[iDC] netporn midlife crisis?

Brad Borevitz brad at onetwothree.net
Mon Nov 12 16:55:35 UTC 2007

jordan's 6 scenes are certainly suggestive; i'm curious though, what exactly
they are meant to suggest about netporn and it's putative crisis.

are these set pieces offered to imply that the structures of reception, or
of the production of, pornography, its digital transmission, and its
circulation on the net -- between the laboriously constructed facades of the
pseudonymous personas of that domain -- are just a version of the same
structures which govern the sexual life of your average homo on the prowl?

if that were the case, it would be a similar proposition to my own posting,
in that there is an explicit extrapolation from a specifically homoerotic
context to a more general case; and in principal i'm in favor of such claims
-- if for no other reason than the perverse inversion that they perform.
but, of course, there is a politics of such assertions.

in the case of these 6 scenes though, i am caught on some aspects of their
specificity which i think might be interesting to make more explicit. what
does the writing reveal about the narrator in pieces (assuming that they are
meant to construct a singular protagonist -- certainly six different
narrators are possible)?

does it go without saying that N is a man? and that the rather
self-conscious construction of his masculinity is marked particularly by the
vulnerability of his virile member to the gaze. we cannot but recall the
complaint of some feminists (how many waves ago) that pornographic exposure
as objectification constitutes a kind of violence of the gaze which is
attendant on other more palpable violences which the body of the woman is
liable to suffer. later waves have of course reconstructed these claims to
allow room for the pleasures of being looked at; still, it seems worth
recalling when trying to understand what is happening in these scenes where
the construction of masculinity becomes scopic - and perhaps leaves other,
more active strategies of masculinity behind. because the question for
masculinity becomes how to protect its prestige, so invested in the
activities of a phallic drive. that is, might the gaping maw of vision have
teeth with which to sever that which the scion of man most esteems, from the
place in which he expects (the other) to find it?

this is a game of hide and seek, but this man takes out insurance on his
member so that its membership is guaranteed in perpetuity. he does not give
it up. he does not even risk it. he indicates both its presence and its
potency by indirection: he turns his back (which he will not proffer
either); he clothes it, enfolds it, or substitutes an armor of muscularity
for it. these strategies of fetishistic substitution partake of that logic
which reassures the man of of the presence of exactly that which he fears
may be absent. 

the false and affected nonchalance of exposure, the feigned indifference to
it, is paired with the insistent preoccupation with the potential for
tumescence. the penis is never simply flaccid it is only ever on the verge
of demonstrating its power. in the one case where it is fully revealed, the
nakedness of the body is conveyed again by its substitute. the lump of
clothes at the man's feet is the sign of flaccid exposure; meanwhile, the
presumptively erect penis is the center of the other's slavish labors --
decidedly not the object of his gaze, for this would mean that the other has
pleasure at the man's expense. instead the man receives his services while
basking in the reflected power of his position -- standing as the other

the pretense of exposure masks its ultimate refusal. the construction of
this masculinity gives not itself to view, but rather exposes the
constructed mask of phallic impenetrability. this is a noh play, not a strip
tease and what we see is tengu's mask (see

a second indirection is to the mask of the drag queen -- who is herself a
substitute woman. for after this wave (of feminism, or even after the
previous) only the most crude misogyny can come to the fore unmasked. here
it is only latent as the exclusion of woman from the scene and the portrayal
of femininity as a kind of grotesquerie. the drag queen is not only self
conscious about the construction of her femininity, she does not disavow her
interest in its construction. she also courts the attention of the gaze,
thus becoming twice castrated: once in her tucking of the penis (the panty
and tape enabled opposite of the fetishistic and advantageous arrangement of
genitalia into his designer skivvies), and again by the eye for the becoming
object (of the male gaze). her inattention to attention -- the giving in to
sleep which reveals her entire body to be the figure of the flaccid -- is
what reminds the man to maintain his vigilance in regard to his image
production: be not that other thing!

the man is an emblem of paranoia: he is always on guard because he might be
watched. and so he is always watching himself. he is his own panoptic
peepshow; and this is the difference between him and the other in whom
exposure grants visual pleasure. the structure of his exposure is
conditioned by a discipline of the body and by the muscular construction of
it as a fortress of impermeability. but it is a fortress that has a face
which still must be given over, this much, and only this much, is a
concession to a feminist critique, and it is also a peculiar and particular
retrenchment of masculinity within the contemporary circuits of vision.

