Wednesday Symposium and Internet Publishing

11 09 2009

This Wednesday just passed I was fortunate enough to attend a poetics symposium hosted by the University of Western Sydney and attended by some professional poets, academics as a few other meek postgraduate students. Turns out it was a blast. A controlled blast, certainly. The sort of blast most usually found inside the engines of the more sedate family sedans, but a blast nonetheless and with a good few units of intellectual horsepower.

I have less than no time to write today, so I’m not able to go into too much depth. The event, ostensibly, was scaffolded around the presentation of a few papers, and the discussion/launch of a new poetics book called Networked Language By Philip Mead. You can read a review of the book here. The reviewer, poet Pam Brown, was also at Wednesday’s meeting.

Amongst the various discussions that came up the question of the “value” of online publishing was discussed briefly. Specifically, the question was asked as to whether internet publishing by legitimate online literary publications, such as Cordite, have any value, or at least a greater value than just self publishing on your own blog. I don’t know.

My own thesis is that as the amount of unregulated crap* makes its way onto the bloggonettosphere the signal to noise ratio goes down to the point that ‘legitimate’ online publishers become devalued by association. Or, to perhaps phrase it more aptly, the ability to distinguish between content sites becomes more and more difficult, and legitimacy becomes something a publisher of online content needs to earn on an individual basis, rather than through a publishing medium. This is not to say that publishing somewhere like Cordite carries NO value. It still carries the stamp of non-self-validation. But how much is it worth? I don’t know.

In the words of The Onion. What do you think?



* I am aware of the hypocrisy of this statement.

Pornography’s Many Faces

4 09 2009

Pornography is a complex issue, but it shouldn’t be. There are a few reasons

The least NSFW image i could find in Creative Commons

The least NSFW image i could find in Creative Commons

it’s complex. For Americans it can be divisive along the Freedom of Expression lines that have customarily guarded distasteful expression from the majority opinion. Pornography, if not really a minority form of speech, still represents a subject matter not commonly accepted as socially approved. The main reason that pornography is a complex beast*, however, is that there has traditionally been a lack of consensus about how Pornography is defined. In an exploration of this issue, and in preparation for an essay I’m about to write on the subject, I thought I would run through a few of the more common definitions of pornography that have held weight over the last century or so.

 The original meaning of the word ‘pornography’ comes from the Greek root word ‘Porne’, for prostitute. So the form of pornography was originally as a list of prostitutes and the services one could *ahem* *cough* obtain from said *cough* ladies. While the word has, obviously, moved on from this form of definition since its conception there is still some usefulness in this definition, which we’ll come to when we consider the aesthetic definition of Porn.

 Another common definition of pornography was based on its function. This is to say, pornography was whatever material designed for the purpose of arousing sexual desire in the reader/viewer through explicit descriptions of sexual acts. This definition is still pretty fundamental to the ‘genre’. One could, for instance remove whatever semblance of plot from a pornographic book and it would still be porn. Take the sex out of it though, and is it still pornography? No. it is a brief pamphlet composed mostly of adjoining scenes. From this functional definition comes the old maxim of porn being literature read with one hand. Appropriately or not this also implies a male oriented nature in pornography, which is relevant when we come to look at Feminist definitions.

 A liberal mind, open to sexual explicitness, might tend to say that sexual explicitness doth not the Porn Book make. In the wake of serious literature that contained within its content scenes of explicit description, a liberal definition of pornography might choose to draw a line between sexual literature and porn on Aesthetic grounds. Pornography, they might say, is not just the explicit depiction of sex; it is also badly written with no character development or plot to speak of, save what is absolutely necessary to move the reader from one sexual encounter to the next. This aesthetic definition tends to couple itself** with literary definitions which, similarly, seek to define pornography as a genre along aesthetic grounds. In this way Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence is not pornographic, as its detailed descriptions of sex come within a social and literary context.

 The aesthetic definition harks back to the original idea of pornography as a list of prostitutes’ services. The aesthetic idea considers porn to be no more than a list of sexual exchanges described in utilitarian*** detail.

