Porn Archives is a collection of 21 essays that grew out of the international conference At the Limit: Pornography and the Humanities, held in 2010 at the University of Buffalo. The editors of this work are all affiliated with the English department of the State University of New York (SUNY) in Buffalo: Tim Dean is a professor of English and Comparative Literature, and the director of the Center for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Culture; Steven Ruszczycky recently completed his PhD; and David Squires is a PhD candidate.
This important multidisciplinary work is a vital addition to the field of porn studies. It contains contributions from scholars in a wide range of academic disciplines, including art history, ethnic studies, literature, and film and media. Its scope is quite broad and extends well beyond the traditional boundaries of archives, libraries, and museums. The essays are arranged in six separate sections. The first, “Pedagogical Archives,” examines the structures in place for the creation of porn knowledge (universities and academia, archives, libraries, and museums), which enable the critical reception and discussion of porn. As its name implies, the section “Historical Archives” focuses on specific textual documents and key moments in the history of porn. The third section, “Image Archives,” contains essays dealing specifically with porn in the form of photographs, visual arts, and film. The final three sections are thematic in scope. The fourth, “Rough Archives,” looks at porn that contains depictions of imagined or real non-consensual sex. The fifth, “Transnational Archives,” discusses porn from within other geographical borders (in this case, Puerto Rico and Brazil), as well as records that cross the boundaries of what traditionally qualifies as porn (specifically war porn, in which the theatre may be Iraq and Afghanistan, among other locations). The last section, “Archives of Excess,” examines porn that falls [End Page 151] outside the mainstream, featuring essays on foreskin fetishism, the sexuality of children, and amputee porn.
In his contribution to this work, Ramόn E. Soto-Crespo reflects on his adolescence and early adulthood in Puerto Rico in the 1980s and 1990s, at a time when the state had effectively banned pornography throughout the island. He remembers how he and some friends managed to amass a small cache of pornographic magazines obtained from acquaintances who had smuggled them back after travels to the United States. He and the other boys preserved these materials in an old trunk with a secret bottom compartment, which they kept in a clubhouse they shared. They referred to the trunk as “el archivo” (pp. 304–5). This image of the secret porn stash becomes a powerful metaphor for porn archives in general. As is made abundantly clear throughout the volume, particularly in Dean’s introduction, porn archives are notoriously fragmentary and ephemeral; the holdings are at constant risk of destruction either by becoming accidentally soiled or by being deliberately discarded; and they are shrouded in secrecy, with only a privileged group of initiates having access to them. The lack of a proper porn archive is a major impediment to the full development of porn studies as a scholarly discipline, according to Linda Williams (p. 35). In spite of the fact that Williams’s own groundbreaking work, Hard-Core: Power, Pleasure and the “Frenzy” of the Visible,1 a foundational text of porn studies, was published more than a quarter of a century ago, she notes, with a nod to scholar Dave Andrews, that the study of porn continues to be “a field that is always on the brink of emerging but that never quite arrives” (p. 35). She provides a compelling example by indicating that there is still no academic journal in this field. (As luck would have it, when Porn Archives was at the press in early 2014, Routledge in the United Kingdom did indeed launch a scholarly journal called Porn Studies, and Williams contributed an article that appeared in its inaugural issue.2)
Archivists and librarians will find particular value in the essays of Squires, and...