"The Violent Pollution": Carl-Michael Edenborg's Parapornography

by on Sep.04, 2012

The thing about all this talk about hipsters and/or kitsch is that it’s about art: all poetry can be kitsch (and is according to many people) and all poetry-writers can be viewed as hipsters. I’m not interested in pro- or anti-kitsch poetry, or anti-hipster or pro-hipster poetry. I am interested in dealing with kitsch in a way that doesn’t fall back on these binaries but I also don’t want to move beyond them (to some pleasant world of American Hybrid or whatever), I don’t want to remove this trouble, this anxiety that is part of Art; an anxiety about looking, about uselessness, about excess, about Art’s occult powers and its drug-like “influence” that may ruin our identities as good, stable, progressive subjects with agency. As I noted in my last post I want the forms to rub up against each other, to chafe, to spasm. I want that excessive “foreign body lodged in the overall system of art” to continue to friction in the “system,” to turn it into a horror movie, a B-movie, a “phantom pregnancy,” a spasming necropastoral, a “parapornography.”

One genre that is often compared or made synonymous with kitsch is pornography: Like kitsch it’s too much about affect, too much about effects, too immediate, not properly mediated etc. And most of all, it’s got the “frenzy of the visual.” I think maybe porn can be a way of thinking about kitsch. Or vice versa.

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Carl-Michael Edenborg


Just yesterday I read Carl Michael Edenborg’s “Manifesto of Parapornography.” I should mention that C-M runs the important Swedish press Vertigo, which publishes de Sade and Apollinaire as well as contemporary writers like Nikanor Teratologen and Dennis Cooper and Samuel Delaney. He was also once a member of the same Surrealist Group of Stockholm that Aase Berg used to be part of). In this manifesto Edenborg argues is a move away from the rhetoric of both “pro-pornography” and “anti-pornography,” the two prevalent stances on pornography in our “post-pornography” society.

Edenborg argues against the system underlying both anti- and pro-pornography:

According to both, pornography is devoted to men’s fantasies of omnipotence, of a limitless access to and power over women, to never having to take no for an answer. Over and over again, it reassures men that they are phallic. Men will not accept that the very fact that they require this reassurement shows that they are already castrated, because that would subvert their pleasure. Women, on the other hand, are expected to react in the opposite way to pornography: with loathing and disgust.

According to Edenborg: While the pro and the anti depend on uncovering/defending a secret/truth/genitals/interiority, parapornography rejects this model and instead creates something that Edenborg compares to “quantum mechanics”: it can “extract endless excitment from the same skin flap” and “the mucous membranes are prismatic.” Instead of exteriority/interiority we get an undulating figure that admits poisons, a necropastoral pornography of the “spasming membrane” (Joyelle’s quote). This is Edenborg’s list of qualities of Parapornography:

Mechanical repetition
The infinity of revealing
The exploded affection theory
The critical will to power
The violent pollution
Protesology and displacement

One of my favorite part of the essay is when he discovers parapornography by going to a pornographic theater is Stockholm:

Before I began interesting myself in the history of pornography, I went occasionally to the movie theater Fenix on Drottninggatan in Stockholm. Most people went there to fondle themselves or be caressed by others. I went there because the place itself excited me.
Fenix was the last of Stockholm’s porn cinemas, housed in one of the oldest of the city’s operating movie theaters, built during World War I and in use ever since. When it finally closed down in the mid 1990’s and was converted into a makeup store, no one protested.
The salon was slim, with a aisle in the middle and with red vinyl seats. To the left of the screen hung a big, yellow clock, probably to assist guests who went there during lunch break keeping time. It was very dark.
Since Fenix showed only 35-millimeter celluloid films, all the movies were from the 1970s or early 1980s. The range, therefore, wasn’t marked by the new, less expensive porn films that dominated after the video and cable television revolution.
What did I experience? The first few minutes inside the theater was filled with a mixture of nervousness and excitement. The first images of bodily curves, undulating skin, sex organs that open and swell, and flows of liquids, the sounds of sighs and moans, all this made me determinately horny. This mechanical excitement is a good starting point, do not think otherwise.
After around five or ten minutes my reactions changed. There is a common idea that obscene works are boring. Pornography is monotonous. And indeed: the highly recognizable, repetitive images of traditional sexual actions soon failed to maintain my agitation. I basically only had one choice: to reach orgasm, or to drop the lust.
But this dropping-of-the-lust had its value. After, say, five minutes, the blood receded and the brain was no longer focused on traditional forms of lust. At that moment it was essential not to yawn and leave. On the contrary, right out of this bodily disappointment an entrance to another world opened up, an inhuman world determined by a non-Euclidean anatomy whose gravitational pull is poetry. I was no longer a desiring soul in an excited body, but was scattered in a multitude of erogenous sensibilities beyond the mind/body-dualism.
The moving images of bodies that rubbed against bodies broke away from the the games of identification and projection and moved into a new productivity. It was no longer his penis, her vagina, his sperm, her sighs, her breast, his buttocks. There were anemones, surfaces without inside, uneven condensations of information and time. They could be likened to abstract painting, but rather than abstract images they should be called surreal: they were more real than the homogeneous phantasms that usually accompanies the bloating of the sexual organs, the materials of pornography.


This part interests me for a number of reasons. First there is the importance of a kind of anachronistic atmosphere: he is excited by the atmosphere of the place as much as by the movies shown there, and that atmosphere is of an anachronistic movie theater, a place that is about to (or, from the point of view of the moment of writing the manifesto, has already been) torn down, and the movies are of an outdated media, an outdated style, a style that in that sense already foreground its medium and its style. Pornography is of course the genre where everything has to be removed; style is, as Whitman noted, a kind of veil over the true energy; and to bring it back to my last post about kitsch, Wordsworth rejected “poetic diction” precisely because it gets in the way with its “gross” “stimulants.” Pornography is of course in itself the most “gross stimulant” of any genre (the “frenzy of the visible” is the title of a famous book on porn).

There is at the heart (or undulation I should say) of Edenborg’s argument a sense of DECAY as being an important part of art, like Joyelle’s necropastoral, it’s a necrotic view of art. But it’s not decay into nothingness, but a decay into an atmosphere where the inside/outside of the “human” disappears, where we enter into a kind of “surrealist” zone where the body itself becomes much more mobile.

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Edenborg’s reaction here reminds me a bit of something I wrote a while back: how a lot of “shocking poetry” which people love to say is not shocking is not interesting for its shock, but its post-shock-ness. I’m really interested what happens to the “shocking” images once they are no longer used for shock, when the shock decays; they become a bit like bodies that are no longer pornography; they become art, kitsch, inorganic, undulating.

And also, this undulating surface where genitals and various organs appear to be interchangeable remind me of fellow former member of the Stockholm Surrealist Group, Aase Berg’s Dark Matter (maybe because I’ve spent the last year translating it). This is from “Ampules from the Lust Garden of Suffering”:

We have to get into the plant in order to release the paroxysm. The hybrid’s soft gland-growth has grown an Indonesian jungle tree on the inside of the woman’s body cocoon. Deaf Saskia will cleave the crowds in dresses made from a carefully selected satin. Then she’ll be the optical illusion that will carry our red heat above the cities where the war is blossoming. Out of the core the velvet butterflies explode strewing contact across Kermadec and Ylajali.

That is what I think when the keel strokes across the deep grave’s ruin palace and colonies of moray eels and corals. Out of the gland-darkness rise the fumes of burnt vanilla and molten ambergris; purple acorn bolts and pulsars throb wildly against the machine’s bottom mill.

In Berg’s book, the body becomes a plant, oceanic, outer space, diseased, feverish, on drugs, hallucinating moving through these very spaces, spaces that invoke modern catastrophes, sci-fi, orientalism, horror movies and, yes, porn. It’s a kind of sci-fi parapornographic landscape.

