Saturday, October 23, 2010


Mumbai University bans Rohinton Mistry's Booker-nominated novel Such a Long Journey from its syllabus, following threats by the Shiv Sena.

Linked here is Mistry's response to what he alludes to as a "sorry spectacle" and here, an article in The Daily Maverick on the incident.

Deboleena Rakshit, UG III

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Obscene Body

"The burgeoning recent work of women in the arts is fueled by three thousand years of fracture-the masculist enforcement of self-righteous institutionalizations that have dogged our heels. My anger, when I first discovered this subtle and pervasive censorship, this excision, paralleled my later rage and confusion at being denied a feminine pronoun (The artist, he . . . Everyone will hand up his hat. Creative man and his images) and upon discovering that my culture denies females an honorable genital. My sexuality was idealized, fetishized, but the organic experience of my own body was referred to as defiling, stinking, contaminating. Bible study and graffiti under the train trestle shared a common deprecation. History, sexuality, and naming were subsumed, contorted. I would have to be "a spy in the house of art."

- From Carolee Schneemann's "The Obscene Body/Politic". It isn't feasible to post the 9-page essay here, but I can forward the .pdf file to anyone interested. Drop in an e-mail or a comment on my blog.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

China and the Cyberspace: Censorship in the Blogosphere

The history of an authoritarian regime seems to be a curiously ironical one. One would think that the more powerful it gets, the more secure it would feel. Funnily, all the great dictators have been the epitomes of paranoia. A parodied image of Hitler with his moustache twitching in suspicion, or a Stalin yelling in guttural Russian has become a part of popular culture. However, we joke about them because they are dead, to put it crudely. This paranoia is still at large in one of the remaining authoritarian regimes today: China.
The irony is not over yet. The harsher the crackdown gets, the wider the network of subversion. The State’s machinery of censorship is admittedly impressive. To counter this, the Internet has provided a much needed outlet for the numerous voices being stifled within the country. Much to its dubious credit, internet censorship in China is highly advanced. In spite of that citizen bloggers are eking out newer ways to bypass such restraints.
In this paper, I have looked at the issue of censorship in China and the latest challenge that it has been facing. Subversive blogging has started all over the country notwithstanding the daily shut-downs and blackouts that bloggers have to face. Some unlucky ones are detained or placed under house arrest. Such clemency, however, is not shown to the Tibetans. Their blogs are unceremoniously shut down while they disappear, often permanently into the depths of the Chinese prisons.
I have managed to interview two of the most famous subversive bloggers/citizen journalists who operate out of China, namely Richard Burger and Zuola. In order to view the situation from a wider angle I have also spoken to Julen Madariaga, an European blogger from Shanghai. However, all my efforts to contact any Tibetan have been futile. I endeavoured through various sources in vain. It is understandable, since any Tibetan indulging in so called “subversive” activities could receive a 15 year sentence if he or she is lucky. That includes answering questions for an innocuous college project in India.
Using the responses to the interviews, I have come up with some conclusions concerning the relative nature of the censorship that China employs among its citizens. Also, while working on the paper I have encountered censorship in turn. Thus my perspective on the matter has not been as detached. Internet censorship in China is like a chess game between two equal opponents. Neither can live while the other survives. This is what I have highlighted in my paper.

Fear has always been an integral part of any regime. What better tool than that to ensure absolute obedience? The funny part is that it is just not the people who are frightened of authority. Both the oppressor and the oppressed are equally fearful of each other. Though that sounds like an absurd proposition, consider it in light of all the measures that an authoritarian regime imposes upon its people. Why would you bother to gag someone whose opinion could never harm you?
A shining example, China stands tall to prove this point. With a country consisting of millions of people, officials never tire of trying to hunt out the slightest form of dissent. The Communist Party of China is ever fearful of citizens who are trying to come up with anything that goes against party propaganda. Yet some always manage to slip through the net. The whole scenario represents one of those cartoon images of an absurdly comical villain trying to nab the ever-enterprising hero. Think Tom and Jerry if you will. The image of a cat trying to trap the mouse is an accurate symbol of what Chinese Internet censorship is slowly becoming.
China has a staggering number of bloggers, more than those in the US and Japan combined. In a post-Mao society blogging emerged as one of the easiest ways to engage in private political discourse. For writers all over the world, blogging is mostly a means of private expression. In a country like China where self expression is limited, an outlet like blogging becomes more than a mere form of self expression. It turns into a means of survival of the individualistic element in a person. It is reminiscent of Winston in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. He does not know what to write, on facing a blank sheet of paper. When he does start, the words start tumbling out in “sheer panic”.
However, in spite of such a high number of bloggers, only a select few dare to criticise the government and its actions in their “subversive” blogs.
Herein lies another problem. Very few people would actually label their blogs as “deliberately” subversive. This attracts a lot of unwanted attention from the censors who are constantly looking to label for an excuse to enforce their authority. Julen Madariaga says that the intention of the bloggers is not to create an anti-establishment space against the regime. They are just looking to make it more open to opinion. This is one very important aspect about the blogosphere in China. They are not looking to create an alternative space, but widen whatever exists within the country at this time. They are generally critiquing the actions of the government in language which is deliberately misleading. Those who chose to take a more open path face the wrath of the government. Take Zuola for example. He has been detained on one occasion following the Guizhou riots.
A 16 year old girl had been raped and murdered by some local boys. The media releases following the case dismissed it as suicide. There were violent riots as a consequence. This was one of the first instances where citizen journalism and blogging actually led to the dismissal of CCP (Chinese Communist Party) officials on charges of abusing power and corruption. Not surprisingly, Zuola was detained soon after this and his computer was taken away from him. He was soon released but kept under house arrest. The moment he was arrested, he started sending out tweets from his phone. The news spread like wildfire over the online networks.
It is interesting to observe the way social networking websites are being used to validate one's human rights in a scenario which does not permit it. For many people, Facebook is a means to play flash games and keep in touch with old classmates. On the other hand, the same medium is being used for survival, in a manner of speaking.

Relative censorship in China

Censorship laws in China are relative in nature. Their stringency depends on certain factors like the language and nature of content. For example, Zuola is subject to harsher treatment because he is writing in Chinese. Richard Burger, on the other hand has admitted that Westerners are treated in a more liberal fashion. It depends on the language one is writing in. The paramount concern of the CCP is to make sure that the people in the country are not moved by any incendiary thought. A person writing in Chinese will have more access to the people than anyone else. Richard Burger, owner of the Peking Duck blog was allowed to criticise the government for years because he wrote in English. Though learning English has become the newest obsession in China, the number of English speakers is still a minority as compared to the India, for example.
Compare this to the way Tibetan writers are being treated within the country. The treatment is far more brutal. Tibetan citizen journalists are routinely arrested and given long prison sentences. Jamyang Kyi is a writer, musician and well known blogger in Tibet. Or at least she was, until her arrest in 2008. She was detained for over a month and had to undergo a gruelling interrogation. Her family had no idea where she was for those days. Currently she is awaiting trial. Tsering Woeser is one of the most influential writers in Tibet. Her blogs were shut down after she posted pro-Dalai Lama messages in 2006. She has been under house arrest. Her employment and her housing have been seized. Her blog was hacked into and filled with Chinese propagandist images. Language plays a very complex role in this situation. Many Tibetans including Woeser write in Chinese. Being a product of the Cultural Revolution, her education has been in Han Chinese.
Kunga Tsangyang was one of the most famous bloggers in Tibet until his arrest on the 17th of March in 2009. He was arrested for writing political essays on a website called “Jottings” or Zin-dis (Tibetan). In his essay, “Who Are The Real Separatists?” he talks about the way the CCP is constantly trying to create a chasm between the Tibetans and the Chinese, while accusing the former of “splittism”. He is yet to be released from prison, despite numerous protests.
From these incidents, it is clear that the government is not interested in what is being written, but whom it reaches. A fiery speech can go unknown if it does not reach the right people. The restriction seems to be focusing on the dissemination of information than the actual expression of it, in my opinion.

