Unreal Nature

February 13, 2014


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:08 am

… What is lost in the decay of aura* is potentially gained, then, in the scope of play — a play that is … “widest in film.”

This is from Screening Sex by Linda Williams (2006):

… In [First Amendment legal scholar Frederick] Schauer’s imagination there is no real difference between screening sex and having sex, between watching and doing. Indeed, he argues that there is virtually no difference between the sale of such a [hard-core pornographic] film and the sale of a “plastic or vibrating sex aid, the sale of a body through prostitution, or the sex act itself. At its most extreme, hard-core pornography is a sex aid and, no more and no less, and the fact that there is no physical contact is only fortuitous.”

… What Schauer ignores is the medium in which these sex acts exist and the mediation enacted by social viewers. It is the mechanical reproducibility of film that makes possible the screening of the act of heterosexual intercourse that seems so close in space, if not in time. Schauer thus ignores what Benjamin appreciates: we do not simply imitate what we see, we play with it too. Getting hold of something by means of its reproduced likeness is not the same as getting hold of the thing itself.

… Playing at being a windmill constitutes an habituation to a culture in which windmills are important; playing at being a train is the same for a different culture; playing at sex, too, is a way of habituating our bodies to a newly sexualized world in which vicarious forms of sexual pleasure are now on/scene. The mimetic faculty is a kind of tactile training that habituates viewers to adapt to changing environments. What is lost in the decay of aura* is potentially gained, then, in the scope of play — a play that is, as Benjamin puts it, “widest in film.”

Let us now come back to Schauer’s rude and crude example of screening sex, which he believes induces its audience to a reductive state of mimicry.

… We … begin to see that a variety of responses are possible: shock, embarrassment, arousal, but also, and most important, imaginative play. … We … underestimate the imagination if we think that it can only operate in the absence of, or only at the slightest suggestion of sexual representation.

… My goal in surveying these films is not to parse the good sex from bad, or to determine which graphic sexual representations have gone “too far” or “leave nothing to the imagination.” Rather, it is to understand how very many and different imaginative ways there are of “getting graphic” as non-pornographic movies open up the question of the imagination of sex beyond the familiar formulas of simulation and the equally familiar formulas of hard core.

… If I have distinct memories of screening a film, I try to recall them and to discuss the context of my historically situated reactions as a white, heterosexual, American woman who would have liked to have been a cosmopolitan sophisticate but who, apart from her experience of movies, often remained naive and provincial at the core. As my most crucial form of sex education I hope this study of screening sex captures something of the excitement of that learning. Yet beyond the early chapters, which correspond to my own learning about sex and coming to sexual maturity, this is not a story of growing maturity. If anything, as the later chapter on primal scenes suggests, it is a story whose plot keeps thickening as carnal knowledge proves not to be a simple progress toward explicit knowledge but rather, an enigmatic and elusive “event.”

[*”Benjamin coined the term “auratic perception”, denoting the aesthetic faculty by means of which civilization may recover an appreciation of myth.” — from Wikipedia]

My previous post from Williams’s book is here.



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