The “Public Circulation of Women”:Nineteenth-Century Photographic Pornography Leigh Gruwell April 28, 2011
My starting points What kind of public is called into being through pornography? Why do notions of public and private break down around pornography? How does the materiality of pornography mediate the body?
What I’m DoingIf, as Warner suggests, texts are constitutive of publics, it’s worth tracing theorigins of photographic pornography in order to understand exactly what kindof public pornography creates. More specifically, I’d like to focus on how theemergence of photographic pornography in the nineteenth century coincidedwith dramatic shifts in conceptions of public and private life. I have found little work on the ways in which photographic pornographyfunctioned at its conception in the nineteenth century. This project, then, willturn a much-needed eye to the visual in attempt to understand howpornography functioned as a world-making text in the century that changed ourvery conceptions of public and private.
Pornography “Pornography (or “porn”) usually refers to representations designed to arouse and give sexual pleasure to those who read, see, hear, or handle them” (Slade 3).History “Obscenity” or “erotica” has always been around--but only made it into certain hands. “Pornography” is a relatively modern invention. First OED definition of pornography from an 1857 medical dictionary: “a description of prostitutes or prostitution, as a matter of public hygiene” (qtd. in Kendrick 1). Pornography has always been tied to issues of control.Feminist Arguments “In our society, a woman on view means ‘sex’...this historical social subordination of women to the status of ‘sex’ as a gender ensures the cultural meaning of a woman’s body as ‘sex’, ensures the objectification of women in representation” (Kappeler 93).
Why the Nineteenth Century? New social structures (publics) growth of middle class privileging of heterosexual family structure New technologies (texts) of representation (photography) of circulation (transportation)
Photography First daguerreotype: 1839 Seen as a method for objective documentation of reality rather than an art form (Marien 74). A way to classify and control subjects Photographic pornography didn’t become popular until the 1860s. Immediacy of medium: “Erotic photographs provided a unique kind of visceral, direct satisfaction for viewers, by conveying an immediacy that cheap yellow-covered novels and flash crime papers could not” (Dennis 202-3). Accessibility of medium: “Because erotic photographs often sold for a quarter or less, they were much more accessible than fancy books with explicit engravings. Even illiterate consumers and poor people who could not afford to purchase photographs themselves might experience such items by seeing them on display in a shop, being peddled on a street corner, or tucked into the knapsack of a fellow soldier” (Dennis 203).
Sexuality (a la Foucault’s History of Sexuality) Heteronormativity’s nineteenth century roots: “The discursive explosion of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries” caused “a centrifugal movement with respect to heterosexual monogamy” (38). Heterosexual families became the norm, and initiated “the setting apart of the ‘unnatural’ as a specific dimension in the field of sexuality” (39). Thus, those who deviate from the norm are othered, or even labeled as perverse. What’s more, individual identity becomes inseparable from sexuality. “The machinery of power that focused on this whole alien strain [sexuality] did not aim to suppress it, but rather to give it an analytical, visible, and permanent reality: it was implanted in bodies, slipped in beneath modes of conduct, made into a principle of classification and intelligibility, established as a raison d’etre and a natural order of disorder” (44). Sexuality was an integral element of nineteenth-century culture: “[Nineteenth-century bourgeois society] did not exclude sexuality; but included it in the body as a mode of specification of individuals...It did not set up a barrier; it provided places of maximum saturation” (47). “[Sexuality] appears rather as an especially dense transfer point for relations of power” (103).
Connections, Implications, Questions What kind of public does pornography call into being? One that is problematic for women: “...the continued attempts to regulate pornography are just one example of how women get connected to a private sphere that needs to be protected from explicit sexual representations, where we are positioned as victims or moral regulators” (Juffer 4). One that is transgressive: “Obscenity incorporates transgression and taboo, the violation of boundaries, the exceeding of subconsciously consensual limits” (Caputi 5). One that is both powerful and contested: “These private/public debates point to--without often developing--the importance of access; that is, we must consider the history of pornography in this country as not only a battle over representation but also a battle for access to the specific spaces where those representations occur” (Juffer 36). How does photography mediate the (female) body in pornography? Questions of power emerge that return back to feminist critiques of pornography: “But there is power, also, on the side of the subject of representation: the producer of pornography, and the consumer of pornography- the author and the reader. And there is powerlessness embodied in the class or gender being represented without access to the means of production of representation” (Kappeler 93).
References Caputi, Mary. Voluptuous Yearnings. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1994. Print Dennis, Donna. Licentious Gotham. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2009. Print. Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage, 1990. Print. Juffer, Jane. At Home With Pornography. New York: New York UP, 1998. Print. Kappeler, Susanne. “Pornography: The Representation of Power.” Pornography: Women, Violence, and Civil Liberties. Ed. Catherine Itzin. New York: Oxford UP, 1992: 88-101. Print. Kendrick Walter. The Secret Museum. New York: Viking, 1987. Print. Marien, Mary Warner. Photography: A Cultural History. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002. Print. Slade, Joseph W. Pornography in America: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2000. Print.