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Posts Tagged ‘pornography’

Still Flaming After All These Years, and Other News

June 12, 2015 | by


Frederic Lord Leighton, Flaming June, 1830–1896.

  • Everyone holds up Anna Karenina as a milestone for realism—“We are not to take Anna Karénine as a work of art; we are to take it as a piece of life,” Matthew Arnold wrote—but Janet Malcolm raises an eyebrow at all that. “The book’s ‘astonishing immediacy’ is nothing if not an object of the exaggeration, distortion, and dissimulation through which each scene is rendered … If the dream is father to imaginative literature, Tolstoy may be the novelist who most closely hews to its deep structures.”
  • Now at the Frick Collection: Frederic Leighton’s Flaming June, an iconic Victorian painting whose subject’s well-developed right thigh set the world on fire. “The beautiful woman asleep in some archaic past was a recurrent motif in Victorian art … The figure of the languid woman is more than just an object of erotic desire. She’s the opposite of the rationalist, ever-striving, murderously competitive spirit—once conventionally thought of as distinctively masculine. She embodies a yearning to relax, to retire from the fray and take pleasure in just being alive.”
  • Jenny Diski is dying of lung cancer, and facing the illness the only way she knows how: in prose. “A marvel of steady and dispassionate self-revelation, Diski’s cancer essays are bracingly devoid of sententiousness, sentimentality or any kind of spiritual urge or twitch … they also testify to an inner life of undiminished hyperactivity.”
  • Nesh, gloaming, cochineal, swamm, clart: writers pick their favorite words. “The chosen words are mostly regional, often monosyllabic, and frequently richly onomatopoeic: the natural poetry of the heterogeneous English-speaking tongue.”
  • In which Orson Welles dabbles in pornography: in a pro-bono gig for the picture 3 A. M., the filmmaker “wound up editing a hard-core lesbian shower scene that he couldn’t resist cutting in Wellesian fashion with low camera angles and other trademark flair.”

The Reality of People: An Interview with Dian Hanson

March 18, 2015 | by


Zodiac Lovers Day-Glo poster, 1973.

Dian Hanson has made a career of “probing the subtleties of male lust.” In 1976, she began to edit such successful fetish magazines as Juggs, Oui, Leg Show, and Outlaw Biker. Pornography, at that time, had just gone through one of its more awkward phases. Amid the psychedelia and taboo-busting of the sexual revolution, men’s magazines weren’t sure how far to go in depicting free love; an industry built on forbidden fantasy risked being outpaced by real life.

That dilemma is at the heart of Psychedelic Sex, which catalogs, with more than four hundred pages of art, the attempts by men’s glossies to offer an authentic hippie sex trip. More than an exercise in kitsch, the book captures a shift in male sexuality—it reminds of a time when pornography and the stories it tells about our culture were completely different than they are today.

Hanson, who’s now the official “sexy editor” of Taschen Books, is uniquely informed, having seen pornography as a photo and text editor, an advice writer, an occasional model, and a true fan. From her home in Los Angeles, she spoke to me about changing mores, the contempt for pornography even among those who make and consume it, and the many misconceptions of the male psyche.

Psychedelic Sex is about magazines from the late sixties and early seventies, which you seem to have a vast knowledge of, even though you didn’t start editing magazines until 1976.

This book was an offshoot of my six-volume history of men’s magazines. When I was doing the fourth through sixth volumes of that, I hooked up with a collector in San Francisco—Eric Gotland, who was a rock manager. He made a lot of money with Third Eye Blind and used it to fulfill his adolescent fantasy of owning every issue of every men’s magazine ever made. Of course, once he started on this journey, he found that there were so many men’s magazines that it was impossible to buy them all. Still, he filled a warehouse in the Potrero Hill section of San Francisco with these magazines, buying like a lunatic on eBay and everyplace he could find them. I would go up there and go through the boxes with him, which was a joy. We started finding all this psychedelic stuff, and he was a particular fan of it—he’d been too young to be a part of the sexual revolution, but he was fascinated by it, as any ten-year-old boy would be. We decided that this would make a great book on its own, mapping this strange subgenre that tried to represent hippies and hippie sex and the drug experience for straight guys who felt left out of the whole sexual revolution. They went on from about 1967 to about 1973. Read More »


March 10, 2015 | by


Ron Arad, Pressed Flower Yellow, 2013, steel, glass, leather, plastic, and vinyl, 145 5/8" x 98 3/8" x 7 7/8". Image via Paul Kasmin Gallery

In 1970, before he started on Crash, J. G. Ballard staged an exhibition of totaled cars at London’s New Arts Laboratory—“three crashed cars in a formal gallery ambience,” he called it in his Art of Fiction interview:

The centerpiece was a crashed Pontiac from the last great tail-fin period … What I was doing was testing my own hypotheses about the ambiguities that surround the car crash … I hired a topless girl to interview people on closed-circuit TV. The violent and overexcited reaction of the guests at the opening party was a deliberate imaginative overload which I imposed upon them in order to test my own obsession. The subsequent damage inflicted on the cars during the month of the show—people splashed them with paint, tore off the wing mirrors—and at the opening party, where the topless girl was almost raped in the rear seat of the Pontiac (a scene straight from Crash itself), convinced me I should write Crash. The girl later wrote a damningly hostile review of the show in an underground paper.

