Pornography as Art @ The National Library

National Library ParisI’ve read a few blog posts over the last several weeks regarding a pornography exhibit at the National Library in Paris, I also saw the story in The New York Times that ran on Wednesday about it. Today, Littera Scripta posted a great overview of the exhibit, and the current politico-cultural climate in France. The exhibit, bathed in red lighting, is entitled “Hell at the Library Eros in Secret,” it includes hundreds of pornographic literary works, including those by Sade, photographs by Man Ray, audio excerpts recorded during coitus, silent pornographic black & white movies from 1921, and official historical documents such as a police report that lists all the houses of ill repute in Paris circa 1900, and what they charged for their services.

Library Director Bruno Racine said, “In an era where sexual images are a product for popular consumption, the library has decided to lift the veil on this world of imagination and fantasy,” he added that, “The library is a very serious institution, and the project was done with gravity. But we also perhaps are different from what you think — and there is humor here too.”

Overall, it sounds like a fantastic exhibit that showcases some very rare cultural works. Somehow, no matter how serious it is, or how many Master’s works are represented, I don’t think a similar exhibit at The Library of Congress would be greeted with such enthusiasm by puritanical America, even if the exhibit was restricted to those ages 16 and up. At any rate, it certainly illustrates the difficulties in distinguishing the differences between pornography and art. Obscenity is in the eye of the beholder, be it nude women, crucifixes in toilets, or performance pieces where people walk barefoot across shards of glass as they bleed.


~ by Woeful on January 19, 2008.

20 Responses to “Pornography as Art @ The National Library”

  1. Oh man, porn man’s and creepy headphone guy’s dream library exhibit.
    It does sound awesome though.

  2. I’ve been reading about this exhibition too. would love to be in paris right now

  3. Wolfshowl, it helps to have a tremendously rich archive to mine as well. To have any hope in the United States, an exhibit like this would need to be hosted at The Smithsonian, not at the Library of Congress. Even then, it would meet with fervid resistance.

    Welcome back, naughty nurse! Paris is always a good idea. 😉

  4. so do ya think that porn man would take the trip across the pond to check it out?

  5. Porn Man is ready to go. He always has his gargantuan backpack, filled with porn and toiletries. He could stay hostels as he backpacks across the continent… Creepy!

  6. I need to find the picture I took when I mowed “FUCK” into my sister’s front yard.

  7. LMAO!! Maybe you can persuade your library to exhibit it along with a few of the other masterpieces that you’ve created over the years… Lit farts, writing your name in the snow with your pee, the collection of phalluses that you’ve carved? 🙂

  8. One article on the subject said, “Sadism, masochism, bestiality, inflated genitalia and the most imaginative sexual fantasies and athletic poses are given their due. To avoid complaints that a publicly supported institution is corrupting the country’s youth, no one under 16 is admitted.”

    Silly! Or LMAO as Woeful would say.

    To avoid the age limitation, just let the kids go to an American public school and anything goes — because it might be “censorship” otherwise. Here’s just the latest example:

  9. Haha. Everything is a piece of work to us. Like the meth lab that exploded and melted everything to a crispy piece of art. I guess I can see the talent in that? Oh well, we all have such diverse tastes. We can’t judge things of the such for one another. The eyes and hearts of the beholder MUST prevail or else there would be no arts. Just my opinion.

  10. SafeLibraries: It sounds like an excellent assignment to me, responsible, and well thought out. In fact, it even involves the student’s parents. Why do you feel that preparing high school students for what they will undoubtedly encounter in college is a bad thing?

    For the most part, high school students are not prepared by the public school system to deal with living on their own in a college setting… From meeting people with vastly differing views on politics, sex, and religion, to reading and viewing what many people would consider to be pornography. I can guarantee that anything a high school student reads isn’t going to compare with the assignments s/he is going to have in college. And, if the student takes any art classes… Mind = Blown!

    Life isn’t “clean.” Life is a cold-hard-dirty place, with blood, sex, drugs, and harsh language. Reading a few banned books seems to me to be the least invasive manner in which to introduce them to what lies ahead. Insufficiently preparing our “almost adults” to deal with what they will surely encounter is totally irresponsible.

  11. Hello Upset Waitress: To quote the movie “Fight Club,” when Ed Norton looks at the car after the accident, and sees the fat burned to the driver’s seat, one of his colleagues says, “Very, modern art.”

    I’ve seen some stuff in Art School that I never imagined.. And yes, the walking barefoot across broken glass thing actually happened!

  12. Dear Woeful,

    Although the line between “pornography” versus “erotica” or “art” is certainly a social construct with plenty of gray area, “obscenity” has be defined in law. “Pornography” has no legal definition in either Canada or the USA. “Obscenity” is certainly also a contested concept, but you do at least find it in the Canadian Criminal Code as “any publication a dominant characteristic of which is the undue exploitation of sex, or of sex and any one or more of the following subjects, namely, crime, horror, cruelty and violence, shall be deemed to be obscene.” In the USA, by contrast, a series of cases contribute to a definition of obscenity. Here’s a little website I built on the topic for a library school assignment with lots of specific legal details:

    Yours truly,

  13. “Why do you feel that preparing high school students for what they will undoubtedly encounter in college is a bad thing?”

