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TEN FRAGMENTS ON A CARTOGRAPHY OF POST-PORNOGRAPHIC POLITICS by Tim Stüttgen

Annie Sprinkle, "Kitchen Performance Space", New York, 1990

Annie Sprinkle, "Kitchen Performance Space", New York, 1990

“Why watch porn? Why not? How theorize sex performances? Why not fuck different, instead of idealizing a way back to nature?” The „Post Porn Politics Conference“, that Tim Stüttgen organized at the Volksbühne in Berlin in 2006 started off with a set of questions, critically relating to pornography as a dispositive in a capitalist society, which manifests itself in disciplinary actions leveled at bodies and sexual pleasure. The invited theorists, performers, film makers, musicians and artists responded to notions of performative intervention, political ambivalence and strategies countering the heteronormative orientation of mainstream pornography in ever specific ways – mostly with reference to theories of transgender subjectivity and forms of queer disidentification. The main concern of Tim Stüttgen’s manifesto-like contribution from 2006, which we now make available online, is to develop a political perspective on porn within porn – just as much as thoroughly enjoying it.

1.0 POSE.

Post-pornography lays claim to a critical, revolutionary potential within the regime of sexual representation through performative excessiveness. But beware: This assertion is camp, a vulnerable gesture situated between implicit, critical, denaturalizing performance and glamorous affirmation (Brecht/Warhol). This doesn’t mean that it cannot have an effect on reality, though.

2.0 SPRINKLE.

Annie Sprinkle is the mother of post-porn. [1] Her career can be read as the performance of bio-political de-identification: sex worker – porn performer – performance artist – pro-sex feminist – happy-lesbian-love. Coming from the centre of the production of normative sex images, namely mainstream porn, Sprinkle abandoned the role of the victim in order to develop sexual and artistic practices that no longer naturalize, but instead comment, reflect and parody. This critical, performative approach to sex and image production marks a paradigm change from porn to post-porn.

In the age of digital cameras, Internet sex chats and amateur performances, the hetero-normative dispositives of contemporary hegemonic porn incessantly attempt to beef up the naturalization effects of their images, to dispense with narration and underscore their pseudo-documentary interpretation of desire as an “event that actually took place”. In following Sprinkle’s work (performances, body art, transgender sex films, photos, journalism, Tantra, burlesque, theatre), one encounters the potential diversity of a fund of practices that not only pave the way for new forms of critical-deconstructivist representation, but also enable the invention of counterstrategies and alternative desires.

3.0 RE-ACTUALIZATION.

Post-pornography is a transversal concatentation permeating the most diverse areas of sex and image production, be it on the Internet or in mass culture, in art or theory, in micro- or macro-politics. One of today’s most prominent post-pornographic blueprints stems from Beatriz [Paul B., editor's note] Preciado, who not only publishes articles on a philosophy of post-pornography but also organizes workshops for drag kings in the queer underground, and in 2004-1005 set up a lab for the development of post-pornography at the Museum of Contemporary Art Barcelona, in which short films were produced and new collective body-sex performances were developed together with sex workers, artists and other cultural producers, by employing practices such as S/M or drag and objects such as dildos or artificial arms. Preciado, too, makes reference to Sprinkle: “For me, the issue of (…) pornography should be judged from the perspective of performance theory. That’s something I learned from Annie Sprinkle.” [2]

4.0 INSCRIPTION.

According to the fundamental analyses of the film scholar Linda Williams [3], pornography consists in the staged re-inscription of the role relations of men as sadistic, dominant and powerful, and women as masochistic, submissive and powerless. The woman, subjected to the male gaze, admits that she desires this seemingly never-ending, identical narration of hetero-normative sex performance. The ultimate proof of the authenticity of the event called “sex”, from which the male performer emerges as a symbolic hero, is the cumshot, which functions as the climax and final proof that real sex has taken place. Williams grasps pornography in the tradition of the biopolitical confessions which Foucault examined in his ”History of Sexuality” [4] and understood as confessions of an inner truth of gender subjects which, from then on, served to anchor sexual identities. Preciado calls attention to the fact that Foucault’s history of sexuality ended in the 19th century – prior to the development of the photographic apparatuses. [5]

5.0 QUEER PRODUCTION.

If queerness is associated with making the representation of gender ambivalent, one strategy of post-porn would lie in complicating normative representation patterns in a critical way. But as both Sedgwick [6] and Preciado stress, post-porn also produces new forms of sexual subjectivity. Acts such as drag, cruising or dildo sex are not to be understood as the uncovering of the constructedness of heterosexual gender positions, but as articulations of the body that posses their own spatialities and temporalities and enable alternative forms of social practice and the production of subjectivity – and thus alternative forms of sexual identity and subjectivity as well.

