29 Jun 2015 - 30 Jun 2015 All day CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, CB3 9DT - SG1&2


Please register online for this event.
Conference fee: £20 (full), £10 (students) – includes lunch, tea/coffee
Deadline: Thursday 25 June 2015

Twitter Hashtag: #CRASSHerotic


Johannes D. Kaminski (Department of German)
Rudolph Ng (Faculty of History)


This conference will address the semantic demarcations of erotic literature. Transgressive by nature, no genre of literature is more defined by the social and aesthetic conventions that it playfully disregards or unwillingly reproduces.

Leopold von Sacher Masoch’s Venus in Furs (1870) is an excellent example of an erotic novel that has prompted a multitude of adaptions. Its translations have resonated strongly in different socio-cultural settings, no doubt in part as a result of translators’ efforts to tailor the text to new audiences. Film adaptations cover a broad spectrum, from mainstream soft-core porn to acclaimed psychological dramas such as Roman Polanski’s latest feature film (2013). Often enough, the cross-cultural transfer of erotic literature must negotiate incompatible concepts. When Franz Kuhn translated the 17th century Chinese text The Carnal Prayer Mat 肉蒲團 into German for the first time (1959), he glossed over the finesse of its physiological detail. The anthropological conceptions that inform the text simply proved too inconsistent with contemporaneous Western notions of the body. At any rate, upon publication, Swiss authorities decided to place the translation on the index.

Bridging linguistic and topological disjunctions, the transpository process entails a delicate balancing act, which, for Roland Barthes, comprises the pleasure of reading itself (cf. The Pleasure of the Text, 1973): in each case, the rhythm between the said and the unsaid must be measured anew, as different languages and genres answer to different aesthetic sensibilities.

This conference aims to unite literary and film scholars with an interdisciplinary ambit. Contributions will touch upon European and Asian topics or both. Possible case studies will be concerned with one or more of the following questions:

  • How do the demarcations of the erotic vary a) when a text is transposed into different literary genres, b) when adapted to film or other visual media, or c) when translated into another language?
  • Which factors determine the fluctuating rules that determine the lines between the explicit and implicit? Who dominates the discourse of the erotic, if not white middle-aged men?
  • How do adaptations pierce the thin layer that separates private enjoyment and public outrage? How do juridical and aesthetic concerns intertwine when the erotic is distinguished from the pornographic?
  • If the erotic only works within such defined cultural parameters, how is the 50 Shades-effect possibleas a global phenomenon?  

​Keynote speakers: Tom Wynn (Durham) and Laura Moretti (Cambridge).



Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), the Tiarks Fund and the British Academy Dissemination fund. 

Accommodation for speakers selected through the call for papers and non-paper giving delegates

We are unable to arrange or book accommodation, however, the following websites may be of help.

Visit Cambridge
Cambridge Rooms
University of Cambridge accommodation webpage

Administrative assistance: events@crassh.cam.ac.uk


DAY 1 - Monday 29 June




Opening remarks: Johannes Kaminski & Rudolph Ng (Cambridge)

  • Tom Wynn (Durham): “The Time Has Come, Friendly Reader“: Translating Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom for Today’s Public

Coffee break



  • Johannes Frimmel (LMU Munich): Adaptation and Standardization: Some French Pornographic Texts in German Translation Around 1900
  • Maddalena Italia (SOAS London): Latinizing (and Grecizing) Sanskrit Erotic Poetry: Nineteenth-Century Philology and the Continuum śṛṅgāra-eros-amor




  • Alexander Zimbulov (HHU Düsseldorf): Pornographic Writings & Erotic Readings: Fanny Hill on Screen 1964-2007
  • Katie Rhiannon Jones (Swansea): Painful Sensations: Filming the Eroticised Trauma Narrative
  • Jianqing Chen (UC Berkeley): Adapting Jin Ping Mei, Screening Sex