Brad Borevitz

On 11/10/07 2:40 AM, "Jordan Crandall" <jcrandall at ucsd.edu> wrote:
> 6 scenes
> 1. Bar
> I am standing at the doorway of a bar, in a strange city. A flight delay
> has caused me to miss my connection, and I am stuck here for one night. I
> am excited by the unique pleasure that this affords: that of being a
> complete stranger, in a city that I have never before visited. To be the
> mystery person, the screen upon which fantasies are projected. I step
> through the doorway of the bar with a swagger, then pause to scan the
> room. As if a stage actor in a solo scene, I do not meet the gaze of
> anyone in particular. By not looking, I invite others to look. Due to the
> fact that am alone, I invent a form of distributed companionship -- a
> timeless consort who is everyone and no one, everywhere and nowhere. A
> Knowingness that is above and beyond the here-and-now. This is not
> intended to be read as arrogance, but rather, a potent combination of
> presence and absence, availability and disinterest. Anything less would
> dissolve the screen. Slowly and with confidence, I walk to the bar, while
> absorbing the scene, mapping the space. I sip my drink and then almost
> spill it, due to the startling appearance of an enormous, lascivious drag
> queen, who now looms above me. She points a long, red-painted nail at me
> and gives me the Call. With a parting of heavily painted lips and a
> commanding, heavily-lashed stare, she intones: You! I offer some
> resistance, then succumb. I am whisked away into a back room. I am
> instructed in the new rules of the game, along with four other recruits. I
> am now a Contestant. The drag queen stumbles out into the bar on shaky
> heels, arms aflail. A breathless introduction ensues. The Contest has
> begun. The bar crowd, which has now become an audience, applauds wildly.
> One by one, each of us enters onto the rickety, makeshift stage clad only
> in our underwear, as the drag queen, now wielding a bucket, hurls water at
> us. We then work the crowd and solicit applause. To win this game, one is
> expected to manage some degree of erection. If no degree of hardness is
> possible, the wet underwear simply clings to the contours of the groin and
> produces a small, unappealing mound. In this case, one must attempt to
> fool the eye, in the grand tradition of the dancer, the courtesan, the
> magician. What is sexuality if not a conjuring trick? Desire requires a
> labyrinth. I know the moves from watching others, and I make these moves
> work for me. I become someone I¹m not. Yet perhaps I become more of the
> person that I really am? The answer depends upon who, ultimately, I am
> acting for, and the stakes that have been thereby raised. Stripped nearly
> naked, a stranger in a strange town, with no social profile to uphold,
> there is nothing much to lose. Yet there is certainly an amorphous judge
> for whom I act. The audience is simply one dimension of it, the drag queen
> its obscene face.
> 2. Sauna
> I am in the sauna at the gym, relaxing after a workout. A man sits across
> from me. He stares at my crotch for as long as appropriate, given the
> protocols of sauna life, then looks away. A few beats later, his gaze
> returns, sweeping across my body, circling around my midsection, resting
> upon on the bulge cast by my penis. I am not erect, yet I feel the
> stimulation of his gaze. I do not return his look, and so he must operate
> surreptitiously. Yet I am aware of his gaze; I do not block it. He senses
> this, and it affords him a certain level of permission. The dance
> continues. The atmosphere heats up. He subtly lifts his towel to show his
> hardness. He expects me to reciprocate, but I do not. Failing to rouse me,
> he offers a question: Can I touch you? I am momentarily stunned by his
> eruption into speech, and by his directness. Cruising is generally a
> nonverbal endeavor; when it does involve dialogue it is indirect, at least
> at first. I respond in the negative. At this point there are few avenues
> left to him. Quietly, he studies his options. He looks at me, looks down
> at my groin, looks at me again, then quietly asks: Can you show me? At the
> onset of this question, I feel a jolt of sexual excitement. So direct, so
