This book studies the literary and cinematic functions of the pornographic as a development from a poetics of obscenity. It focuses on the developments of French, British, and American artistic pornography since the eighteenth century. Discussing female literary figures including Hall, Wharton, Nin, "Reage," Jong, and Shulman; such men as Cleland, Sade, Beardsley, Lawrence, Joyce, and Miller; and film makers such as Brakhage, Jack Smith, Bruce Conner, Bertolucci, Oshima, and Wertmuller; Michelson analyzes both the use of aesthetic pornography and the philosophical, cultural, and legal implications of its use. He proposes that realizing the obscene —in the sense of speaking the unspeakable— is the principle aesthetic function of pornography.
Peter Michelson teaches in the English Department at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
"This book goes far beyond the limited implications of the free-speech arguments typically used in support of pornography and erotica. It convincingly argues for the profound, even if sometimes demonic, values of pornography and erotica in the context of literary studies, cultural practices, and philosophical discourse. It is well argued and well researched, avoiding both the polemical excesses and the technical jargon that mar so much current discourse on the topic. Its theoretical openness permits often striking leaps of the imagination and far-reaching apercus which might otherwise have been lost under the weight of a more rigid technical machinery. " — Allen S. Weiss, New York University