Compromised cyberspace

Tibetan websites like are routinely shut down and become inaccessible at times. Some of the other websites which have been “unavailable” are:
• .
• ,,
When one tries to open these sites, a “page unavailable” display pops up or various other error messages. Some are even reported by Google as “suspicious sites”. It is believed that malware is deliberately inserted in these websites to trigger off such virus alerts.
The GFW or the Great Firewall of China has become a byword for internet censorship today. Originally started in 1998 to counter the Democratic Party, it has now become an all encompassing element in Chinese cyberspace. There are filters which are constantly in motion, circulating the web for any reference to topics which might be considered “detrimental in the name of national security.” It is funny how the language of authoritarianism is the same everywhere. Any content found with “forbidden words” is promptly censored. “Dalai Lama” is an absolute filter favourite, so to speak. So is any word or reference to the innumerable human rights “incidents” that China is so famous for. Before the 20th anniversary of the Tienanmen massacre, social networking sites were shut down in a simultaneous crackdown. Significantly, blogging portals were blacked out too.
Richard Burger's blog was shut down just after the anniversary of Tienanmen.
While strict censorship laws are generally in place constantly, the anti-dissident surge gathers momentum just before any international event taking place in the country. Under the eye of the world, all blemishes are hurriedly concealed by the authorities. Examples of this can be seen on three recent occasions: the Beijing Olympics (2008), the Tienanmen Square anniversary (2009) and the upcoming Shanghai Expo in (2010). these events are generally attended by world leaders and other public figures.
However, in the battle of man versus machine, the former is endowed with a natural scheming mind which comes in handy. Many have managed to defeat the mighty government computers by inventing sly code words which can slip past the government censors.
The figure of the “grass mud horse” is innocent enough. When written, it has a clean meaning. However the spoken word is a double entendre and is loaded with dirty connotation. Who would have thought that this innocuous figure would take on the might Communist Party of China and leave it red faced? In 2008, a very controversial petition called Charter 08 was released online by Chinese intellectuals. It questioned the power of the government and soon enough, all references to it were blacked out online. By January 2009, the figure of the grass horse started appearing in music videos. Featuring a fight between the peaceful horses and the river crabs, it ultimately became a symbol of subversion. There is another layer to the joke. The Chinese word for river crab sounds like the word “harmony”. And any Chinese netizen would know what “harmony” symbolises in the government policy. Any dissident opinion is “harmonised” by the government to maintain peace. That is how Hu Jintao puts it in his speeches. The “grass mud horse” became a symbol of defiance online.
In his blog, Madariaga comes up with the idea to rename the Charter 08 as “wang”. In case the Chinese censors started filtering the grass mud horse, the computers would surely breakdown if all “wangs” had to be erased off the Chinese cyberspace. It happens to be a very common surname which, even Communist might would be unable to deal with. There is always a way to evade authority, but in China the forces in power are so encompassing that few Chinese dare step out of line.
This brings us to the very important question about heroism and protest. Is it better to stand up against power with the knowledge that one can perish in the attempt? Or is it more practical to quietly spread the seeds of dissent? In the play The Life of Galileo, Galileo himself recants his teachings and is allowed to lead a peaceful life as a consequence. During the last years of his life which were spent in house arrest, he writes the Discorsi right under the nose of the Church. He gives up martyrdom for being allowed to live and hence continue his work instead of dying a hero.

Three voices in the country

Three bloggers who live in China, and their take on things. These are the interviews of Richard Burger (, Julen Madariaga ( ) and Zuola ( ). Both Zuola and Burger have faced censorship problems in China. In spite of my efforts I have been unable top contact any Tibetan blogger from within the country. (I have reproduced these responses verbatim, making minimal grammatical changes)

Richard Burger

1. The world generally has very polemical opinions concerning the issue of Tibet. The Chinese are either pure evil or angels in disguise. As a citizen living within the country, what would be your perspective of the situation?
Tibet is a very complex issue, and anyone arguing that either side is good or evil clearly doesn’t understand the history of Tibet. The Chinese sincerely believe they have made incredible efforts to improve everyday life in Tibet, and to a large extent this is true. Their motivation is in no way evil, but it does fail to overlook the fact that no matter how much money they spend modernizing and improving Tibet, they are still seen as occupiers who threaten the local culture. Nothing they do will improve the situation until they show greater respect for Tibetan autonomy (as opposed to independence) and give the Tibetans a clear signal that they have a fair say in what goes on there.

2. China is reputed to have a ruthlessly efficient system of censorship. Again, according to you how efficient is it really? How has it affected you?
My own blog was censored in the summer of 2009 shortly after the 20th anniversary of the Tienanmen Square crackdown. Censorship is something you learn to deal with when you choose to live in China. It is proof of the government’s fundamental insecurity and anxiety, since they are terrified of allowing their people to think for themselves.

3. Subversive blogging is one of the most important forms of self-expression in China. How would you trace its development in the country?
It started the minute blogs began to pop up in China, around 2003. These blogs have become increasingly clever and creative, adopting elaborate codes to convey their messages without triggering the censors. They are also getting much bolder, with Han Han criticizing the government outright. We’ll see how far the government allows this to go. Right now they seem confused and helpless.

4. Does blogging and citizen journalism help in bypassing the information blockages imposed by an authoritarian regime?
Yes. Blogs have helped spread the word about corruption and criminality within the Communist party, forcing the government to crack down on the perpetrators lest it be faced with widespread public rage.

5. How have the above helped in the Tibetan issue?

Not at all. All Chinese bloggers are of the same mind when it comes to Tibet, namely that China has been an angel and the Dalai Lama is a “jackal.” I’ve never heard of Chinese bloggers taking issue with the government’s stance on Tibet.

6. As a Westerner, do you think that the laws of censorship apply more liberally to you as compared to a Chinese or worse, a Tibetan?
Slightly more liberal –as long as you are communicating in English, the government doesn’t usually try to silence you. It’s only when you can mobilize the masses that they care, and that can only be done in Chinese. I was allowed to criticize the government in English for years.

7. Do you believe that a harsh regime encourages further methods of subversion? How developed is the underground network in China?
I don’t think there is any underground network to speak of. The government here is generally popular, and it appears harsh only to a small minority. Most Chinese don’t care about this, as long as they can make money.

8. What possible justification is there for China's oppressive crackdown on dissenting voices? How far do you think that those arguments are justified, personally speaking?
It’s all about holding onto power. The gravest threat to a one-party system is the activist who can rally the public to turn them against the government. So censorship and crackdowns on dissent are the norm, and everyone accepts it. The arguments in favour of this are not justified in my eyes, but most Chinese people are happy with the system as it is, and it is their country.

9. Do you believe that censorship of any form whatsoever is justified?
Well, there’s always the legitimate argument that you can’t yell Fire in a crowded theatre. And you can’t spread child pornography or slander someone. So of course you can never have total freedom of speech. However, political censorship is never justified.


1.The world generally has very strange opinions concerning the issue of Tibet. The Chinese are either very bad or the good guys. As a citizen living within the country, what is your opinion?
The collective consciousness conflicts with the Tibetan culture. The Communist Party's collective consciousness is incompatible with the original religion in Tibet and the Communist Party is not open to these culture and beliefs.

2. China is reputed to have an excellent system of censorship. Again, according to you how good is it really? How has it affected you?
The result of Chinese censorship is that all the media is controlled, the more important the social topic is, the more it will be avoided. The important social issues are not discussed openly and
no attempt has been made to solve them .

3.Blogging is one of the most important forms of self expression in China. What do you have to say to that?
I hope more and more people become independent bloggers

4.Does blogging and citizen journalism help in escaping the information
restrictions put by an authoritarian regime?

5.. How have the above helped in the Tibetan issue?
That didn't help the Tibet issue, people in China generally don't know Tibet well.

6. As a Chinese, do you think that the laws of censorship apply more liberally to you as compared to a Tibetan or a Westerner?
Censorship is more severe for the Chinese

7. Do you believe that a harsh regime encourages people to use ways of bypassing the restrictions? How developed is the underground network in China?
The severe censorship will make people try to find ways to bypass it.
For me, I think the establishment of civil society is better than underground network. The underground network is on the opposite side of society, but civil society will resolve the social conflicts gradually.

8. What possible justification is there for China's oppressive crackdown on people who speak out? How far do you think that those arguments are justified, personally speaking?
I can't translate this one, I don't understand this.(this is the translation:)

9. Do you believe that censorship of any form whatsoever, is justified?
It can be justified if the censorship standards are more open and the standards
can be discussed and revised.

10. How have you been affected by the restrictions?

My blog has been blocked by China, I don't know why, I didn't get any
notification or Subpoena, my rights has been violated and I don't know
how to file a complaint.

Julen Madariaga

1.The world generally has very polemical opinions concerning the issue of Tibet. The Chinese are either pure evil or angels in disguise. As a citizen living within the country, what would be your perspective of the situation?
The Dalai Lama has been very skilful in marketing a certain idealised image of Tibet that resonates in many Western minds. On the other hand, for the CCP the subject is very sensitive for obvious territorial reasons. The outcome of radicalised positions you mention was inevitable, IMO, given these premises.
My opinion: China is certainly not so evil as many like to imagine in the West, just compare how many Palestinians/ Chechenyas /Iraqis are killed every year, and how many Tibetans... One may agree or not with CCP policy in Tibet, but to qualify it as evil and attempt to boycott China for this is completely unreasonable. To be fair one should first attack the US, UK, Israel, Russia, etc. for far worse crimes than China's development of Tibet.

