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Morse Peckham

On Art [...]

" Art is a rehearsal for the orientation that makes innovation possible. " --Morse Peckham

Man's Rage for Chaos: Biology, Behavior and the Arts (1967)

Man's Rage for Chaos: Biology, Behavior and the Arts (1967) - Morse Peckham [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

This is a new edition of the much neglected 1967 breakthrough analysis of behavior and the arts. Cultural criticism has been too obsessed with the rage for order to be able to grasp the import of Peckham's search for "some human activity, which serves to break up orientations, to weaken and frustrate the tyrannous drive to order, to prepare the individual to observe what the orientation tells him is irrelevant, but what may every be relevant." This book is destined to force a sharp turn in critical cultural studies because it addresses the rage for chaos in traditional "high culture," not just in popular culture. --Book Description via Amazon.com

Art and pornography;: An experiment in explanation (1971)

Art and pornography: An experiment in explanation (1971) - Morse Peckham [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

This book was written under the auspices of the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research. As a result the author found himself summoned as expert witness in a pornography censorship trial: much to the chagrin of both prosecution AND defense. Peckham rejects the argument, prominent among many civil libertarians and the US Supreme Court, that art and pornography are mutually exclusive categories. Instead he argues that pornography is about the value which sex has in any particular society. Sexual depictions, esp. in Anglo-American society are controlled as a means of controlling (policing) other behaviour. Pornography is analysed in a concrete way (later generalised in EXPLANATION and POWER by the same author). This book argues that since sexual behaviour is also about learning roles (and in a puritanical society learning roles which are not publicly taught), pornography essentially documents the range of roles available to people in their sexual behaviour.

It is almost impossible to find a better examination of the way in which a culture positions sex in its scheme of values. This is particularly useful when reviewing the jurisprudence on censorship as a whole. Peckham shows, for instance, that "sex" is analogous to theater with the exception that since there are almost no publicly validated "sex theaters", there are actually very few prescriptions as to how the roles are to be played. This study has implications for feminist analyses of pornography and sexual politics too. Peckham shows that other social roles are freely "imported" into the "sex theater" and therefore the learning which theater in public imparts, showing how personalities are formed and narrativising human interpersonal relations, also takes place in pornography. The objection often raised that pornography concentrates on "deviant" behaviour is rebutted. All behaviour has the potential to become deviant. In fact, pornography does more to standardise sexual behaviour than any other institution.

When pornography becomes raised to "art", this only means that the interest of "art perception" is given priority over that of "sexual behaviour". A very unsatisfactory argument for those who would argue that the role of "art perceiver" (a publicly validated role) excludes the role of "erotic or sex perceiver/ actor". Unfortunately, this book has received too little attention by those who defend better sex education in public schools. As Peckham observed, it is therefore no wonder that in the US there are still so many young people who are surprised that sex can result in pregnancy. It also explains why the US pornography industry models itself increasingly on the "legitimate" art industry (e.g. the pornographic film industy on the Hollywood star system). Pornography, Peckham says, also shows what a society values most. The book examines "pornography" in the art of various cultures and discusses both sociological and political issues raised in the production, dissemination and control of culture. --via Amazon.com

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