Pornography, Alterity, Divinity


  • Charlie Gere


In this paper I propose that when we look at an image, it looks back at us from a position of radical alterity. Thus the experience of looking at an image, any image, is always an experience of being confronted by the utterly other, one name for which might be ”˜God.’This is exemplified in God’s refusal to show his face to Moses in Exodus, and is clearly the underlying impetus behind the anxiety about images in the context of religion in many cultures. This is perhaps the reason the image, any image, is always also somehow obscene, in the very act of showing what is other. It shows us what should not be shown, what should be ”˜obscaena,’ offstage. In the modern era however the female nude becomes a privileged site of this forbidden representation. Taking my cue from the work of Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida, as well as GustaveCourbet’s painting ”˜L’Origine du Monde,’ Georges Bataille’s Madame Edwarda, in the book of the same name, who shows her genitals to the narrator while shouting ”˜I am GOD,’and Marcel Duchamp’s final work ”˜à‰tantdonnés: 1° la chute d’eau / 2° le gazd’éclairage,’ I argue that pornographic representations of the female body are the explicit demonstration of the implicit condition of the image, in which the obscene and the divine are closely related as things that should not and indeed cannot be looked at. All this must be understood in the context of the increasing ubiquity, availability and normalisation of pornography as a result, partly, of the World Wide Web. The ubiquity of pornography, and the more general acceptance of sexualized imagery in mainstream media has led to the lessening of pornography’s stigma, its transgressiveness, which is also, perhaps, a loss of a certain relation to the divine.