6.0 FEMALE MASCULINITIES.

It seems to be the case today that post-porn is for the most part re-actualized in (post-)lesbian contexts. The performativity and production of masculinity with women in genres such as butchness or drag kinging, all the way to the concrete materializations of transgender bodies, mark a paradigm change in the power relations of femininity and masculinity. Post-porn takes note of masculinity’s arrival in the age of its performative reproducibility and, after decades of deconstructing femininity, addresses the no less constructed character of masculinity, which it expropriates from biological men.

7.0 FETISHES.

Post-porn neither condemns the fetish nor does it raise questions as to lack. It instead investigates what can be created with the fetish. It doesn’t look at what might await us after overcoming alienation, a perhaps happy natural state, but focuses on the de-naturalized body technologies which we can create using the fetish, beyond the normative forms of hetero-sex. Katja Diefenbach writes: “The question should not be whether beauty, sex, fashion, and pornography cover up power, but with which practices they connect themselves to each other and the way in which they produce bodies and ways of life. It’s not about uncovering but analyzing.” [7] A prominent example of the productive appropriation of the fetish is Preciado’s departure from the status of the phallus and her [his] philosophy of the dildocrats. The penis possesses its own biopolitical history, with penis lengths prescribed by medical dispositives and the destruction of deviant penis shapes, like in the mutilation of the genitals of intersexuals. Preciado cites Derrida’s proposition that the hetero-male power strategy consists precisely in maintaining that its own code is the original and all others are fakes. [8] For this reason, she [he] prefers to speak of the dildo, which she [he] grasps as part of the body that is a prosthesis. [9] In her [his] view, the dildo is replaceable in many respects; an arm can be a dildo, as can a baseball bat, a bottle, or – a penis. And the dildo belongs to no one: “The dildo negates the fact that desire is something that takes place within an organ belonging to the self.”

8.0 CONTRASEX.

In the “Contrasexual Manifesto” [10] , Preciado proposes exercises to deterritorialize the classical erogenous zones and instead open up new ones that have nothing to do with the binary of man and woman and the reference to reproductive organs. To this end, she [he] lionizes the proletarians of the anus, the founders of a new, contrasexual society: The anus is radically democratic in that every body possesses one. And every sex protagonist participates in the production of culture: We are all sexual proletarians. This appeal includes the production of the entire body of the people, it implies different forms of the practice of relationships, the dissolution of family structures, the demystification of heterosexual love, and the introduction of contractual sex, which subjects its acts to critical debate and allows them to be negotiated in political terms. Post-porn and contrasexuality influence and permeate each other. Parallels between sex films, as an alternative form of cultural production, and the basic practices of economic and artistic self-organization in feminism, can be traced from Sprinkle’s call for women to produce their own porn films [11] , all the way to the DIY workshops of the queer underground porn filmmakers Girlswholikeporno [12] (Barcelona).

9.0 BELLADONNA.

Post-pornography is not only produced on the fringes of queer contexts or the art scene. The mainstream porn-star, Belladonna, displays parallels to Annie Sprinkle’s de-identificatory practice, without taking recourse to the linear narrative of the social rise from a porn performer to an artist. Two years ago, Belladonna founded her own firm, “Belladonna Entertainment”, and rejected the classical patterns of hetero-sex. Beforehand, she had been a masochistic icon of gonzo porn, which since the boom of digital cameras sells sex performances as being even more “authentic”. In addition to the shaky hand-held-camera aesthetics and a documentary gesture having nothing to do with glamorous studio sets, gonzo stands for an intensification of the body. Harder sex with anal sex as a highlight, new gagging techniques (blowjobs leading to the actress almost suffocating=, more salivation and stronger affects. Belladonna utilized the intensification of gonzo sex for a line of flight away from the role of the passive female subject. She has now directed more than a dozen lesbian films which, as a matter of course, include fun and empathetically negotiate power relations anew. In “Belladonna Fucking Girls Again” (2005), the director play the role of a dominatrix with the submissive actress Melissa Lauren. At one point she demands that Lauren stick an inflatable dildo into her mouth, which, with the increasing influx of air, hardly reminds one of a penis anymore. Her face turns red and becomes a (post-) vaginal centre of desire. Lauren gently caresses it and kisses the tube out of Bella’s mouth. By means of a new body technology, power is turned into a complex relation of forces that departs from the symbolism of the phallus and the separation between dominant and submissive, man and woman. In “Fetish Fanatic 4” (2006), Belladonna turns a jet of water in a bathtub into a dildo for herself, which here doesn’t even possess the material, solid shape of a dildo. In the same performance (with the dominatrix Sandra Romain), there is also a kissing scene in which the dildo is shared by the mouths of two performers, until it disappears. The reference to the relation of phallus-dildo-power is thus entirely abolished. Both performers are at once penetrators and the ones being penetrated, so to speak.

