The Pornographic Imagination  

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"Human sexuality is, quite apart from Christian repressions, a highly questionable phenomenon, and belongs, at least potentially, among the extreme rather than the ordinary experiences of humanity. Tamed as it may be, sexuality remains one of the demonic forces in human consciousness - pushing us at intervals close to taboo and dangerous desires, which range from the impulse to commit sudden arbitrary violence upon another person to the voluptuous yearning for the extinction of one's consciousness, for death itself."


"Not only do Pierre Louys' Trois filles de leur mère, George Bataille's Histoire de l'Oeil and Madame Edwarda, the pseudonymous Story of O and The Image belong to literature, but it can be made clear why these books, all five of them, occupy a much higher rank as literature than Candy or Oscar Wilde's Teleny or the Earl of Rochester's Sodom or Appolinaire's The Debauched Hospodar or Cleland's Fanny Hill."

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Pornographic Imagination (1967) is a nobrow essay by Susan Sontag first published in the Partisan Review of spring. It was collected in Styles of Radical Will.

The subject is erotic literature and Sontag contends that five French literary works are not 'just' pornography but literary fiction and thus genuine literature.

Her 'case' is based on these five novels:

Although the term paraliterature had not been coined at the time of its writing (we have to wait 17 years for Fredric Jameson to do that), the connection between science fiction and erotic fiction makes this essay one of the first defenses of the nobrow or paraliterary category.

Bataille understood more clearly than any other writer

One reason that Histoire de l'oeil and Madame Edwarda make such a strong and unsettling impression is that Bataille understood more clearly than any other writer I know of that what pornography is really about, ultimately, isn't sex but death. I am not suggesting that every pornographic work speaks, either overtly or covertly, of death. Only works dealing with that specific and sharpest inflection of the themes of lust, "the obscene," do. It's toward the gratifications of death, succeeding and surpassing those of eros, that every truly obscene quest tends. -- p. 60, Picador USA




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Pornographic Imagination" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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