Joseph G. Faul
Ecce Homo: Wie man wird, was man ist
Behold the Man: How One Becomes What One Is
Jan 3, 2012
author wrote this essay on his own behalf while awaiting the outcome of his
court case after the police raided his home in London and confiscated his large
collection of erotic images. Some of these were found to be illegal and their
mere possession a crime. With the permission of the author, we reproduce his
unedited personal view here as a unique "layman's" contribution to the ongoing
academic discussion of "pornography". See also the complementary essay
Man's primal instinct is to gather. It is an integral part of man's nature to build a home and furnish that home with art and objects whether that is cave paintings or Picassos.
People express their soul in the objects they gather around them. Herbert Marcuse in his book ‘One-Dimensional Man' wrote "people recognise themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment." An idea more recently picked up by Daniel Miller in his book ‘Stuff' whose central argument was that "the best way to understand, convey, and appreciate our humanity is through attention to our fundamental materiality". So let us consider collectors and their world of objects:
Some collectors get the bug in their youth, they start to collect stamps and then they find that they are collecting stamps and coins and comics and football programmes and books and records and magazines and pulp fiction and jokes. Suddenly they have a diverse but interrelated collection of cultural artefacts. However, the fact that one collects football programmes doesn't necessarily make one any good on the football pitch; they are different things. Collections established and patterns of behaviour learnt in early childhood can often be the enduring passion of an individual throughout their life span. The entertainer Bob Monkhouse provides a classic example. Similarly, Lord Stewartby started collecting Scottish coins at age 10 until his collection was stolen in his twilight years. Other individuals of more limited means have diverse collections just as central to their lives.
You may walk down a lonely street to Heartbreak Hotel. In difficult circumstances the mind turns once again to the interests and artefacts of teenage years. Collecting fills a void and becomes the necessary means to absorb and divert attention from life's tribulations. In earlier times building a private library was a most traditional pursuit. To take refuge in the silver screen is also a cultural staple in times of great depression and conflict. Look at Anne Frank's home; nothing remains but a collection of pin-ups of movie stars of the day and a diary of her inner life.
In life it is important to have a passion. Collectors have a passion for the artefacts they collect and collect many different sorts of things. Indeed, some of the core questions for any collector are what to collect? What field of collecting endeavour could be undertaken? What could be achieved out of the resources available to apply to a collection? What could be assembled? What is out of fashion and under- appreciated as an area of collecting? Of course, some collectors may never ask themselves these questions and a collection grows and develops organically depending more upon chance and circumstance. Often a collection of items may be acquired, not all of which may be of initial interest, and a new interest develops.
Sometimes one may get to a situation where a collection contains all there is on a subject and then a new field of collecting may need to be found. Sometimes what has been gathered may prove not to be the Maltese Falcon and so the chase is on again!
Into the orderly world of stamp collecting with its ‘virgins' mint, mounted, or cancelled comes puberty and now, in addition to the earlier questions about collecting, a curiosity and many questions about sexuality and body culture arise. What is going on with my body?, What to do with sexual energy?, What am I?, Where do I fit in?, Who loves me?, Who validates me?, Who looks into my face and sees me?, How do I find someone to love me?, Are we OK?, Are you OK?, Am I Ok?, What is wrong with me? So many questions and so few answers, So, I stand naked in front of the mirror and gaze upon ‘the Modern Prometheus'.
Now to stride forth and make sense of sexuality. One ‘to read' pile has all sorts of sexual manuals. ‘Show Me' by Will McBride, The Joy of Sex by Alex Comfort (bearded man version), Kama Sutra of Vātsyāyana, Tao of Loving, Extended Sexual Orgasm, Playboy for the philosophy, Berth Milton's Private for ‘What Is Moral,' and many similar texts.
Now to transmute sacral energy: Stacks of books on Indian meditation, Kundalini Yoga, Buddhist meditation, and Christian meditation stumble heavenward.
Just as we learn about Buddhists meditating in the charnel grounds so too some of the strange sexual materials form part of a meditative practice (what would otherwise be known as aversion therapy) and so we start to gather sexual artefacts and visual materials to make some sense of it all. Indeed the more sexual materials a person has the more these have a therapeutic effect, rather than acting as a stimulus of desire often the exact opposite applies, a point identified by the Danish Medical Council and seen more recently with the advent of the internet.
Like in ‘South Park the Movie', the search is on for the clitoris. Then one hears about the G-spot and the search is on for that. Then one hears about the U spot and an expedition strikes out to find that. There is much exploring of peaks and troughs with no guarantee of success.