2.China is reputed to have a ruthlessly efficient system of censorship. Again, according to you how efficient is it really? How has it affected you?
The truth is Chinese censorship system may be ruthless, but it is NOT efficient. Any Chinese netizen can easily use a free web proxy and get through the Wall to uncensored content outside of China. This censorship system would never work in a country where the masses are tyrannized by their government. It only works in China because most people are just not so interested in getting access to dissident content, and they will not do the effort of finding a proxy to get there. In fact, most Chinese are quite happy with their government - sure, many would like to have more freedom of speech - but they believe this will eventually come, and few consider it a capital priority to fight for today.

3.Subversive blogging is one of the most important forms of self expression in China. How would you trace its development in the country?
I don't like to use the name "subversive" because it is dangerous for those bloggers, and because many of them don't really have the intention of "subverting" the regime, just of opening it more. In any case, sure, the internet has allowed many Chinese people to express their own opinions, and many have taken the chance to speak out on blogs, BBS, micro-blogs, etc. - which regularly get censored by the government. I think the movement developed quite naturally first when the government still didn't have the censorship operation in place, and there is a generation of netizens that experimented FOS in that way. Keep in mind however that proper dissident bloggers (as opposed to occasional anonymous ranters) are a very small minority of the Chinese netizens.

4. Does blogging and citizen journalism help in bypassing the information blockages imposed by an authoritarian regime?
Yes, it certainly helps. It informs the netizens of the way to bypass the GFW , it makes available articles that were erased from other outlets, and in general it provides free information that is lacking in the strictly controlled traditional media.

5. How have the above helped in the Tibetan issue?
I don't think they have helped much. The reason is that most Chinese people, including most liberal bloggers, do not support the Western position in this issue. Sure, there is some CCP brainwashing going on, but even without the CCP, no Chinese in his right mind would agree to some terms for Tibet that are potentially dangerous for China's territory, and which are perceived as coming from the West. It is a complete absurdity that the colonial West, just fresh back from destroying Iraq, now comes to give lessons to China in this field.

6. As an European, do you think that the laws of censorship apply more liberally to you as compared to a Chinese or worse, a Tibetan?
No, the "laws of censorship" have nothing to do with the nationality of the user, but with other factors like: the language you write, the influence and readers you have, the location where you are. A different thing is the "laws of repression". This is, supposing I actively promote a very sensitive topic in China, my content would get censored exactly the same as a Chinese person. But the risk for myself would be limited to getting kicked out of the country, whereas a Chinese citizen may face harsher consequences.

7. Do you believe that a harsh regime encourages further methods of subversion? How developed is the underground network in China?
Yes, a harsh regime encourages, but sincerely I don't think the CCP is harsh, or at least it is not perceived as such by most Chinese. I don't know of any underground network in China, if it exists it must be very small. In any case, the main reason there is no subversion now is that the majority of Chinese just don't want it. Most serious dissidence is based out of the country and is strongly supported by Western governments and/or radical religious organizations like the FLG.

8. What possible justification is there for China's oppressive crackdown on dissenting voices? How far do you think that those arguments are justified, personally speaking?
From my observation, the explanation of most CCP supporters is that dissenters are putting at risk the first objective of unity, stability and growth. First make a great country -they say- then get more individual rights. While this might be true, there is another reason that is rarely mentioned: the people in power like to keep their comfy seats. Whatever the real reasons, some of the actions that we have seen, like the arrest of Liu XiaoBo or Xu Zhi Yong, are completely unjustified.


Censorship is a self perpetuating vicious cycle in the country. The Great Firewall might be efficient, but not as much as the world thinks it is. It is for this reason that bloggers like Zuola are able to maintain their blogs through proxy servers in America. It is easy enough to bypass the barriers, but how many would actively do something to incur harsh action? The reason China is able to control dissidents is because there are so few of them in number. In isolation, the number of activists or protesters who are punished is large. Broadly speaking, however, in a country like China, that percentage out of the total population is negligible. When we see protesters holding banners and marching, we automatically tend to generalise and club them into one monolithic community. What we forget is that in a billion-strong country, punishment fails to have any significant impact.
The “ruthless force” which China is proud of, has not stood the test of a millions-strong movement. There are millions of Internet users all over China. If, even 50 % of them decided to use evasive means to access and release restricted information, how well could the government censors function? All three of the interviewees have said that there is no underground network in the country. The government rules by example. Dissidents are punished as a show of force. In all centralised regimes, such display is very important.
This is why online initiatives have died out. The infamous “Charter 08” faded away in a few months.
Another interesting point to note about the interviews is the fact that while language is the point of contention, one cannot deny the race angle. Laws will be applied differently to a Chinese, a Tibetan and a Westerner. Again, Burger and Zuola have testified to this fact. Although Julen says that it has to do with language and topic, in the end he does go on to say that “...the risk for myself would be limited to getting kicked out of the country, whereas a Chinese citizen may face harsher consequences.”
Whatever is censored by the government is meant to set an example. One essay by an intellectual will probably not influence millions of people. Yet, the intellectual in question must be imprisoned. Why? To display power and authority. Even the point of dissemination which I have mentioned, is secondary.
Many opine that that Chinese censorship is the least hypocritical when compared with countries like the U.S.A. At least in China, people know that limiting measures are in place. A lot of information is suppressed in other countries without the public even coming to know about it. That is the greatest irony. In spite of such strict censorship, the world always knows what is going on in China. Yet when the US or Great Britain suppresses facts on issues like defence and health, people come to know of it months and sometimes, even years later. Details of inhuman torture performed by the CIA on terror suspect Binyam Mohamed were blacked out to protect the identities of certain British intelligence officers who contributed questions during the interrogation by the US. This makes one wonder where the truly efficient censorship lies.
There is another important element in this self perpetuating cycle: Material values. This is inevitable in a (purportedly) Communist state. As is obvious from the interviews, most of the Chinese are satisfied with their government in general. Woeser has lost her employment and housing. Why one would someone risk that for playing a tiny role in a movement which is most likely to die out? Again, heroism for the sake of heroism is pointless.
On an occasion, a conversation with a Tibetan businessman from Lhasa (part of the TAR, or the Tibetan Autonomous Region) further proved my point. On being asked about the Tibetan situation in China, he said that he was completely satisfied with the way things were. Speaking through a translator he mentioned that “if you follow all their rules, they will never do anything to you. I am very happy and am earning lots of money.”
His prosperity was evident from his appearance. Compare this to the situation of a Tibetan political prisoner who was imprisoned for over thirty years. When she was out, her daughter, now an adult, was unable to recognise her. Tibet is still not free. It is natural to question: why would someone risk so much if he/she could quietly lead a reasonably happy life with family?
This is in no way meant to belittle the efforts of the freedom fighters in the Tibetan context. I am not talking about the few who still mean to fight for their rights, it is about the millions who don't and these are the numbers which really matter.
Ultimately censorship is more of an internal force than anything else. It is self imposed due to certain extraneous factors. There is always the choice of breaking the rules, and a few choose to do it.
The role of the government is not to censor, but to create appropriate conditions so that people may censor themselves in the end.


• ""All Quiet on the Tibetan Blog Front."" Web log post. High Peaks Pure Earth. Ed. High Peaks Pure Earth. Blogger, 06 Mar. 2009. Web. 30 Apr. 2010. .
• Brecht, Bertolt. The Life of Galileo. Trans. Desmond I. Vesey. Ed. A. Stock. 25th ed. New Delhi: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.
• Burger, Richard. Web log post. The Peking Duck. Web. 26 Apr. 2010. .
• Kyi, Jamyang. ""Answers to Three Questions"" Web log post. High Peaks Pure Earth. Ed. High Peaks Pure Earth. Blogger, 22 June 2009. Web. 28 Apr. 2010. .
• Madariaga, Julen. Web log post. CHINAYOUREN. Web. 28 Apr. 2010. .
• Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. Great Britain: Penguin, 1954. Print.
• Reporters San Frontieres. ""Living Dangerously on the Net"" Reporters San Frontieres. 12 May 2003. Web. 25 Apr. 2010. .
• Seth, Vikram. From Heaven Lake: Travels through Sinkiang and Tibet. New Delhi: Penguin, 1990. Print.
• ""Tibetan Bloggers and Citizen Journalists."" Web log post. High Peaks Pure Earth. Ed. High Peaks Pure Earth. Blogger, 10 Feb. 2009. Web. 27 Apr. 2010. .
• Tsangyang, Kunga. "Who Are The Real Separatists?" Web. 02 May 2010. .

I would like to thank Varun Shankar (University of Utah) for helping me get a Chinese translator for the interview of Zuola.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

News 3-The Cyber War In Iran.

