Another effort Revolutionaries, if you would be Pornographers
To a lecture yesterday by Simon Burrows on the 'pornographic interpretation' of the French Revolution. In short, this is the view that a flood of scurrilous material about the sexual predilictions of the court, and specifically that of Marie Antoinette, helped bring about the revolution. This was comrehensively refuted, albeit in a rather smug and scholastic manner, though it left another question entirely open. Viz, if all these works pornographically smearing the Bourbons actually emerged post-1789, then what does this mean for the revolution's sexual politics?
Sexpol begins with the sub-literature of enlightenment France, in works like Therese Philosophe or more obviously in De Sade. Ideas were worked out through, and alongside, titillation, with one working off the other. So the blasphemy and grandiose obscenity of the smears on the good character of the French queen (whose most conspicuous feature seems to have been, in true sloane fashion, being terribly boring) could actually have been delineating a post-revolutionary sexual ethic. In 1927, Walter Benjamin advocated, in the essay 'A State Monopoly on Pornography', that via this always in demand form, writers could find again their place in the productive process. This isn't just facetiousness- what if this form could be radicalised? Angela Carter's Sadeian Woman suggests a similar possibility, pornography in the service of women, or of the revolution. An idea that seems absurd in today's overlit porn panopticon, but which was considered unremarkable in the 18th century.