Porn Again

Porn is a safety valve, big business, a cabinet of curiosities, a staging theatre for many contradictions and inversions: male submission, female dominance, intricate identity and gender crossings, and the validity of female desire. Pleasure is misunderstood in a society where is commodified, exchanged and consumed displaced into food, wine, cars....Discusses the works of Jane Burton, Mary Fallon, Catherine Mackinnon, Marcia Pally and W.H.Auden.

In 1983 I worked in a rancid walk-up in Manhattan with Kleenex walls for a new phone fantasy service called Pandora's Box. This is true. I'd been in Big Mac land for a few years already, trying to write scriptburgers about combustible people who had nothing to lose but their fast food chains. For some reason they weren't interested in hearing it from an Australian. My visa was running out. I had no green card and no Andie MacDowell. I was working off the books in a restaurant with some Cuban refugees for $5 an hour. It was a killer. Overeducated and downwardly mobile I was quickly becoming part of a proliferating mass that sociologists might call the Lumpen Bourgeoisie from the Upper Depths. But soon I'd be up to my earsliterallyin most of the Deadly Sins. My friend Loretta, a West Indian girl from Spanish Harlem, told me that her phone fantasy service was starting a service for men. I was curious. It was still new to me, but I'd seen all those classifieds in the Village Voice. A field day for the Psychpathologists of Everyday Life.

Bored existentialist transsexual, 21, seeks older partner for suicide pact.
GWM (Gay White Male), 29, victim of unsuccessful cosmetic surgery seeks same. Well-educated, caring person into classical music, mime and fist-fucking.
Retired costumer into water parties, basinette-discipline seeks slender man (be 25 or begone) for evenings of gourmet food, vodka and heavy petting in liturgical settings. Must be acquainted with the later work of Buxteheude. Ask for J after 3 AM. (Fems preferred).

Loretta explained what she did. $9 per call plus $1.50 for the operator call. Good weeks she was making $350. It was clean and safe and all the girls were really nice. She was an actress and it was good experience. Tonessa managed the place though owned by Brian. On Saturday there was a meeting for men interested. Would I be talking to men or women, I asked. She hmm'd, shrugged her shoulders and scooted off to nightschool.
I went through the Radical's Worry List, back and forth, pro and con. The money sounded good, but was it capitalising on desire? It was offering a legitimate service for lonely people, but maybe the Moral Majority was right and life did begin at foreplay?
Before audition day I got moody worrying about prostitution, the sale and hire of voices, the cost of manipulating these fantasies.

But I did it. What I did do I wrote about in the June/August 1987 edition of the now defunct magazine FOLLOW me. Scholars can chase that one up.
The question for me here so many years down the track is why did I do it? Was it just a writer's search for copy? (After all less is known about the true transactions of fucking than any discipline on earth.) Was it just the attraction to the louche? (Street becomes the catchment of the disenfranchised and frees one from the paranoid white middle class mind-set tied to the idiot box and tabloid headlines) Was it a search into the remotest, most uncertain regions of myself?

This search, I believe, draws on the Blakean dictum that "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom" ... sometimes. Often it leads to burnout, breakdown, the gutter, prison terms, death. (Blake's text is preceded by "Drive your cart and plow over the bones of the dead". ) I'm from a generation with the pervasive cultural invitation to leap boundaries, challenge limits, try anything, want anything, overload the senses, let go, open yourself to the world's possibilities, recover your innocence, dump your Oedipal baggage, transcend possessiveness, have the courage of your desires, find your voice, your cunt, your cock, your beauty, your powers, your version of redemption.
I think that the current twenty-nothing generation of the late 1990s is ditto all of the above, but make sure you wear a condom.. Citizens of Erotic City have been around since Hector was a pup.

On the phone lines you're placed in a pressured existential position. As a bloke you couldn't always hawk your fantasy of social mastery. The logic of porn is stop/start. It suits a personality of fragments, a time of interruption. But after a while there is a defining flatness to porn and you become bored. A boredom qualitatively different from that airless experience of making love for hours in a closed room
There are two keys to this sexistentialism: the first was risky, frisky excess; and second is the imagination. When the mind leaves, and the body takes over, borders soften and bend and disappear under the weight of the imagination. At the time I was surrounded by a lot of kill-joy theory giving lip-service to multiplicity while constantly uptight about reconciling analytical traditions. A prurient culture was developing into an age of sobriety that turned sexual liberation into a euphemism for rape, and AIDS into a form of divine retribution. PC pieties, against the ground combat of everyday life, overreach their mark, and try to legislate in areas too subtle for legislation.

Take Catharine Mackinnon in the opening pages of her antiporn philippic, Only Words.