10. POST-PORNOGRAPHIC IMAGES.

Merely a tendency towards post-pornographic images can be discerned, be it in the films of Bruce LaBruce, Virginie Despentes and Hans Scheirl or in the photographs of Del LaGrace Volcano. This is reminiscent of the concepts of movement-image and time-image in Deleuzes’s philosophy of film, in which they do not exist in a pure form but in a resonating body, as it were – as approximations and in degrees. [13] In general one can say that a post-porn image emancipates itself from the binary logic of hetero-power and makes available potentials for other forms of representation-critical affirmation, which make new subjectivities and power relations within the practice of sexuality conceivable and debatable. In the best case, this results in affective singularities of lustful image politics that smuggle themselves into the interface of theory and practice with the aim of complicating it. In the process, the gender-specific and economic circumstances of the works, as well as the fact that they are constructed, are suspended and put up for consideration.

Present post-porn debates are far from possessing a unified strategy or position. For example, while Sprinkle’s position can be interpreted as a campy, yet serious, claim to brotherly/sisterly love and humanistic integration, the most determined counterposition can be found in the anti-humanism of the queer theoretician Lee Edelman, for whom post-porn images are (or can be) only produced in sexual acts that place the sexually identitary mode of existence at risk. Terre Thaemlitz is also in line with such a position, yet he addresses it in the form of institutional criticism (e.g., of the art market) or by questioning the notion of subcultural community (e.g., queer communities). [14] Diefenbach, on the other hand, proposes conceiving post-pornography on this side of gestures of transgression and liberation or in relation to the symbolic law of the “big Other”, as a non-utopian strategy aiming at different economies between bodies and desires. [15]

Translation: Karl Hoffmann

Tim Stüttgen was a writer, performance artist, curator, and journalist.

Image credit: Annie Sprinkle, www.anniesprinkle.org.

Notes

[1]Cf. Annie Sprinkle, Post-Porn Modernist, San Francisco 1998.
[2]Tim Stüttgen, “Proletarier des Anus. Interview mit Beatriz Preciado, Teil 1”, in: Jungle World 48/04 (2004), p. 24.
[3]Linda Williams, Hard Core, Basel 1995.
[4]Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality I. An Introduction, New York 1978.
[5]Beatriz Preciado, “Gender Sex and Copyleft”, in: Del LaGrace Volcano, Sex Works, Tübingen 2005, p. 152.
[6]Eve K. Sedgwick, Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity, Durham 2003, p. 149.
[7]Katja Diefenbach, “The Spectral Form of Value. Ghost Things and Relations of Forces”, in: Simon Sheikh (ed.), Capital (It Fails us Now), Berlin 2006.
[8]Preciado refers to Derrida’s deconstruction of the French language as “original” and “mother tongue” in relation to the minority migrant languages of Hebrew and Algerian. In: Jacques Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other; Or, the Prosthesis of Origin, Stanford 1998.
[9]Tim Stüttgen, “Proletarier des Anus. Interview mit Beatriz Preciado, Teil 1”, loc. cit., p.24.
[10]Beatriz Preciado, Kontrasexuelles Manifest, Berlin 2004.
[11]Annie Sprinkle, “Annie Sprinkle’s Herstory of Porn” (New DVD-Edition with Off-Commentary by Linda Williams, www.anniesprinkle.org, 2006).
[12]For a view of the work of the Girlswholikeporno collective, visit their blog that includes clips, photos and commentaries: www.girlswholikeporno.com.
[13]While Deleuze sees the actualizations of the movement-image in the linear, uninterrupted narration of Hollywood cinema, the time-image which he discovers, for example, in the New Wave Cinema of post-war Europe (Italian neo-realism, Nouvelle Vague, New German Cinema), is considered the result of a crisis in uninterrupted narration and the identification with the protagonist: the sudden entry of exterior social conditions into the life of the main protagonist causes a shock that, through events, introduces new temporalities into the narration and, hence, new forms of thought. In a similar way, one could grasp post-pornographic image categories in relation to classical pornographic images that confront the heterosexually identified narrative patterns of the sexual act with other sex events and plunge them into a state of crisis. The development of these images can also be connected with the historical events since 1968, the struggles of the feminist, gay, lesbian and queer movements, which began at about the same time as the porn film market became established – the double bind between porn and post-porn thus existed from the very beginning.
[14]Thaemlitz emphasized this in several statements during the final panel discussion of the Post Porn Politics Symposium at the Volksbühne, Berlin (10/15/2006).
[15]Katja Diefenbach, “Dying in White. On Fetishistic Repetition, Commodity- and Body- Experiences”, unpublished lecture given at the Post Porn Politics Symposium, Volksbühne Berlin, 10/14/2006.