Read More »

The Chinese Photobook

February 13, 2015 | by



Cover and interior selection from Pictorial Review of the Sino-Japanese Conflict in Shanghai. Shanghai: Wen Hwa Fine Arts Press, Ltd., 1932. From The Chinese Photobook (Aperture, 2015).

Even with the advent of digital photography, it’s never been easy to publish a book of photographs: time, labor, and production costs ensure that such projects can’t be undertaken casually, at least not well. There’s something inherently lavish in a book of pictures, something that makes the eyebrows rise. A photobook, with its unwieldy trim size, its color printing, and its demanding design constraints, always answers to a grave question of purpose: What does it do? Why did it need to exist? Does it serve merely to bring prestige to your coffee table, or can it act to didactic, moral, or even geopolitical ends? If some publisher’s going to pony up, those questions are less rhetorical than they might sound.

The Chinese Photobook,” a new exhibition at Aperture Gallery curated by Martin Parr and the Dutch “artist-duo” WassinkLundgren, surveys more than a century of China’s rich photo-book publishing history. It surprises both in its complex portrayal of Chinese history and in the depth it gives to photo-book publishing as an enterprise. Read More »


The Iconography of the Future, and Other News

December 3, 2014 | by


Ron Cobb’s Semiotic Standard for All Commercial Trans-Stellar Utility Lifter and Heavy Element Transport Spacecraft, ca. 1979.

  • “There remain subjects aside from storytelling that the novel might continue to pursue profitably—subjects that weren’t exhausted in the nineteenth century. A few that come to my mind: interpersonal ethics; the varieties of form conscience takes in individual psyches; the difficulty of getting along with others; the qualities of mind that meaningfully distinguish one person from another … Whatever else it’s done, contemporary life hasn’t obviated these kinds of questions any more than it has rendered the novel incapable of addressing them.”
  • On Cubism and an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “What happened in Paris in the seven years up to 1914 can be thanked or blamed for almost anything you like in the later art of the century … ”
  • The Swedes knew how to design a great cemetery: Skogskyrkogården, built in the early twentieth century, fuses the classical and the modernist. “The cemetery showed the twentieth century a way forward. It showed that design could be in touch with the deepest roots of European civilization without being enslaved to old architectural languages … It transcended its time in a way that very few other works of modernism could manage.”
  • The typesetting of the future: How do sci-fi movies find fonts and visuals that seem believably vatic? Alien, for example, boasts a production design that’s “a perfect example of used-future chic.” It also features an entire iconography designed by Ron Cobb: the Semiotic Standard for All Commercial Trans-Stellar Utility Lifter and Heavy Element Transport Spacecraft.
  • These are a few of the sex acts no longer legally filmable by UK pornographers: “spanking,” “aggressive whipping,” “urolagnia (known as ‘water sports’).”


Desperate Measures: An Interview with David Gordon

October 27, 2014 | by

David Gordon_Credit Michael Sharkey

Photo: Michael Sharkey

David Gordon’s fiction doesn’t fall comfortably into one category. Depending on what you’re reading and who you’re talking to, he might be a mystery writer, a postmodernist, a satirist, or a hybrid. His new collection, White Tiger on Snow Mountain, runs an impressive gamut. Its cast is large and varied—there are gunmen, grad students, investigators, vampires, struggling writers, Internet sex trolls, and men named David Gordon. (One of these stories, “Man-Boob Summer,” first appeared in The Paris Review’s Fall 2012 issue.) Gordon’s sentences are crisp and often jarring. His plots unspool in strange, sometimes disturbing ways. There’s little to be gained in trying to situate yourself according to generic conventions; better just to enjoy the disorientation and to trust that you’re in the hands of an earnest storyteller.

I met with Gordon, who has also published two novels, on a Friday afternoon in Brooklyn. School was letting out next door, but Gordon’s booming voice carried over the two-thirty hysteria. We spoke over the course of the afternoon about repurposing genres, literary stardom in Japan (the Japanese translation of his first novel, The Serialist, was a major success), the risks of first-person storytelling, and the publishing-industry controversy swirling around him.

White Tiger on Snow Mountain is your first story collection. Did you approach the stories differently than you would a novel?

In conceptual terms, I do think there’s a difference, at least for me. A story usually comes into my mind like a three-dimensional object—something I can see and feel and rotate. I’m often completely wrong about what the object is, but it’s still there. Whereas a novel is more like a set of directions for a road trip to California, with a planned stop in, say, Colorado and a visit to the Grand Canyon. The truth is I have no idea what’s going to happen along the way or whether I’ll even get there, but I have this general sense of direction and an end I hope to reach.

Now that the stories are completed and assembled, are you surprised at any of the themes or images that crop up?

I wrote these stories over a period of years, so some of the thematic echoes that people point out seem fairly straightforward for somebody who’s been writing for a long time—you deal with certain recurring ideas and problems. But then there are very specific echoes that I wasn’t aware of, and those are really interesting to me. My protagonists eat a lot of Chinese food and go to a lot of cafés. People tend to have cats in my stories, and the women have long fingers. I have no idea where this stuff comes from. I have no lost love with long fingers. I guess these things just leak out of my subconscious. Read More »