Pornography or Gynaecology?

[Miss Snow is commenting on the use of the word "clinical" to describe bongo pornography]

"Clinical". It is an interesting word and one that has cropped up more than once in descriptions of late 20th century "erotica". More than ten years ago I had occasion to see a "mainstream" men's magazine, and the gynaecological nature of the photographs was such that I thought at the time they could not go much further in "revealing" photography without recourse to obstetric instruments. Curiously enough, such instruments have not (to my knowledge) been widely employed in subsequent pornographic photography. Even the bad taste of Johnny Bongo and his Freudian ignorance of the true nature of erotic desire have not gone so far as to foster the illusion that such methods would get him closer to the True Object of his desire. Beyond the shaving craze, there has been no real progress toward greater "revelation". After all, even ten years ago, there was nothing much left to reveal.

The whole rather dismal business is based on the "onion-skin" fallacy of Freudian reductionism. The modern attitude to sex and pornography is like that of a man with an onion who imagines that by stripping off layer after layer he is discarding the "coverings" that stand in his way and getting ever closer to the "real onion". Of course, when he has finished his greedy process of stripping away the unnecessary and getting at the thing he really wants, what he has left in his hand is precisely what he deserves to have. Nothing.

That "real onion" was a fallacy from the start, just like the notion that all erotic desire can be reduced to the physical, the animal, the clinical and ultimately (and this is no more than the logical conclusion of the entire modern attitude to "sex") the gynaecological. The onion, of course, existed in every layer, and with each one stripped away there was less onion.

Likewise eroticism exists in the aesthetic and the imaginative, the spiritual and the whimsical just as much as in the physical. The idea that "it all boils down to sex" (i.e. physical copulation and gynaecological detail) is the grossest of masculine fallacies. Eroticism exists in a smile, a voice, a frill of lace; in the profound mystery and absolute otherness of femininity in a masculine society, which has been wished away by modern dogma. The idea that you can capture the essence of femininity by sticking a camera into a woman's privates is as gross as the idea that you can destroy it by making her an "equal member of the workforce". Both come from the same root, and both are part of the masculine malaise that is choking off the stream of life from post-'60s civilisation.

Oh! I didn't realise you were looking!The two fallacies feed each other and depend on each other. If (as we are told by the propaganda services day and night) there is no such thing as the mysterious and thrilling quality called femininity which makes woman psychically, spiritually and mentally a different creature from man; then there is only brute physical femaleness, and only there can we look for the feminine essence we as individuals and our world as a whole so desperately require. The "men's magazines", ugly as they are, pathetic as they are, only take the dogma of the entire post-feminist society to its logical conclusion.

The onion analogy is perfect in its way, but there is another which may make the matter clearer. This style of photography may be likened to an aged connoisseur of art who, in his senility, develops a desire to get closer to his paintings. He no longer cares what they represent in terms of light and shade, far less in terms of thought and ideal. Now he only wants to get at the "real thing", the "picture itself". He wants to rub his nose in the canvas and lick the paints until they dissolve in his mouth. He wants to set aside "airy fairy" concepts of vision and imagination and wallow in the real, the ultimate, the physical nature of his pictures.

But paintings, of course, are not primarily physical objects. They are primarily visions, imaginative experiences, profundities of thought and nuances of sensibility, expressed in a small collection of matter. Nor are human beings merely physical objects. Our material part -- our so many pounds of carbon and hydrogen and calcium -- like the pigment and oil and canvas of a picture, is merely the means of expression for something that far transcends it.

So is there a "real thing", a "central core" of eroticism, that corresponds to what Freud and the smutty photographers are both seeking in exactly the same place? I would say there is. That "real thing", that "central core" is the eternal essence of femininity, which existed before the first woman was born, before the stars were formed or the cosmos took its shape. The modern world seeks the true essence of Aphrodite and of woman in exactly the wrong place. The same place that it seeks for the true essence of everything -- in the mud, when it should be seeking among the heavens. And that, in a thousand different areas, is what is wrong with the whole of our civilisation, particularly in the turn it has taken since the 1960s.

A little story:

A rich woman went to the shop of a highly celebrated Parisienne milliner. For three hours she tried on every hat in the shop and found nothing to suit her. Finally the milliner took a wide band of silk ribbon, and giving it a few cunning twists in her white, dextrous fingers, she folded it into a delightful bonnet. When the rich woman put it on she was overwhelmed.

"But this is perfect," she said, "perfect. How much do you want for it?"

"Three hundred pounds," said the milliner.

"Three hundred pounds for a length of ribbon?" cried the rich woman aghast.

In an instant the milliner unfolded her creation and handed the length of limp, shimmering ribbon to her customer.

"The ribbon, madam," she said, "you can have for nothing."

That ribbon is the physical part of eroticism.