Wrestling with Porn: @_Monocle_ ‘s subversion of Barthes.

Raziel Moore offers a rather remarkable re-reading of Roland Barthes’ ‘The World of Wrestling’ essay, in his ‘Mythologies’ collection. It’s an incredibly fertile act of paraphrase and refocus: “In the Scene”.

“The virtue of pornography is to be a spectacle of excess…

Some people consider that pornography is an ignoble art. Pornography is not a sport, it is a spectacle, and it is no more ignoble to watch or read a coupling performance of Pleasure than a performance of Burlesque at the Moulin Rouge. Of course, there is such a thing as fake, plastic pornography, which goes to great lengths to produce the useless appearances of a fair fuck.”

Although exceedingly readable on its own, reading it against the original essay only serves to enhance the irony and the robust challenge to our casual understanding of mythological narrative structure.

Barthes’ essay, subverted in this way, powerfully echoes Angela Carter’s framing of pornography in her opening essay in The Sadeian Woman, “Polemical Preface: Pornography in the Service of Women” .

The notion of a universality of human experience is a confidence trick and the notion of a universality of female experience is a clever confidence trick. Pornography, like marriage, and the fictions of romantic love, assists the process of false universalising. Its excesses belong to that timeless, locationless area outside history, outside geography, where fascist art is born.

Nevertheless, there is no question of an aesthetics of pornography. It can never be art for art’s sake. Honourably enough, it is always art with work to do. Pornographic literature, the specific area of pornography with which we are going to deal, has several functions. On one level, and a level which should not be despised, it might serve as an instruction manual for the inexperienced. But our culture, with its metaphysics of sexuality, relegates the descriptions of the mechanics of sex to crude functionalism; in the sex textbook, intercourse also takes place in a void. So pornography’s principal and most humanly significant function is that of arousing sexual excitement. It does this by ignoring the first function; it usually describes the sexual act not in explicit terms – for that might make it seem frightening – but in purely inviting terms.

The function of plot in a pornographic narrative is always the same. It exists purely to provide as many opportunities as possible for the sexual act to take place. There is no room here for tension or the unexpected. We know what is going to happen; that is why we are reading the book. Characterisation is necessarily limited by the formal necessity for the actors to fuck as frequently and as ingeniously as possible. But they do not do so because they are continually consumed by desire; the free expression of desire is as alien to pornography as it is to marriage. In pornography, both men and women fuck because to fuck is their raison d’etre.

It is their life work.

http://www.remittancegirl.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/The-World-of-Wrestling-Barthes.pdf You can download the Barthes' essay here http://www.remittancegirl.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/The-World-of-Wrestling-Barthes.pdf

The World of Wrestling – Barthes

5 Thoughts on “Wrestling with Porn: @_Monocle_ ‘s subversion of Barthes.

  1. “Nevertheless, there is no question of an aesthetics of pornography. It can never be art for art’s sake.”

    That’s predicated on the belief that any portrayal of sex can’t be art for art’s sake and that statement may reveal more about Angela Carter’s own sexual predilections than anything intrinsic to “pornography”. According to Carter, the following:

    is not art for art’s sake, but the earliest known (recently discovered) example of pornography, called the Kangjiashimenji Petroglyphs. I’m guessing that the individuals who created this petroglyph might beg to differ. Then again, maybe Carter would opt to split hairs and draw distinctions between pornography and “pornography”, but then that runs ground when the context of time and culture come into play.

    “Honourably enough, it is always art with work to do. Pornographic literature, the specific area of pornography with which we are going to deal, has several functions. ”

    There’s no such thing as “pornographic literature”. Pornography involves the graphic depiction of sex. Erotic literature just doesn’t do that. What bugs me about Carter’s usage is that it allows academics and critics to discuss erotica without truly identifying what it is.

    “The function of plot in a pornographic narrative…”

    There she does it again. Since this is only the outset of a much longer essay, I can only hope that she’s going to make a distinction between what she calls “pornographic narrative” and erotica.

    • Hi Will,

      Well, I probably did her an injustice by just quoting that particular portion of the text. Her polemic is a very robust defense of de Sade. She actually believed very deeply that certain portrayals of sex are indeed art for art’s sake and she produced quite a number of them herself. Specifically, read her anthology ‘The Bloody Chamber’.

      I think she would argue that we simply cannot know what purpose the Kangjiashimenji Petroglyphs served in the context of their culture – and it would be academically irresponsible to speculate – but we know what function of ‘pornography’ serves in ours.

      One of the very fundamental problems is terminology. Carter strongly defended explicit writing. What she objected to was generalization (as opposed to the telling of individualistic experience), decontextualization (there’s quite a long passage where she talks about how ‘pornography’ takes sex and the people who have it out of place and time, whereas she argues that people come to bed dragging their history, gender, race, etc. with them and that this is an intrinsic part of the humanized sexual context), and the superficial appearance of transgression which is, in reality, a sideways wink at the hegemonic order of things.

      She felt that de Sade was truly revolutionary in that his work exposed and metaphorized the outrageous hypocrisy at play in his time, and especially in his class.

      I’ll email you her essay, if you’d like.

  2. I think I’d be interested in the “how ‘pornography’ takes sex and the people who have it out of place and time, whereas she argues that people come to bed dragging their history, gender, race, etc. with them” portion at the very least. In part because I agree with it. And in part because it sort of demonstrates one of the real separations between sex and erotica. Because even though erotic literature is truer to the way real people interact up until, and even partway through the act of sex, there comes a point in _actual_ sex where place and time lose meaning, ironically (though superficially) making it more similar to pornography.

    • Because pornography is decontextualized spectacle, as your paraphrased essay so aptly points out. The lived experience of sex involves whole people with histories rather than caricatures in a passion play.

    • Well, hmmm. I think your paraphrased essay addresses that completely. Spectacle DOES take people out of place and time. In authentic lived experience, that’s impossible without psychopathy or at least rohypnol. And agreed, there is a moment – usually at the point of or near orgasm when you are consciously unaware of those contextual elements, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t constituted the person that you are at that point of deindividuation

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