> genuine. So powerful in its simplicity. The basic question that every
> child wants asked, summoned by every plea of Look at me! I briefly
> consider lifting my towel and offering myself to his gaze. Yet had I
> succumbed, the question would have lost all its power and resonance. I
> preferred to hold onto it. I held onto the query of Show Me, keeping it
> under wraps, heated, sweating, in an ambiguous state of arousal, like the
> concealed region of my body to which it referred.
> 3. Nightclub
> The VIP room, tucked in the back of a large nightclub. People coming and
> going, making deals, hanging out. A very tall and narrow space with spot
> lighting that, due to the heat and cigarette smoke, generates a milky
> haze. I am standing in this room, shirtless. A club promoter, who I had
> only just met that evening, pulls my pants down, lowers himself to his
> knees, and takes me into his mouth. He works on me with quiet
> determination. My skin, slick with oil and sweat, shines under the
> spotlights. I spread my arms straight out to my sides in a gesture of
> surrender, or of heroic conquest -- though with my pants bunched at my
> feet, I hardly look like a champion. Yet somehow I do seem privileged: the
> chosen one, anointed. The promoter kneels before me in a position of
> subservience, and this offers me the feeling of dominance. Yet, at the
> same time, I am the one who is vulnerable, weakened though the public
> display of my nakedness and hardness. Strength and weakness, private and
> public, back and forth: the promoter works on me with the regularity of a
> machine. Five minutes? One hour? Awash in the moment, time and space are
> warped. The volume of the room expands. The pleasure spreads through my
> body and into the social space around me; or rather, it comes from the
> outside in, circulating through me and back out into the social
> environment. If identity is social, coming from the outside, then perhaps
> pleasure is too. Is that why masturbation is never enough? One always
> wants a stage. Sometimes it is onset through the simplest means: a lens, a
> text message, a glance. Desire requires an architecture, whether real or
> imaginary. Secret spaces, performative arenas, labyrinths. Ways of
> looking, ways of attracting, ways of belonging. The nightclub is one such
> construct. One might go there for the possibility of sex, but after a
> time, the sexual act itself becomes pointless. It is public-ized,
> promoted, distributed throughout the connective space that the
> architecture creates. And this is ultimately why we sign on.
> 4. Hotel
> My hotel room is perched at the intersection of two freeways, and, with
> the window open to let in the hot summer air, I can hear the comforting
> hum of traffic. I have just gotten out of the shower and am starting at
> myself in the mirror, deciding whether or not to shave. I hear a knock on
> the door: it must be room service. With a towel around my waist, I open
> the door for the waiter, who wheels in my breakfast cart. He nervously
> fusses with the plates and flatware. I sign the check and thank him. He
> opens the door to exit the room. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice
> that he is closing the door very slowly, in order that he can watch my
> reflection in the hallway mirror. Momentarily, I glimpse the raw desire in
> his eye. Does his desire arise because of, or in spite of, the limits
> placed upon it -- by the social contract, and by his employer? Still in my
> towel, I take my breakfast plate from the cart and walk over to the chair.
> As I approach the seat, I realize that my towel has loosened. I am holding
> the plate with both hands and so I do not catch the towel. Rather, with
> confidence, I let it fall. Standing, plate in hand, I feel the gaze of the
> waiter upon me. I keep my back toward the door so as to bask in the
> familiar glow of this look. Like the warm sunshine beaming in from the
> window, cast against my skin, It affords me a blanket of comfort. Yet at
> the same time it dispossesses me. Centeredness and dispersal, life and
> death, as part of the same circuit. I sense the struggle is which he is
> engaged -- how long can he remain, peering through a gap in the door,
> before he is discovered, whether by me, another hotel guest, or his boss?
