Thanks to Akismet anti-spam filters, I can blog more about Angela Carter’s book. It has great nuggets about politics (“Class dictates our choice of partners […] it must be obvious that sexual sophistication is a by-product of education”); about psychology (“Sade is a great puritan and will disinfect of sensuality anything he can lay his hands on; therefore he writes about sexual relations in terms of butchery and meat”); about clever historical critique (“Sade, the eighteenth-century lecher, knew that manipulation of the clitoris was the unique key to the female orgasm, but a hundred years later, Sigmund Freud, a Viennese intellectual, did not wish to believe that this grand simplicity was all there was to the business […] Yet Freud, the psychoanalyst, can conceive of a far richer notion of human nature as a whole than Sade, the illiberal philosopher, is capable of; the social boundaries of knowledge expand in some areas and contract in others due to historical forces”).
The central theme of the book was perhaps an exercise in hope for a growth in the level of common discourse that, as far as I can see, has not occurred in the last thirty years or so: not because Angela Carter hasn’t been read (the book, unlike most feminist critique, is still in print); but perhaps because we haven’t been courageous enough. Her first chapter, aptly named “Polemical Preface: Pornography in the Service of Women”, sets out a lucid diagnosis and a vision for change, a change that did not happen in her lifetime, and I doubt I may see in mine:
Pornographers are the enemies of women only because our contemporary ideology of pornography does not encompass the possibility of change, as if we were the slaves of history and not its makers, as if sexual relations were not necessarily an expression of social relations, as if sex itself were an external fact, as immutable as the weather, creating human practice but never a part of it. […] It is fair to say that, when pornography serves — as with rare exceptions it always does — to reinforce the prevailing system of values and ideas in a given society, is it tolerated; and when it does not, it is banned. […]
Out of this dilemma, the moral pornographer might be born.
The moral pornographer would be an artist who uses pornographic material as part of the acceptance of the logic of a world of absolute sexual licence for all the genders, and projects a model of the way such a world might work. A moral pornographer might use pornography as a critique of current relations between the sexes. His business would be the total demystification of the flesh and the subsequent revelation, through the infinite modulations of the sexual act, of the real relations of man and his kind. Such a pornographer would not be the enemy of women, perhaps because he might begin to penetrate to the heart of the contempt for women that distorts our culture even as he entered the realms of true obscenity as he describes it. […]
Sade remains a monstrous and daunting cultural edifice; yet I would like to think that he put pornography in the service of women, or, perhaps, allowed it to be invaded by an ideology not inimical to women.