Vulgar genres: On pornography, sexuality, and law in U.S. literature after 1966
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"Vulgar Genres" investigates the relevance of pornography for studies of literature and genre following the ostensible easing of U.S. obscenity laws after World War II. Drawing on Frances Ferguson's Pornography, the Theory: What Utilitarianism Did to Action (2004), which explores pornography's relation to literature via a feminist rereading of Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish (1975), I stage an interdisciplinary conversation among the fields of literary studies, critical theory, and porn studies. While feminist film scholars such as Linda Williams, Laura Kipnis, and others have produced field-defining accounts of image-based pornography, their disciplinary frameworks have led to the neglect of written forms. Through close readings of magazines, advertisements, newsletters, and novels uncovered during archival research at UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library, the Human Sexuality Collection at Cornell University, and the Leather Archives & Museum of Chicago, "Vulgar Genres" reveals that gay print pornography provided a critical grammar for discourses about sexuality and power during the second half of the twentieth century. This was a grammar made possible by a shift in the obscenity law's attention away from written forms toward visual images. Writers such as Samuel Delany, John Rechy, Samuel Steward, and Matthew Stadler were well aware of pornography's significance for communities of sexual dissidents and sought to engage with the genre's unique take on law, power, and fantasy within their own literary works. Finally, I suggest that when read in light of contemporary genre theory, these texts yield insights into the historical forces that shape genres as well as how genres mediate between psychic life and social forces.