Saturday, January 24, 2009



Stealing of the Gopis’ clothing by Lord Krishna : A 19th Century wood cut art )

Forbidden Desires

While writing my last blog on Kafka’s book, my American poet /painter friend Ed.Baker advised me not to use the word ‘porn’ but to use ‘erotica’ instead. So this will be the theme of this blog: porn v. erotica.

For many, the topic of sex still remains a ‘forbidden text’ and I have noticed readers feel hesitant to post their comments on it. Those who are not hesitant have posted comments on my last blog and I thank them for their responses. How societal we are!

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Alan Moore: Comic Book Author or Pornographer?

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British writer Alan Moore (born November 18, 1953) is one of the most critically acclaimed authors in the field of comic books. Besides his novel Voice of the Fire, Moore has written comic books like Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and From Hell. He brings a wide range of influences among other writers. In his student life, Moore was expelled from school for dealing LSD. He wrote and drew underground-style strips for music magazines, including Sounds and the NME. Under the pseudonyms Curt Vile and Jill de Ray (an alternative spelling of the serial killer Gilles de Rais), he began a weekly strip, “Maxwell the Magic Cat,” for the Northants Post newspaper.

In 2006, he published an eight-page article tracing out the history of pornography and argued that a society's vibrancy and success are related to its permissiveness in sexual matters. In 1992-93, he published few chapters of his novel Lost Girls and in 2009 the novel has been released in book form. It is a graphic novel, which includes some graphic presentations of Moore’s girlfriend Melinda Gebbie.

Gebbie, a graphic designer and Moore’s girlfriend told, in an interview with Matt Singer, that “this was going to be pornography for women or it wasn't worth doing. Women like a sense of aesthetics in pornography. They don't like looking at females who are cold and abused and unhappy. That's what they see looking at them from just about every porn image ”

Lost Girls describes the sexual fantasies of three important female fictional characters of the late 19th and early 20th century: ‘Alice’ from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, ‘Dorothy Gale’ from The Wizard of Oz, and ‘Wendy Darling’ from Peter Pan. The three women are separately on holiday at an expensive mountain resort hotel in Austria on the eve of World War I (1913–1914). Alice is now a grey-haired old woman named "Lady Fairchild." Dorothy is now in her 20s. And Wendy is in her 30s and married to a man named Harold Potter who is 20 years her senior. The women meet by chance and begin to exchange erotic stories from their pasts.

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Moore on Porn

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Alan Moore has described this work as ‘pornography.’ While talking to Kurt Amacker , and Daniel Robert Epstein , he never uttered the word ‘erotica’ but always claimed the novel as ‘pornography’ or ‘sex comedy.’

And in an interview with Noel Murray, the author further related “though probably the Victorian erotica played a bigger part than the estimable Robert Crumb. I looked at a relatively small amount of contemporary erotica and found that it didn't really appeal. None of the filmed or photographic material did anything for me because there's such a lot of emotional human baggage that comes with anything that involves real models, real actors. You're too aware that this is somebody real, and that they might not have actually wanted to do this for a living. There's an air of disappointment or sadness that hangs over the material. So I tended to gravitate toward literary and artistic pornography of the Victorian and Edwardian period, simply because it's a lot better. It was a kind of golden age of porn.”

In that interview with Kurt Amacker, the author said, “I know that there has been sort of an argument that, 'Oh, well, pornography causes rape' because most rapists have read pornography at some point in their lives. I should imagine that they've also drunk milk. But, whether there's a direct connection, I doubt it. And it has to be said that in countries where they have a more liberal approach to pornography, such as Denmark or Holland, that they have far, far less raped and murdered children thrown into the canal as we do over here in England.”

And in an interview with Pádraig Ó Méalóid, the author said, “If we’d have come out and said, 'well, this is a work of art,' they would have probably all said, 'no it's not; it's pornography.' So because we're saying, 'this is pornography,' they're saying, 'no it's not; it's art,' and people don't realise quite what they've said.”

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What’s In A Word?

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What then, is the difference between ‘erotica’ and ‘porn?’ This question has been discussed many times, and still had never been completely answered. A majority of the people, though, still consider either erotica or porn as their ‘private matter’ and show reluctance to make it ‘social’ subject.

When the’ Nudist movement’ started in Germany in the early twentieth century, it was advocated that that it was associated with the concepts of ‘returning to nature’ and ‘creating equality.’ That idea of naturalism in nudity later spread to England, Canada, the United States, and beyond where a network of clubs developed. Now clothes-free beaches and other types of anonymous nudist activities have been adopted by many with an idea to promote ‘tourist naturism.’

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Nudity: What Is It, Really?

