This article is about pornography, yes, but it is not explicit and should likely not offend. Still, it's about porn. Also, this is more a collection of thoughts than an argument... just a few things that have lately been running through my mind...
I've been thinking about pornography lately. Wait, let me start that again. As part of the writing process for The Execution, I've been thinking about what pornography means and what it does to the people who view it and make it, porn being not so much a theme as a recurring image in the novel. In the spirit of full disclosure, let me just get it out there (as if it weren't already obvious) that I am a white male fast approaching thirty. And so I, like so many men growing up in this slide between centuries, have a history with pornography, especially the internet variety... you know, the kind that so easily entangles.
OED time. Pornography, n. "The explicit description or exhibition of sexual subjects or activity in literature, painting, films, etc., in a manner intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic feelings." As one crude distinction between "art" and "porn" puts it, if after you've masturbated to it you are bored with it, it's porn and likely has no artistic value, despite whatever pretensions it may play at.
A few weeks ago, I watched a documentary called 9to5: Days in Porn, a film that followed (loosely, I think) several people in The Industry - girls (some now famous), directors, agents, producers, the like - for two years. No real thesis emerged - the filmmakers, as much as documentarians can, remained invisible (their attempt, I guess, to remain "objective," whatever that means). A recurring theme emerged amongst the subjects, however: their own happiness and sense of achievement. They claim to enjoy what they do, even the husbands and wives of pornstars, who themselves are often involved in the biz. While I don't necessarily think they are liars, and while I feel certain that no one could survive in that business without at least some measure of self-deception, I also think that the kind of people who produce and participate in porn and purport to find pleasure in it (okay, I'll stop alliterating P now...) actually lack the apparatus and capacity for true happiness (... sorry, I tried). Let me put it like this: I think it takes a certain damaged personality to willingly sell yourself, and an even more damaged one to film your wife or girlfriend with other men. I'm not talking about a history of abuse, or drug use, or anything like that. I'm talking about moral and spiritual devastation. Maybe they are happy, but that's only because they are not whole enough to reach for anything higher.
But I won't lie and say that porn doesn't have a certain attractiveness, especially for the consumer. I won't say that it isn't erotic or arousing or that I'm immune to its enticements. But I've found that the eroticism of porn is tyrannical, and the more time you spend with it the more it rearranges your own ideas of the erotic. In a sense, porn reveals to you your own impulses and sexual imperatives. You could tell a lot about someone, I'd guess, from the type of porn they look at, were they willing to tell you (most of us probably aren't, and that shame is, I think, a good thing). But in another sense, a much more dangerous sense, porn not only reveals them but guides and shapes those impulses, so that after consuming it for any length of time it no longer reveals but dictates, and you find yourself somewhere entirely different and often not pleasant.
The pornographic camera is, for the most part, extremely myopic; it's sexual epistemologies are hermetically sealed and reduce sexuality and eroticism to a function of organs and anatomy, which is simply tragic and repulsive. I myself have several times had to undergo a "cleanse," a deliberate re-mapping of the erotic and sexual, in order to purge myself of these broken images and put back together the sort of mentality and desires that I want. This is hard. Re-mapping your own mind is a very hard thing to do. But it is very valuable and freeing.
I bring all this up because the writing of The Execution has in many ways been a cleanse. For those of you who have read some of my drafts, this may sound odd, given some of the novel's more unflinching episodes, several of which contain elements of sexual cruelty. But it's true, at least for me, the bewildered author. I think Christian literature, and I mean modern Christian literature, lacks a full confrontation with the erotic. It wasn't always like this. Dante certainly didn't avoid such a confrontation. Neither did Milton or Blake. For all three of them, the sexual and the erotic are major themes; and all three of them put the sexual and the erotic into an intelligible and, I think, valuable context (even if Blake's context was... idiosyncratic). I am trying to do that as well. Of course, I'm no Dante, Milton, or Blake, and would never claim to be. But they are my models, my spiritual grandfathers, if you will. In a world where porn has, as keeps getting repeated, gone mainstream, I think it is important, and only going to become more important, to fight back in order to keep the pornographic camera from being the only hand shaping society's vision of the erotic.