 At about the same time that the Aesthetic/Literary definitions were gaining strength, the strength of moral definitions of pornography was waning. The moral definition is closely tied to obscenity law, where something is obscene is pornographic if it (more or less) has the effect of corrupting those into whose hands it is likely to fall. The moral definition of pornography as a sexually corruptive force tends to be focused on the effect that pornography has on the reader/viewer, rather than the aesthetic of technical components of the material. As such, it is seen as being corruptive because it promotes an unrealistic idea of sex in a vulnerable mind, a view based on male sexual fantasies rather than a fulfilling reality. This definition was traditionally adopted by conservative voices who sought to prevent the creation and dissemination of pornography through legal means. Strangely, though this definition fell out of favour, more or less, with the rise of the aesthetic definition, it was revitalised and re-adopted by a new, antithetical force:

 Feminist definitions of pornography are a mix of Moral and Functional definitions (which were always pretty similar to begin with) with their own social slant. In basic terms the feminist idea defines pornography in terms of its power relationships. Like the functional definition it sees pornography as material that aids lust, but more specifically as an aide to male masturbation. As such pornography is inherently a male artefact that uses women as the centre of male ‘sexual gaze’, turning women into sex objects subordinated for the purpose of satisfying male sexual desire. Like the moral definition it also seeks to define pornography by the social effects it has, which is generally seen as reinforcing a male subordination of women socially and sexually. Some more extreme views see pornography as being a contributing factor in rape and the abuse of women.

 While the feminist idea of porn I definitely driven by a social agenda rather than a desire for literary understanding, the truth of the power-relationships inherent in mainstream pornography is hard to deny. Interestingly, the definition doesn’t tend, in the abstract, to differentiate between pornography that is well written or pornography that isn’t, instead being concerned with whether or not it represents an anti-woman idea of sex. From this definition comes the divide between pornography and erotica, where erotica is seen as sexually focused material that presents a ‘realistic’ or ‘balanced’ idea of sex without subordination.

 I myself, while I recognise the inherent issues surrounding the politics of representation, am uneasy with a definition that has an agenda. I am attempting, in preparation for this essay, to organise my brain around a non-pejorative definition of pornography, so that pornography can be well written or badly written, masculine or feminine, and also change in line with social norms. What was pornographic for Victorian England is no longer pornography for us, so I see the need for a definition that takes changing contexts into account. It may end up being a definition based on the notion of authorial intent, but also coupled with a functional, response based evaluation.  

 Perhaps it should be material that, in social context, had the effect of being sexually explicit material with the aim of sexual arousal. This would need to differentiate between material that was not intended for this purpose but which might be adopted as an aid to masturbation. This would be a fringe, and aberrant form, however, and probably needs a definition of its own based on user re-appropriation rather than as a genre of intent. This non-pejorative definition, also, would need to allow for the existence of  pornographic ‘moments’ within a non-pornographic text.

 It will require some consideration.


 *          A complex beast of many backs.

**        So to speak.

***      One Handed

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18

27 08 2009

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee


 One of the great maxims of our age* should be: when in doubt, quote Shakespeare. It’s not one, at least that I’m aware of, but in the busy storm of life, or in a lack of inspiration, Shakespeare is a safe harbour to sail into…

 Any Poet in a storm? **

 Yes? No. No, sorry. Forget I said that. *cough*

 Anyway, enough has already been written about the romantically titled Sonnet 18 (above) such that adding my meagre voice to the mix is hardly going to contribute to the overall understanding of the poem. In short, however,  the poem asks whether it should compare the subject to a summer’s day, and then describes why the subject is much ‘fairer’ than that, as a summers day is shorter, rougher, and more likely to decline than the person that it is being compared to. In the same way that a person may be flattered with faint praise the poem has the effect of praising the subject through the fact that a summers day compares unfavourably to them, though it is perhaps fairer to say that the person compares to the ideal summers day, one that is not rough, or brief, or intemperate.

Sonnet 18

Sonnet 18

The poem is, ostensibly, as much about writing poetry as it is about the subjects ‘fairness’. Where the first half denigrates the act of poetic comparison, and the poet’s ability to find an apt symbol, the second half of the poem brags that by expressing the subject in poetry they have essentially immortalised them.

 But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,

This may be a bit of ‘street’ poetry criticism. But with this sonnet I feel like there are serviceable lines, for eg. ‘But thy eternal summer shall not fade’, and then there are the ‘Money Quotes’ like ‘Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade’. Oh yeah. That’s the good stuff. It’s all great, don’t get me wrong. This is Shakespeare, the man had a skill. But some phrases are more… transcendent than others. ‘Rough winds do shake the darling buds of may,’ is another one. Rhythm, rhyme, and meaning all come together into one finely tuned phrase. The beauty nearly obscures the actual meaning of the line.