Sexual interests can often be established very early in life. The sexual attraction to shoes is understandable given that these are one of the first things we encounter as we crawl. An attraction to breasts may be established even earlier. At the last count there was 502 different ‘paraphilias' (fetishes). Some sexual interests are driven by culture as much as by media and so the colour of hair, nape of the neck, or feet can be erotically charged. A person who grew up in the 1940s and 1950s when pubic hair was prohibited in print finds images of a full bush of pubic hair immensely stimulating. Alternatively, persons who grew up with images of a Playboy centrefold displaying a full hairy bush may find images of models with shaved privates all the more interesting. Flat chested flapper girls reappear in the 1960s as Twiggy and Biba. Bettie Page provides the blueprint for Dita Von Teese. Marilyn Monroe and the models of Irving Klaw provide the blueprint for Madonna. Rubens provides a rich source of reference for Vivienne Westwood. Beatrice Faust, in her book ‘Women, Sex & Pornography', wrote about the attraction of corsets and the primacy of tactile things to female sensory perception. That clothing can be an expression of sexuality should not be a surprise. A similar statement could be made for much of the fabric of a life.
Often people who have depression and suicidal tendencies ask ‘what is wrong with me?' Perhaps a little broadmindedness, charity, and education would be of immense good in not making people different and helping them in their difficult lives, because, let's face it; we all have to struggle with a given sexuality. Everybody has his, or her, own special beauty.
The internal effort to manage sexuality is replicated ‘at a broader level' by Society, so let's look at that.
Where a collector comes across something that is out of current taste, what is he to do? The best strategy is to make no judgment of the merits, or anything else of the sexual artefacts he comes across. A pragmatic approach is to place the items in a box and forget about them or donate them to a protected archive. As a collector, what rights have I to destroy anything? None! Such things are not mine to destroy; I act as mere custodian of any cultural artefacts in my possession. All I can do is care for the items in my hands and ‘with some luck' pass those onto the next generation intact as a cultural heritage. No reasonable man could fault that as a philosophy, although the State will do so. Some things only exist now because earlier generations of collectors took a similar pragmatic view so I must not break the chain.
Some early film, such as ‘The Kiss', would have been the height of obscenity in its day and now it is nothing more than a quaint artefact of early cinema. Ideas recently taken up in the Oscar- winning film ‘Cinema Paradiso.'
Heather Brooke in her book ‘The Silent State' wrote about how the State hates people. Herbert Marcuse in ‘Eros and Civilisation' discussed how the State wants to suppress sexuality to ensure those sexual energies are subsumed into producing goods. The State would make us nothing more than units of production and it is our constant, but lonely struggle to express our sexuality against that as an assertion of our shared basic freedoms of expression and thought. The difficulty is that sexuality and man cannot be separated, to destroy one is to destroy the other. Alan Turing, father of the computer, had his mind destroyed by the State because of his homosexuality and I have no doubt that we are all poorer because of it!
When a collector has spent a lifetime gathering sexual materials, he often leaves his executors embarrassed or unsure of what to do with such a legacy. Often such material is destroyed and the effort of a lifetime of endeavour and connoisseurship is lost including its social and cultural context. When such things are lost we are all impoverished. We have seen this with the archives of Sir Richard Burton, Victorian Explorer, (Archive completely destroyed), J W Turner (Archive of erotic drawings destroyed with few exceptions), or Charles L. Dodgson (mostly destroyed with the exception of a small photographic archive at Princeton University and the Rosenbach Foundation, Philadelphia). It's not just sexual materials that get destroyed; both Emily Dickinson and Franz Kafka had archive material destroyed. The photographers Irving Klaw and Duffy destroyed many of their original negatives.
King George IV, Lord Mountbatten 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven (a relative of Prince Philip), Lord Shaftsbury, the Marquis of Bath, the Witt collection, the Wallace collection, Henry Ashbee, Graham Ovenden, Victor Arwas, and Elton John have all collected sexual materials.
It's not just people that collect, States collect too! The Dutch too are a nation of collectors, be it tulip bulbs, Chinese porcelain, dolls houses, or etchings and artwork. Dutch national collections contain a rich diversity of artefacts. Similarly, be it countries or objects, the British are a nation of collectors. Given Britain's place in the world, its history, its geographic location, its trade routes, its communications, and its class structure, Britain has world leading collections built up over hundreds of years. British museums contain a rich diversity of objects brought back from empire. Peter Webb in his book The Erotic Arts explained how Britain had the largest collection of erotica in the world. British collections of erotica exceed, by far, the State collections of either the United States or France.
Then there is the renowned private case at the British Library written about most eruditely by David Gray in his article Pornotopias & Pornocopias, and catalogued (in part) by Patrick J. Kearney.
All countries have their national libraries and museums and secreta (equivalent of the British Library private case). Often these institutions are proud to show off the wealth of sexual materials they have in their national collections, and aren't these societies richer for it? For example, the Bibliotheque Nationale of France has displayed some of its erotica in a special room with appropriate access controls and charges an appropriate entrance fee. Once again, the situation has occurred where sexual materials have been lost forever, the prime example of which is Leonardo's Leda And The Swan formerly in the collection of King Louis XIII of France and subsequently destroyed as a dangerous obscenity.
Take another aspect, producers of periodicals may not have kept an archive of publications considered as transient in nature. Often producers of magazines and periodicals may not have fulfilled obligations to lodge materials into a national library making it difficult to study and research sexual materials, and so part of our social and cultural heritage is lost.
