Thursday, February 23, 2012

When it comes to Porn, Christopher West goes South

"In contrast to this kind of authentic art, pornographic portrayals of the body raise objection, the Pope insists, not because they expose the human body per se. The human body in itself always retains its inalienable dignity. Rather, pornography raises objections because of the way in which the human body is portrayed (see TOB 63:5). Pornographers portray the body with the explicit intention of arousing lust - or, as theologians would say, "concupiscence" - in the viewer."
--Christopher West, in his article Authentic Art vs. Pornography (Bold Italics mine)



First: Articles like the one linked to is one of the reasons I've always held, and still hold, that pitting Art and pornography against each other as an attempt at "reclaiming" the sacred and beautiful for Art is utterly fraught with stupidity. Two very damaging things occur: it gives birth to the idea that Art works as a utilitarian format like pornography does; and it gives birth to the idea that pornography is bad merely because it is a wrong kind of "portrayal", when in fact it is bad because it is a grievous offense and violation of a person's dignity.

Art's worth, to put it shortly, is demoted, while pornography's inherent corrupting effect is all but practically denied. Good going.

Let's get a little more obvious: the figures, for instance, on the Sistine Chapel are entirely renditions in pigment through the artist's mind and physical hand. The human body is portrayed, and the human body itself alone is practically incidental in comparison with all else that is portrayed through those same forms, and in so being, it is glorious. That is, the human body is not just the human body. (In other words, it is the portrayal of the human person in his "totality". Depictions of cadavers such as anatomical studies can be alright because they are depictions of cadavers, and not persons who are reduced to their bodies.) Generally, it can be likewise for other art depicting the naked human form. Pornography though, in the main, as it is known today, is a photograph or film of an exposed person, of an actual person who actually was exposed, or an exposed person engaging in sexual acts.

How can one make such parallels between the two as though they were even remotely equivalent in the sense that they are equally opposite? They are not opposite in that sense. For in the sense of being equally opposite, it would mean they share an equivalence in their "genus", which in fact is not shared remotely.

Are there variables here? Yes. While pornography in the main, in this culture, photographically involves actual people, and we can easily make that generality today when using the term "pornography", there is also "art" that is pornographic. Just because that art fails, and purposely fails, to integrate the totality of the human person in its depiction - indeed, purposely fails at integrating something of the totality of art itself - and seeks to cause erotic arousal to lust, does not mean that photographic and filmic pornography is corrupt for the same failure, or detriment.

Pornography, in the main, as it is known today, which is photographic and filmic, is not only a different "genus" from painted/drawn/sculpted art, but it is a different "genus" from painted/drawn/sculpted "art" that is pornographic. Though photography and film are objective arts, the actuality of a real person's personhood being reduced to his or her body on screen or digital monitor through that medium is enough for one to see that it is entirely different from anything else, never mind pigments on a ceiling.

Second: Pornography is not objectionable, Christopher West, because of the way in which the human body is portrayed; rather it is objectionable because it directly reduces a person to his or her human body so as to arouse lust. And thus consequently teaching the viewer to "go and do likewise". (When it comes to pornography that is not photographic, such as drawn or painted images, the same holds, except that it perhaps involves the symbolical imagination more. Though really, what's the difference; both photographic and other kinds all end up in the same hell hole.)

Note how West constantly uses the term "the human body".

"The human body in itself always retains its inalienable dignity."

Well, yes, but in your context, would it not be better to say the human person has an inalienable dignity? But when the human person is reduced to his or her body (ala pornography) that inalienable dignity is violated. And the term "inalienable" does not mean "incorruptible".

Third: If pornography is objectionable "because of the way in which the human body is portrayed", and if pornography is not "per se" objectionable because the human body is exposed, then pray tell, what is this objectionable way in which the human body is portrayed in pornography?

Could it be, oh, I don't know, that the human body is exposed? But why doesn't West draw that conclusion? Because for him it is "the human body". Because he does not connect that "human body" being "portrayed" in the pornographic image with a human person.

Here's a question: Is it possible to keep talking about "the human body" without having to concede at some point (indeed, at some point very early on) that "the human body" must be this or that human body - in other words, the human body belonging to this or that particular person?

That would have to be the case in talking about pornography (as it is generally known today), wouldn't it?

16 comments:

Deacon Jim Russell said...

I'm not sure I see a point here.

What exactly is wrong with the quote you have cited?

Deacon Jim Russell

Paul Stilwell said...

It refers to the human body and not to the human person and as such is woefully insufficient at getting to the heart of what's wrong with porn.

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Paul wrote:

"It refers to the human body and not to the human person and as such is woefully insufficient at getting to the heart of what's wrong with porn. "

Paul, if you have read JP II's ToB, then you already know that there is no dichotomy of expression between "human body" and "human person" in the ToB context, since the body *expresses* the person.

There is really no way to construe this quote as somehow pitting "body" against "person," when even a cursory understanding of ToB yields clearly the truth that the living human body always and everywhere expresses personhood.

Deacon Jim Russell

Paul Stilwell said...

"...even a cursory understanding of ToB yields clearly the truth that the living human body always and everywhere expresses personhood."

You mean like in pornography?

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Do I "mean like in pornography"??

Paul, isn't that the *problem* with pornography--the objectification of the human *person*?

Tell me, please--have you read JPII's Theology of the Body? It will be helpful to know whether you have read the text directly.

