PORNOGRAPHY AND SILENCE: Culture's Revenge Against Nature by Susan Griffin

PORNOGRAPHY AND SILENCE: Culture's Revenge Against Nature

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Pornography exists to silence eros. . . . It is born from that side of the mind which would replace nature with a delusion of cultural power."" Here Susan Griffin (Woman and Nature) attacks the usual legitimations for pornography by seeing it as reflecting not man's nature but a particular culture, as leading not to freedom of speech but to silence: the silence of women and, more broadly, of nature and feeling. The weakness of this book lies in its causal links; we are left simply to accept Griffin's view of nature as eros, as the union of spirit and matter, then to puzzle over how this supposedly benign nature developed into malignant culture. The strength of the book, however, lies in its probing exploration of pornographic images: the idea of transgression; the virgin and the whore; bestiality; the slow revelation of female flesh; the woman as object; the woman as suffering through the ordeal. Underpinning many of these themes Griffin believes she detects ""a terrible fear."" For ""The woman who is a chick, or a chicken, or an old mare. . . who is ridden like a horse. . . is also a fox. . . . She can instill desire and by this act turn a man into an animal."" It is this loss of control men fear, this reversion to nature, and, finally, the acceptance of mortality itself. The ""chauvinist mind"" thus acts as a censor, rejecting all feeling as threatening, developing instead pornography as its ritual, ""an enacted drama which is laden with meaning, which imparts a vision of the world""; and this vision is acted on through fantasies (of dominance, humilation) and--in the real world--through religious persecutions, witchcraft trials, and even the Holocaust. (The Hitlerian brand of racism, Griffin argues, still exerts its pull through pornographic films with titles such as Golden Boys of the SS and Ilse the She-Wolf of the SS). At the heart of pornographic culture, furthermore, is the denial of women's rights to independent experience and expression. And Griffin uses six figures--among them Marilyn Monroe and Kate Chopin--to show how pornographic culture touches actual lives; how women find themselves ""caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of ordinariness and extraordinariness,"" their real natures quite unimportant. Some women, however, are not silenced; Griffin presents a seventh life, that of civil-rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer. ""Because she existed and others before her. . . we cannot say we have entirely forgotten. . . . We have emblems. The triangle. We have knowledge. The rose. We have choice."" Perhaps. But to clarify the nature of the choice Griffin's passion will have to be married to a stiffer logic. Still, provocative thinking throughout--and a rather philosophical approach to a developing feminist debate.

Pub Date: June 3rd, 1981
Publisher: Harper & Row