Universities occasionally receive donations of sexual materials and may be embarrassed by the gift and such a donation can often languish.
Many countries have sex resources serving a therapeutic and social function. Research Institutes add holistic care and support. Sex Museums have an educational priority. All make a valid contribution to sexual health. We find sex shops, particularly in Scandinavia, taking a therapeutic role (in addition to the commercial imperative) and that is no bad thing.
If all else fails go to your place of prayer, we can find erotic sculpture on the outside of our temples in India or on Norwich Cathedral. Go inside and we may find the Shiva Linga, Yab-Yum, or embrace of Mary and we know our sexuality is divine and shared!
Is pornography a bad thing? The Danish Medical Council Report, The Arts Council of Great Britain Report, and the Johnson/Nixon Commission on Obscenity and Pornography would say it is not a bad thing.
Danny Frederick of the libertarian alliance has written a paper entitled Defending Pornography approaching it from a freedom of thought and a freedom of expression viewpoint comparable to the film V in its discussion of State destruction of the Koran.
Perhaps it would be useful to reflect on the concept of pornography as a cultural issue. The programme ‘Pornography - A Secret History of Civilisation' explained how the Victorians developed the concept of pornography arising out of materials found at Pompeii (for example the statue of Pan and the Goat) and concerns that sexual materials could inflame the passions of the common man if he were allowed to view such items. Some materials found their way into the British Library private case or the British Museum but much has been destroyed.
The prototype sexual research institute was established in Germany as the Institute for Sexual Science by Magnus Hirschfeld in 1919. Most of his library was destroyed by the Nazis on the Opernplatz in 1933 and people are still talking about it (most recently in the TV series The Sex Researchers Series, 1 Episode 3). Hirschfeld died in 1935 as a refugee in France. Some original documents related to Hirschfeld are now kept by Humboldt University, Berlin. E. J. Haeberle donated his own library and collections to the university, where it is now known as the Haeberle-Hirschfeld Archive.
In addition, Haeberle is also running an electronic Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology.
In the late 1940s Alfred Kinsey, following the template established by Hirschfeld, set up the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University in Bloomington IN. It remains one of the premier institutes for sexual research in the world.
The Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality has the longest standing graduate program On Human Sexuality with the largest resource library in the world. The Institute is considered the "Harvard" of human sexology study and is located in San Francisco, CA.
If we look over the last 150 years we can see how at different times different topics have proved problematical. In the late 19th century death and images of death were difficult, the civil war images by Brady being a classic example, but these days' images of death have lost their power to shock. These days death is prominent and promoted heavily. Kurt Vonnegut spoke about this in describing how when he went to war people of his generation worried about killing people and being killed. Vonnegut described how in these days killing is pitiless, a very prescient observation.
What about images of sex? Man has been interested in erotic images since he first painted the walls of his cave. If we look over the last 150 years we can also see how different sexual topics have developed. Bertolotti in his Book of Nudes provides a highly regarded and most useful summary of photographic books of different genres on sexuality over a timeline. Martin Parr and Gerry Badger in The Photobook provides another definitive text complementing Dian Hanson's History of Men's Magazines. All provide a good overview, but what is missing?
We live in a youth culture yet ‘youth' are absent in their ‘body beautiful'. 150 years ago, children were economic chattels working down mines, or in mills. The concept of childhood is recent and James Kincaid wrote authoritatively on this in a number of books. Determining a child as someone under 18 was sensible 150 years ago when persons attained puberty at the age of 16 (or higher depending upon local factors). These days, depending upon location, puberty can be attained as early as age 10 (for example in the case of Denmark as reported by Lois Rogers in the Times of London on 13 June 2010: "Girls now begin puberty aged 9". Age for attaining puberty continues to drop all the time, dubbed 'the secular trend' by J.M. Tanner. The age at which one reaches puberty can be driven by numerous factors including culture, genetics, diet and chemicals in our products. Depending upon your location, the state can say a child is someone under 18 in terms of sexuality irrespective of the fact that a person may join the army and kill for country, or kill with a motor car, or go to prison at an earlier age! Look at the mobile phone or computer of most 17 year olds today and one is likely to find nude images of their friends under 18, I would suggest.
Books by David Hamilton, Jock Sturges, Sally Mann, Will McBride, or Irina Ionesco may be available at your local library or on Amazon but are illegal to own in your own home depending on your jurisdiction. Gary Gross images of Brooke Shields may be auctioned in Christies Auction House but are illegal to own in your own home depending on your jurisdiction. Julia Somerville's innocent family photos brought her arrest but may be little different from many family snaps of precocious teenagers, I would suggest.
Much is written about this area mostly by authors who are writing about things they have not seen. The most useful research on images in this area was undertaken by Jan Schuijer & Ben Rossen for the Institute for Psychological Therapies.
This is my testament. My collection and I are one, an idea that reflects the thoughts of Marcuse and Miller. In fact, Mallory in the Morte D'Arthur had a similar idea when he expressed the secret of the Holy Grail as ‘the king and the land are one,' and aren't we all on a grail quest?