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Reviewed by:
  • International Exposure: Perspectives on Modern European Pornography, 1800–2000
  • Julia Roos
International Exposure: Perspectives on Modern European Pornography, 1800–2000. Edited by Lisa Z. Sigel (New Brunswick, New Jersey, and London: Rutgers University Press, 2005. viii plus 283 pp.).

This insightful, intellectually provocative collection does two important things: It shows how historical analyses of pornography can deepen our understanding of the political and cultural significance of struggles over sexuality within [End Page 478] specific national contexts, and it provides a comparative perspective on major phases and turning points in the history of modern European pornography. The volume illustrates powerfully the breadth of salient social and political issues addressed in pornographic discourse. One set of essays examines problems of middle-class sexual morality. Sarah Leonard's analysis of literary publications deemed "obscene" in early and mid-nineteenth century Germany draws attention to the ways in which conceptions of obscenity reflected newly emerging bourgeois sensibilities as well as anxieties about the corporate order's dissolution. Annie Stora-Lamarre's discussion of conflicts over banned erotic books contained in the L'Enfer section of the Biblioth�que Nationale highlights how social elitism, class fears, and misogyny limited French democracy during the Third Republic. And Lisa Sigel's close reading of incestuous pornography in Edwardian England sheds new light on middle-class moral hypocrisy and the sexual tensions and pathologies inherent in the patriarchal Victorian family.

A second group analyzes the intersections of gender, race, and nationalism. With her genealogy of flagellation fantasies in British pornography, which traces back such fantasies to the image of the whipped female slave in abolitionist texts, Colette Colligan offers a critical re-assessment of the political nature and impacts of British abolitionism. Maryna Romanets sees pornography as an important source of a new, "postcolonial" Ukrainian national identity forming in the 1990s, whereas Eliot Borenstein is interested in the ways in which the fusion of pornography and aggressive nationalism in Russian men's magazines of the post-Soviet era functions to compensate for the country's decline as a world power and the concomitant crisis of masculinity. Four essays focus more narrowly on specific aspects of pornography; these include John Phillips's survey of major shifts in twentieth-century French literary pornography, Clarissa Smith's study of legalization's impact on the British soft-core business, Katalin Milter and Joseph Slade's contribution on post-communist Hungarian pornographic films, and John Phillips's discussion of transsexual internet pornogra- phy.

Especially intriguing is the question of pornography's relationship to politics. As Lisa Sigel points out in her thoughtful introduction, during much of the eighteenth century pornographic satire was closely linked to Enlightenment critiques of absolutist government, religious intolerance, and aristocratic privilege. The French Revolution witnessed a close alliance between pornographic and political attacks on the monarchy. In contrast, a dissociation between pornography and revolutionary politics occurred in the course of the nineteenth century, a change rooted in middle-class fears of democratic pressures from below, the intensification of censorship, and the increasing commercialization of pornography in an expanding illegal market. Sigel's analysis of pornography's new role is inspired by Michel Foucault's notion of the contradictory power mechanisms inherent in sexual discourse: "Pornography became another disciplinary regime that overtly said what other forms of discourse both aroused and tried to silence." (p. 12) Sigel speaks of the "conservative turn" European pornography took during the nineteenth century (p. 13). This characterization certainly captures the genre's move away from its "revolutionary past," but it might be somewhat [End Page 479] narrow insofar as it downplays pornography's persisting political ambiguity and volatility.

Two fascinating contributions highlight pornography's contradictory political potentials. In her sophisticated analysis of the meanings of obscenity in early and mid-nineteenth century Germany, Sarah Leonard discusses the fictitious Memoirs of Lola Montez first published in 1851 and based on the real-life love affair between the Scottish dancer, Lola Montez (Betsey Watson), and the Bavarian King Ludwig I. Ludwig's infatuation with Montez became notorious when he dissolved the government to grant his lover Bavarian citizenship and a noble title. The king's triumph was short-lived: citizens' protests led to Lola...


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