    I don’t. I objected to the one-sided nature of the assignment. Note how I said I have seen other schools do the assignment but give both sides of the picture. I even promote some of those schools efforts on my web site.

    The idea of lesson is perfectly valid. Teaching only one side of it is not. I am sure you would agree with that. This is public school, not a lecture at the ALA Midwinter. One should expect a public school to be evenhanded.

    Further, I would make the exact same objections if the side she choose to promote was opposite of what she promoted. That’s only fair, is it not?

  14. Even law is subject to interpretation Page, thus, attorneys “practice” it… “Deemed” is the operative word in the law you cite regarding what is “undue.” Both of these words are wholly subjective (in the eye of the beholder). Subjectivity is what appeals are often about, and why attorneys make lots of money “practicing” their craft. The same can be said for, obscenity being defined as “utterly without redeeming social importance.” WTF does that mean? It’s totally subjective. I do, however like the page you put together about the legalese!

  15. Another side to what, Safe? The assignment is to evaluate why a book was challenged.

  16. Oh, I didn’t read the ranting comments before I commented here. I didn’t think I needed to do that in order to evaluate the evaluation assignment. Who knew?

    You assume that the teacher is coercing students and their parents into making certain value judgments regarding the books they read (and about free speech). This is an assumption, and nothing more. You also assume that the merits of the “other side” of free speech (censorship) aren’t going to be evaluated, and that’s why you’re all hot and bothered. This is an assumption as well, and one the teacher refutes in her follow-up comment.

    Either way, any good evaluation of the material would include both sides of the argument. However, I do not believe that this assignment (evaluating why a book was challenged) would automatically preclude any discussion about the “other side.” This is nothing more than another assumption on your part. Your rush to judgment by commenting, however, is an excellent marketing gimmick to promote your own agenda, both at that teacher’s blog, and here.

  17. wholly subjective, yes. but this does not equate “wholly in the eye of the beholder.” legal definitions, however contested, of obscenity are not subject to the random appraisals of different individuals. the definition has been debated and thus shaped in a particular way over time. joe shmoe’s personal view of whether xyz is “obscene” or not is totally irrelevant to the legal sphere.

  18. In a court of law, “expert” opinions are often sought, and are highly valued by both the prosecution and the defense. The defense would undoubtedly call experts to the stand to make arguments as to why something shouldn’t be considered obscene. Ultimately, the beholder would be a judge, and each judge would certainly have his or her own “opinions” on what the testimony means. The same would be true of any jury. This is also why “community standards” play a big part in these rulings. People in New York City have an entirely different subjective opinion than those living in the Bible Belt, and would therefore, rule differently.

    Obscenity in the arts isn’t like murder, where it’s clear cut that if a person hacks another person into little pieces and then washes those pieces down with a nice Chardonnay we all agree that that’s a bad thing… Even an obscene thing. After all, why would anybody choose to drink a Chardonnay with such gamy meat?

    Not too long ago Rock & Roll was considered by many people to be obscene. This was a subjective judgment that has since been replaced by another subjective judgment. The fact is, the laws on obscenity that pertain to the arts, were written to attempt to quantify something that really is entirely subjective. So, the best solution that our system could come up with was to say, we’re going to leave it to the subjective opinion of each community to decide.

    I’m not saying that using community standards is a bad practice, but it is most certainly a subjective one.

  19. Woeful:

    Look carefully at my complaint. The very first words I said was, “Is this really an assignment for children? I see no balance here whatsoever. Children are provided with only one side of an argument.”

    That is the issue I raise, Woeful, not whether the assignment to evaluate books critically is not appropriate.

    Yes, I admit I assumed the teacher was presenting only one side of the argument. But that assumption was based on the material she presented online. How would I know she would respond by saying the class material was balanced and that she intended to provide future balance, if that is indeed what she said. And if that is true, that is good. Balance is good.

    But that’s not what was presented online for the public. Online was only links to ALA sites or ALA-engendered sites, except one Judy Blume site. An important issue entirely appropriate to teach, and only one side is presented in class? That would be like teaching constitutional law but only pointing to the ACLU for for source material. Yes, constitutional law is important, but it is totally inappropriate for a public school to teach it by linking only to ACLU links. Yes, “banned books” is important but linking only to ALA sites is misleading.

    The teacher was teaching about “banned books” by linking only to ALA links. That is the problem.

    As a side issue, the teacher in response revealed or confirmed her bias by implying keeping any material whatsoever from children is “censorship.” It clearly is not. So it is not surprising to me that the teacher would teach about so-called “banned books” by pointing only to ALA sources.

    Teaching only one side of an issue to public school children is totally wrong. If anyone does not like the way I presented the argument, that still does not take away from the fundamental problem. Everyone here knows that.

  20. I’d love to see it!!

    Yeah the Climate in America with Bush + his Brainwashed Flock at the helm is downright Scary*

    On a Brighter Note Jerry Falwell died*


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