 Neither sentiments – that the person being described is too beautiful to be described aptly, and the immortalisation in poetry of said beauty – are original to Shakespeare. Ovid’s Tristia is the much cited [suspected] inspiration for the second theme.

 What is more interesting is the gentle battleground being drawn across this poem as it relates to the subject of Shakespeare’s sexuality. Actually, it’s not really a battleground. It’s more of a vague musing on the part of those Shakespeare scholars who have plainly exhausted all other possible avenues of speculation. The matter breaks down, more or less, into the order of the Sonnets as they were published.

 Sonnet 18 is clearly a poem of intense adoration, to the point where it is very often used as an example of classical love poetry. On the other hand, the poem is traditionally understood as being part of a series of sonnets called ‘The Fair Youth Sequence’ which are dedicated to a male friend of Shakespeare. This leads some scholars to think that, mayhap, the Bard preferred a bit o’ the ‘love that dare not speak its name.’ the counter argument is, of course, fuck it, Shakespeare was married. Then again, he ran away from his wife to live amidst the merry thespians of London. All in all, it’s fairly inconclusive. The other complication is the suggestion that the order of the poems was arbitrarily changed by the publisher who just threw number 18 in after 17 because, hell, it seemed to fit. No one’s going to read too much into it, right?

 This is, very possibly, the least important question in Shakespeare scholarship. You can also tell that this is one of his earlier sonnets. As time went on, Shakey*** became less fond of the end stopping he uses frequently in this poem and gets more into the use of enjambment. It is said, though I’ve put almost negative effort thus far into verifying the claim, that REAL Shakespeare scholars can date his plays and sonnets by how heavily enjambed they are. Cool, eh?


  *What ARE the great maxims of our age? I have no idea. Don’t spit into the wind? No, that’s more a maxim for EVERY age. I know: Don’t go up against a Sicilian when DEATH is on the line! and stay out of the Fire Swamp. Also, you can’t be told what the Matrix is; you have to see it for yourself. 

 ** I Ought to be Bard.

 *** Otherwise known as The Bard, or DJ Spears.

New Fiction: Caught by Karen-Anne Coleman

25 08 2009

We have started publishing serialised fiction here at the Woolf and Maus (yes, just like Charles Dickens) and to kick off our series we are very excited to launch Caught, by Karen-Anne Coleman (that’s actually me – so in some ways writing this post does feel rather like the royal ‘we’).

Caught is set in Sydney, and tells the story of a remarkable photographer and his even more remarkable camera, through the eyes of his friend and landlady, Katy. As Katy learns more about this mystical man who lives in her basement, she discovers that he has touched the lives of other people in her neighbourhood too – in more ways than she would care to know. Caught is about what we mean to one another, how we love and how we let one another live.

The first chapter of Caught is available below, free to download in pdf format. For the next instalment, please click back soon.

Please also leave a comment below if you liked this work, telling us why!


Click here to download the first chapter of Caught:

Caught Chapter One by K A Coleman

My Father’s Face

24 08 2009

I didn’t get to write a blog on Friday like I do usually. The reason: illness. Not dire, not an aneurism, or the bubonic plague, or H1N1, or anything, but enough to keep me in my pyjamas and away from my keyboard for most of the weekend.

Nonetheless, last night I was well enough to go out, and my friends and I found ourselves talking about faces, and recognition, and I won’t bore you with the details. The conversation reminded me of a poem that I came across years ago. It’s called ‘My Father’s Face’ and it begins:

Every morning when I shave I see his face

Or something like a sketch of it gone wrong.

And it ends:

The prude and lecher in him moiled and

fought within the rough-house of his pride.

And killed each other when his body died.


And in the middle there is a very excellent poem by, I believe, and Australian male poet, but damned if I can remember his name. In fact, the author might have been British, Canadian, or Sudanese for all I know.

I would very much like to read this poem again. The phrase ‘My Father’s Face’ is so ubiquitous, however,  that Google provides far too many incorrect results for a single diamond to show through the rough.

If anyone can help me find a copy of this poem, I would be very grateful.

Won’t somebody please think of the children!!

14 08 2009
Bust of Plato

Bust of Plato

So, I’ve been reading Plato. Not much of it, to be sure, but some and to a specific purpose. I’ve been pretty much argument mining from the Republic, and have come out with some useful stuff. One thing I’ve come out with, more than any number of other things, is how very annoying it is to read Plato. Reading Plato is like hearing a conversation between your grumpy moralising professor and a robot that has been programmed specifically to agree with everything he says.