Tea break



  • Stephanie Heimgartner (Ruhr University Bochum): Let’s Talk About Sex: How to Find a Language for What You Cannot Speak of: Descriptions of sexuality in Nicholson Baker and A. L. Kennedy and the translations of their work.
  • Toni Bentley (Independent Writer): Risks and Revelations in Writing the Erotic
DAY 2 - Tuesday 30 June


  • Laura Moretti (Cambridge): Before Pornography? Love, Sex and Commercial Printing in Seventeenth-Century Japan

Coffee break



  • Gergana Ivanova (University of Cincinnati): Rewriting the Japanese Imperial Court for British Audiences
  • Julia Boog & Kathrin Emeis (Hamburg): “The Hot Tears of Eros”, Or the Impossibilty of (Scientific) Translation 




  • Stephen Harris (Independet Blogger): “I Only Buy It For the Articles”: Visual Vs. Literary Erotica in Men's Magazines
  • Jie Guo (University of South Carolina): Erotica in Erotica: Adaptation and Somatic Translation in Late Imperial Chinese Erotic Culture

Tea break



  • Carina Gröner (St. Gallen): Seduced by Preconditions: Eroticism of Power, Money and the Uncommon in Goethe, Sacher-Masoch and E.L. James
  • Juliette Feyel (Cambridge): From Literary Contact to Cinematic Intimacy: Patrice Chéreau Meets Hanif Kureishi



Toni Bentley (Independent Writer): Risks and Revelations in Writing the Erotic

My paper will present what it is actually like for a woman to write, and publish a very graphic, yet also intellectual, very honest, very personal erotic memoir in the 21st -century. The book details the course of my erotic life in general, but focuses specifically on a life-defining, four-year affair of a deeply unconventional nature — and its inevitable demise. Written in the first person, the book does not conceal a woman obsessed — I counted the encounters and kept sexual mementos — and the risks inherent in revealing oneself not as a woman in control but one out of control.

I will discuss why I would do such a thing against considerable advisement, both personal and professional, and why I decided against using a pseudonym and instead put both my name and face on this work. I will outline the challenges and mysteries of the writing process — how to put the unputtable into language – as well as the enormous and interesting difficulties in having such a book published and what happens, in both the personal and public arenas, when boundaries, are not so much pushed but actually crossed. I will describe some of the varied and extreme reactions to this work in the different cultures in which it has since been published (18 countries), including the attacks by “feminists” post-publication due to the submissive nature of the act I celebrate — heterosexual sodomy (with a considerable nod to the Divine Marquis de Sade.)

This book has become a kind of erotic Rorschach test not only for individual readers — sexuality cuts so close to the bone — but for the sexual mores of the various other cultures where the book has been published – and I will outline the curious edits asked for various translations, including the British edition. I will also discuss the one-woman play, adapted directly from the book, that has been performed in Spanish, German and English and how the reaction to the play differed from that of the book, how changing the form and presentation of an erotic work, changes the reception of it. Finally, I will examine what these all varied reactions might tell us about sexuality, about female sexuality in particular in our “feminist” and “post-feminist” age, about the nature of taboo, and about human nature in the public sphere versus the private and why exposure of the hidden via the written word can be so powerful, so threatening, so liberating and so desired.

Julia Boog & Kathrin Emeis (Hamburg): “The Hot Tears of Eros”, Or the Impossibilty of (Scientific) Translation

Desire in eroticism is the desire that triumphs over the taboo (George Bataille, Eroticism)

George Battaile’s philosophy of eroticism is always about the transgressive, the formless and the ecstatic. It is an interruption, that dissolves the rational world. Therefore, it is not easy to transfer it into the strict system of grammar and syntax, especially not into the rigid system of scientific language. Eroticism performs the function of dissolving boundaries: not only when it comes to books, art or films, but also when it comes to theorizing.

Postmodern intellectuals like Foucault or Barthes used this transgressive force of the erotic to ease the way of scholastic writing: Foucault’s critique of Sade and Bataille or Barthes’ Pleasure of the Text is already written in a more fragmental, essayistic way than the majority of academic texts. But it is only Bataille, who works at the interface of poetic – even surreal – and theoretical writing. To say the least, he works at the interface of writing and not-writing.