Meanwhile, the very problem with porn is that, despite the "inalienable dignity" of the human body (precisely *because* it always "expresses" the person), the portrayal totally objectifies the person.

The intention of porn is to "betray" the person depicted by turning him/her into an object of lust.

Right?

Deacon Jim Russell

jvc said...

Jim,

If the problem with porn is a problem of intention, please tell us what circumstances would allow us to see other naked people who are not our spouses without being subject to lust? Is it still by purchasing West's books and attending his lectures?

Are you looking forward to a time when Catholics are so enlightened that people can see the numerous women of your family naked and not experience lust? I ask in all seriousness. How would you personally determine when someone has reached enough purity to look at your own daughters?

Deacon Jim Russell said...

jvc--I never said the problem with porn is "a problem of intention". You need to read more carefully.

I said the problem with porn is the objectification of the human person.

West doesn't say that looking at porn is somehow good or praiseworthy. If you *think* he does, then produce the evidence by citing where he says it is.

Deacon Jim Russell

jvc said...

Deacon Jim,

Ok, then, please provide a context in which viewing women/persons naked other than a spouse would be wholly without the possibility of objectification? Specific persons, please, not art.

Also, how does one reach such a state to view other people in such a way (namely, other than fully clothed), and by what means does a person reach such a status?

Deacon Jim Russell said...

jvc wrote:

****Ok, then, please provide a context in which viewing women/persons naked other than a spouse would be wholly without the possibility of objectification? Specific persons, please, not art.****

I don't think anyone is making a case that "historic" man is capable of *wholly* avoiding objectification in such circumstances.

I think the case is being made that, for example, in the case of a doctor whose daily practice requires him to see naked persons, a virtuous habit of "seeing rightly" is totally possible to the extent that the person asks for grace, which the Church teaches is the remedy for concupiscence, and responds to it.

There is no argument being made that it's *wholly* possible, though.

****Also, how does one reach such a state to view other people in such a way (namely, other than fully clothed), and by what means does a person reach such a status?****

As mentioned above, *grace* permits the formation of a virtuous habit to "see rightly" when necessity or circumstance puts one in a position to be viewing a person completely or partially unclothed. This isn't a "status" per se. And I would challenge you to produce any evidence that West says differently. In fact, I can produce evidence from his most recent book that would make it clear that he is quite realistic about this being a lifelong challenge and pursuit of virtue that is not complete until we stop breathing....

Wow, jvc, look at us--actually having a *conversation*!

Good job.

Deacon Jim Russell

Wade St. Onge said...

Don't waste your breath, everyone: Deacon Jim is going down a road he took me on a little while back, and I responded convincingly to his contorted position (what else do you expect when your modus operandi is to reconcile West with the entire Catholic Tradition?). It's just easier to refer all the readers there.

Spare yourself the agony of reading everything and skip to the last four combox comments here: http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/west-breast-chest-sex.html

jvc said...

Okay, Jim, how do you square that with your previous statement:

Likewise, I see West and his students saying that “mature purity” is akin to perfect contrition. For those who can attain it, it’s great.

You have already said that you think a person can obtain a level of purity that would allow them to view other persons naked without moral consequence.

How do you reconcile that with your new claim that one can't obtain this level of purity in this lifetime?

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Hi, jvc--I don't fully recall the context of my allusion to "perfect contrition" or where it falls in the course of my examination of these questions (if you remember, I began public conversation on this issue as someone trying to learn what the "doctrinal" concerns really were). But, having said that, I think part of the confusion rests in how one understands "mature purity" as a "state of being". Critics (perhaps such as yourself) seem to think the term is used to refer to some "static" state (so to speak) that, once reached, is somehow permanent.

But that's not what you see either in ToB or in West's writings. The term "mature purity" is more like one form of expression of what we usually call the "state of grace". We try to remain in the state of grace--and often people succeed for long stretches, maybe for a lifetime--but there is *always* the possibility of falling from that state of grace.

So my quote regarding "perfect contrition" was an attempt to make such an analogy. I'm not making a "new claim" because I'm not saying that it's impossible to possess "mature purity" because JP II says it *is* possible. I'm saying that it is not *irrevocable*, any more than the habitual holiness of your favorite saint was irrevocable--it requires hard work to maintain one's state of grace, including seeking to attain a "mature purity".

I hope this helps.

Deacon Jim Russell

Wade St. Onge said...

Deacon Jim: "It requires hard work to maintain one's state of grace, including seeking to attain a 'mature purity'".

And including continuing to practice custody of the eyes - something West would disagree with.

Paragraph #5: http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2012/02/tob-silence-that-speaks-volumes.html

Attachment #4: http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2012/02/letter-to-cardinal-rigali-regarding.html

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Your argument is with JP II, not West.

jvc said...

I'm just a little bitty non-theologian amateur on these things, a guy who doesn't want to be treated with the same utilitarian attitude that society gives us and that West repackages as enlightened, so I guess I'm a bit slow on the uptake.

That being said, I'm beginning to see more and more the nature of the contortions that Deacon Jim is getting himself into, as documented by Wade.

Deacon Jim manages to simultaneously contend that a person can and cannot reach a status in this lifetime whereby a person may view or be around nude persons/images without fear of lust. Do you see why people might believe that this stuff from West is diabolic? Can you/West just state your position on these issues without having to issue clarification after clarification and stating that Hugh Hefner is a personal hero?

Wade St. Onge said...

Deacon Jim: "Your argument is with JP II, not West".

Citation, please?