While writing my article 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 article: porn v. erotica.
For many, the topic of sex still remains a ‘forbidden text’ and I have noticed readers feel hesitant to make their comments on it. Those who are not hesitant have posted comments on my last article and I thank them for their responses. How societal we are!
Alan Moore: Comic Book Author or Pornographer?
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 Girls1 and in 2009 the novel has been released in book form1. 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”.2
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 Wonderland3, ‘Dorothy Gale’ from The Wizard of Oz 4, and ‘Wendy Darling’ from Peter Pan5. 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.
Moore on Porn
Alan Moore has described this work as ‘pornography.’ While talking to Kurt Amacker6, and Daniel Robert Epstein7, 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 8, 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.”
What’s In A Word?
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.’ 9 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.’
Nudity: What Is It, Really?
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. 10 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 are 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 phenomenon 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.
And In Closing...
It is interesting to note Radclyffe Hall’s Well of Loneliness11 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. 12
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.
1. "Lost Girls" is Alan Moore’s ambitious 280 page intellectual 'porn' (erotic or ‘porn’?) fantasy graphic novel, starring Wendy (of Peter Pan), Dorothy (of Wizard of Oz) and Alice (of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland). Illustrated by his girlfriend, underground artist Melinda Gebbie., published by Top Shelf Productions,2006, ISBN-13: 978-1891830747.
Generally feminists oppose pornography. But, interestingly enough, I haven’t read any criticism of Lost Girls from feminist’s pen.
2. Singer, Matt: “A talk with Lost Girls artist Melinda Gebbie”: The Village Voice ,alternative weekly of New York times since 1955, Tuesday, August 15th 2006
3. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) is a novel written by English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. It tells the story of a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit-hole into a fantasy world populated by peculiar and anthropomorphic creatures. (See: Carroll, Lewis: “Alice's Adventures in Wonderland” , published by HarperCollins, 1992, ISBN : 978-0688110871)
4. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a children's novel written by L. Frank Baum and illustrated by W.W. Denslow. It tells the adventures of a girl named Dorothy in the Land of Oz in the year 1889 .( See : Baum, L. Frank : “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, published by HarperCollins; 2000, ISBN-13: 978-0060293239
5. The book 'Peter Pan' by J. M. Barrie is a truly a children book worth reading for adults. Peter Pan was a mischievous boy who can fly and magically refuses to grow up, spends his never-ending childhood adventuring on the small island of Never Land. Wendy was his girl friend. The novel was first published in 1902. (See: Barrie, J. M.: 'Peter Pan', published by Harper Festival, 2003, ISBN-13: 978-0060563073)
6. The interview appeared in Online Magazine “Mania” on April 12, 2006.
7. The interview appeared in Online magazine “Majory.Com” on Jun 7, 2006.
8. The interview appeared in Online magazine “Forbidden Planet” on June 13th, 2008.
9. Ross,Chad : “Naked Germany: Health, Race, and the Nation” published by Berg Publishers, New York, 2005, ISBN 978-1-85973-866-5.
10. The nude picture of the editor Saroj Bal was appeared in the Oriya Magazine “Galpa Patrika” in its 2006 Puja Special issue.
11. Hall, Radclyffe : The Well of Loneliness ,published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, reprent publication 1990, pp .437, ISBN-13: 9780385416092
12. When the English writer Radclyffe Hall's (1880-1943) book, The Well of Loneliness, was published in London, even though the book lacked a single sex scene authorities declared it obscene and seized it. In a New York court, the presiding judge ruled that the book "tends to debauch public morals," and found the publisher guilty, but on appeal, the charge was dismissed.
Causes Sarojini Sahoo Supports
Human Rights Commission ,