In his last work, The Tears of Eros, this connection becomes most evident in the form of his research: the volume features a lot of pictures and photographs from different cultures and centuries and, with its many hyphens and exclamation marks, comes across as ‘poorly’ written. This paper will follow Batailles’ (punctuation) marks and will question the possibilities of capturing the erotic in discursive language: How come the last work of this pivotal thinker on eroticism is a work about visual arts? What does it say about the nature of erotic? What about the conditions of scientific translation?

Jianqing Chen (UC Berkeley): Adapting Jin Ping Mei, Screening Sex

To the general Chinese people, Jin Ping Mei (金瓶梅), or The Plum in the Golden Vase, is a book more heard of, rather than thoroughly read. While the books are hidden in the secret library only accessible to the Jin-ology (Jin Xue 金学) scholars, its notoriety in ravish sexual descriptions incites the curiosity of general people, rendering the film adaptations of Jin Ping Mei the ever-popular costume pornography in Hong Kong cinema. In fact, the pornographic films adapted from Jin Ping Mei kept remaking and pervaded Hong Kong cinema since the 1970s and still endure. This paper delves into the multiple pornographic adaptations and remakes of Jin Ping Mei ranging from Li Hang-Hsiang (李翰祥)’s fengyue (风月) films, e.g. Golden Lotus (1974), The Golden Lotus: Love and Desire (1991), to the third-tier films such as New Jin Ping Mei (Ming Tan, 1996), Jing Ping Mei /The Forbidden Legend: Sex Chopsticks (Man Kei Chin, 2008), New Jin Ping Mei 3D (Jing Wong, 2015). Different from Jin-ology scholars for the dismissal or destigmatization of Jin Ping Mei’s celebration of the pleasure of sex, I focus on the sex scenes within these film adaptations and the corresponding paragraphs of the erotic novel. I discuss how the textual description of sex acts, comprised of onomatopoeia, dirty talks, double entendre, vernacular gossips and scandals, are adapted to films and manifest in the sex scenes through body exhibition and performance, voyeurism, sexual vocalizations, and mis-en-sence. This paper then explores the different aesthetic devices in erotic novels and pornographic films and thus different sensory experiences. 

Juliette Feyel (Cambridge): From Literary Contact to Cinematic Intimacy: Patrice Chéreau Meets Hanif Kureishi

Patrice Chéreau's film Intimacy (2001) is an adaptation of various Hanif Kureishi's narratives, the novel Intimacy (1998) and his short story “Nightlight” from Love in A Blue Time (1997) amongst others. Jay, a recently divorced man in his forties, meets a mysterious woman every Wednesday with whom he shares nothing else than sex. Even if they pursue the same narrative goal, literature and cinema approach the same situation from radically different angles. The same plot is transferred from one medium to another and invites one to reflect on the solutions which were invented for the sake of a translation from one set of semiotic codes to another. We shall see that while literature's power of evocation is challenged by the representation of an empirical, corporeal reality, cinema needs to convey a psychological drama through the exposure and aesthetic construction of two bare bodies.

Johannes Frimmel (LMU Munich): Adaptation and Standardization: Some French Pornographic Texts in German Translation Around 1900

In the German Empire, for certain observers the book trade gave the impression to be inundated with erotic and pornographic literature. Besides expensive bibliophile editions of erotic classics, also a large number of dime novels, cheap pornographic books and nude photographs were circulating. They represented the dark side of the new business of mass entertainment, and authorities feared them to undermine the family order and consequently physical and military strength. Vienna, then, was not only the birthplace of psychoanalysis, but also an important marketplace for pornographic literature. So it might be no coincidence that a rare corpus of catalogues and German books from an international bookseller and publisher of pornography was preserved at the Austrian National Library where it has been dormant until now. A major part of that corpus are translations of French texts, as France and Belgium were leading export countries of pornographic books. In my paper, I want to analyze some of these adaptations and ask whether there can be found various textual strategies of sexual arousal in German or French context. However, these books and their circulation throughout Europe inform us also about the internationally operating porn industry at the beginning of the 20th century. So they rather demonstrate an already established international repertoire of sexual entertainment. This standardized concept of pornography could easily be adapted to other cultural contexts and aimed much more for the male middle class than for the demonized proletarian reader of “smut”.

