Sexuality isn't natural: it's a cultural construction. It relates to a psychosomatic apparatus constructed collectively through language and image, supported by norms and social controls that modulate and fashion desire. Therefore, the relationship between sexuality and pornography isn't of the order of representation, but of production. Feminist critic Teresa de Lauretis asserts that, in modernity, photography and cinema function as authentic technologies of sex and sexuality: they produce the differences of sex and sexuality that they claim to represent. Porn doesn't depict a sexuality that precedes it, but is rather (alongside medical, juridical, literary, and other discourses) one of the devices that construct the epistemological framework and trace the boundaries within which sexuality appears as visible.
Sexuality resembles cinema. It's made of fragments of space-time, abrupt changes of shot, backlit sequences, opening shots, high- and low-angle shots, bird's-eye shots, zooms, voiceovers...desire, locked in the editing room, cuts, colors, reorganizes, equalizes, and assembles. With the invention of the audiovisual industry, this process that takes place in the private neuronal system (others will say unconscious) assumes a collective, public, and political dimension. The audiovisual industry is the political editing room where public sexuality has been invented, produced, and broadcast as a visible image since the end of the nineteenth century.
Since the '60s of the last century, we've witnessed what we could call an assault from the editing room on the part of the politico-visual minorities whose practices, bodies, and desire have been, until now, constructed cinematographically as pathological. Until this time, women and sexual and racial minorities didn't have access to the editing room. They were simple objects of representation: little by little they have become subjects. Again, when I speak of minorities, I don't refer to a number but to an index of sub-alterity. Heterosexual women, for example, were and in part remain a politico-visual minority, since femininity as an image has been constructed as an effect of the hetero-normative gaze. Feminist (Trinh T. Minh-ha), experimental lesbian (Barbara Hammer), or experimental 'queer' (Freak Orlando by Ulrike Ottinger or Dandy Dust by Hans Scheirl) films don't seek to represent the authentic sexuality of women, lesbians, or gays, but to produce visual counter-fictions capable of calling into question the dominant modes of picturing norm and deviation. In the same way, the post-porno, transfeminist, and crip 'nouvelle vague', made above all with video (Eric Pussboy, Abigail Gnash, Lucie Blush, Courtney Trouble, Virginie Despentes, Gaspar Noe, Post-Op, Del LaGrace Volcano, YesWeFuck...), doesn't seek to represent the truth of sex but to question the cultural limits that separate pornographic and non-pornographic representation, as well as the visual codes that determine the normality or pathology of a body or a practice.
During the '80s and '90s, the anti-pornographic feminism of Andrea Dworkin and Catherine Mackinnon defined porn as a patriarchal and sexist language that precipitates violence against women's bodies ("porn is the theory, rape is the practice"). These arguments eclipsed the activism of pro-sex feminism that saw in the dissident representation of sexuality an opportunity for empowerment for women and sexual minorities. For their part, the feminist anti-porn movement, supported by conservative religious and pro-life movements, defended state censorship as the only means to protect women from pornographic violence. But how can one leave control of a technology of pleasure production in the hands of a patriarchal, sexist, and homophobic state?
The decisive matter, therefore, is not whether an image is a true or false representation of a particular (feminine, masculine, or other) sexuality, but who has access to the collective editing room in which fictions of sexuality are produced. That which an image shows us is not the truth (or falsehood) of the picture, but the ensemble of visual and political conventions of the society that views it. Here, the question, 'who?', points not to the individual subject but to the political construction of the gaze. The question is not whether a feminine porn is possible; rather, how can we modify visual hierarchies that we have constituted as subjects? How to displace the visual codes that historically have served to designate the normal or the abject?
It's this exercise of re-appropriating the technology of the production of sexuality that we call postpornographic. Postporno is not an aesthetic, but the assemblage of experimental productions that emerge from movements for the politico-visual empowerment of sexual minorities: pariahs of the pharmacopornographic system (bodies that work in the sex industry, prostitutes and porn actors and actresses, women dissenting against the heterosexual system, transgender bodies, lesbians, bodies with functional or psychic diversity) reclaiming the use of audiovisual devices for the production of sexuality. Postporno productions (the performative and audiovisual works of Annie Sprinkle and Elisabeth Stephens, COYOTE, Veronica Vera, Monika Treut, Linda Montano, Karen Finley, Maria Beatty, María Llopis, Emilie Jouvet, GoFist, Shu Lea Cheang, Diana Junyent Pornoterrorista) are a living archive of sexualities in resistance against the state's porno, mom and dad's porno, colonial porno, the standardized body's porno. It's a revolt in the editing room where desire is constructed.
Translated by Sam Smith
(*) Paul B. Preciado is a philosopher and transfeminist activist, professor of Philosophy of the Body at New York University and author of 'Counter-Sexual Manifesto', 'Testo Junkie', and 'Pornotopia', among other volumes.
Text shared from El Mundo.