This reminds me of the essay I wrote on the Gurlesque quite a while ago, where I talked about Dark Matter and some other contemporary writing (Chelsea Minnis, Dodie Bellamy, Lara Glenum etc) using Sontag’s description of Jack Smith’s Flaming Creature to suggest the way bodies become artistic zones where genitals become interchangeable.

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Edenborg’s manifesto is not a simple new binary between para and post pornography. Some of the most interesting “parapornographic” texts are texts that start out as “anti-pornographic”. For example, he talks about Andrea Dworking, the supposed anti-pornographer, as a para-pornographer:

The one who strongest articulated and became a symbol of the antipornography movement’s rhetoric, programs, practice and feeling was Andrea Dworkin. But she can also be viewed as a parapornographic pioneer.
In 1979, Dworkin’s epochal book Pornography: Men Possessing Women was published. It devotes a chapter to the Marquis de Sade. Dworkin tells how she spent months of her life with a deep reading of the 18th century libertine’s texts and details the shocking effect. She represents herself as a martyr who voluntarily exposes herself to pornographic violence in order to help freeing women from it.
Dworkin portrays Sade as a misogynist, a women-torturing, women-killing criminal. She chooses not to focus on the male victims in his books or on the fact that anal sex with men was a fundamental part of his sex life. But despite the simplifications there is a remarkable similarity between her and Sade’s view of sexuality: both of them associate it with cruelty and pain.
By seriously accepting pornography’s darkest possibilities, Andrea Dworkin avoided the humanist blunder of postpornography: instead, she moved the pornographic dialectics a few points ahead, and by both affirming and denying the violence of pornography she reached new intensities. This is most obvious in her most widely read novel, Ice and Fire of 1986, with its depictions of young women’s drug use, whoring and partying in the 1960s New York. Dworkin understood pornography better than most pornographers and postpornographers. Her antipornographic furies, the agitated, violent rhetoric in her speeches and texts, points to parapornography. In this she has a relative in Valerie Solanas, whose SCUM Manifesto – through its hyperbolas, its exploded affection theory, its obsession with the mixture of mechanical and organic, its violent obscenity and pollution – is clearly parapornographic.
One of the most provoking aspects of the radical feminist antipornography movement is that its discourses do not always make a distinction between signified and signifier. In the early 1990’s, a house wall in Stockholm bore the graffiti “Porn is murder.” This is an example of how the difference between image and object can be removed. The drawing of a child who is being raped is seen as an abuse of real children; the massacred, ketchup-covered rubber doll in the splatter film Snuff actually is a murdered woman; the victims in Sade’s literary fantasies are abused and dead, and therefore these texts are a genuine cause of further rape and murder and ultimately to the destruction of all women.
In the pamphlet Letter From a War Zone (1987), Andrea Dworkin attacks those who claim that murders taking place in the movies should be seen as fictional, and she weighs what she sees as real murder against the refined abstractions of the freedom of expression, ” … dismemberment of the snuff film, the knife that cut men in pieces – those were only words. [—] We learned that the civil rights people didn’t give a damn about us, please: a woman is murdered, the murder is filmed in order to produce an orgasm, it’s only words, and they did not even care about it …

This part ties into something very near and dear to Montevidayo: discussion about art’s relationship to violence. I’ve noticed that a lot of people who want to dismiss Montevidayo seem troubled by our discussions of violence, and more particularly how we don’t “mediate” the violence, don’t favor a model of art as something that makes sense or critiques the violence, but instead draw connections between violence and art. These critics claim this is not moral, or not “complex,” or just plain gaudy and tasteless. It’s a “gross stimulant.” It’s “too much.” By which they mean, it’s tasteless.

By which they mean it’s immoral. By which they mean it’s a swan. Poisoned. Thrashing around in a trash can. Or my best friend in his crash. His bald head. His regurgitated stamen. Around my neck. In the painted garden where the hares are all shot. And bleeding. Tattoos. On my torso. Which is made of stuff. From the beauty parlour where the mob wives get their hair done. Up into beehives. Full of black bodies that clamber to get out. Ad speak a furious Latin.