> Embodying the struggle, he monitors himself. A space of tension has opened
> up, a gap that only assumes its potency through the impending threat of
> its closure, and of its subject's exposure. Perhaps his body takes shape,
> as mine does, through the contouring properties of this space. It informs
> him, gives form to him. Like the billowing curtains, shaped by the morning
> breeze -- arising only because of the wind channel established by the open
> window and the cracked door. Self-consciously, I stand there, and slowly
> begin to eat from my plate. The clacking of my fork beats time like a
> metronome, as the erotic energy -- always compositional, rhythmic --
> circulates through the room with the hot summer air.
> 5. Studio
> I am in my underwear, reclining in a makeshift bed, leaning back against
> the wall. My left knee is slightly raised, my legs provocatively spread
> apart. The position has been determined so as to accentuate the fill of my
> briefs, my penis and testicles falling to the right, with attention given
> to the contours they thereby produce. In actuality, I can only see my
> position from my own vantage point. Yet I know from experience what will
> look best, and in this sense I can see myself from the outside. My body is
> positioned with attention to line. My muscles are flexed, though only
> slightly, so as not to appear too rigid or eager. The ideal: an attitude
> of utmost confidence and ease, of fully inhabiting my sexual power, though
> in an open way, so that others can share in it too. Not a barricaded
> sexuality, but a playful, circuitous one. My pose in place, my gaze
> connects with the artists in the room, all of whom are now beginning to
> draw me. Their eyes move between me and their sketch pads, repeatedly,
> back and forth. They project their fantasies on me. I feel them, I can see
> these fantasies in their gazes, and this affects me, arouses me. I meet
> their gazes, lingering on each of them. The attention is reciprocated. It
> volleys between us. We meet within this ambiguous space of arousal.
> Drawings take shape there. I have a role in these drawings; I help
> structure the erotic circuit through which they are produced. Yet I make
> no claims on them. I simply want to be fully present in the process
> itself. To completely inhabit the generating network. Not to reinforce my
> body (or self), but rather, in a sense, to displace it -- to generate an
> excess that always exceeds it. Ultimately it is this space of invention
> that interests me, rather than the drawings that result. They do not
> reveal so much as conceal.
> 6. Subway
> I am riding the subway one night. It is very late, after the clubs have
> closed but before the sun has started to rise. A few people sit quietly in
> the jostling car. All of us, quite obviously, have indulged quite a bit in
> drinking, dancing, or simply prowling the streets. Once dominating the
> night, shaping it to our pleasures, we now surrender to it dutifully,
> sitting docile in the subway car. We simply want to get to bed. One of the
> passengers is a drag queen. Her makeup is a bit smudged, and her hair
> askew, but otherwise she is impeccably dressed. Now spent, she struggles
> to maintain her composure. At times, sleep claims her, and her head falls
> to the side. Then, as her head begins to sink too low, she catches herself
> and abruptly sits bolt upright, adjusting her wig and smoothing her dress.
> This struggle plays out for several minutes. Down. Up. Down. Up. Soft.
> Erect. We¹ve all been there, I think. But never have I seen this struggle
> carried out with such determination. In the liminal space between night
> and morning, between masculine and feminine, she struggles to maintain the
> performance. Never has the struggle to perform the feminine -- or the
> masculine, for that matter -- been more clearly manifest. In this sleepy
> hour, when one would otherwise think the act was over, the labor of
> performing one's identity increases. The struggle never ends. There is no
> audience, but there is always the potential one -- the chance that at any
> time a glimpse might be taken of us. Should this happen, we want to be
> ready. Rehearsed.
> Jordan Crandall
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