Porn: Law, Video, Technology

Posted by Namita A Malhotra at Sep 28, 2011 09:15 AM |
Namita Malhotra’s monograph on Pornography and Pleasure is possibly the first Indian reflection and review of its kind. It draws aside the purdah that pornography has become – the forbidden object as well as the thing that prevents you from looking at it – and fingers its constituent threads and textures.

This monograph is not so much about a cultural product called porn as it is a meditation on visuality and seeing, the construction and experience of gazing, technology and bodies in the law, modern myths, the interactions between human and filmic bodies. And technology not necessarily as objects and devices that make pornography possible (but that too), but as history and evolution, process and method, and what this brings to understanding what pornography is.

Namita’s approach brings film studies, technology studies, critical theory, philosophy, literature and legal studies into a document that reads as part literature review, part analysis, going deep, as a monograph should. Reading through this I was struck by the ways of seeing and writing, that a subject like pornography demands – and allows for. I found the structure of the entire piece well conceived, akin to 3D models of spirals rather than linear, much like the experience of watching itself, perhaps. Personally, I know I’m going to keep going back to this monograph for its rich references as much as for how Malhotra examines visual (con)texts across multiple disciplines. And, far from being a distant academic paper, I see how Namita has worked in and been informed by her own fond appreciation of diverse texts with useful and unusual departures into literature and philosophy.

The emphasis on amateur pornography is critical considering the pandemic of hysterical blindness that afflicts public conversations in India around this phenomenon in particular, and the Obscene more generally. A line from the monograph ‘pornography does ideological work’ stands out for me, as Namita shows how it (the monograph, amateur porn, pornography) effectively slices through the careful fabrications called Nation, Culture and Justice in particular; and also in terms of how porn constitutes particular kinds of knowing, speech and experience that reflect on the status quo of politics and of seeing/visuality. The deep engagement with the Mysore Mallige movie/case is an interesting and tender one, perhaps one of the first such in-depth analyses, and a great example of how amateur porn works and what it means.

Considering the appalling lack of insight in responding to the Obscene and the Pornographic, the messy rhetoric and outrage that result when the Pornographic is made public, when the law acts on the visual, on technology, Namita’s analysis is a sharp lens that provides much-needed rejoinders. The sections dealing with these kinds of past events – the moment of public outrage around the revelation of a piece of porn, it’s journey of creation and circulation, the public and institutional esponses to it, are really excellent analyses of a particular kind of moment in contemporary Indian society that have become (to my mind) increasingly difficult to talk about.

There can only be more sharing of this document, perhaps re-purposed, in parts, to become more accessible to communities engaged with commenting, acting and responding to the Obscene, the Visual and the Law (I say this from a perspective of utility and instrumentality that “activism” necessarily deploys, but within what is possible for cannibalisation. Also, because people don’t read) because there just isn’t enough thoughtful work on pornography in the current climate.

The monograph moves to examining the ‘being’ of the pornographic artifact as a digital image and how and why it, especially “video pornography provides a new model for relating to the mass-produced, one in which the body’s susceptibility constitutes both a yielding and a resistance to the hypnotic seduction of the image.”

I find this quote tantalising for it offers a critical perspective on pornography as a challenging politics rather than as ‘merely’ text, which is what this monograph attempts to do. To take this further and to explore the response between the visual and the human, the “something that takes place between the text and the person watching”, could be to move towards reception studies and studies of the experiencing of porn either as star/creator, fan or audience. There are fascinating possibilities here for inventive methodologies and formats in which this could be done, montage-ing academic text with visual ethnographies, online aggregation and collation of visual data and experiences, and so on. This next stage could be exciting in how it could really engage with the body of porn and its people.

Introduction by Maya Ganesh

Download the monograph here [PDF, 3.73 MB]

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