Let me know what you think, pornographers and beehivistes!

(And here is Montevidayoan Sara Tuss Efrik’s trailer for her new book, Mumieland, which I found through Edenborg’s facebook page:)

18 comments for this entry:
  1. Johannes Göransson

    Here is by the way Blake Butler’s review of Nikanor Teratologen’s book which Carl-Michael E. originally published with Vertigo: http://www.vice.com/read/nikanor-teratologen-s-rolodex-of-atrocities. It seems relevant.

  2. James Pate

    Fascinating post. This reminds me of Ballard’s Crash also, the way celebrities/cars/human bodies intersect and overlap, all on an equal plane. And I love the idea of breaking away from “the games of identification.”

    There’s something deeply political about this too. The Republican convention was all about I-have-mine-and-I-want-to-keep-it. The opposite of expenditure. But refusing such games of identity goes a long way in undermining such a gated community mindset. Not that the Democrats are much better….

    James

  3. Johannes

    james,
    youre very right. the manifesto actually has a bit about ballard. ill post it later.

    johannes

  4. Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle

    CONTRAceptive Poetry

    (Goldsmith means “money maker”)

    Tan Lin’s Tweet was picture-perfect grant work.

    Post-grad Lit stooges pay past two hundred grand believing blindly in returns; told they would become competitive in a market with no takers. Eager, energetic, idealistic, young and dumb enough to work on spec.

    Art is gone. Its 1 % are all business. But they do make oodles. Great big whopping stacks of cash. Poets? My foot. Fat chance John Cage. *

    The effect of Justin Bieber’s entry into any reception room favorably compares with the attraction of elementary particles in the Higgs Boson field. Kiki Smith walks through Union Sq. Station—no one knows who she is. Shows all over the globe, privately, institutionally and corporately collected. $cads. Venice. Whitney. MoMA.

    So, how many people do you think have ever heard of Mei Mei Berssenbrugge? Her husband, the artist Richard Tuttle; mind-bending mega bucks. Sherwin Williams paint can “cover the earth” kind of market reach.

    Brilliant. Visibilty? Zero.

    Nobody looks.

    “I could care less. I couldn’t care less means the same thing.” (Michael Robbins.)

    If Tan Lin steps off his dime he disappears. Show his footnote footage to anyone but squares, uck—Dinky Toys.

    Get this straight. The only thing poetry has going for it is it’s going nowhere!

    (It’s not just who you know but how you write that grant proposal.)

    Born free.

    Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle

    * Nam June Paik

    P.S. Dear J., On your cue I read Teratologen’s Assisted Living. “In the words of William Burroughs it was “Tasty.”

  5. Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle

    Tan Lin’s Tweet mentioned above (see too my previous comments) refers to his Power Point presentation with live Tweet displayed on adjacent walls at Artists Space NYC 7/24/12.

    O, I forgot to tell you: I write for sound and style.

    G C-H

  6. Joyelle McSweeney

    To quote Eshleman’s Cesaire, “I say, right on!”. This is an exciting new tactic. Onwards.

  7. Jiyoon Lee

    Thanks for this amazing post, Johannes! I am very much interested in the anachronism & kitsch of porno theater & the idea of decaying as part of art. I want to make some possible connections/contrast between parapornography and the way porn tumblrs& gif images operate. Tumblr – in its excessive digital pastiche-ness, its piled-up-ness, its impossibility to trace the origin, its disturbance & destruction of Author- is inevitably kitsch. Gif format itself also inevitably is kitsch; gif images have to be in low-resolution to be able to contain the movements while being a reasonable size to be uploaded on webpages; there is no progression in gif: they are monotonous for its repetition, yet they also have the “frenzy of the visual” in their glitchy movement to return to the beginning over and over again. There is no temporality in gif, the beginning and the end are sown together, repeating its undulation over and over again. with multiple pornographic gif images put together in the form of pastiche, porn tumblr becomes a strange space of endless, glitchy, chaotic, and frantic undulation.
    Considering these characteristics of the media of gif and Tumblr & parapornography, it is not surprising that tumblr as a medium is swarmed with pornographic gif images and porn tumblrs; tumblr and gif become perfect media to import the fantasy of limitlessness– the thrust of the penis will literally go on forever.

