlin" <hamlin.hannibal at gmail.com>
Subject:	Re: [Milton-L] Debbie does Eden
Date:	July 27, 2011 12:25:49 PM PDT
To:	"John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Is the problem with distinguishing the pornographic and the erotic perhaps that there is something of a category mistake here? The descriptions of the pornographic offered so far all focus on the intention of the producer -- the work, whatever it is, is intended solely to stimulate sexual responses, nothing more. Whereas the descriptions of the erotic have focused on perception and reception. If we muddle the distinction between production and reception, we have to recognize that what is produced as pornography may be received or interpreted as something more serious (or less wholly sexual). No doubt someone, somewhere has written a dissertation on Debbie Does Dallas. More seriously, my recently retired Ohio State colleague David Frantz wrote an important study of Renaissance pornography,Festum Voluptatis (though he actually calls it "erotica" in his subtitle). One might also note that some "pornographers" may have more serious aspirations than stimulating their readers/viewers sexually. The Burt Reynolds character in the film Boogie Nights (more or less historical) is very much concerned with the plots, character relations, production levels of his porn films. It seems rather pathetic, but he obviously thinks of himself as an artist of sorts, not just a flesh peddler.
Conversely, as many have pointed out, any work can be ascribed erotic content. For an example of the latter, note the dictionaries in school libraries (at least as I remember from school days) with signs of disproportionate wear on the pages with naughty words, or the National Geographics with what is now called "indigenous nudity," put to all sorts of inappropriate uses by little and perhaps not so little boys. To the impure, all things are impure. (And post-Fall we are all impure.)
If we keep the producer-receiver distinction in mind, we have two questions concerning us: first, did Milton intend this passage or that in PL to be arousing, and second, do we as readers find them so? The questions overlap if we answer that sometimes Milton does intend us to be aroused, as we are (or may be), but that this is one of the Fishy traps, where we must recognize the fallenness of our response to something that in its unfallen state ought not to elicit such a response. But then I'm not sure I buy this Fishian argument entirely. Adam and Eve's "connubial love" in Eden is pleasurable, clearly. Milton cites the injunction to increase and multiply at 4.748, but his "wedded love," even though it drives out "adulterous lust," includes more than just the practical satisfactions of obeying God and procreating. Adam's "delight" (4.497) is surely sexual in some sense; he desires Eve, even if he is free of the "fierce desire" of Satan. Adam and Eve experience sexual pleasure, then, without any guilt. Is it wrong, then, to feel arousal watching the couple? Satan's desire seems wrong, but why? Is all voyeurism wrong? Is it it only wrong when your desire is "fierce"? But what does that mean? Can we, as readers/viewers, feel sympathetic delight with Adam and Eve's delight without any accompanying sexual feeling? Are we supposed to? And what are Milton's intentions in all this? We can probably agree that they probably aren't pornographic, in the sense that he's just trying to get us off. But there is a sexual intent of some sort, I think, and I don't think it's just an object lesson in fallen sexual desire. Sex in Eden doesn't seem entirely different from post-lapsarian sex. Eve's "coyness" (4.310) may be one of the words that Milton is using in a putatively pre-lapsarian sense, but her "sweet reluctant amorous delay" seems hard to read that way. She's playing with Adam, and that makes her ultimate submission all the sweeter. We're told there is no shame or guilt here, but there is certainly eroticism. And hasn't Eve naturally cottoned on to one of the basic principles of both erotica and pornography, that the ultimate fulillment of desire delayed is all the sweeter? Actually, isn't Adam at least temporarily in the position Satan is in, of watching that which excites him but which he cannot have? Adam gets the object of his desire almost immediately, but there is still a pause, while Eve holds off and he watches. And of course this mirrors the more disturbing first encounter of Adam and Eve, when she doesn't just delay but turns away, and he has to seize her. The topic of voyeurism is relevant here too, since Eve gazes on herself with "vain desire."
I've run on, so I'll stop for now.

On Wed, Jul 27, 2011 at 11:36 AM, richard strier <rastrier at uchicago.edu> wrote:
Dear James (if I may),

You are fighting a straw person.  No one thinks that PL and Debbie are the same
sort of work.  Debbie (which I think I once saw) is, if I recall correctly, a comic
treatment with a fair amount of rather soft-core porno.  But I may be mis-
remembering it, nor not remembering it at all.  I believe that it is not a serious
work of art of any kind, nor intended to be (though might be a sort of classic in
its genre).