We have found an interesting news item regarding how internet and social networking sites are playing a crucial role in forming the protest against the oppressive regime of the current government and as a consequence,facing the ire of establishment through censorship.The link follows:

Samik Dasgupta and Somak Mukherjee,UG-II.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The first prosecution for obscenity in England

Rex v. Curll: Pornography and punishment in court and on the page
Studies in the Literary Imagination, Spring 2001 by Pettit, Alexander

Venus in the Cloister: or, The Nun in Her Smock, a translation from the French printed by Edmund Curll in 1724, may have recommended Curll for prosecution not only because it was pornographic but because it declined to enact intratextual strategies of punishment common in pornography then as now. The series of sexually explicit episodes central to pornography often culminates in the destruction of the principal conveyor of erotic charge, usually female, and thus in the viewer's or reader's release from fear of exposure. The pornographic encounter ends with the male reader/viewer exiting the cinema or closing the text confident that the transgressor has been identified and silenced and that his own role in the transaction has been effaced.1 The film Snuff (1975), which ends with the onscreen murder of the pornographic actress, is only the most blatant example of a well-worn tradition.
Some of Curll's pornographic works are analogous to the twentieth-century film, but Venus in the Cloister is not among them. The narrative's central characters-the young nuns Angelica and Agnes-enjoy sexual relations with one another and, peripherally, with men. The lesbian encounters in particular are free of the predetermined struggles for dominance evident in a good deal of pornography; the heterosexual encounters are nothing more than material for the stories that the young women tell during their own foreplay. At the end of the work, the lovers look forward to resuming their "Conversation" (184), which has become a companionate affair as well as a sexual one. The male reader seeking validation of his power over the female subject finds instead a narrative in which male agency counts for very little. There is no invitation to punish the transgressor because there is no transgressor. There is no transgressor because the norm against which pornography conventionally measures transgression-masculine power-is absent. Where much pornography lends power to the "insatiable woman" of idnal fantasy only to claim it back at the moment of narrative (and theoretically sexual) climax, Venus in the Cloister neutralizes masculine power while positing lesbianism as unbound by rigid models of power.2
Curll would learn that extratextual power was not so easily attenuated. The publication of Venus in the Cloister prompted a sustained campaign of harassment against the printer, who was arrested twice in 1725 and once in 1727; he was incarcerated for more than two years during the period 1725 to 1728. A stopand-start trial at the court of King's Bench resulted in a fine of 25 marks, a serious but not debilitating penalty, and an order to "enter into a recognizance for 100 for his good behaviour for one year"-to post a bond (Thoms 143). Rex v. Curll is familiar to legal scholars as the foundation of the English law for obscene libel that survived until 1959 (Thomas 83).
I do not claim that the book's thematic generosity prompted the prosecution. The court probably realized that Venus in the Cloister was unusually graphic and saw in it an opportunity to clamp down on a printer whose previous lapses-- pseudoscientific "treatises" and whatnot-had provided him with more dodges. But, for all that, a reexamination of the case and of various pornographic or parapornographic works of the 1710s and 1720s allows us to identify an interesting phenomenon: the pornography singled out for punishment by the state was the pornography that did not employ the punitive function available to it by way of convention. What the state punished was not the representation of sex, but the representation of sex-lesbian sex in particular-that was not punished intratextually. The result is the incorporation of pornography into a conservative and, to risk cliche, hegemonic penal apparatus.
In what follows, I first clarify the chronology of Curll's trial, which has been garbled in previous accounts. The corrected account highlights the determination of attorney general Philip Yorke, earl of Hardwicke, to prosecute Curll for printing a book that precedent seemed to protect but that was, on the other hand, both more interested in representing "deviance" and less interested in punishing it than earlier targets of prosecution had been. I then consider Venus in the Cloister itself, with a mind to illustrating its hostility to masculine penal strategies. Finally, and by way of contrast, I examine one of Curll's earlier forays into pornography: Giles Jacob's A Treatise of Hermaphrodites (1718), like Venus in the Cloister in representing lesbian sex, but unlike the later work for its thematic use of the punishment-motif. The court probably examined this book when they were preparing their case against Curll; however, they chose to ignore it in the trial.
The details of Curll's legal problems in the 1720s are not fully recoverable, although various incomplete or inaccurate accounts have made them more obscure than they need to be. Some of the data are clear enough. In October 1724, Curll printed Robert Samber's translation of Venus dans le cloitre, ou la religieuse en chemise (1683), probably by Jean Barrin.3 Curll never admitted to printing the work, which did not bear his name on the title page, but no one in his time or since has found reason to take the disavowal seriously. A second "edition" (now lost), probably a new impression, followed in January or February 1725. The work was cited in an anonymous complaint to secretary of state Charles Townshend, along with A Treatise of the Use of Flogging in Venereal Affairs, a translation from the Latin of a strained send-up from 1639 that Curll had printed in 1718.4 Curll was arrested in March 1725 and jailed until July of that year. On 30 November 1725, he was tried and found guilty. But, as Curll's Victorian biographer, William James Thoms, observes, counsel for the printer "moved an arrest of judgment, on that ground that the offence was not a libel; but if punishable at all, was an offence contra bonos mores, and punishable only in the spiritual courts" (141).5 In other words, the defense requested that final judgment and sentencing be postponed while the court considered the question of jurisdiction.
The court had plenty of time to do so. Curll was jailed again in December 1725; this time, he was held until July 1726. In the King's Bench Prison, he met John Ker, who had been a spy during Queen Anne's reign and whose Memoirs Curll published in three volumes, seriatim, upon his release from jail. These provided the proximate cause of a third arrest, probably in February 1727, after which Curll was jailed until the following February. On the twelfth of that month, he received separate sentences for publishing Venus in the Cloister, A Treatise of the Use of Flogging, and the Memoirs of John Ker. The punishment for the Treatise matched that for Venus in the Cloister (the L100 bond was a response to both); and the punishment for the Memoirs consisted of an additional fine, an hour in the pillory, and a guarantee of Curll's behavior for one year beyond the period stipulated in the initial sentence.
Modern accounts of these events have descended stemmatically from Thoms's biography. Although accurate in itself, the account may have allowed misreadings that have had the effect of minimizing the government's concern about Venus in the Cloister. Thorns goes out of his way to argue that Curll's trip to the pillory was the result of the "political" offense of printing the Memoirs, not the "immoral offence" of printing the two earlier works (143). The claim is well documented and is no doubt true; but it suffers from the author's refusal to consider that a de facto arrest for one thing might be a de jure arrest for something else, or, more specifically, that the Memoirs might have provided the government with an occasion for doing something that it wanted to do but had not previously been able to do. Proving "immoral offence" is difficult; proving the divulgence of state secrets is less so.6
By way of context, it is worth noting that, a few years later, the government would try Richard Francklin for printing the confidential if innocuous "Hague Letter" in Craftsman 235 (2 Jan. 1731), midway through that paper's run of a series by Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke that the government had tried ineffectually to stop. The trial earned the government the conviction that had previously eluded it (Pettit, Illusory Consensus 60-61).7 Hardwicke sentenced Francklin four years to the day after he sentenced Curll. As in Curll's case, if more plausibly, the crime was libel. Ker's Memoirs stood in the same relationship to Venus in the Cloister as the "Hague Letter" did to the incendiary material that Francklin had been dishing up at double strength since the summer of 1730: they provided the opportunity, not the offense.
A misunderstanding about the chronology of Curll's trial may have helped legitimate Thoms's claim that Venus in the Cloister was only one of three publications for which Curll was punished and not the most important one. Thoms first cites Abel Boyer's Political State of Great Britain to show that, on the last day of November 1725, Curll was convicted at the King's Bench for "printing and publishing several obscene and immodest books, greatly tending to the corruption and depravation of manners" (Thorns 141). Boyer identifies A Treatise of the Use of Flogging and Venus in the Cloister as particularly offensive works. Thorns then reproduces a document from the Rawlinson Manuscripts, prepared before the trial, in which Curll states his intention to plead innocent; this document, too, lists the Treatise and Venus in the Cloister. It is followed by the account of Curll's motion for the arrest of judgment, reproduced above. The paragraph concludes with a review of the trial from Sir John Strange's Reports of Adjudged Cases. Thorns reproduces Strange's dating of the passage: "Michaelmas Term, 1 Geo. 2." He does not append the precise date, no doubt assuming that his readers would realize that the material dated to the fall of 1727, two years after Curll moved the arrest of judgment.
