In the series The Dialectics of the Sexes: no. 5


Perhaps that – our very inhumanity – is what makes us most human of all.

Philip Kerr, The One from the Other

When a modest woman’s lowers her eyes for me,
I am on fire, her chastity lures me in ambush.

Ovid, Amores II, 4


It is always an intense pleasure to invent a neologism. Pornology seems to me one, entirely sure I’m not. Here in France I do not have my dictionary for ‘foreign words’ with me. In the thesaurus of my laptop the word is not stored. There is a good chance that it really did not exist before me.*

Be that as it may, the word ‘pornology’ nicely headlines what is to follow. The theme is, of course, inexhaustible, it risks infinity.

For a long time now I have contemplated the zero degree of the flesh, that moment when all love evaporates and only horny impulse asserts itself, the moment when bodies merge, however not there supposed souls. Soul is but an expression for the je ne sais quoi of our own inner ponderings and emotions, however physical they may be.

Women usually deny the reality of this zero degree of the flesh, even though they are said to, now and then, die their ‘little death’. They are convinced that precisely at this lowest point of spiritual consciousness the highest peaks of love are to be achieved – that true union of the beloved, of Subject and Subject as the philosopher would put it. Personally I consider that horny peak experience as our moment of greatest loneliness and radical alienation – the functioning of the body as sheer Object, its machine-like ‘little death’ included.

Am I bad, then? Our humanity – and why not: that soul, that spirituality – perhaps lies exactly in the ability to return once again from those animalistic moments of ‘the little death, back to human love. A man with such an idea cannot be all that bad.

An older man now, this zero degree is denied to me. All the more my attentions may be given to My Lady. Whereas she still can achieve that zero degree of the flesh, it is me who is very consciously trying to bring her there.

Grown old, I also became a victim of tear jerkers, a push-over. Show me a movie scene which aims at crying, my tears are given free rein. It is not me giving them carte blanche, rather it is my bodily frame which gives up its resistance against the flood. Moisture lurks behind the retina for its chance to overflow. Emotional incontinence it is, without doubt. Porn pics, by contrast, are increasingly the trigger for the still remaining, rücksichtslos hardness. Relentless meat in view, devoid of any sublime feeling.

Perhaps this is the reason why I am aesthetically ambivalent when looking at photographic or pictorial nudism. A still picture cannot be manipulated, it quite often aims for ‘art’. Naked film meat, by contrast, is just gaudy insignificance, it moves and merely shows itself to excite the very moment when an ideal version of my fetish comes in view. Then I will use the pause button or slomo through a scene.

The pornographic eye is Cyclopean, watching a skin flick one is best off with one eye only. Porn is always in perspective.



Dührer, Perspective Machine

After all, the explicit fetish is not so much to be seen as to be possessed wile triggering one’s own activity.

Eros, by contrast, needs the two-eyed view; it should look around corners in search of an elevated extra. The fine mind is an octopus with many tentacles and suction cups, a hydra with heads. Eros never excites one’s flesh. Show me the man who comes while watching a splendid painted nude…

Here in La Roche, against a battle-array of books-to-be-read, some dictionaries are flanked by two contrasting picture postcards. Currently, on the left, a nude photo made by Raoul Hausmann in 1930 and on the right a fragment of the 1479-triptych by Hans Memling, showing Her Holiness Barbara.



At work, Pornologist!

Does Hausmann’s Lady excite me? Both the angle at which she was photographed and her pose are not at all bad, porn wise that is. You look at her from behind, almost inside her acceptable buttocks, the result of her lifting the left leg somewhere higher, leaning it on an invisible object. Her bent left arm explicitly resting on that leg, opens the armpit for her voyeur.

Is this photo pornographic? Methinks not. After all, in that case her arse would have come in view, it would have been at least suggested to the viewer. Whether it has been subtly retouched by the photographer or was never in view on film remains in doubt. Now it is but a well rounded behind, no more, no less. Whether Raoul Hausmann intended it as porn rather than as an erotic photo also remains doubtful. It is either a failure or a success, we shall never know.

Barbara by contrast is chaste, in that typical fifteenth-century manner, with a demure cast down look that makes her pupils invisible, the face unmoved, a décolleté just cut high enough to merely allow you a suspicion of her tiny breasts. The tiara is beautiful – the headdress gives her still something coquettish, as if behind her coulisses there might be something more going on.

For me at least, it’s the tandem of these contrasting photo’s that does the trick. What on Hausmann’s photo is missing in genuine horniness is complemented by Memling’s respectable beauty. That anonymous bare ass of the nude gets a Cyclopean glow, this by way of her beatific counterpoint. The nude becomes naked yet. By return mail, thanks to its placement next to that naked ass, Barbara now is allowed her sheer elevated chastity. My first suspicions about her are forced out and disappear.

Then again, my eyes going to and fro between the one and the other, the now naked ass may still turn chaste Barbara’s look into an ambush.

June 2010

* Unfortunately, ‘pornology’ is not a neologism, as was revealed to me after I came back to The Netherlands by typing it on Google; a nice word it remains though.


Author: rjsiersk

Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats. The reader, interested in my writings on aesthetics, literature, and sociology, may want to open, where various pieces are published.

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