- Entoporn, Remy de Gourmont, and the Limits of Posthuman Sexuality
Introduction: Green Porno
At the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, and subsequently at the 2008 Berlinale Film Festival, actress and model Isabella Rossellini made her directorial debut with the screening of a selection from eight short films gathered under the collective title "Green Porno." The shorts, each less than two minutes in length, were co-directed by, written by, and feature Rossellini, who, dressed in an array of outlandish (almost juvenile and animated) costumes, re-enacts the sexual practices of a variety of insects and other lowly creatures. The colorful and playful films feature Rossellini as a praying mantis, dragonfly, honey bee, firefly, spider, common housefly, and so on, and the viewer witnesses her (in the role of the male of the species) in the throes of entomological passion—luring, trapping, humping, stimulating, fecundating, and at times even being devoured by her garish cloth and cardboard mates. During the course of these films, we learn that houseflies have little time in their very short lives to devote to the sex act; that the male praying mantis continues to thrust wildly even after he has been decapitated by the female; that snails are hermaphroditic; [End Page 627] that earthworms prefer the so-called "69" position. Although the producers of the Sundance television channel tied the pieces to the cause of environmental awareness and the ecological movement, the shorts are in no way overtly didactic, intended rather to be merely entertaining and thought provoking. They certainly are on both counts; they're also hilarious.3
The films were deliberately conceived for what is called the "fourth screen"—that is, the smaller format of video iPods and cell phones—and their short length and vibrant colors are designed to suit the medium, which Rossellini has maintained is destined to be the inspiration for a whole new range of artistic practices. Indeed, situated on the vanguard of smaller format digital production, these brief and experimental films remind one of early moments in the history of cinema—the Lumière brothers' 1895 Repas de Bébé, perhaps, with all of its awkward but startling innovation, or Jean Painlevé's surrealist films of microscopic aquatic life—the 1929 eerie and evocative La Daphnie, for example. But the Rossellini shorts are also reminiscent of another moment in fin de siècle France: the 1903 publication of Remy de Gourmont's Physique de L'Amour: Essai sur l'Instinct Sexuel, a truly surprising installment in the publication history of this otherwise neglected intellectual gadfly and, in his own moment at least, cause célèbre. Gourmont's volume (translated by Ezra Pound in 1922 as The Natural Philosophy of Love) is a stunning investigation of non-human sexuality that in just under two hundred pages describes, with taxonomic glee and prurient detail, the sexual excesses of various life forms, but most particularly, and most dramatically, that of insects. This erstwhile assistant librarian, the founding editor of such important publications as the Mercure de France and later La Revue des Idées, and an internationally celebrated literary critic and vocal advocate of symbolist poetry, might seem miscast for such a performance, but for the dilettantish Gourmont this frank exploration of the insect world promised a challenge to what he understood to be Darwin's teleological and hierarchical description of human evolution, a revaluation of the relationship between instinct and intellect, a corrective infusion of poetic thought into the discourse of natural philosophy, and—perhaps most directly—a deliberate affront to the moralizing and anthropomorphic tendencies of Victorian biological science.4 In other words, graphic entomological copulation provided a thoroughly distasteful but nonetheless highly productive site for a reconsideration of human sexuality and a radical critique of the religious and social conventions that ideologically constrained, systematically essentialized, and ultimately threatened to de-sensualize the erotic practices of his contemporaries...