Thursday, February 19, 2009

Third Thursdays: Victorian Porn Anyone?


Drawing of a flea by Robert Hooke from his Micrographia published in 1665.

Introduction

Every third Thursday the Accountant will take you to a lighter, or at least less serious area of the month’s theme. In the first installment we have something not only less serious but also less virtuous. Today we are going to take a look at a classic of late Victorian era pornography.

This is the Internet after all, and pornography is its most common coinage.



The Autobiography Of A Flea
by Anonymous. The Olympia Press. New Traveller’s Companion Series #24. 168 pp. ISBN: 1596540508. $13.95. Buy it here and support The Devil’s Accountant.

Autumn was not far off, and the chilly climate of England did not appeal to me since I would have been forced to go into hiding or hibernation, limiting my chances of nourishment and also of diversified contact with interesting people. For even a lowly flea may have aspirations to culture, mark that well.

A flea… What more ignoble creature could one find to narrate this most lecherous tale? A fly perhaps. But not all flies require feeding off their interlocutor, which assuredly is a very base trait (I'm trying my dearest to put on Victorian airs here). So I think the flea wins out.

Yet here we clearly have a flea seeking edification through socialization. He is not your ordinary flea. No, he is a tourist who seeks to learn about the places he travels. That, alas, is where such concepts halt.

The Autobiography Of A Flea
was published privately, anonymously (the author is still unknown as far as I have found) and to much success in 1901. The contents are as descriptive as the plot is repetitive.

And how!

Lurid repetition, to borrow Umberto Eco's observation, is essential to the pornographic format. The narrative time required to tell a pornographic sequence is intentionally drawn out as long as possible. After all, the sequence itself is the sole purpose of the entire narrative. But enough of thinking… This is about a filthy little book.

Our little flea is a vehicle for voyeurism, and through his vantage spot (he hides and watches from some interesting places) we are given scene after scene of sensual seduction (que the Snoop Dogg) and often amorous situations bordering on rapine (there is no scene that actually becomes violent). It is the flea’s descriptions (or his actual experiences) that we have the pleasure of reading. The flea’s metaphors are very colorful.

Think man-harpoons and turgid coral points of erotic anticipation. Not bad for a flea.

The metaphors though are essential to the book’s elevation into comedy…

(Flashback harpsichord plays)

I remember my first ironic conception of sex and pornography. It came (I should be more mindful of double entendres in a post like this) courtesy of Naked Gun 2 ½.

I was eleven or twelve years old, so the said movie was an artistic coup in my world. I’d seen Playboys and Hustlers (etc, etc, etc, etc) but was not familiar with the genre of bound printed material known affectionately as adult fiction. The scene I’m thinking of is where a stiff (again - I must get better at this) old professor of physics accidentally reads a brief passage from a bodice-ripping romance story. It was something about the thrusting of a purple-headed warrior into a quivering mound of love pudding.

I giggled and laughed. Yet I knew nothing of the sources for those wonderful metaphors. I was twelve. I had no idea why it was quivering or a mound. The pudding part really confused me. I mean… it didn’t look like pudding in the pictures.

Why am I burdening you with this? Because it sets up an observation of course… Pornography is ironic. That obviously lurid sense of repetition, the thin plots and the wonderfully chintzy metaphors used in literary porn all add up to a special fantastical brand of ironic comedy. That’s what struck me as a twelve-year-old boy. I realized that porn was ironic and funny. The irony. The comedy. I swear.

What makes a book like The Autobiography Of A Flea transcend being merely vulgar (for it is yet assuredly vulgar) is the way in which we approach it. Right down to the fact that the narrator is a flea, the book is clearly begging us to suspend our disbelief. It’s ridiculous and comic. If the plot were more serious and the purpose less direct then the graphicness of the sexual content would render it instead obscene or closer to the other use of a more basic word: pornographic.

In a statement: All pornography is pornographic but not all that is pornographic is pornography.

Don’t get me wrong. This book is “dirty.” Poor Bella, Marisia, Desiree and Laurette all have very sore bottoms by the end of the flea’s wanderings. The antecedent to this consequent is essentially the entire story. The flea is just a comic device to move the plot and entertain the reader.

Don’t fret: Of course I’ll offer you a choice selection.

Please do enjoy it; it so gives me pleasure to share these things with you.

“Never mind, my eager daughter,” Father Lawrence gasped as he renewed his zeal, arching now to meet her wriggling perorations on his manly harpoon, all the while plunging his finger in and out of her quaking nether chasm, “during my sojourn in this charming village, I shall be happy to act as your confessor at any time you choose – always understanding, of course, that my worthy colleague and brother in the faith does not otherwise occupy you at the times you choose to visit me – now, my daughter, the moment is at hand for me as well, let me feel your responding strength!”

If someone asks you where you learned such exquisite pillow-talk, be sure to send them our way.

Ahem…

1 comment:

The Devil's Accountant said...

Possible fact: A flea populates only three of Aesop's Fables.