The Pornographic Imagination by Susan Sontag – a recommendation – Sunai Institute

Sunai Institute

The Pornographic Imagination by Susan Sontag – a recommendation

Susan Sontag was an American political activist, writer, teacher and film maker. She wrote mostly essays, on a variety of topics including photography, culture, human rights, and leftist ideology.

Though some call her controversial, Sontag is clearly an incredibly influential critic- one that is just as thought provoking now as she was decades ago.

Having vocally supported artists and writers like Salman Rushdie, it is no surprise that we can find interesting and polarizing topics in the realm of arts and culture to debate even now. Sontag, to put it lightly, has not shied away from topics that stir up deep emotional responses.

Being that we, at Sunai, are always invigorated by topics that push our previously held notions, or expand our horizons in one fashion or another- it’s no surprise that Sontag’s work made it to our list of discussion topics.

Now that your interest is no doubt peaked by this unique historical figure, I’d like to offer you a recommendation, one where we may begin to question long standing notions about what can be considered Art when it intersects with the worlds oldest professions.

Susan Sontag, in her piece “The Pornographic Imagination” discusses literary pornography as an Art form. I use the firm Art with capital A, in order to point out that the works she discusses adhere to what is, historically, considered aligned with classic literary tradition- though of course the Art vs art debate could take us a lifetime to unravel.

Sontag takes us on an interesting journey through the “pornographic imagination” where taboo is struck down and all the remains is the notion that “ideally, it should be possible for everyone to have a sexual connection with everyone else.” She examines the balance between this and the religious imagination, and how the two intersect by creating a place of transcendence for human thought and experience. 

Not to take the fun out of exploring this text- but many of her points hit a very uniquely Sunai perspective. 

The notion that what we may consider traditional religious thought has been crumbling, but the need for humans to transcend the self is as strong as ever- and perhaps sexual expression could provide that outlet. This is something we feel is absolutely possible. We can borrow the literary tradition of “beautifying” the pornographic imagination, and through our own art forms create the kind of pornography that isn’t lacking in skill and execution. (As Sontag points out- and we have likely all experienced)

Sontag goes on to discuss the human desire for a wider array of experiences and expansion of the consciousness, which without preparedness could be dangerous- and is truly a discussion of itself.

But I digress, we are concerned here specifically with the potential of the human subject and how that relates to the elevation of what is deemed pornographic by a society which, has created so many of its own limits to self expression, pleasure and joy.

The general assumption we receive from media, religious teaching (on the surface) and “traditional family values” seems to place pornography at odds with Art. I’d like to challenge this assumption and dare you to look beyond the constraints of assumption we are all guilty of (at some interval or another) and offer up your own ideas about where pornography and Art coexist.

At Sunai, we would like to propose a heightened blend of Art and sensuality / sexuality. One where we can create images that evoke sensations and memories- deeply beautiful and inspiring. Can we discover a place by which sexuality can be embraced as wholly beautiful as opposed to what we have come to expect from the porn industry. (No negativity to current pornographic practices) We simply know, from experience- that the human body is capable of amazing and wonderful things. The expression of those vocally, photographically, described literarily- there are endless options.

Not only can this sort of expression bring satisfaction to the subject and the artist- but it can serve to heighten dominant and submissive relationships, whereby you have created shared vision and something tangible. 

Or are these peculiarly inconsistent attitudes toward pleasure, serving to control us – keeping us ever accountable to an unknown spiritual authority or governing entity or patriarchy or…?

By Lynn Gilbert, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

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