Unlikely as it may seem, Thoms's assumption proved false. Later commentators have either confused the initial phase of the trial of 1725 and its continuation in 1727 or have declined the opportunity to correct the faulty impression. Ralph Straus, author of a popular biography of Curl (1927), says that the discussion of jurisdiction took place in 1725, on the day that the verdict was pronounced and the arrest of judgment was moved (see 103-05). In fact, the material that Straus quotes from Strange is a summary from fall 1727 of a debate from "Trinity term last" (Strange 788)-that is, from early summer 1727. Any doubts about the dating are removed by Strange's remark that Sir Francis Page replaced Sir John Fortescue on the bench between the terms in question (791); this happened in September 1727.8 So the arrest of judgment was debated in the summer of 1727, not in the fall of 1725.
Thirty-eight years after Straus's book appeared, David Foxon followed Straus into error. He, too, moved the Trinity Term 1727 debate to November 1725, citing for authority Straus and the account of the trial in State-Trials-taken from Strange and duly labeled "Mich. Term. I Geo. II."9 Donald Thomas's work shows no sign of such confusion; and Thomas adds the helpful datum that the verdict of November 1725 was only "a mere formality, simply a decision on the question of fact, of whether or not Curll had published the two books before the court" (81). But Thomas has no occasion to contradict earlier twentieth-century accounts, so he does not clarify the matter of what the court was considering and when the court was considering it. No one else has done so either.
A spurious time-line emerges, according to which the guilty verdict, the motion for arrest of judgment, and the discussion of the motion all occurred in November 1725. The court then declined to consider the matter further until November 1727 at a trial initiated by and, to a significant extent, concerned with Ker's Memoirs, which (by implication at least) provided the government with the ammunition it needed to dispense with Curll's motion about a different work. The matter stands differently when we restore the debate about jurisdiction to its proper place in the summer of 1727-after, not before, the publication of the Memoirs and Curll's subsequent arrest. This sequence finds the court still debating the legal status of Venus in the Cloister a year and a half after its initial verdict but still not ready to make a final decision about it. The Memoirs are an additional irritant, nothing more.
This adjustment helps us understand the court's evident preoccupation with Venus in the Cloister. Strange gives no indication that the court mentioned any other book in either the Trinity or Michaelmas Terms. His account is presumably accurate: he was Curll's lawyer at least by November 1727 (see Strange 791) and by November 1725, if Straus is to be trusted (103). Neither Thoms nor Straus acknowledges the absence of the other works from the trial records that they cite. Thomas notes the "emphasis" placed on Venus in the Cloister during the trial, by which he seems to mean that the works named in the indictment and in the records of the sentencing were not those discussed during the trial (79; see also Foxon 14n. 24). No one has ever suggested that the court discussed the Memoirs of John Ker during this phase of the trial. Although the data about the separate sentences are irrefutable, the trial was not given over to a discussion of the three separate works. Hardwicke focused his comments on "an obscene little book"; his fellow justice Sir James Reynolds used the locution "this book" (Strange 790, 791; my emphases). Whatever the specifics of the sentences-or for that matter the complaint and the indictment-might have been, Curll was tried for printing Venus in the Cloister.
Probably the court had so much difficulty reaching a decision about the arrest of judgment because Curll's counsel could cite compelling precedent. Strange observes that, in Regina v. Read (1708), the King's Bench had ruled in favor of an arrest of judgment proposed by counsel for James Read and Angell Carter (789). Like Curl, Read and Carter had been convicted of printing what Strange describes as an "obscene book" (789)-in their case, a poem entitled The Fifteen Plagues of a Maidenhead (1707). Strange adds that "the opinion of Chief Justice (John] Holt was so strong with the objection, that the prosecutor never thought fit to stir it again" (789).
Curll's lawyer at the start of the trial-perhaps Strange-presumably modeled his defense on Regina v. Read. In any case, the argument was in place by Trinity Term 1727. Chief Justice Robert Raymond was for declaring against Curl] then, but he owned himself troubled by "the case of The Queen v. Read" (Strange 790). Reynolds acknowledged that Regina v. Read was "a case in point" but declared himself a foe to the earlier ruling (791). Fortescue did not cite Regina v. Read. He did, however, respond to Raymond's uncertainty with a speech in support of Curl's motion: "To make it indictable there should be a breach of the peace, or something tending to it, of which there is nothing in this case" (791). The court was still unable to reach a decision, and the case "was ordered to stand over for a further argument" (791).
Fortescue's retirement removed Curll's sole supporter on the bench; when the reconstituted court convened in Michaelmas Term, they ruled unanimously against Curll. The argument against Curll is summed up in Hardwicke's statement from the Trinity Term session:
this is an offense at common law, as it tends to corrupt the morals of the King's subjects, and is against the peace of the King .... The spiritual courts punish only personal spiritual defamation by words; if it is reduced to writing, it is a temporal offense ... and it is punishable as a libel. (Strange 789-90)
The ascendency of Hardwicke's position was aided by two factors in addition to Fortescue's retirement. The first was Curll's failure to prepare Strange for the November hearing. Strange was forced to admit that his client (who was, after all, in jail) had not given him proper guidance: "my want of being ready proceeding from [Curll's] own neglect, they refused to indulge him to the next term" (791-92). The court then ruled that Curll's crime was indeed a temporal offense, thus clearing the way for his sentencing the following February, at which time the jurists considered the less important matters of A Treatise of Flogging and Ker's Memoirs.
The second factor was the court's manipulation of precedent-a gambit no doubt facilitated by the rupture between Curll and Strange. Regina v. Read was simply brushed aside. Strange reports the opinion of the court that "if Read's case was to be adjudged, they should rule it otherwise" (792). Hardwicke's own choice of precedent, as Thomas puts it, was "not one which most people would have thought of"(81). The case was Rex v. Sedley (1663), the response to an incident during which Sir Charles Sedley and some friends mounted a balcony and "excrementized in the street" (Anthony A Wood, qtd. in Thomas 81). The unhappy groundlings rioted; Sedley was fined and briefly imprisoned. Thomas observes that "more than sixty years after these events, [Hardwicke] reminded the court of King's Bench that in Sedley's case it had declared itself to be the custos morum of the King's subjects, the official guardian of public morals" (82). On this dubious bit of jurisprudence was based the modern law of obscene libel
Hardwicke's zealous pursuit of the verdict suggests the importance of the case to him. Undoubtedly, English law was imprecise on the matter of obscenity, and the jurist might well have found this irritating. He seems to have recognized in Venus in the Cloister an opportunity to rectify the situation, certainly a better opportunity than Curll had yet offered. A modern reader examining Curll's earlier publications will have no trouble appreciating an earlier period's sense of their "immorality" but will be unlikely to find in them much that is "sexually explicit and designed to induce sexual arousal," to cite a broad, uncontroversial definition of pornography (Hardy 48). Venus in the Cloister fits the definition perfectly. The distinction between the "immoral" and the "pornographic" may not have been accommodated by English law in Hardwicke's day, and indeed Rex v. Curll further obscured it. But, for all that, the court could not have failed to appreciate fundamental differences between Curll's earlier publications and Venus in the Cloister.
The tepidity of Curll's previous work is due in part to the fact that much of it is what Peter Wagner calls "medical and para-medical literature" (8). Daniel Defoe was among the loudest critics of this strain of "Curlicism," which is exemplified by A Treatise of the Use of Flogging.' Unlike Barrin's work, this literature is more concerned with quasi- or para-sexual oddities than with depicting acts of sexual exchange. Such material had failed the government in court, anyhow. Hardwicke would have known that a case against the author of the Gonosologium novum, a 1708 treatise on venereal disease, had resulted in dismissal (Foxon 13; Thomas 78). And Curll's Treatise of the Use of Flogging had the further advantage (to Curll) of being a translation, as the printer pointed out in his notes toward the trial, where he offered the additional point that the book had been in print for seven years before the government moved against it (Thoms 141). Venus in the Cloister was a translation as well, but French is not Latin, and the mode of appeal of Venus dans le cloitre was hardly as indirect as that of De usu flagrorum.
