[Milton-L] Debbie does Eden

rabowitz rabowitz at aol.com
Wed Jul 27 20:39:50 EDT 2011

"(1) what (if anything) distinguishes pornography from eroticism, and (2) whether pornography is an art."

Nothing distinguishes pornography from eroticism. and, there is no meaningful answer to the question of if pornography is art---- unless a jury is being asked for a trial verdict.  I don't mean to be flip but this must be true for all time periods. Add to that: the most extreme and clearly "pornographic" material is also the least likely to have any arousal or erotic appeal to the overwhelming majority of people. To try to define any criteria to separate into categories porn, erotic and art becomes a hopeless project.

Let's take child porn since that should be a perfect example of clear porn that can neither be erotic nor artistic. Of course, it certainly could not be judged pornographic if the standard is does it stimulate a viewer sexually because that will not be the case for almost every viewer who will instead feel disgust. Child porn only has that erotic impact on pedophiles. 

To drill down on a contemporary writer. If we read Guy Davenport,  we can fairly note that he is a brilliant writer, sharp critic and unique essayist.  His poems aren't too shabby either. And, yet, if anyone tells me they love Guy Davenport's writing, I have to wonder if they admire those learned qualities, the great prose, etc or if they are instead enraptured by the omnipresent boys in boxer shorts with men touching them in relationships that make his writing hard for me to get through. It would seem impossible and undesirable to draft a distinction that allows Davenport to be the erotic pedophile whereas more crass efforts are the pornographic pedophile. People who are not pedophiles will be appalled by either. Davenport does have a McCarthur Award and Paris Review interview and all of the other standards of being a serious literary artist, and plenty of people including me think his writing is art. But if you are going claim to condemn sexual depictions of children as pornographic, which I think most of us do, then Davenport's books have to be called out as porn. So, I guess what I am saying is that even pornography that is art does not stop being pornography. And, since porn is audience specific, there is no erotic impact on any viewer who does not share the specific sexual proclivities depicted. Even things like context and frame of mind alter the boundaries between erotic, pornographic and art.   Imagine the Psalms read by someone as erotic poetry not knowing their origin from the bible. That person probably would never guess the poems are widely interpreted by readers as a religious text of devotion. 

Back to Milton: I am not an expert on Milton's vision issues, but even if he could get access to all the porn of his time,  could he have viewed it with his eyesight? Or if it was smut prose would he dare ask someone to read him a pornographic text? Yrs., Richard

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