Carina Ulrika Gröner (Universität St. Gallen): Seduced by preconditions- Eroticism of power, money and the uncommon in Goethe, Sacher- Masoch and E.L. James

“Everything in the world is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.” This famous quotation, which is often wrongly attributed to Oscar Wilde, refers to the unspoken preconditions that underlie all social structures as well as the communication about them. But these preconditions are of course also important for artworks, erotic artworks in particular.

Therefore, what we consider to be erotic is closely connected with social preconditions, like power or money and the unlikelihood of their perfect occurrence. For Niklas Luhmann, the German social theorist, power, money and sex serve as emblematic communication media for the individual to find, express and communicate his or her position in society. So narratives of erotic situations do not only amuse us, they also teach us about the preconditions of social positioning and possible upward social mobility.

In Johann Wolfgang Goethe´s The sorrows of young Werther, love serves as a code for intimacy and the communication about it and this love code becomes a moral legitimisation for  erotic activity since then. Originated in the historical period where the love code is appearing, the novel also shows the limits of this code.

In Leopold von Sacher- Masoch´s short stories Katharina II about Empress Catherine the Great of Russia, power serves as a symbolically generalized communication medium in erotic situations. In the stories we sometimes find power as simple threats, which are then followed in order to avoid negative consequences. But more interestingly we often find power as the communication medium of politics, by using powerful women in military positions and with military costumes as actresses in erotic situations.

In E.L. James` Shades of Grey trilogy money and economic success work as symbolically generalized communication media and here the underlying motivations are most evident: Anastasia exchanges her innocence against social promotion, Christian gets an obedient sexual partner shaped after his wishes in exchange for his economic status. However, like in many cases of economic motivations in erotic situations, the communication thereabout is implicit. Instead the love code is used again as a moral legitimization.  

Jie Guo (University of South Carolina): Erotica in Erotica: Adaptation and Somatic Translation in Late Imperial Chinese Erotic Culture

This paper studies a convention commonly found in late imperial Chinese erotic literature: the lovemaking couple’s use of erotica as a tool of sexual arousal. Important Ming-Qing erotic novels such as Jin Ping Mei, Rou putuan, and Hailing yishi all feature detailed scenes in which characters read or view erotic works together and meticulously imitate the gestures and positions verbally or visually depicted in them. Such scenes of somatic translation—that is, the involved parties’ bodily “translation” of the lovemaking scenes featured in the erotica they read or view—are then often adapted into paintings, album prints, or book illustrations. The “erotica-in-erotica” convention has caught the attention of some scholars, for instance, Robert Hans van Gulik, James Cahill, Patrick Hanan, and Craig Clunas, but further research is needed. Indeed, a comparative examination of this convention in literature and art sheds light on several key aspects of Ming-Qing erotica. First, this convention points to the self-referentiality of late imperial Chinese erotica, which tend to draw on itself and has established a kind of self-enclosed, self-generating tradition. Second, located at the intersection between literature and picture, between verbal and visual, this convention offers a window into the intimate interrelationship between various forms, mediums, and genres of Ming-Qing erotica. Third, this convention provides explanation for another convention in late imperial erotic literature and art, i.e., voyeurism, which, functioning as a kind of “live” erotica, constitutes another important mechanism to generate pleasure for both voyeuristic characters and voyeuristic readers/viewers. 

Stephanie Heimgartner (Ruhr University Bochum): Let’s Talk About Sex: How to Find a Language for What You Cannot Speak of Descriptions of sexuality in Nicholson Baker and A. L. Kennedy and the translations of their work

Pornography seems to be more of a riddle to literary scholars and critics than to the wider public: Can erotic literature, apart from its more obvious advantages, be of aesthetic worth?

