The Troubling Arousal

While I resist drawing lines between pornography and art, if forced to offer a distinction I might say that pornography, like propaganda, wants us to feel a single thing. Art is made of contraries, of ambivalence and ambiguity; it never wants us to feel a single thing. If I want the reader to be aroused by a particular scene, I also want them to be troubled by that arousal, to question or investigate it, to be moved by a more complicated pleasure.

(Garth Greenwell, “‘I wanted something 100% pornographic and 100% art’: the joy of writing about sex,” theguardian.com, 5-8-20)

Greenwell tickles me with gesturing at where porn and propaganda converge. Eschew not only obfuscation but also simplisticism. I like to echo him that porn and prop are univalent, and then to wonder why art, besides contrariety and ambiguity, isn’t made also of multivalence: multi- or “many,” after all, is more than ambi- or “both.”

However, ambivalence is an attribute of the observer — of his or her sentient or cognitive dimension — whereas multivalence is an attribute of the observed — of the sensed dimension. So which one makes art? It’s complicated — and there it is! — the troubling arousal.

(c) 2020 JMN

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day, and watch Netflix and Prime Video for entertainment. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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