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According to Jean Marie Goulemot’s account of things, when the authorities clamped down on erotic literature in the late Eighteenth Century, ‘proper’ literature became ideologically severed from salacious, lewd, licentious, and pornographic writings. The genre of pornographic literature was created. Erotic literature – which had been read by both the highest noblewoman stretched out in her private garden and the lowest servant sleeping with the cattle – was hunted down and destroyed, and its manufacturers persecuted and imprisoned.

What led to this? The growing acceptance of biblical criticism! The separation (or fetishization) of scholarly readings of the Bible from its traditional religious use coincides precisely with the separation of illicit porn from that perennial favourite, bawdy erotica.

I suspect that the fetishization of certain forms of knowledge in this period (the empirical, the rational, the critical) lies at the root of the invention of pornography. But Goulemot thinks there might be some displacement going on. The authorities were beginning to give up on ever controlling the new “criticism” (which was, above all, biblical criticism). So the scapegoat was erotic literature, which they clamped down on with increasing severity:

“Since they could not pursue those books that dealt with radical philosophical issues or contained anti-religious material, it appears that the powers that be turned their attentions to lascivious works, by a rather predictable mechanism of transfer and compensation.”

(Jean Marie Goulemot, Forbidden Texts: Erotic Literature and its Readers in Eighteenth-Century France. Tr. James Simpson. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994: 15)

So the masses became “uncritical” and consumers of porn, while the elite could debate Chaucer all they liked and still label what they were doing “critical”.

“pornographic reading… becomes a developed and familiar practice in the period of critical reading’s ascendency”

(Michael Warner, “Uncritical Reading.” Pages 13-38 in Jane Gallop, Ed., Polemic: Critical or Uncritical. New York: Routledge, 2004: 16)

The conclusion, of course, is that biblical criticism is the pornographic fetishization of religion.

Ghendt - Le midi (note the book dropped from her right hand: pornography or biblical criticism?)

Ghendt - Le midi (note the book dropped from her right hand: pornography or biblical criticism?)