The paper discusses the strategies of two narrative texts, A.L. Kennedy’s Original Bliss (1997) and Nicholson Baker’s House of Holes (2011), to answer this question. Both texts are in a way experimental: Original Bliss recounts an impossible love story; House of Holes fights style conventions for pornographic literature and opposes the canon while at the same time integrating it. Both develop a language that, using different means, mirrors on itself. And both have been widely translated. Here, translations into German are used to show how the diverse subtexts and metapoetical strategies transfer.

The scope of erotic scenes in A. L. Kennedy’s work seems to be to illustrate the characters’ urge to develop a working form of communication, be it verbal or corporeal, and therefore adresses one of the central topics of modern literature. Kennedy operates with a rhetoric of fragment to show her characters’ existential fragility and their awkwardness in their contacts with other human beings. In German, the fragmentary impression cannot always be mirrored, if only for the reason that German is less advanced on the way to an analytical language and therefore has longer words and sentences. Also, the choice of semantically less equivocal vocabulary is sometimes a necessity for the translator – this can endanger the sexual subtext that Kennedy creates.

In Nicholson Baker’s books, language is not viewed as a vital means of communication, but as creative matter. He hyperbolizes and ironizes the narration of the sexual encounter by introducing phantastic elements. Words and how you put them together are the real matters of arousal; not that someone has sex, but what are the means of its presentation becomes important. The text is thus promoted as a playground, the mediality of which remains overly present. This seems to offer less problems for a translation, but is received very differently by the English- and German-speaking literary critique.

Maddalena Italia (SOAS): Latinizing (and grecizing) Sanskrit erotic poetry: nineteenth-century philology and the continuum śṛṅgāra—eros—amor
Sanskrit poetry with śṛṅgāra as its main rasa (“emotional flavour”, “aesthetic mood”) has been, and still is, variously defined as “love poetry”, “erotic poetry”, and even “erotic love poetry”. The difficulty of pinning down the nature of this poetry ultimately derives from the near untranslatability of both the concept and the aesthetics of śṛṅgāra.

In this paper I examine some of the first Western translations and commentaries of Sanskrit śṛṅgāra poetry. In so doing, I show how familiarity with the Graeco-Roman classical tradition worked as a ‘lens’ through which the conventions and aesthetics of śṛṅgāra poetry were filtered, understood and re-written by early nineteenth-century philologists. The aim of my paper is to examine both the hermeneutical possibilities and the shortcomings of the assimilation of Greek, Roman, and Indian notions and aesthetics of ‘(erotic) love’. I argue that this process of homogenization of the three erotic traditions, however successful in rendering śṛṅgāra poetry understandable and translatable, is not free from tensions. Moreover, I suggest that the same tensions are sometimes still present in contemporary Western readings of śṛṅgāra poetry. 

The first section of my paper focuses on the Latin translations and commentaries of two Sanskrit collections of erotic verses, Bhartṛhari’s Śṛṅgāraśataka (“A hundred verses on śṛṅgāra”, 5th cent.) and Bilhaṇa’s Caurapañcāśikā (“Fifty verses of a thief”, 11th cent.). These translations-cum-commentaries were published by the German Orientalist Peter von Bohlen in the volume Bhartriharis sententiae et Carmen quod Chauri nomen circumfertur eroticum (Berlin 1833). Bohlen translates the title Śṛṅgāraśataka as De Amoribus (“On Love”), and describes it as a collection of carmina ἐρωτικά [erotiká] (“erotic poems”); similarly, Bilhaṇa’s Caurapañcāśikā is referred to as carmen eroticum (“erotic poem”). In this way, Bohlen tacitly postulates a correspondence between the concepts of śṛṅgāra, amor, and eros, whose respective semantic fields extend from ‘love’ and ‘affection’ to ‘sexual desire’ and ‘lust’. The continuum śṛṅgāra—eros—amor runs throughout Bohlen’s commentaries, which abound with references and quotations from Greek and Latin sources. These quotations are presented as loci similes, “passages in one author which recall those in another”, “the bread and butter of traditional classical literary study” (Conte 1986: 23). Thus, the methods applied and the materials quoted in these commentaries are – at least formally – the same as those found in commentaries on Greek and Latin texts. Nevertheless, the extension and refunctionalization of the traditional methods of classical scholarship have the effect of opening up spaces for multiple – even conflicting – interpretations of Sanskrit erotic poetry.