  8. Jiyoon Lee

    I’m also interested in the difference and/or similarity between the experience of porn film theater vs. porn gif. I’m curious what gif and porn tumblr would become; they don’t seem to become anemone like the bodies in the film seen in porn theatre. mediated with its digital-ness, almost always seen in privacy , the bodies in gif become the other, a machine, an artifice. The porn gifs actually seem to prohibit “coming”, with its demand for repetition, and limitlessness.The thrusting of penis in gif is no longer membrane or symbol of lust or Masculinity; it becomes a machine.

    Last question: In gif/tumblr, what happens to the signifier& signified relationship? can gif be murder?

  9. Johannes

    I agree that these are interesting questions. This makes me think about Steve McQueen’s new film, Shame, in which Michael Fassbinder’s character can’t seem to divorce himself from the porn, a porn which seems to be mainly channeled through the computer (the computer is saturated with filth, according to his boss); his being becomes totally pornified; he jacks off continually but it isn’t clear if he ever reaches orgasm really (he’s impotent in when not with prostitutes or masturbating), or is indeed thrusting and thrusting in order to get rid of the porniness. It’s not exactly a machine but certainly something to do with digital tech. He most certainly can’t view the porn like anemonies; he can’t even be in a public place without viewing it orgasm-centrically. But the weirdest moment is when his sister walks in on him and the computer starts talking back to her (it’s supposed to be a computer camera type of thing, but it feels like it’s the medium itself talking back), saying “are you his lover? I know what he likes etc”. A strange reversal, where the computer watches the guy. At one point his suicidal sister leaves a message on his phone (lots of phone messages) saying “It’s not our fault; we come from a bad place.” It seems that this might be lending them some interiority (trauma etc), but it’s utterly unconvincing.

    Johannes

  10. kim

    interesting perhaps, ariel levy’s review of naomi wolf’s “vagina: a new biography” in the new yorker incants dworkin and draws a similar conclusion of the anti-porn being a kind of porn in itself. “the reader never quite knew whether she ought to be getting mad or getting off”. judging by the review, wolf’s book seems completely madcap, and so i can’t wait to read it.

  11. Edenborg

    I was happy to read the post om tumblr porn and gifs: it’s actually the one phenomena I wish I had discussed in the Manifesto: in itself, it exposes the inherent chaotic and void character of porn, the parapornographic shadow… Copies of copies, desiring machines running wild. My excuse is plainly that I didn’t know about before the text was finished.

  12. Lara Glenum

    Jiyoon, I love this description, “There is no progression in gif: they are monotonous for its repetition, yet they also have the “frenzy of the visual” in their glitchy movement to return to the beginning over and over again.”

    Tumblr porn has such a singularly odd effect: the apotheosis of eroticism stammers, hitches, glitches, hiccups, burps, repeats ad absurdum. And the amassing of all the hiccuping images do seem (counter-intuitively) intended to block orgasm altogether. They become hysterical, moving Victorian wallpaper, patterned debris enclosing a claustrophobic parlor that is neither public nor private. Complete temporal and physical dislocation, rendering nerve-endings sludgy and null, prone to strange piques but also to total numbness and disinterest.

    I love the parapornographic as a category because it describes our thoroughly pornographic society as a cultural fact. One can no longer be pro- or anti- pornography any more than one can be pro- or anti-clouds. Like it or not, pornography is the new weather.