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For centuries, nudity has been one of the most common art subjects. In art, being naked and nudity are not same. It is interesting to note that in all our art forms, only female nudity and never masculine nudity has been considered as any form of artistic milieu. A few years back, Saroj Bal, an Oriya writer and editor published his own nude picture in a self-edited magazine in India and it created controversy. So, it cannot be denied that there seems to be an automatic association with the current concept of nudity in art and patriarchal values.

But in ancient art forms, especially in Greek art and in Hindu sculptures found on temple walls, we find masculine nudity to be a common feature. But still the question remained unsolved: What is the difference between the artistic nude and someone being naked? Can we count a Playboy centerfold as a nude or a painting of Aphrodite as naked? I think an artistic nude is a portrait of someone who is untouchable and unattainable. And for this reason, pictures of naked Greek gods and goddesses or Hindu sculpture on temple walls are not counted under the guise of naked portraiture. That means nudity is a far away concept from our lives, as conventional patriarchal society has adopted and fixed it as a universal norm.

Someone once wrote (I forgot who) that most of the time, ‘erotica’ has explicit sex scenes and portrays sex in a positive light. For us, we want erotica that is story-driven, although the story doesn't necessarily have to be a romance. Sex must be in a positive light and between consenting adults. Porn isn't about being sensual nor is it erotic. On the contrary, ‘porn’ is all about instant, sexual gratification and is often derogatory and demeaning toward women.

But defining these differences remains difficult.What will be the criteria to decide the ‘positive light?’ Subjective attitudes make it more complicated. Why won’t we refer to Kama Sutra as porn rather than erotica when there is no dealings with the human heart and soul in the text? In that historically wide accepted book Vatsayan, the author has divided women in four groups with respect to sexuality. Why doesn’t the author categorize men with their sexuality? Where do we find ‘sexual gratification’ towards woman?

There are many examples in our myths where we find erotica is placed on the same plane with spiritualism. Lord Krishna is considered as one of the incarnation of Lord Vishnu. In Bhagwat Purana, the Lord Krishna had stolen the clothes of the Gopis (the women of Gopa Pura) while they were bathing at the river Yamuna, leaving them naked. This stealing of the Gopis’ clothing is treated as a highly devotional phenomena and inspired many of the medieval poets of Bhakti Yuga. Krishna had also performed Rasa Lila or cosmic dances with 16,000 Gopis, making love to each of the women individually. Never any days these activities are treated as ‘porno’ in Hindu society. But Hindu society shows its reluctant intolerance towards modern erotica. I think this is the most amazing contradiction of our time.

If I have to admire the Shringar poems of medieval Hindu poets, I will appreciate Jaydev even more because in no sense did he paint sexuality with gender inclination. He painted the lust, the passion, and the love of both male and female. And he was not afraid to write a masculine character, Krishna, saying to his love fiancé Radha, “Dehi pada pallav mudaram (your foot on my head – a sublime flower destroying the poison of love).” I can say this one may be erotic as here, we find some how the masculine dominancy over human love is denied.

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And In Closing...

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It is interesting to note Radclyffe Hall’s Well of Loneliness has been declared as obscene and pornographic. I have never found any sexually explicit descriptions or the so-called ‘obscene words’ in that book. Nowadays, it is unbelievable to think that 80-90 years ago, the author was taken to court.

I am never a supporter of ‘porno’ and I always believe that it makes woman a ‘product’ always associated with male-dominant consumerism. But it is also true that every sexually explicit topic is not ‘porno.’ I would be happier if Alan Moore would have used the word ‘erotica’ instead of ‘porno’ for his novel Lost Girls.

11 comments:

  1. Excellent analysis...we often trivialize "porno", but it's implications in a male dominated society are astounding. Splendid analysis.

    Ever Yours,
    Clayrn Darrow
    M.IV (http://clayrndarrow.blogspot.com/)
    (Guise.Flos@gmail.com)

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  2. Aesthetics is the guiding principle in separating the general connotation of the words "porn" and "erotica" as has been stressed.

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  3. Hello! Sarojini, It is good idea. you better follow his suggestions. Erotica is not obscene word. It describes lust and passion in one word.

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  4. yashodhara mishra9:02 PM

    Recently I was passing through a tribal region of India where I saw a young girl feeding her child – a toddler – with her breasts completely bared, while chatting merrily with two other girls. She was in the bustle of a village market place and people seemed to accept the girl’s near nudity as part of routine life. I am sure there many other regions in the world even today where nudity has nothing to do with erotica. Nudity, among other things, may be linked to geographical climate and cultural conditioning of the people.
    yashodhara mishra

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  5. Dinesh Kumar Mali5:34 PM

    THE SUBJECT OF THE BLOG ‘PORN VS EROTICA’.

