Oral exams are June 4th, so I'll know by then at the latest if I'm a complete wasto!
So, some of the pertinent info that's on my mind is here:
I'm worried about my ability to communicate. I entered the above thread in the interest of expanding my vocabulary, to better understand my position as someone striving to be a feminist in a late-capitalist patriarchy. What does being entail, and how can I minimize the violence essential to my existence. I am, after all, privileged, par excellence, and will be received that way. When I look, I gaze, and I need to learn (it will be my project for life to learn) how to mitigate that gaze, to make it positive rather than possessive.
Porn is an obvious site of exploration. Without the gaze, there is no porn. Regrettably, studying music theory and being interested specifically in how feminism works there has steered my reading away from the visual and into the areas of cultural production and music. Representation is key, as is subjectivity. Understanding various theories of ontology and epistemology has taken a great deal of my time, and, I hope, allowed me better to understand the degree of my complicity in the reinscription of a phallogocentric economy.
But maybe not. Maybe the sound of my voice, the intrusion of my name, is enough to prevent me from not being the father. My identity as a heterosexual male seems to be enough to align me with the phallocracy, to pin me as a porn-mongering apologist.
Recent experience outside of the web has taught me that it doesn't do any good to blame the reader for misreading. If that were the case, there would be no motion outside the dominant, no room for dissenting voices. It seems to me the only wiggle room is found in a multi-vocal approach to reading that is inquisitive rather than accusing.
But this doesn't get around the problem of speaking. I have a voice: it's part of being privileged. How can I find a mode of discourse that invites multi-vocal reading? Some speech (and some topics) automatically restrict response choices (I do not think this is necessarily one of those places, but I have personal reasons for wanting to theorize this moment). My position of power as a pretty good-sized straight white male means that I'm in that position a lot (I even had a young girl run down the street one night because she saw me walking home). I try to be sensitive and sensible of the sometimes silencing effect of my body, but that is not enough, even when I'm successful. Is there a way for me to be, to speak, to touch, etc., that always leaves open every avenue of response?
It should be pretty clear that I don't have an answer to this. If I did, I'd already have a job.
The question of porn is a particular instance. I will rule out immediately porn of the violent stripe, and porn involving coercion (economic, sexual, narcotic, etc.): those are clearly negative, both in their treatment of the cast and in their construction of culture. But suppose in a fantasy land there is a recording of people enjoying a sexual exchange, filmed, packaged, sold and viewed with the intent of arousing the viewer (let's be self-indulgent and pragmatic and assume, as is often done tacitly, that the viewer is a heterosexual male), perhaps even for masturbatory purposes. Is their violence there? (and please, these questions are of course rhetorical, but not meant to imply a specific answer, but rather to leave them open)
This is a problem, as always, of representation. What porn does that seems most violent (in Butler's sense of the word) is construct sexual ideals. The very act of recording and marketing the sexual image of a person is an endorsement of that image as preferred, and the success of the image reifies it as an ideal. Then if your boobs aren't big enough, you're not sexy enough, because you don't meet the ideal (e.g.). But of course, that's not just porn (excepting absurdly broad definitions of the term): movies, advertisements, books, religion, the state, philosophy... all these things are in the business of constructing ideals up to which no one will ever measure. If representation is the problem, then if we can't watch porn, we also can't engage in most modes of cultural production (including classical music, according to McClary--and I buy this part of her argument).
But there is a difference. Cultural production that participates in the construction of ideals is ubiquitous: we call it patriarchy, but it goes by any number of names (see Oh God, below). Porn is unique, though, in it's portrayal of sex. When I go to bed with a woman, she is almost always completely physically vulnerable to me. Because porn does not exist in isolation, but rather interacts with everything else, the idealization of a sexual body, combined with a culture of rape, recodes my body as dangerous, rather than only sensual (and by rape culture I mean Western culture--see Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will [which I've not yet finished], or for a shorter article, Ruth Solie, "What Do Feminist Want? A Reply to Pieter van den Toorn," The Journal of Musicology 9, No. 4, 1991, 399-410). The interaction between a culture of physical violence against women and an industry predicated on the construction of an impossible sexual ideal breeds both violence and the expectation thereof. While I cannot do much to change my cultural membership or my body, I can control my relationship to porn. In the hope that this small change will make she whom I love (still I speak in ideals--both love and she at the present) safer.
Most of this reasoning is happening in real-time. I'm beginning to think it would have been more effective to talk to myself than to try to enter a stream in which, in retrospect, I was clearly not welcome.
I'm very bitter about this last. I love Twisty's work, and will continue to read her blog, but I'm quite scandalized by the ease with which I was presumed guilty even while I expressed my interest and openness.
Politics is impossible, and always happens anyway. I've often heard people claim that feminists hate porn because they're all a bunch of fat lesbians and it makes them feel bad (or that they're lesbians because they're fat and men don't want them--Freud gets pretty close to exactly that claim. Freud was a pretty horrible person). I'd like to pretend this is just a caricature of conservatism, but I'm sure we all know better. I obviously don't share this view of feminism: if I did I wouldn't have asked for a reason, believing instead that I already held it. What caught me off guard was that I was instantly caricatured in an equally unflattering way. I wanted to know the reasons behind a position, and I was therefore opposed to the position, and entrenched in my love for, need of, porn. But we went over this a bit above. I'm recursing, this time with more frustration in my voice, and I will move on.
I was going to end by repeating my resolution to take mearl at his/her word, but now that I've had the time to work through the argument on my own (spurred on, admittedly, by a recent and distressing revelation I shan't recount), I need not (though I will anyway).
It is pretty clear at this point that the differentiation between gay and straight porn, between violent and non-violent porn, etc., is unnecessary. I began this inquiry from a selfish point of view, wanting to know how I might better conduct myself to minimize my complicity. Since I don't participate sexually in the gay community, nuances of that genre are not relevant. Since it is unlikely that the quality of my porn will affect its reception by a third party, this latter is irrelevant as well.
So while I'll certainly keep thinking about this, and reading (Dworkin here I come, once those general exams are done), I'll go ahead and make this my official renunciation of porn statement. I know this will ring hollow for most of you, since you've no idea whether or not I'm lying. Do I even know?
I'm not sure the title seems as relevant now as it was, but I think it still is. After all, this is the sort of thing that might not be easily discussed, even between intimate partners. How do you tell the person you love that there is a physical threat, and it's him?
PS, thoughts, comments, tirades, criticism, expansion, etc., are all extremely welcome and solicited. Especially if you're pissed at me still.