  13. Lara Glenum

    Johannes, I also thought this was one of the most interesting moments in Shame, where the live porn girl starts interrogating the protagonist’s sister (i.e. his most private relations/space), ascribing a brilliant panoptical agency to porn, as though it is porn that watches, surveys, corrects, ans polices us, and not the other way around.

    And yes, “He most certainly can’t view the porn like anemonies; he can’t even be in a public place without viewing it orgasm-centrically.” But I think that most people view porn this way: as a means to an end. The very repetitiveness of porn/kitsch, of the mechanics of visual/physical orgasm offers some form of corporeal solace, in that it so clearly demarcates aesthetic/sexual limits (rather than distending them).

    The para- has no orgasm in sight, or if it does, it is an orgasm of a totally different register. Like kitsch, parapornography is a mode, not a temporally-bound pleasure retrieval system. In allowing for decay (and this is THE crucial move, for me), the parapornographic embraces the onslaught of pornographic images *as onslaught*, with all its apocalyptic associations, as a meta-carnal dislocation that is still deeply carnal. We are watching our own death hiccup and spit. On repeat.

    In this way the parapornographic not only insists on the yoking of violence and art and pleasure–it insists on the simultaneous (and mutual) dislocation/annihilation of all these categories of experience. An exhausted, sagging, tacky sublime.

  14. Lara Glenum

    I meant to quote this from Edenborg, which I very much like: “This obsession with human filth – putrefaction, venereal diseases, carcasses – is similar to the pornographic impulse. It is not the objects themselves which are particularly interesting but the fact that they are being kept hidden from us and therefore are made true, more real than reality.

    Inside the panties a hairy secret lurks. Inside the underwear, a wonderful secret dangles. What happens when this secret is revealed and reality collapses? A new dressing-up, after which a new undressing follows – not unlike the process that takes place at the amusement park’s haunted house, where the monster throws himself against the visitor, and then is squeakingly pulled back into its hole. This is the very image of the movement of reproduction, its grinding always-same.

    Parapornography suggests something else. It advocates an immoderate and insatiable desire: its hunger for eternal life and infinite pleasures leads it to an interest in other aspects of things than their supposedly hidden inside.

    Parapornography accepts the principle of undressing as something real, problematic, interesting, disgusting, but also as a kind of mistake. The will to undress more and more can be likened to chemistry, striving to find the smallest particles of reality.

    This quest sooner or later unmakes itself, hits paradoxes in which physics has to enter with its different models.”

    Brilliant. Yes.

  15. Johannes Göransson

    And what about the fact that it now turns out porn actors made that “Innocence of Muslims” video that is causing so much upheaval in the middle east. They thought they were just making a porno.

    Johannes

  16. Lara Glenum

    Johannka, I’m really interested in how the parapornographic causes the psychologizing/depth model of art to leak. To quote again, “its hunger for eternal life and infinite pleasures leads it to an interest in other aspects of things than their supposedly hidden inside.”

    Interiority, subjectivity, etc.–the “undressing”–are not dismissed but are also “a kind of mistake.” Red herrings. Mimetic tools that reproduce mechanical arousal and discharge (in art, “catharsis”) ad nauseum.

  17. James Pate

    In some ways, parapornography reminds me of the notion of polymorphous perversity that Marcuse used to talk about, but with a really crucial difference. If polymorphous perversity still has a very organic, holistic notion of the body, a notion that implies the self is body, parapornography seems to be inorganic, mechanic, and based on repetition and dispersal. It also turns things on its head: the search for some sort of holistic sexual truth is replaced by fetishistic play. I keep thinking of the way Murakami’s characters are obsessed by ears, or the way Samuel Delany’s characters are obsessed by fingernails.

    It also reminds me of Deleuze’s notion of minor literature. Parapornography also collapses the triangles, the sexual, the social, the economic. Especially when Edenborg talks about the supposed filth of the proletariat and how parapornography relates it to the filth of sexuality…

    James

  18. Lara Glenum

    Love this, James: “It also turns things on its head: the search for some sort of holistic sexual truth is replaced by fetishistic play.”

    Amen.