Sunday, March 16, 2008

Andrea Dworkin on Pornography

Sporadic blogging, at least compared to my standards! It will probably continue for some more time. I don't know, may be it is just regular homesickness, but I haven't been feeling very well. I haven't even been reading or commenting on the regular blogs either. Sorry folks, hopefully things will get back to normal soon.

On reading front, I finally finished reading Andrea Dworkin's Pornography: Men Possessing Women. To call it grim would be an understatement. What can we do? The world is so full of pimps, pornographers and rapists. For women and children it is just hell on earth. This is the worldview that the book proposes.

Dworkin is obviously very well-read. The book is choc-a-bloc with literary and intellectual references. It is a surprise then that she is so literal minded about the ideas behind a pornographic imagination and censorship in society. One of the basic tenets of any humanistic liberal system is the way it differentiates between private thought and external behavior or action. In between the two there is a moral consciousness. Men may think and imagine a lot of sordid things but that need not translate into any recognizable behavior and so long as it does not, it does not harm anybody and so can't be censored. This is how she misreads Marquis de Sade, and also Georges Bataille (I have read neither by the way). You can have problems with Sade's personal life, even with his published text but not on these grounds that his imagination was immoral. Freedom from ethical intrusions can lead to an anarchic self-fulfillment in the interior world, that's what Sade's writings seem to show or at least that's what one of the interpretation of his writings goes. There are of course many more intelligent critiques. Albert Camus has a few things to say about him in his essay The Rebel (of which I don't remember much now) and Simone de Beauvoir also has a chapter on him in her The Second Sex (which is next on my reading list by the way.)

It is not that Dworkin is interested only in intellectually respectable pornography. Most of the book is about run of the mill commercial stuff. She recounts the plot of few of these in sordid and tedious detail, most of which I skipped. Nobody will deny that almost without exception commercial pornography is hateful, ugly and misogynistic. It is also stupid, thoughtless and banal. But even after that I wouldn't say that the existence of such pornography and the laws which make it possible prove that Men hate Women, as she says in the book.

Much more basic fact, and she also acknowledges it elsewhere in the book, is that in our society economic and political power is still concentrated in the hands of men. It is men who own most of the property and the money. One would have to agree that in a society with this kind of inequality, even in the the best-case scenario, the best that one can say about a man-woman relationship is paternalistic. Even romantic love is actually in most cases this paternalistic love. It is not a love based on respect because men find no need or reason to respect women. (Now that is different from an active hatred.) They have what it takes - money and power. In one of her controversial statements Dworkin once said that all heterosexual or penetrative intercourse is rape. Rape is probably a stronger word, but in a male supremacist society all heterosexual intercourse is definitely prostitution. The difference is mostly just a matter of degree. Thinking along these lines one also realizes how complicated really are the concepts behind coercion and consent, and indeed the very definition of "violence". If a secretary agrees to sleep with her boss to gain promotion, is it really a consensual sex? It is also not rape but yes, one does begin to understand what Dworkin is trying to say. (Or, "in seduction, the rapist often bothers to buy a bottle of wine," as one of her famous quotes goes.)

In the end it comes as a disappointment then that rather than hitting at the root cause of the problem, Dworkin advocates censorship against pornographic images. Pornography and prostitution exist because men are buyers (because they have excess money) and women are sellers (because they don't have excess money). Once this inequality is breached the demand and supply will automatically take care of the problem, to a large extent at least. There is a lot more in the book which got on my nerves and a few with which I agreed but I will save them for later.

No comments: