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Porn StudiesReview - Porn Studies
by Linda Williams (Editor)
Duke University Press, 2004
Review by Mark Dietrich Tschaepe
Oct 23rd 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 43)

The collection of essays, Porn Studies, edited by Linda Williams, represents an intersection of film studies and pedagogy in regards to analyzing pornographies qua pornographies rather than the traditional approach of analyzing pornography as a censorship issue, ethical issue, or a strictly feminist issue. In addition, the book is, in large part, the result of courses and seminars taught by Williams in 1998 and 2001. many of her graduate students are contributors to the volume, in addition to the already established scholars, including Williams. Because of Williams's influence, many of the essays, such as "Office Sluts and Rebel Flowers: The Pleasures of Japanese Pornographic Comics for Women" and "The Gay Sex Clerk: Chuck Vincent's Straight Pornography", seem extensions of Williams's own book, Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the "Frenzy of the Visible" (1989). One of the driving themes of that book, viewing pornographies as films within the wider scope of traditional cinematic media, carries throughout the book. Such a collection will thus be uninteresting to the reader seeking arguments for or against ethical or rights-centered approaches to pornography as a class separated from other media. This is one of the great strengths of this collection for those readers who take the subject of pornography -- what could be generally classified in accordance with Williams's term: on/scenity ("the gesture by which a culture brings on to its public arena the very organs, acts, bodies, and pleasures that have heretofore been designated ob/scene and kept literally off-scene [3]) -- as a serious subject of study itself.

The organization of the collection has been done in such a way that the book seems to be five separate issues of the same journal (that could easily be deemed, Porn Studies) brought together in a single volume. This is due to the parts of the book, which are divided in accordance with their specific sub-genres and sub-topics: 1) Contemporary Pornographies; 2) Gay, Lesbian, and Homosexual Pornographies; 3) Pornography, Race, and Class; 4) Soft Core, Hard Core, and the Pornographic Sublime; 5) Pornography and the Avant-Garde. Taken as a whole, the collection is solid; it represents a robust sampling of subjects upon which the study of pornographies touches. Given the connections evidenced by the five parts of the book, each part provides possibly beneficial material for those who work in other fields, such as queer or race studies.

Regarding the essays individually, Zabet Patterson's essay, "Going On-line: Consuming Pornography in the Digital Era" stands out by providing perhaps the 'most needed' analysis, which does not fall victim to considering on-line pornography as the same as pornographic films. Patterson smartly accounts for the activities the viewer of online pornographies must engage, such as searching and waiting. The essay also provides analyses pertaining to the differences between "being a "member" of a pay porn site and simply surfing for porn on the Web" [109]. Patterson's considerations of "delay" and "lack", combined with Lacanian psycho-analysis, are well-executed and constitute a novel break from Williams's own approach to pornographies.

Eric Schaefer's historical analysis in "Gauging a Revolution: 16mm Film and the Rise of the Pornographic Feature" is another welcome contribution, especially given his thorough cinematic history combined with consideration for the making of the media and the changes brought about by alterations in film-making technology. Constance Penley's "Crackers and Wackers: The White Trashing of Porn" and Michael Sicinski's "Unbracketing Motion Study: Scott Stark's NOEMA" also both offer highly nuanced and insightful perspectives on particular aspects of the genre that seem hitherto neglected.

The entire collection constitutes an excellent sampling of how pornographies are to be analyzed once we move beyond traditional debates of censorship, ethics, and what one could now consider "traditional" feminism. The specificity of each essay provides a mature advancement in the understanding of pornography as a multi-dimensional class of objects often similar only in their on/scenity. In order to fully appreciate such a collection that addresses an array of different films and other media, subjects, and issues, the reader must already accept that pornography is more than a mere set of necessarily offensive or titillating objects without significant difference. Such a collection offers a welcome contribution in the serious academic and intellectual understanding of a robust and worthy subject matter.

© 2007 Mark Dietrich Tschaepe

Mark Dietrich Tschaepe, Southern Illinois University, Department of Philosophy

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