 Aside from this revelation of stylistic narcissism I have been reading Republic as a guide to these Socratic and Plato..istic… Platoean… Platoesque… Platonic? notions of the poetic image. On the way to these ideas however I came across Plato’s arguments about censorship. He doesn’t call it censorship, of course, but it amounts to much the same thing. What he’s doing is exploring moral arguments in relation to the ideal city that he is hypothetically proposing, so when he argues for what shall be allowed into the Republic, he is also discussing what should be excluded, and why.

 It’s interesting because of just how little Plato’s argument differs, in its fundamentals, from the current arguments in favour of censorship. Plato’s argument is that certain forms of poetry (Epic, Tragedy, etc.) should be excluded from the republic because they are misleading about the nature of the gods, and represent (or imitate, produce mimesis) of behaviour that the ideal Platonic man should not emulate in the Republic, and that they encourage emulation of that behaviour. Who is likely to emulate this behaviour. Certainly not a man like Plato, or his mouthpiece Socrates, but the impressionably minded children of the Republic. The specific line of reasoning, involving the nature of the gods, is of course specific to the time and place.

 However, this is much the same argument as is put forward today by those who argue in favour of censorship. In the 1959 Obscene Publications Act in Britain the argument was that a published artefact should be censored/deemed obscene if it had a tendency to corrupt those who were like to come into contact with it. Again, the question is that certain materials have a tendency to corrode a public moral. In Plato’s Republic it was religious thought and public behaviour, in the case of the 1959 Act’s test case Lady Chatterley’s Lover it was sexual morals and promiscuity.

 Both Plato and the writers of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 (OPA-1959) assume that certain ideas/thoughts are corruptive, and there is some sub-population that is likely to be corrupted by them if exposed. Plato argued that the young were likely to be encouraged to emulate the ideas of Homer and the epics. OPA-1959 argued that the young and the working class would have their fragile conceptions of right and wrong corroded by the novel.

 This revelation surprised me at the time, but in retrospect I realised that it ought not have. The reason being that there is, to my mind, only one reasonably line of argument in favour of censorship. A society, ideally, starts from the state of complete openness, and that a society needs a reason to ban something. The opposite of this is the idea that everything is banned until a reason to un-ban it is produced. So, starting with the idea that we need a reason to ban something, the person making the argument for censorship must make a case in favour of banning. To plausible make a case to ban something, one needs to argue that there is something inherently harmful in having it be permitted. In arguing this the person must ask: who is it likely to be harmed? In such a case, the person making the argument is unlikely to think of themself as likely to be corrupted by it, as they are the one who initially recognised its detriments, so they must identify some other person or group who will be harmed / corrupted. In most cases, it seems, the children, the poor, poor defenceless children are the ones to spring up like corruptible weeds from the pavement, with the possible inclusion of the working class.

 Oh GOD! Won’t somebody PLEASE think of the CHILDREN!!! It really does come down to the defence of families and public morals by someone who considers themselves to have moral authority.

 There are, of course, various subtleties to the arguments, but the general principle remains the same. What is also interesting is that the more progressive arguments against censorship have not remained stagnant, but developed with the culture that produces the supposedly offensive materials. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to write more about these arguments in the future.


More from our modern JFK

12 08 2009

Since I wrote on Justin F. Kern’s photography over the weekend, the man himself responded with a small collection that shows just how the potential that I had eagerly anticipated in his increasingly sophisticated work is being realised. I had ask to see even more facets of our environment, and progressively complex ways of representing them. For the first time in this collection, sensuality genuinely bursts forth from his peach-coloured waves. Their hard, yet warm polymer surface offsets the organic tactility of his bark and tree trunks. Though they both focus on a curved surface, they juxtapose natural growth to man-made development, the adamantine and unyeilding to the brittle and crumbling, and two entirely different concepts of layering – one about decay (the revelation of new layers beneath dying others) and the other about intended revelation (where the creator only ‘lifts the skirts’ on the creation as much as s/he is willing to). The rainbow effect of lighting as it bursts through the spectrum of trees is breathtaking as it unifies some of these opposing elements. In this image, domesticated nature and artificial light come together to highlight the beauty of both human and natural forms of creation. Finally, the sailboat, so perfectly framed by it’s view from the jetty, is merely a destination at the end of the eye’s delightful meandering through an appreciation of the surfaces that have lead it there.

Bravo JFK! These are stunning.

I think it’s soon time for an exhibition.