Curll's nervousness around this time suggests that he, too, knew that he had put himself more at risk than he had done in the past. Of the six titles mentioned in The Humble Representation of Edmund Curll, published around the time of the 1725 arrest, only Venus in the Cloister does not record Curll's name on its title page.11 Curll attempts to pass off the book as a reformationist effort along the lines of The Praise of Folly, intended "to lay open the Abuses and Corruptions of the Church of Rome, in relation to the Monasteries and Religious-Houses" (7). The claim evidently "hoodwinked" Fortescue (Wagner 73), but its sheer extravagance is more to the present point.12 Curll's notes for the 1725 session reveal plans for a different but equally unconvincing defense. Venus in the Cloister, Curll says there, was "done out of French by Mr. Samber of New Inne of which we only sold one, as any other Bookseller might do" (Thoms 141). Here, Curll attempts to shift the blame to his translator and to imply, although not quite to state, that he had not published the book, just tried unsuccessfully to sell it. (Why a second "edition" of such a flop, one might ask?) And, in November 1727, Curll argued in the press that Henry Rhodes had printed an edition of Venus in the Cloister in 1683 without incurring any penalty (Foxon 14). This last claim is more compelling than the others, but the shifting tactics suggest that Curll was jockeying for position in a battle that must have looked grim after Fortescue's retirement.
Even the basis of Curl's appeal-the invocation of Regina v. Read-is flawed from a literary-critical point of view, if not clearly from a legal one. Venus in the Cloister and The Fifteen Plagues of a Maidenhead are as different from one another as the former book is from the Gonosologium novum. Not only did Venus in the Cloister trade in greater erotic detail than The Fifteen Plagues of a Maidenhead had, but it differed from that poem and many other "non-medical" works by declining to present sex as a prop of the patriarchy. The Fifteen Plagues of a Maidenhead records the lamentations of a young woman about the putative difficulties of finding a man to "get [her] Maiden-head" (3). Its faint erotic charge results from descriptions of activities pointedly not engaged in, and sexual exchange in it is controlled by men.13 The contrast that this poses to Barrin's chronicle of sexual abundance is super-evident.
Foxon's categorization of Venus dans le cloitre is more credible than Curll's own attempt was; but it, too, overlooks the anti-patriarchalism of the work. Foxon proposes a lineage that includes Niccolo Franco's(?) La Puttana errante (c. 1650), the anonymous L'Ecole des fines (1655), Nicholas Chorier's Satyra sotadica (1660), and Venus dans le cloitre. He finds these works allied by their aim "principally to arouse sexual desire and encourage erotic fantasies" (48)-- the basic definition of pornography, again." He further justifies the grouping by noting that all three works employ "the Aretinesque form of a dialogue between an experienced woman and a virgin" (30). Also, English translations of L'Ecole des fines and the Satyra sotadica, like Samber's translation for Curll, were the objects of successful prosecutions (Foxon 34, 40).
Foxon does not say as much, but his grouping includes only works generally unconcerned with punishing their sexual participants. Granted, as Foxon points out, the Satyra sotadica has an uncomfortable investment in sadism, "defloration" (38), and the "seduction of the young and innocent" (48); but, however we feel about this amalgam, the fact remains that Chorier punishes characters who resist sexual involvement, not those who would embrace it. This is the inverse of statements like Snuff, in which "willing" women are blamed, then punished." The works that Foxon lists are unashamed of their status of pornography, but the state is ashamed of them.
I suggest that Venus in the Cloister is the most threatening of the group. The earlier works that Foxon lists are all interested in enforcing heterosexual norms. The Satyra sotadica may experiment with lesbianism, but it makes sex between women an adjunct to male sexual pleasure. In La Puttana errante and L'Ecole des fines, older women instruct younger women in the art of pleasing men. These works are non-punitive, but they are also blunt appeals to male fantasies of power. Venus in the Cloister insists upon its distance from the masculine mainstream. It presents essentially lesbian lovers who engage in heterosexual congress but are not dependent upon it, unlike the familiar "insatiable woman" of pornography.
Although pitched to a male readership, the work is about women's pleasure and women's camaraderie. The Aretine mentor/pupil relationship takes the form of an intimate relationship between the twenty-year-old Angelica and the sixteen-year-old Agnes, not the form of a doughty instructress preparing her charge for participation in heterosexual life. It is true that Agnes's course of instruction includes sexual encounters with several men, and, once in their discussions, Angelica expresses envy for a nun who has left the convent for "what we would all quit it for, a handsome young Fellow and one of a good Family" (133). And Angelica herself enjoys frequent heterosexual coition. Barrin emphasizes the primacy of the lesbian relationship in several ways, however. First, the young women control the narrative by arranging various events (including heterosexual liaisons) to suit their own and each other's fancies. When they want male company, they arrange for it; when they do not, men do not intrude on them. Secondly, the descriptive passages without exception linger on female bodies. In one instance, this is ascribed to the narrator's erotic and aesthetic preference. When Angelica tells Agnes about a young couple of her acquaintance, she says, "I would draw you his Picture, but, to tell you the Truth, I had rather draw one of our own Sex" (134). The description that follows particularizes the female subject in a plainly erotic manner. This account hints at the third and most important means by which Barn privileges the lesbian bond. The women perfect a form of erotic exchange based on an acknowledgment of the power of narrative-the power of the pornographic narrative that they control, that is. The stories they tell to one another, whether about their own activities or the witnessed activities of others, become elements in their own erotic play. Peripheral encounters intensify the lovers' bond; they do not co-opt it or imaginatively offer it up to the reader.
Speech and sexuality intertwine throughout the work, as in asides like Agnes's declaration, "You make my mouth water, when you talk so sensibly of these matters" (164). The most striking instance occurs in Angelica's story about the beautiful young Dosithea, ignored by her husband and overcome by "a Thousand lascivious Ideas" (106). Angelica, the familiar hidden spectator of eighteenth-century fiction, recounts Dosithea's efforts to extirpate desire by flagellating herself "upon her Posteriors" and "on her poor Thighs" (108). Not surprisingly, Dosithea's attempt fails. "Half naked" but in full view of Angelica, Dosithea masturbates and climaxes, falling into "an Ecstacy," with "her Eyes half dying" and "her Mouth smiling with those amorous gentle Contractions, of which she knew not the Cause!" (109). Agnes's response to the story indicates her own excitement and acknowledges her lover's adeptness at fusing the verbal and the erotic: "Lard! I wish I had been present!" (109), and "I must own I take an extreme Pleasure to hear you, though you were not so young and beautiful as you are; your Mind alone makes you amiable and lovely. Give me a Kiss" (116). Shortly we encounter the string of dashes that stands in for consummation. Angelica says, "But I am not yet satisfied. 0 kiss me ever with the Kisses of that Mouth! O let me, dearest Angel, let me - - -" (117). The devaluation of the merely physical ("though you were not so young and beautiful as you are") suggests a non-scopic sympathy hostile to the requirements of the pornographic reader.
Barrin sometimes presents the sexual play of the women in ways that risk compromising the narrative's pornographic appeal in the interest of pressing a larger claim about the boundaries of pleasure. After Angelica has excited Agnes with a story about her scourging of a novitiate, Agnes expresses a desire to perform the dominant role in a sado-masochistic scenario. Angelica cooperates (thus incidentally suggesting a flexibility of roles uncharacteristic of the genre). When Agnes flogs Angelica's "twin Sisters" with too much verve, Angelica responds, "Ouf! ouf! ouf! what Havock thou makest; this Kind of Diversion does by no means please me, but when it is not too violent" (25-26). Agnes then desists. The pornographic scene is aborted precisely when it threatens to prohibit, rather than to enhance, Angelica's pleasure. The sexualized woman's willingness to participate in a fantasy of punishment is referenced to her index of pleasure, not to presuppositions about her culpability and about the need for an exaggerated sort of punishment designed to appease the reader's "moral" sense and, again, his scopic expectations.