In the second section of my paper, I juxtapose Bohlen’s Latin translations-cum-commentaries to the almost contemporary Anthologie érotique d'Amarou (1831). This volume, edited by the French Orientalist Antoine-Léonard de Chézy, includes the translation and a commentary in French of fifty-one stanzas from the Sanskrit erotic anthology Amaruśataka (“The hundred stanzas of Amaru”, 7th cent.). One of the premises of the commentary is the translatability of the aesthetic and emotional experience of śṛṅgāra into those of – alternatively – eros and amour (the Latin-derived French word for ‘love’). Chézy goes so far as to use ‘parallel passages’ from Greek erotic poetry as keys to interpret the Sanskrit text. Although extolled as a fountainhead of fresh poetic inspiration, Sanskrit erotic poetry is never presented as conveying a new conception or aesthetics of eroticism. In this case, too, stress is laid on correspondences rather than differences between the Sanskrit and the Western classical tradition. In this way, Chézy can avoid a head-on discussion of śṛṅgāra, which remains the object of philological reticence.

Gergana Ivanova (University of Cincinnati): Rewriting the Japanese Imperial Court for British Audiences

Japan has the longest history of women’s literature in the world dating back to the Heian period (794-1185) when court culture flourished. The literary works of highly educated and accomplished Heian women writers have played a crucial role in the creation of national literature in early-twentieth-century Japan and have even become representative of Japanese literature in Japan and abroad. Among them, Sei Shōnagon’s (964?- after 1027) work entitled The Pillow Book (11th c.) stands out as having inspired a wide spectrum of novels, poems, and films outside Japan. Despite its thematic diversity, including topics related to court aesthetics, the cataloguing of knowledge, gender dynamics, and women’s status, outside Japan The Pillow Book has been frequently construed as erotic and its female writer presented as amorous.

What functions is this literary work from Japan’s distant past viewed as able to perform in contemporary Western contexts? How do the national and racial identity of the artist and audience affect the assessment of texts? What shifts in the political implications of eroticism do new temporal and cultural contexts trigger? These are the questions I will address by examining the works of two British producers: Arthur Waley’s translation The Pillow-Book of Sei Shōnagon (1928) and Peter Greenaway’s film The Pillow Book (1996). Through a case study of the reception of a Japanese literary work in cross-cultural contexts, this presentation will analyze the ways that women writers and their works are mobilized to construct Japan as an eroticized space both in the past and present.

Laura Moretti (Cambridge): Before Pornography? Love, Sex and Commercial Printing in Seventeenth-Century Japan

This paper explores the rich production of sex-related printed materials published in seventeenth-century Japan as part of the thriving commercial book market with a view to address specific questions. Was there any divide between amatory fiction, erotica and pornography (as identified by Harvey 2004 in the context of eighteenth-century England)? How sex-related materials were marketed by publishers vis-à-vis other books? Was there at any point stigma attached to sex-focused works? If so, what were the concerns that fuelled it? Did this stigma contributed in the formation of a situation of conflict and a censorial attitude towards the obscene that often connotes ‘pornography’?