The point, for me, is that there are places in PL where M creates the effect of
pornography, and knows he is doing it.  I believe you basically concede this in
the phrase, "except at rare moments."  The point, as I see it, is not to deny that
there are such moments, but to think about why they are there.

"half her swelling Breast / Naked met his"  -- this is right out of a bodice-
ripper, and Milton knows it (though he did not know about that exact genre).
The fact that it is poetry, and well written, only makes it sexier -- with the
enjambment and metrical reversal emphasizing "Naked."  The passage that we
have been discussing, where "libidinousness" is imagined and then denied, is
one where M is confronting the problem--one that he knows he has created.
And, to bring the discussion back to where (I believe) it began, a movie version
of PL that filmed the Eden scenes as Milton has written them would, I guarantee
you, be eagerly attended by every teenage boy in the country, even if he had to
listen to some poetry while watching it.  But this is not to in any way deny the
greatness of the poem; I think that M's willingness to move into this territory,
and knowingly so, is part of his imaginative courage.  I think the fact that in
some respects, and in some places, PL is a pornographic work is, in fact, part of
its greatness.

The "borderline" category is important, since the Supreme Court used to think
that there was a bright line-- which, of course, there isn't.  And I'm not
convinced that a work can't be pornographic in a much more sustained and
purposeful way than PL and still be a great work of literary or visual art.  The
case with regard to visual art is easy, so I'll take the harder route.  I'm not all
that knowledgeable in this field, but would say that, for instance, The Story of O
is a serious work of literature (and of pornography).

---- Original message ----
>Date: Wed, 27 Jul 2011 04:39:34 -0400
>From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu (on behalf of James Rovira
<jamesrovira at gmail.com>)
>Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Fallen vs. Unfallen Sex
>To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>   Carrol --
>   Thank you for the response.  Apparently I've had a
>   hard time communicating my main point, was that
>   there is a distinction between the erotic and the
>   pornographic, a distinction that Richard Strier
>   seemed to be erasing at one point in the discussion.
>    The pornographic is a species of the erotic, but
>   the concept of the erotic is not exhausted by the
>   concept of the pornographic.  Because I make this
>   distinction, I have argued that identifying the
>   pornographic with the erotic is reductive.  I
>   defined pornography as seeking only, or primarily,
>   to arouse sexual stimulation without attempting to
>   achieve any other effect.
>   Applying this distinction to PL, I never denied the
>   erotic in the poem.  I only denied that the erotic
>   in PL was pornograpghic.  It is too complex for
>   pornography and too unfocused on sex, except at rare
>   moments.  That is why I said that PL and Debbie
>   Does Dallas cannot be said to be attempting the same
>   effect.  Debbie Does Dallas is pornographic.  PL
>   is more than that.  I think it takes a seriously
>   dull sensibility to miss the difference.  I'm not
>   saying there aren't borderline works, just that
>   there is a distinction.  Discussions of Lucian
>   Freud and Mapplethorpe, on my end, have been
>   attemplts to refine the distinction and identify the
>   nature of some borderline works.
>   Jim R
>   On Wednesday, July 27, 2011, Carrol Cox
>   <cbcox at ilstu.edu> wrote:
>   > On 7/25/2011 3:25 PM, James Rovira wrote:
>   >
>   > " I don't see how PL and Debbie Does Dallas can be
>   said
>   > to be attempting to achieve the same effect.  I
>   don't see this claim
>   > as supporting any kind of dogmatism, but rather
>   trying to avoid
>   > reductionism in literary treatments of the
>   erotic."
>   >
>   > This raises problems with what we mean by
>   "erotic." If it (text, painting, what have you)
>   elicits no 'erotic' response from the reader/viewer,
>   can it be called erotic? And if it _does_ elicit an
>   erotic response, then there may still be a line
>   between Debbie & Eve -- but it's getting a bit iffy.
>   >
>   > Carrol
>Milton-L mailing list
>Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu
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Hannibal Hamlin
Associate Professor of English
Editor, Reformation
Co-curator, Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible
The Ohio State University
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