Scenes such as this one anticipate and answer the objection that this lesbian fantasy is staged for the delight of the male reader, along the lines of an unabashedly exploitative work like the Satyra sotadica. Further evidence appears in the more anxious narrative of Alicia. After confessing her innocent dalliances with Rodolphe to the lascivious Father Theodore, Alicia is subjected to an orgiastic flogging that involves her confessor, her aunt, and, in an auxiliary role, her father. The scenario may cater on one level to misogynistic fantasies of abuse, although one would do well to keep in mind Anne McClintock's argument that sado-masochism, rather than replicating familiar structures of dominance and submission, "performs social power as scripted, and hence as permanently subject to change," ultimately "revers[ing] and transmut[ing] the social meanings it borrows" (208). This story, too, turns on an injunction against unwanted pain, thus, in this case, against the punitive strategies of the oppressive male. "Lord!" says Agnes in response to Angelica's narration, "What Sacrifice! What Butchery! What Execution was here!" (159). When Rodolphe reappears, the author attributes to him a mode of response to Alicia's body different from the drooling cruelty of Father Theodore: "he flung his Arms about her Neck, and kissed her a thousand Times, handling amorously several Parts of her Body" (161). Only then does the narrator express her own excitement, dashes and all. Agnes's outrage at the nonconsensual exhibition of male agency reroutes the scene; Angelica's description of the non-abusive union frees the scene up for use as "lesbian" fantasy.
If men are invited to gaze on the bodies of Venus in the Cloister, they are also made to acknowledge their fundamental distance from them. The scene just described, for example, creates lesbian sex from a heterosexual scenario, inverting pornography's common expectation that lesbianism "works" only extrinsically, by exciting the male consumer. And Barrin consistently denies men the representative voice that ordains the punishment of the sexualized woman who has beguiled and thus asserted her power over them. The work ends on a note of tenderness that preempts moral sanction by invoking the deity: "Adieu!" says Angelica, "I shall think it an Age 'till we renew our Conversation. 'Till then, Heavens bless my Dear, Adieu" (184). Morality is an internal affair; punishment is neither required nor offered.
It remains to be seen that this liberality makes Venus in the Cloister unusual. One need not look far to find modern examples of pornography that rely on the dialectic of female "degradation" and male "approval," posited as characteristic of pornography in early feminist orthodoxy (see note 2, below). I have offered Snuff as an extreme but representative case, noting specifically its emphasis on punishment, which I take to be central to this dialectic. One might nominate a better-known film like The Devil in Miss Jones (1972), a descendent of The Fifteen Plagues of a Maidenhead that renders the protagonist ridiculous by making her endlessly desiring but endlessly unable to achieve orgasm, and which ends in her suicide. Some recent pornography attenuates, complicates, or opposes the emphases on degradation and punishment (as Venus in the Cloister does),16 but examples of the other strain still abound.
More pertinent is the status of "penal" pornography in Curll's day. Eliza Haywood's Fantomina: or Love in a Maze (1725), at bottom a pornographic work, manipulates the topoi of female desire and female culpability and so endorses the penal inclinations of the genre (Pettit, "Our Fictions"). Curll's own list provides a more telling contrast to Venus in the Cloister. Giles Jacob's Tractatus de Hermaphroditis: or, A Treatise of Hermaphrodites was "subjoined," as Curll put it (Humble Representation 5), to A Treatise of the Use of Flogging. Unlike its companion in print, A Treatise of Hermaphrodites only intermittently pretends to an affiliation with the "medical and para-medical" genre. Like Venus in the Cloister, it is a work of pornography, the more similar to Barren's narrative for exploiting the erotic cachet of lesbianism-"hermaphrodite" really means "lesbian" here. But where Barren thwarts male agency, Jacob thematizes it. Although he titillates his reader with descriptions of lesbian congress, Jacob either ridicules or destroys his lesbians, or converts them into heterosexuals. In this way, he legitimates male agency as surely as The Fifteen Plagues of a Maidenhead or The Devil in Miss Jones does.
The place of A Treatise of Hermaphrodites in the 1725-27 trial is obscured by the format of its publication. Curl leaves no doubt that he thought the book had been named by Hardwicke's complainant (Humble Representation 5-6), and there is no reason that it should not have been. What is certain is that it played little part in the trial, if any. Thomas's work with the King's Bench indictments reveals that, although the book is mentioned in the indictment of Curll, "no passages are quoted from it" (79). By way of contrast, the sections of Venus in the Cloister reproduced in the indictment take up five pages in Thomas's appendix (343-48).17 Thomas finds it "curious" that the court attended more to (even) A Treatise of the Use of Flogging than to A Treatise of Hermaphrodites, and he reasons that the court would have found more ammunition in Jacob's offering than in the translation (79). This may be so, but it does not help us account for the "curiosity" at issue. The court's thoroughness with respect to Venus in the Cloister, and the length of its deliberations, makes it unlikely that the jurists would have neglected to read a document that they had named in their indictment. Probably, they read A Treatise of Hermaphrodites and decided to ignore it. This in turn may suggest that Hardwicke wanted to focus the trial on a recent book rather than an older one, or it may suggest that the court found Jacob's work less objectionable than Barrin's. This last possibility is the least concrete of the three but also the only one open to inquiry. It may be that the penal conservatism of A Treatise of Hermaphrodites made that work less threatening to the court than Venus in the Cloister was.
At the core of Jacob's "treatise" are three accounts of lesbian lovers, full of masturbation, flogging, and other staples of works like Venus in the Cloister and the Satyra sotadica. Jacob's comparative meanness is clear in his equation of hermaphroditism, or biomorphic irregularity, and lesbianism, the option available to "robust and lustful Females" (17) whose irregularities disqualify them from mainstream sexual exchange. Jacob quickly establishes the degraded status of lesbianism. The Roman lovers Margureta and Barbarissa are "Masculine Ladies" (20) whose secretiveness inspires the servant Nicolini to spy upon them.18 Nicolini sees that the goal of their foreplay is the achievement of arousal sufficient to produce the dramatic elongation of their clitorises.19 Biomorphic reticence on the part of Barbarissa, "who was not so Masculine as Margureta" (21), is overcome when Margureta poses for her lover, shows her pornographic drawings, and flogs her. After they conclude their encounter, they "[kiss] each other in the most loving manner" (22). The terminal voice is the pornographer's voice, enabled by Nicolini's description: "This Story sufficiently shews the unnatural Intrigues of some Masculine Females...." (22-23). Of course it "shews" no such thing. Rather, it provides a moral overlay to that effect.
In the subsequent narratives, Jacob moves from mere moralism to correction and punishment. The beautiful (not "masculine" or hermaphroditic) Theodora and Amaryllis are prevented by circumstance from marrying the men they desire. Meeting in Ferrara, they vow "to live together as Sisters or inseparable Companions" (40); of course, they become lovers. Their sexual activities are based on the use of "artificial Penis's of the largest Dimensions" (41)-Jacob's indictment of lesbian mimesis, so to speak. When the disguised Philetus earns admission to their "rolicks" (43), he pretends to penetrate Theodora with a dildo but in fact does so with his own penis. Rape begets enlightenment: "Theodora considering what had happen'd and experiencing a material Difference between Art and Nature, agreed, on his humble Request, to Marry him" (45). After the nuptials, she sings the following stanza:
The Shadow I'll no longer try,
Or use the pleasing Toy;
A sprightly Youth I can't defy,
The Substance I'll enjoy. (45)
Theodora's recantation is public, incorporated into the ceremony that solemnizes heterosexual union and in this instance legitimates male superiority. Amaryllis also marries. Jacob says that "they both enjoy'd the greatest Happiness, making no difficulty to forget all Sorrows past" (43-45). Again, what he has shown is the opposite of "sorrow," but he reserves the right to impose his moral interpretation onto his own pornographic text.
This faux-comic strain is absent from the third narrative, which features the mutilation of "two famous Hermaphrodites, who ... were arriv'd to that consummate pitch of Impudence, that they were not asham'd to own their Bestiality" (46). Isabella, in bed with "a Foreign Count" (52), is found to have "something like the Testicles of a Man," which the count severs, the blood "issuing out with great violence" (54). Her lover, Diana, unchastened by a humiliation suffered after her passionate attempt on a parson's wife, "met at last with the same Fate as Isabella, her masculine Instrument being likewise sever'd from her Privities, after which, both of them liv'd to be harmless old Women" (55). Beyond incorporation into the heterosexual mainstream, the women are forced into a guilty, sexless dotage. It is not difficult to see the contrast that this poses to the giddy promise of future pleasures that constitutes closure in Venus in the Cloister.
In sum, confronted with two pornographic works, the King's Bench punished the forgiving one and forgave the punitive one. The moral and penal inclinations of the court proved compatible with those of Giles Jacob-and of Nicolini, Philetus, and the "Foreign Count." Rex v. Curll, like the episodes in A Treatise of Hermaphrodites, comes down against sexuality that resists male agency-heterosexual agency, in particular. In a sense, Hardwicke's protracted meditations on Curll's motion-his postponements and his athletic handling of precedent enabled him to move English jurisprudence into synch with a certain sort of English pornography. The judgment of the court mimics the plots of penal pornography; the unguilty pleasures of homosexuals draw Hardwicke's censure as they had drawn Jacob's.