    It is only the mind status which categories differentiation between “Porn v/s Erotica”. The meaning of ‘Porn’ means sex comedy whereas the meaning of ‘Erotica’ means any event, eventuality, character or instrument including literature that is used for arousal of sex-desire. The Novel ( The Lost Girl) written by British writer ‘Alan Moore’ made a subject of debate that the either this novel is a pornography or Erotica? Most of Critics such as Kurt Amackar, Daniel Robert Epstein had described this work as pornography means full of sex-comedy, contained nothing that arouse sex-desire.
    If we discuss about the difference between, Porn vs Erotica, it is very difficult to reach at concrete conclusion. Because these words are related to sex at full extent which is purely a private matter to talk over. Till date this subject is a taboo inviting social stigma specially ,in Indian context. As Sarojini Sahoo already illustrated that ‘Saroj Bal’ an Oriya writer and Editor become a matter of controversy on publication of a nude picture in his self edited magazine. The masculine nudity is unacceptable till today . But if we look into our past “the nudity in art” was most significantly reflected in ‘Khajuraho’ and ‘Konark’ viz. very famous Hindu sculptures. The naked idols in different poses of ‘Kama Sutra’ inscribed on temple’s of outer wall elaborating , a God seeking person had to make a parikarma circumambulate to see all these idols means he has to pass through initially utmost sex gratification, afterward he would become a eligible candidate for “Self-Realisation”viz he would entitled to make Darshan of God inside the temple. (“Sambhog se Samadhi ki Aur” by OSHO). Western Psychoanalyst Sigmond Fried analysed that sex was the nuclei of all worldly activities . A nascent child has an erotica sense which is observed by his sucking tendency of thumb in his mouth. Sigmond Fried gave an example in his book “Analysis of Dream” that once when he was an adolescent , he peeped his mother, through a hole, taking bath in bathroom. Immediately he was sexually aroused. It is an example of erotica.

    Similarly, in Arabian Country people became enough amorous when they saw a toe of burka cladding girls passing through streets or nearby . In modern time, most of TV channels are “pot-pouris” for exhibition of naked body of women. But no erotica is felt . “The more hidden, the more eagerness” is developed. Bhagbat Puran replicated that lord Krishna had stolen the cloth of Gopis when they were bathing in Jamuna living them naked. ‘Krishna’ had perform raslila with sixteen thousand Gopis , making love with each of the women. It was indeed a divine love. Whereas, for an ordinary man, it is impossible to perform such amorous and abhorrent work. The love of Krishna was not taken as “Porn or Erotica” but it was termed as a means of bhaktiyog stated from sex to super consciousness or from ‘Kam to Ram’ (“Sobhog se Samadhi ke aur” by OSHO).
    I agreed with Sarojini Sahoo about the narration of masculinity and feminism love adored in ‘Geet Govind’. The medieval Hindu poet was so bold to focus towards lust, passion and love in sense of super consciousness. Osho syntaxed the word “Bhagwan”( Bhag = Genital organ of a woman’ Wan= Genital organ of a man). Hence when both the genital organs consorted , copulated or added in each other , ‘Bhagwan’ is created. Similarly the concept of “Shivlingam” is also a symbolic reflection of penetration of Lingam of Lord Shiva into the vagina of Goddess ‘Parvati’. Again, It is a symbolic presentation creation of universe. Hence Hinduism had never taken any obscenity, pornography or eroticisms. Hence to consider any thing porno or erotica is a matter of Human brain analysis .
    Most of modern business groups have represented the forbidden feelings of human beings as a market tool to sell sex or porno as a product of their Company. Many advertisements in news paper or in Television, publication of many pornographic books such as ‘Debonair’, ‘Fantasy’ etc. are example of the product.
    ‘Vatsayana’ writer of Kamasutra had not referred his book as pornographic or erotica. But it is widely accepted book with reference to sexuality. In accordance with the sexuality aspects he made
    ‘Division of men’ as (1) Ashwa (The Horse), (2) Bhrusabha (The Ox), (3) Mriga (The Deer), (4) Sasaka (The Rabbit) and division of women, in similar manner as (1) Padmini (The Lotus )(2) Sankhani(The conch ), (3) Hastini(The elephenta ), (4) Chitrani in addition to type of kisses, poses and position of sex, concept of venom-girls, the method of selection of men & women for utmost sexual-gratification , preventive measures to avoid killer girls and from organic disease such as HIV etc.

