Pornography and Sexual Representation: A Reference Guide - Vol. 3

By Joseph W. Slade | Go to book overview

Preface

This Reference Guide is structured around two premises. The first is that regardless of how one may feel about pornography, sexual expression, and representation, it has profoundly enriched American culture. Rather than try to "prove" this assertion, I allow the sources cited to speak for themselves. At the very least, gathering materials together indicates the degree to which pornography has permeated the social, economic, and political life of America, and I am confident that readers of this Guide will be just as astonished as I am by the evidence from so many quarters. As members of a culture, we think about pornography in many different ways. The diversity of opinion is a reminder that far from encapsulating dominant or hegemonic ideas and attitudes—as some critics hold—pornography does not compel assent to a particular agenda. Rather, it invites a constant reevaluation that has so far not tapped the secret of its marginality. Sexual expression somehow continuously refreshes itself, so that it remains taboo and thus, in a version of cultural thermodynamics, continuously energizes mainstream social and political expression. How pornography remains forever at the edge is not always clear; that it does so is manifest in the debate that it engenders.

The second premise is that pornography and what we say about pornography constitute our principal ways of speaking about sex, one reason that many researchers prefer the neutral term sexual materials to the more charged word pornography. Traced far enough, all such materials, all such forms of speaking, are rooted in the oral genres of folklore. "All folklore is erotic," said the late folklorist Gershon Legman, who had in mind the speech of the unwashed. But, in a larger sense, pornography and the comment that it generates, some of it sophisticated, much of it carried by advanced communication conduits, are contemporary versions of the same ancient narratives, jokes, and legends that Leg-

-xvii-

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