Imagine that for hundreds of years your most formative traumas, your daily suffering and pain, the abuse you live through, the terror you live with, are unspeakable – not the basis for literature. You grow up with your father holding you down and covering your mouth so another man can make can make a horrible searing pain between your legs. When you are older, your husband ties you to the bed and drips hot wax on your nipples and brings other men to watch and makes you smile through it. Your doctor will not give you drugs he has addicted you to unless you suck his penis.

Following Mackinnon's argument – that to imagine things of this nature is tantamount to doing them – shouldn't this paragraph be against the law? The footnote that follows cites a composite of source materials that's hardly sound by journalistic standards. You might as well picture yourself in a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies.

This kind of virtual discourse in Mackinnon, with its linear connections between representation and reality, fudges with logic. Reality is full of contradictory evidence. Individuals are largely composed of contradictory evidence. We are, you know, very large and contain multitudes. It's what allows Roseanne Arnold to strike a softcore pose on the cover of Vanity Fair while in no way weakening, and in some ways strengthening, her credibilty as an activist against sexual abuse. Oppression may be predicated on silence regarding abuse, but also silence regarding desires themselves.
You can't cheat life, you pay for everything. Try and hide those untidy desires and they'll lurk to plot your doom. (Cf Blue Angel)

What's more as W. H. Auden stated, 'desires of the heart are as crooked as corkscrews'. Through porn one discovers that equality is unsexy, porn can even expose love as a destructive force, at odds with the morally weightier, intellectual side of us. It forces us to ask – since in porn the richest people in the world want to be maids, the most powerful men want to cringe in the V of a woman's crotch waiting for a stream of her hot urine – where does the debasement-seeking self come from? Porn provides a monstrous context for universally acknowledged facts: like all those great fucks with people we hardly know.

Porn is a safety valve, big business, a cabinet of curiosities, a staging theatre for many contradictions and inversions: male submission, female dominance, intricate identity and gender crossings, and the validity of female desire.

So what's all this got to do with art? Well, while porn brazens what's usually concealed, art with its micro-politics of signs and codes can finesse those myriad contradictions we've talked about. Artists can tilt you between reckless inner needs and conscionable awareness, between private dreams and the claims of a political world to call you to account.

Mary Fallon' s Working Hot (Sybilla Press, 1988) cross-breeds fiction, letters, concrete poems, found material, children's games, travel writing, film dialogue, mini-plays, curses, sayings, incidents. So, too, the characters of the book, Toto Caelo (or 'Carry All Tote'), Freda Peach, Kinky Trinkets, Inside Information, Top Value, Roma Fox and Diamond Deb – don't care too much for the social order. The social order sets up classical oppositions: man/woman, husband/wife, homo/hetero, active /passive. Here desires begin to emigrate into the other camp, will not keep ranks. New cut-ups are made along lines of increasing intensity: violence, joy, mystery, terror, exuberance. Poofters, drag-queens, bag ladies, junkie-hustlers, bondage freaks, fag-hagettes, lesofemkillerdykes, whores, psychotics, artists: all the sexual components of the Immoral Minority with their special ceremonials, initiation rites, amourettes.
In this book, Toto Caelo, is a lass without a lack. When women love

the orgasm was not had like a woman it should be and is as coming and going as ever present as let me think - waves yes or tides - it can be orchestrated. it can be like being hit by a car but it is what makes us the same as water or trees it is some energy which relates us to life.

In these uncertain desire-zones, pleasure extends without conquering, tissues every experience into an immense tactility. Uncertain because desire entertains the death-drives.

Pleasure is misunderstood in a society where it is commodified, exchanged and consumed, displaced onto food, wine, cars, 'sado-maso fast food takeaways'. There is a deeper dimension to eros that communicates sadness, solitiude, rage. Pleasure that requires a situation of risk, precariousness, even psychic violence. Why do we love to be frightened (rollercoasters and horror films)? We alarm ourselves with the possibility of extinction and yet emerge intact, reconstituting the self over and over again. There are fears we toy with and overcome in sex, where a moment out of control is rehearsed each time. 'That fear', writes Marcia Pally,

of abandon, humiliation, exposure, may be triggered by arousal because it poses the gravest risk, if not objectively then in the imagination. We may need to play with our fears in sex to assuage the threat, to live with self-respect and self-determination the rest of the time. (Film Comment, Pornography Issue).

'Strength through pleasure,' is Toto Caelo's catchcry, 'not fascism with a lifeforce'.
Commodified consciousness of our time seeks labels like 'Gay' or 'French' or 'Feminist' and this book is all those things. Even critical language would reduce it. The only way to confront this kind of art work is as yourself  sexistentially with your singular and private desires.

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