Pornography and Silence Essay - Critical Essays

Susan Griffin


Griffin’s book is a fine example of a trend in recent feminist writing: She combines academic research with personal reaction and passionate feeling for her subject, as does Rachel Blau DuPlessis in The Pink Guitar (1990). Her examples are far-reaching and eclectic. Compassionate analysis of six lives damaged by pornographic culture illustrates her points; she also studies the chauvinist mind in examples as diverse as the classics, films from the Hollywood mainstream and underground, mythology, religion, high fashion, punk rock, and traditional writers such as Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Algernon Swinburne, William Faulkner, and Edgar Allan Poe. Here she relates the victimization of the subject and of the pornographer, examining the psychological and social—as well as sexual—dynamics of the situation. An important aspect of these dynamics is the degradation of innocence: Through cynicism and “the death of the heart,” pornography turns a human being with a soul into an object.

Griffin acknowledges the immense power that pornographic images and thinking have in Western culture, but she does not pose her work as an argument for censorship. Instead, she challenges the basic assumptions people make about erotica, about sexism, and about racism. She equates pornography not with any one legalistic definition, but with a fear of bodily knowledge and the desire to silence eros. Pornography is not about erotic desire or the life of the body, but about fear and control of that fear. Her definition of pornography draws considerably from sexual psychology and from close analysis of actual pornographic writings and films. Griffin’s approach is broadly interdisciplinary, crossing boundaries between traditional divisions of “academic” and “popular.” She uses not only the analyses of psychologists such as Sigmund Freud, Carl Gustav Jung and R. D. Laing but also first-person accounts and quotations from Holocaust survivors, pornographic actors, and commentary on excerpts from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

This work does not fit neatly into a particular category; it balances research with powerful poetic writing and commentary. As a poet, Griffin discusses the fact that women’s bodies in pornography are used as symbols, analyzing the “madonna/whore” dichotomy demanded of women by religion as one example. She finds symbols of her own to represent her major categories of discussion: the heart (love and desire), the triangle (Judaism), the circle (inclusiveness), and the rose (beauty).

“Sacred Images”...

(The entire section is 1047 words.)