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Academic study of pornography

Parent: American academia

Related: James Atlas - academic - Laura Kipnis - pornography - Brian McNair - Connie Shortes - Linda Williams - paracinema

The Loose Canon

Nowhere in the world is the academic theory of sexuality and pornography studied more vigorously than in the United States, which is strange, since it is by and large a rather prudish society. [May 2006]

The Loose Canon

No longer the preserve of sleazy shops, pornography is now being embraced in the respected halls of academia, writes JAMES ATLAS

IN THE Musical Offering Café, across the street from the Berkeley campus, Linda Williams, a professor of film studies at the University of California, was describing to me the virtues of Latex, a futuristic hard-core porn flick about a man possessed of the psychic ability to divine people's sexual fantasies.

Williams is the author of a book Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the 'Frenzy of the Visible', a study of pornography which has gained a wide readership among academics and has just been reprinted in a revised, illustrated edition. She also teaches a graduate course entitled "Pornographies On/scene", which features the in-class viewing not only of such classics as Deep Throat, The Opening of Misty Beethoven and Behind the Green Door, but also of rawer specimens, like Suburban Dykes and John Wayne Bobbitt: Uncut.

A handsome woman with greying hair and horn-rimmed glasses, Williams is the very antithesis of a campus radical. Her conversation is equable, measured and wide-ranging in its cultural references; she's as likely to drop the name of D H Lawrence or Jacques Lacan as that of the porn star Candida Royalle. Her book, an erudite and closely argued assessment of porn films from the crude era of stag through to the lavish extravaganzas of today, belongs on the growing shelf of academic works devoted to pornography, books by scholars like Laura Kipnis, a tenured professor at Northwestern known for her pioneering study of the industry, Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Pornography in America, and Chris Straayer, of New York University, the author of Deviant Eyes, Deviant Bodies: Sexual Re-orientation in Film and Video.

Both of those books are on the syllabus of Rhetoric 241, as Williams's course is blandly identified in the Berkeley catalogue. Students must also work their way through some heavy theory - such as Foucault's classic History of Sexuality and the Marxist critic Fredric Jameson's essay "Pleasure: A Political Issue" - and write a 20-page paper "on some aspect of visual pornography". -- © The New Yorker via http://www.suntimes.co.za/1999/05/30/lifestyle/life07.htm [Oct 2005]

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