Pornography and Sexual Representation: A Reference Guide - Vol. 1

By Joseph W. Slade | Go to book overview

5
Histories of Sexuality and Its Representations

TOE “INVENTION” OF PORNOGRAPHY

In tracing expression, older historians have gleaned from earlier epochs texts and images that we would today consider erotic or pornographic. Though it is difficult to know whether people of these periods were offended by such artifacts, some evidence suggests that they were. The three volumes of A History of Private Life, a series edited by Phillipe Aries and Georges Duby, focus on the details of daily life from the Roman empire to Renaissance Europe and cover sex, privacy, intimacy, and tastes. Some historians draw interesting observations from Fernand Braudel's assertion in Capitalism and Material Life, 1400–1800 that the concept of privacy was unknown before the eighteenth century (224), a consideration that colors our understanding of venues for sex and its representations. If prior to that time people routinely engaged in intercourse in front of others, either out of doors or in crowded rooms, then images of intercourse— that is, pornography-would have held little voyeuristic appeal; anyone interested could without much difficulty have found lovers to watch. On the other hand, numerous citations to contemporary documents cited in the volumes in the Aries and Duby series attest to reactions against explicitness. Similarly—to pick another example at random—Barbara W. Tuchman reports in her A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century that Nicolas de Clamanges charged that his contemporaries defiled the church by selling obscene pictures during festivals at holy days (485); Tuchman is quoting from Clamanges' De Ruina et Reparatione Ecclesia (The Ruin and Reform of the Church), a text that precedes the printing press, but oral complaints must have been far more vociferous. The issue is this, When did the notion of sexual transgression become institutionalized and represented as such?

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