    DINESH KUMAR MALI

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  6. Gopa Nayak5:50 PM

    As you yourself said What is in a word? Depends on many things.
    Undeniably sex is an important part of a human being's life. How and
    in what way and shape it is gratified remains personal and how it is
    painted remains a matter of putting words on reality. There in lies
    the genious- the writer or maybe the poet

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  7. i agree with u!
    IMHO the line dividing erotica from porn is too fine, almost imperceptible. But i also believe that both of them are opposite extremes of the spectrum of sexuality and sexual expression. Erotica for me is artistic representation of sexual expression, its appeal essentially lies beyond the physical percepts, rising almost to the level of spiritualism. Porn is something without art, it can be seen as the expression as well as gratification that is purely physical and animalistic, it lacks sensuality or pleasure of the mind in any way. It is derogatory to not just women but to humanity as well. Thus if eroticism and porn are two extremes of a spectrum, most of the works lie in between; in the grey zone. As someone (American judge?) said, one knows porn when one comes across it.

    Maam, i came across ur blog while looking for opinion of emminent Indian feminists on the farce going in Banglore. But i must apologize beforehand for having mentioned u in my blog without knowing ur locus standi on the issue. Please share ur view, my blog can be found here http://xpensieve.blogspot.com

    Btw, im using the same blogger template as u r :)

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  8. the only purpose for considering sex at all is its relationship to procreation...otherwise we are dealing with absurd fantasy

    children with too much time on their hands
    and in their groins

    who parades human decadence around as it it were virtue?

    o it's fun
    but not very interesting

    j

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  9. Anonymous11:06 AM

    Iamnot worried aboutthe sexual behaviour of adults. BUt what to speak of the children and adolscents of indian society ?
    Could theybe allowed to open sex ?
    This need to be discussed. Feminism is a concept that has emerged from westerndiscourse. Would this be applied to the traditional south eastasian societies?

    mkm

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  10. Anonymous2:13 AM

    First of all, there is plenty of pornography out there that doesn‘t degrade women. Gay porn (enjoyed by a surprising number of straight women) comes to mind, no pun intended.

    In your post, you discuss three different levels of undressed humans in art (film, photography, paintings, sculpture, literature... origami, pinatas, whatever. Art); the artistic nude, erotica, and pornography.

    The artistic nude is non-sexual and non-sensual. You are meant to look on it and admire the beauty of the human form, not The Thinker's ass or David's toned thighs or Aphrodite's rack. The piece does not draw the viewer in; you (the general you) are not welcome to think of these sculptures as something human, something obtainable.

    Which you said, but then you called it erotica. Erotica requires something more than mere nudity; like pornography, it requires intent. Erotica gets you hot, pornography gets you off.

    Erotica is a part of the larger story or larger artwork, but nevertheless it's undeniably sexy, sensual. Gives you a little tingle, you think about it later. There are other things going on than sex or sensuality... possibly more important things, possibly just to create a framework for the sexy parts of the story.

    In pornography, the point is the sex. If there is a story, it's minimal; “You don't have enough money to pay for this pizza? Well, I'm sure you can pay me SOMEhow.” Who these people are, their goals, their personalities, are not important. All that's important is skin-on-skin, the viewer drawn into a private, if implausible, moment.

    ... Except the line can blur in the case of written pornography, where you can't see the characters and think 'yes, they are sexy.' At least one of the people involved has to be a person, because otherwise the reader can't connect and it starts to read like an instruction manual. (Thus why the Kama Sutra is not considered pornography; it's a book of techniques. Reading the Kama Sutra to get off is like reading a cookbook for dinner.) Written porn, on the other hand, requires character-- maybe not character development, but more dimension than filmed porn requires.

    I have read The Lost Girls, and it was pornography. I actually wasn't turned on by it; I was more interested in the characters' personal stories than what they were doing with each other, the help, or an intriguing assortment of props. This is in part because Alan Moore is a master storyteller who knows how to take familiar source material and bend it into a shape you would never expect and in part because, as a straight woman, I'm just not all that into lesbian porn… and there was a LOT of it.

    And it was definitely porn. The focus of the story was sex; the sex Alice, Wendy, and Dorothy were having, the sex they'd had in the past, the sex they put off having as long as they could, the sex they could have in the future-- never the sex they could have had but didn't, because there wasn't any of that-- while their lives were sketched in around it. There was no part of the story untouched by sex-- not even the start of World War I went by without a little bit of steam, if not outright smut, attached to it. The leads are shaped almost entirely by sex; Alice was sexually abused for most of her life; Wendy, as an adolescent girl, fended off a sexual predator by shaming him, Dorothy struggled with but eventually gave into incestuous urges.

    The Lost Girls is art. It's beautifully illustrated, very much in keeping with the period. As a narrative, as an illustrative work, and as a glimpse into the lives of three fictional Edwardian women, The Lost Girls does indeed have artistic merit.

    But it's porn, too.

    And as it turns out, there's nothing wrong with that.

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