Pornography, Literature, and the Redemption of Virility

Carolyn J. Dean

in The Frail Social Body

Published by University of California Press

Published in print February 2000 | ISBN: 9780520219953
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520923485 | DOI:
Pornography, Literature, and the Redemption of Virility

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Voluminous evidence from the interwar period suggests that the solidity of the pornography concept was compromised by the increasingly widespread perception that its omnipresence and power threatened even the most hardened and rational spirits. In order to salvage moral order, social critics still evoked pornography's capacity to damage women, children, and working-class men, and sought to censor and repress it. This chapter discusses the relationship between pornography and femininity and pornography and gender more generally in the context of debates about the boundary between literature and pornography, in order to understand why, in this case, the feminized and even sexualized body was always a pornographic one. Literary men used women's seductive powers to figure the specter of cultural dissolution, and in so doing established a powerful symbolic association between degeneracy, sexuality, femininity, and pornography. When Robert Desnos said that “erotic literature could not lie,” he meant that the truly literary work names or “liberates” and thereby purifies, its virility, proudly proclaiming its higher truth.

Keywords: pornography; literature; gender; femininity; sexualized body; degeneracy; sexuality; virility; moral order

Chapter.  10812 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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