Katie Rhiannon Jones (University of Swansea): Painful Sensations: Filming the Eroticised Trauma Narrative

Primarily concerned with adaptation, this paper draws on theories from Julia Kristeva to offer a close reading of Elfriede Jelinek’s Die Klavierspielerin (1983) and its successful 2001 adaptation by Michael Haneke for the purpose of comparison with D.M. Thomas’s thematically similar The White Hotel (1981) – a novel notorious for the difficulty and ultimate failure of its adaptation into film. The post-modern narrative strategies utilised by Jelinek and Thomas problematize genre, particularly through their weaving of Erotic tropes – confessional letters and sado-masochistic sex, for example – with National Socialism, subsequently disturbing neat distinctions that are characteristic of depictions of sex in Western society – as is exemplified by pornography which overtly compartmentalises and fetishizes sexual practises. This analysis specifically examines the demarcations of the erotic alongside the libidinistion of Nazism and post-war guilt as a means to consider the difficulty of translating textual representation into the language of film. Notably, Haneke’s production loses some of the original significance of Die Klavierspielerin as an exploration of Austrian guilt and post-Nazism cultural memory, raising further questions that specifically relate to the problem of cinematic exposure – associated with voyeuristic sensationalism – versus representation in text.

Tom Wynn (Durham): “The Time Has Come, Friendly Reader“: Translating Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom for Today’s Public

Sade’s scandalous novel The 120 Days of Sodom (1785) offers the reader a catalogue of scenes of increasing sexual violence and carnage. What the author himself called ‘the most impure tale that has ever been told since the world began’, has also been described as ‘a national treasure’ by the director of France’s national library. The various ways in which this divisive work has been disseminated and presented has impacted upon the aesthetic and ethical responses from a range of different publics. Is it the ‘vile’ work of a misogynistic pornographer (as Andrea Dworkin branded it), is it the creation of a canonical writer (as suggested by its appearance in the prestigious Pléiade series in 1990), or – judging by the original manuscript that was recently exhibited in Paris – is it the product of a vulnerable and mistreated prisoner. In 2016 Penguin Classics will publish a new English translation of the novel. This landmark edition offers us the opportunity to consider the ethical challenges that today’s Anglophone readers (and indeed translators) might face when confronted with Sade’s intensely intimate visions in our contemporary public realm.

Alexander Zimbulov (HHU Düsseldorf): Pornographic Writings & Erotic Readings: Fanny Hill on Screen 1964-2007

Exploring the relationship between erotica and “serious literature”, Susan Sontag resolutely groups Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1748) among an “avalanche of pornographic potboilers” catering to the “mass taste” for “trash”. More commonly known by its heroine's name Fanny Hill, the novel indeed flaunts “sub- literary” bathetic meditations on genitalia and orgasms imbedded into a mock-plot of virtue in distress plus true romance. And yet: every bit as emphatically 'trashy' as commercial (Cleland was publishing out of prison hoping to pay the debt which landed him there), Fanny Hill has remained in print over 250 years and made it into college curricula.

Specifically for the academia, the reason seems to be that the novel is not 'only' pornography – i.e. dedicated, first and foremost, to the reader's arousal – but a kind of pornographic adaptation across genres and media: of Hogarth's A Harlot's Progress, Richardson's Pamela, contemporary ideas on morals and taste, etc. Gratuitously trivialising the literary landscape of his time into a pretext for sex, Cleland not so much erases these contexts but manages to invest arousal with discursive meanings – and with these, in turn, to eroticise the referenced discourse. (E.g.: equating moral sense with sexual attraction – and testicles with paragons of beauty – reveals a decidedly 'pornotopic' side of contemporary aesthetics). The result is an eroticism of reading in its own right celebrated by scholarly puns like “doing things with Fanny” or “how Fanny comes to know.”

Cinematic adaptations, however, rather than expanding these allusions have preferred to capitalise on a single aspect of the text – the sex, the humour, the (quasi-)realism, the (quasi-)romance. From a jaunty comedy by Russ Meyer (1964) to a curiously naïve BBC production from 2007, each film thus appears to be characterised by a specific lack. An adaptation from 1983 features an elite cast yet seems to disintegrate into detached soft-core tableaux. A 1990's version compellingly opts for voicing Fanny's narration but lacks visual complexity. At the same time, an intermedia view of the novel and the various adaptations together still charts a network of sensibilities that adds as much to each film as to the text. 

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