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Robert Darnton reads pornography as a subversive and hence potentially enlightening genre whilst feminist readers had for a long time rather sided with male bourgeois moralistic critics in a condemnation of the female characters (predominantely male) pornography tended to produce. The heroines were male wish fulfillment, they were created in a dangerous disregard of real female feelings, so the feminist assertion of what can be seen as the very same critical observation.

In a historical view another aspect might be noted: modern readers can still read books like Cleland's Fanny Hill (1749) as satisfying pornography - earlier works, however, lack the qualities the modern reader of pornography is likely to demand, a kind of interest in the individual experience of sexual pleasure and the bodily encounters involved.

Older pornography - if one wants to use the modern word for earlier works - is rather interested in intrigues leading to the act than in details of the act it self. Comical complications during the act are more interesting than the fulfillment of sexual desires. One might wonder why this is the case. Is it because the whole concept of sexuality is missing here? Is there a fundamental - moralistic? - consensus, that certain psychological details of the physical interaction (especially the individual experience of pleasure) must not be mentioned? Or is it that these experiences seem so general and universal, that the authors just "forget" to depict them?

The seminar should deal with texts of the last four centuries. Foucault's History of Sexuality might be good reading with the texts to be selected.



  • Robert Darnton, The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France (New York: Norton, 1995).
  • Lynn Hunt, The Invention of Pornography: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 1500-1800 (New York: Zone, 1996).
  • Lisa Z. Sigel, Governing Pleasures: Pornography and Social Change in England, 1815-1914 (Scholarly Book Services Inc (January 2002), 227 pages ISBN-10: 0813530016, ISBN-13: 978-0813530017