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Walter Kendrick (1947 - 1998)

secret museum - Village Voice - pornography - horror


I could find but little on the life of Walter Kendrick, his education, what influenced him. He is of particular importance to Jahsonic.com becaus of his The Secret Museum: Pornography in Modern Culture (1987) and the equally provocative The Thrill of Fear: 250 Years of Scary Entertainment (1991). [Jan 2006]


Walter Kendrick--who died Sunday morning with terrifying suddenness--was a great wit and a great scholar whose scholarship ranged freely over a staggering range of interests. His books include The Secret Museum, an indispensable survey of the history of pornography, The Thrill of Fear, an aphoristic meditation on "scary entertainment," and Bloomsbury/Freud: The Letters of James and Alix Strachey, 1924-25, which he coauthored with Perry Meisel.

From the beginning Walter was central to the VLS as a writer and editor, lending it both the panache of his style and the undemonstrative authority of his intellectual grasp, whether the subject was Freud or Trollope or Ruskin, hermeneutics or romance novels, the roots of gay radicalism or the undercurrents of Victorian sexuality. To read him was to participate in an endlessly diverting, deeply serious conversation in which he seemed always to inject a note of almost whimsical calm into precisely those aspects of human life most likely to stir up uncontrolled hysteria and crusading zeal. I can still remember the amused aplomb with which Walter, brought on a cable TV show as a scholar of pornography, stared down a representative of the Christian Right.

As an editor, Walter was incomparable; contributors had the singular pleasure of working with a line editor for whom the niceties of grammar and diction held a delight not remotely pedantic. He loved language, just as he loved the play of ideas. I remember an evening when, after arguing the importance of Pater, he sealed his argument by reading, with real eloquence, the passage from The Renaissance that concludes: "To burn always with this hard, gemlike flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life." He then added: "That's what all those musicians in the East Village are doing, just following Pater and burning with a hard, gemlike flame." In his own gently acerbic fashion that's what Walter was doing too. For those who had the pleasure of knowing him, the world has lost a portion of its buoyance. --http://www.villagevoice.com/books/9844,obrien,955,10.html [Sept 2005]

The Secret Museum: Pornography in Modern Culture (1987) - Walter Kendrick

  • The Secret Museum: Pornography in Modern Culture (1987) - Walter Kendrick [amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    Village Voice editor Kendrick (The Novel Machine) goes back to the erotic murals of ancient Pompeii and forward to the recent presidential commissions on pornography to demonstrate how public attitudes toward pornography and censorship have changed. PW noted that this is a "well-researched, nontitillating study of the phenomenon." -- Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.

    Walter Kendrick traces the relatively recent concept of pornography - the word was not coined until the late 18th century - which became a public issue once the printing press gave ordinary people access to the erotica of the Greeks and Romans, the art and literature of the French enlightenment, and the poems of the Earl of Rochester and John Cleland's Fanny Hill. From the secret museums to the pornography trials of Madame Bovary and Lady Chatterly's Lover, to Mapplethorpe, cable TV, and the Internet, Kendrick explores how conceptions of pornography relate to issues of freedom of expression and censorship. --amazon.com

    Robert Christgau's review of The Secret Museum (1987)
    Two interwoven arguments carry The Secret Museum to one overriding conclusion: that the censorship of sexually explicit materials is dangerous, foolish, fruitless, or at least ill-conceived. So Walter Kendrick seems to intend, anyway. The decisive evidence of what he thinks he's brought off here comes in his next-to-last sentence, when he sums up the two arguments with a brevity that's both remarkable and typical of his exhaustively researched 239-page text: "`Pornography' is not eternal, nor are its dangers self-evident." --Walter Kenrick, Village Voice, Apr. 28, 1987, http://www.robertchristgau.com/xg/bkrev/porn-87.php [Jan 2005

    The Thrill of Fear: 250 Years of Scary Entertainment (1991) - Walter M. Kendrick

    The Thrill of Fear: 250 Years of Scary Entertainment (1991) - Walter M. Kendrick [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    From Kirkus Reviews
    In The Secret Museum (1987), Kendrick traced the rise and influence of literary pornography. Here, in an equally freewheeling study, the Fordham English professor excavates another cultural back-alley--that of horror literature and film. Kendrick's basic thesis is two-fold: that horror arises from ``the fear of being dead,'' and that, since this fear is endemic to the modern (i.e., post-1750) condition, horror entertainments tend to recycle the same themes and styles. Drawing on impressively deep research, he develops both ideas admirably (although failing to deal adequately with the theory, propounded by Stephen King in Danse Macabre and by others, that the modern horror glut has arisen in response not only to death but to the terrors of contemporary life: nuclear war, urban violence, etc.). Kendrick finds horror to be a primarily emotional medium, with its roots in the 18th-century ``invention'' of intentional emotionality: ``modern fright is a kind of connoisseurship, a deliberate indulgence that recognizes no aim beyond itself.'' By century's end, he shows, with the appearance of Graveyard poetry and the novels The Castle of Otranto and The Monk, horror's course had been set, with the obsession with the past and sepulchral settings, even the tendency to graphically depicted terrors, all in place. During the next two centuries, these traits underwent many transformations, which Kendrick details thoroughly and colorfully--his discussions of Grand Guignol theater and of mid-20th-century horror films are particularly insightful, while his appreciation of contemporary horror's self-awareness, as exemplified in fans' ``sophisticated'' approach to film gore and in the rise of ``psychotronic'' criticism, is refreshingly on the mark. Of most value for its in-depth look at the genre's seminal works, Kendrick's lively and penetrative ramble through horror's vaults is an excellent companion to King's Danse Macabre, which remains the last word on contemporary horror. -- Copyright 1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --via Amazon.com

    See also: horror - fear

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