Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Whorient

Here we go. This is the inauguration of an ongoing series of blog posts discussing the ideas, arguments, conundrums, etc. of my proposed but ultimately uncompleted Plan II thesis.

::applause::

Thank you. First, a procedural detail. All of the blog entries dealing with this topic will be conveniently labeled with the tag "(porn)" so you can easily search for them in the sidebar. If you read them from oldest to newest, a line of argumentation might even manifest. No promises of coherency.

Without further ado about nothing...

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Let's start at the beginning and address the topic itself. Now stick with me because I know it may seem a little absurd at first. My proposed (and mind you, approved) thesis would explore the representations of Asian women in porn literature. Not all Asian women, actually, because that scope would have been too broad. I planned to focus on East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands (e.g. the Philippines) because, well, that's who American men like to talk about fucking even if they can't keep all the details straight about what signifier belongs to which collected signified.

The academic legwork consisted of two parts. First, an analysis of the literature about porn, both the anti-porn and the sex-positive / pro-porn camps. Second, an attempt to "color in" the blindness of the critique of porn through an interpolation of the works of black feminist such as Elizabeth Spelman and post-colonial authors including Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, and Rajeswari Sunder Rajan. The final third of the thesis would apply these elements in a bricolage "methodolgy" for examining actual porn texts involving Asian women.

My argument boiled down to this: the anti-porn critcisms were incomplete and inadequate when applied to women of color. They treated race / ethnicity / cultural difference like, as Spelman described it, merely an "ampersand" to the primary category of woman. This "woman plus" analysis failed to adequately capture the unique forms of oppression spawned at the intersections of race and gender. What's intended to get you off about an Asian woman in porn isn't that she's a woman primarily who also "happens to be" Asian; her Asian-ness and female-ness are intertwined in a unique identity whose representation differs not marginally but fundamentally from the representations of other (white) women. The attending signifiers of "Asian" aren't merely accessories to "spice up" the ordinariness / blandness / repetitiveness / scripted structure of the typical porn narrative. They are intended to evoke specific sets of ideologies about the woman or women who are its sexual objects.

One of the first questions posed to me after people stop looking at me like I'm a perv is why I chose to read dirty stories instead of look at dirty pictures or watch dirty movies. Like all good answers, mine is three-fold:

1) I didn't go through a film crit or art /photo crit program as an undergraduate. Interpreting pics or movies seemed to require a critical language which I didn't possess and couldn't rapidly acquire in a short period of time. On the other hand, as a philosophy major interested in social theory, adopting that already-at-hand framework of critical text analysis seemed a lot easier. Also, text seem to "state" what they mean in a much more straight-forward way than unpacking the visual vocabulary of pics or movies.

2) My goal was to examine the representations of Asian women in porn. The problem with pics and movies is that, well, they involve actual Asian women at the level of their production. Although the reality of women's lives involved in porn is an important issue, I didn't want my thesis sidetracked by whether most or every woman involved in porn is abused and unhappy (as some in the anti-porn allege) or if most porn workers are happy, well-adjusted individuals from backgrounds not involving sexual abuse who are capable of forming healthy relationships (as sex-positive women such as Nina Hartley claim).

By working with written narratives, I managed to side-step the controversy of women's bodies at the level of production and focus instead on the representation of those bodies in the act.

3) It's a lot easier and cheaper to cut excerpts from a written story and insert them into your written thesis as evidence than it is to provide pictures or stills from a movie. Text also looks less like you're a naughty boy trying to pass off looking at naked women as rigorous academic work.

As time passed and I read more, I found I had more problems with the anti-porn feminist critique of porn than just its color-blindness. Several re-reads of Michel Foucault's seminal work The History of Sexuality, Vol 1: An Introduction, Rachel Maines' history of the pathologizing of female sexual pleasure and its medical treatment, and an extended meditation on the subject of my authorial position vis-a-vis the topic of female represenation yielded a position that was critical of porn's representations of racial-gendered bodies and the Freudian / Lacanian theory of masculine displacement embodied in anti-porn literature.

To be continued...

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In the next installment I will try to start presenting the anti-porn position and my critique of the Freudian / Lacanian theory relied upon by its proponents such as Andrea Dworkin, Susan Griffin, et al.

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