One might discern the workings of a larger phenomenon here. Linda Williams sees in recent "American obscenity law" a "move[ment] away from the notion of explicit sex and towards the targeting of scapegoatable `deviants,"' specifically homosexuals ("Second Thoughts" 47). Jacob and Hardwicke also imply that punishing "deviation," not the representation of sex per se, is the task at hand. Of course: what rankles puritanism is not sex, but sex that refuses to apologize for its distance from cultural norms. The attempts of far-right American politicians in 1998 and 1999 to distinguish their extramarital affairs from President Bill Clinton's provide one recent reminder of this commonplace. In its condemnation of happy lesbians and its neglect of raped and mutilated "hermaphrodites," Rex v. Curll, too, is an expression of the passionate intensity of an unyielding worst. A two-year battle to cast lesbianism as the analogue of public defecation is more likely to impress us as grotesque than as unimaginable.
University of North Texas
I am grateful for the assistance of John Dussinger; James Landman; Thomas Lockwood; Jacqueline Vanhoutte; James Mosley, St Bride Printing Library, London; and the Office of Sponsored Projects, University of North Texas.
1 For heterosexual print pornography and the author's "discourse" as "essentially ... male," see Hardy 47-48; for men as the primary consumers of print pornography, see Hardy 99. Hardy's generalizations are not controversial.
2 Like most recent commentators, I reject the early feminist assumption that a "degraded" woman and an "approving" male are intrinsic to pornography (see Hardy 48). The old orthodoxy is surveyed by Hardy (48-49), Clover (1-2), and Williams ("Second Thoughts" 58-59). I see the topos of degradation as one of many devices available to pornography, and I distinguish between works that do and do not employ it. For the thematic arrest of male agency in a pornographic film, see Karyn Kay on Call Me (1988), in Gordon and Kay (94). See also McClintock on sado-masochistic scenarios as "revers[als]," not amplifications, of socio-sexual hierarchies (208).
3 Foxon notes that the work "is usually ascribed to Jean Barrin" but that "it has also been attributed to Francois de Chavigny de la Bretonniere" (43, 43n. 10). He and later scholars favor the attribution to Barrin.
4 Modern accounts of the complaint list only these two works, but Curll's Humble Representation shows that the printer believed that three more were named: Three New Poems (1721), comprising a poem by Buckingham and two modernizations from Chaucer by Elijah Fenton; Samber's translation of Albert-Henri de Sallengre's Ebrietatis Encomium: or, The Praise of Drunkenness (1723); and a translation of Saint Albertus Magnus's De Secretis Mulierum; or, The Mysteries of Human Generation Fully Revealed (1725). Because later accounts of the complaint are deduced from records of the trial, not transcribed from precedent documents, there is no reason to discount Curl's list. In any case, Curll was not tried for printing the other books.
5 Thoms's eleven-part serial biography, signed (felicitously) "S. N. M." upon its original appearance in Notes and Queries, was privately reprinted in 1879, presumably at the author's expense, as Curll Papers: Stray Notes on the Life and Publications of Edmund Curl. The initials "W. J. T." appear at the end of the reprint; the question of authorship is settled by the autograph inscription in the British Library's copy (10827.aa.32) and by a manuscript letter interfoliated with that copy, signature excised, addressed to "W. J. Thorns, Esq" and thanking the addressee for "the Curll Papers."
6 Thomas's evaluation is judicious: "Curll had not made things any easier for himself by publishing during the course of his trial The Memoirs of John Ker.... [W]ith their appearance in print whatever leniency Curll had once hoped for could be discounted, in fact a new charge was brought against him on account of their publication" (83).
7 The government had help this time: the Juries Act (1730) enabled the prosecution to stack the jury (Pettit, Illusory Consensus 61).
8 See DNB on Sir Francis Page; see also Thomas 82.
9 See Foxon 14; Complete Collection of State-Trials 91.
10 The debate is recorded in Defoe and in Curll's response, Curlicism Display'd; "Curlicism" is Defoe's coinage. The vagueness of Defoe's attack suggests the difficulty of pinpointing "moral" error in works that eschew explicit sexual representation as well as irreligion. The quickness with which the "controversy" died out-it comprises only Defoe's attack in the Weekly Journal, a prompt rebuttal, and a jokey follow-up in the same paper (12, 19 Apr. 1718), and Curlicism Display'd-may suggest that Curti's "para-medical" material did not cause much offense in 1718.
11 The Humble Representation, which "does not seem to have been advertised," appeared after the 1725 arrest and "may even have been written in prison" (Straus 100n. 1).
12 Wagner recognizes Venus in the Cloister's fundamental mode of appeal (231) but places the work in his category of "Erotica against the Roman Catholic Church" (72). The religious trappings of the work are conventional, however, based on a durable fantasy and, more broadly, on pornography's perennial "othering" of its subjects. For recent evidence of the nun as erotic icon, see Webster on "the fashion world's use of ecclesiastically inspired images." The photograph that accompanies Webster's article shows two attractive "nuns," kneeling, holding rosary beads, and wearing revealing undergarments. This sort of thing may or may not imply anti-Catholicism; but its focus, like that of Venus in the Cloister, is elsewhere.
13 The Fifteen Plagues of a Maidenhead represents a larger oeuvre of non-performance that also includes Curll's The Case of Insufficiency Discuss'd (1711) and Eunuchism Display'd (1718), both of which the printer felt obliged to defend in Curlicism Display'd (2-4; 13-22). In the film Deep Throat (1972), the removal of the protagonist's clitoris into her throat somatizes the fantasy of control expressed verbally in The Fifteen Plagues of a Maidenhead.
14 Foxon's limitation of the definition to "hard-core pornography" (48) has the advantage of distinguishing erotic literature from. for example, Wagner's "medical and para-medical" works.
11 Osanka and Johann provide serviceable summaries in their section on "slasher and snuff videofilms" (31-34); they note that, in Snuff, the victim is "a pretty film production assistant [who] tells her director that she was sexually aroused" by an on-screen murder (32). Her attractiveness, subordinate status, and sexual accessibility established, she, too, is killed in bed.
16 Again, see Kay, in Gordon and Kay; see also Straayer, and Williams, "Provoking Agent."
17 There are substantive discrepancies between the text quoted in the indictment (or, less plausibly, Thomas's transcription) and the text of the 1724 edition.
18 The settings of the narratives further encode erotic appeal: "the hotter the Climate, the stronger are the Inclinations to Venery" (19). Travel agents who advertise in tube stations in the winter employ this mode of appeal.
19 Wagner notes that Jacob trades in "the myth of the enlarged clitoris ... which was a favorite topic in the [eighteenth-century] literature on masturbation" (32).
Barrin, Jean. Venus in the Cloister: or, The Nun in Her Smock. Trans. Robert Samber. London, 1724. Clover, Carol J. Introduction. Gibson and Gibson 14.
A Complete Collection of State-Trials, and Proceedings for High-Treason, and Other Crimes and Misdemeanours. 4th ed. Vol. 9. London, 1779.
Curll, Edmund. Curlicism Display'd: or, An Appeal to the Church. London, 1718. -. The Humble Representation of Edmund Curll. London, [1725?].
Defoe, Daniel. The Weekly-Journal: or Saturday's-Post 69 (5 Apr. 1718). The Fifteen Plagues of a Maidenhead. London, 1707.
Foxon, David. Libertine Literature in England 1660-1745. New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1965.
Gibson, Pamela Church and Roma Gibson. Dirty Looks: Women, Pornography, Power. London: BFI Publishing, 1993.
Gordon, Bette, and Karyn Kay. "Look Back/Talk Back." Gibson and Gibson 90-100.
Hardy, Simon. The Reader, The Author, His Woman and Her Lover: Soft-Core Pornography and Heterosexual Men. London: Cassell, 1998.
Jacob, Giles. Tractatus de Hermaphroditis: or, A Treatise of Hermaphrodites. London, 1718.
Letter to William John Thoms. 15 Nov. 1879. Interfoliated in Thorns, Edmund Curit. Shelfmark 10827.aa.32. British Lib., London.
McClintock, Anne. "Maid to Order: Commercial S/M and Gender Power." Gibson and Gibson 207-32.
Osanka, Franklin Mark and Sara Lee Johann. Sourcebook on Pornography. Lexington, MA: Lexington-D.C. Heath, 1989.
Pettit, Alexander. Illusory Consensus: Bolingbroke and the Polemical Response to Walpole, 1730-1737. Newark: U of Delaware P; London: Associated University Presses, 1997.
"Our Fictions and Eliza Haywood's Fictions." Talking Forward and Talking Back: Critical Dialogues with the Enlightenment. Ed. Rudiger Ahrens and Kevin L. Cope. New York: AMS Press, 2000.
Straayer, Chris. "The Seduction of Boundaries Feminist Fluidity in Annie Sprinkle's Art/Education/Sex." Gibson and Gibson 156-75.
Strange, Sir John. Reports of Adjudged Cases in the Courts of Chancery, King's Bench, Common Pleas and Exchequer. Vol. 1. London, 1755.
Straus, Ralph. The Unspeakable Curll. 1927. New York: Augustus M. Kelley, 1970.
Thomas, Donald. A Long Time Burning: The History of Literary Censorship in England. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1969.
Thoms, William John. "Stray Notes on Edmund Curll, His Life, and Publications." No. 8. Notes and Queries 2d set. 60 (21 Feb. 1857): 141-44. Rpt. in Thoms, Curll Papers: Stray Notes on Edmund Curll, His Life, and Publications (n.p.: privately printed, 1879) 63-73.
Wagner, Peter. Eros Revived: Erotica of the Enlightenment in England and America. London: Seeker and Warburg, 1988.
Webster, Paul. "Spiritual chic angers Church." The Guardian [London) 23 Dec. 1998: 10.
Williams, Linda. "A Provoking Agent: The Pornography and Performance Art of Annie Sprinkle." Gibson and Gibson 192-206.
"Second Thoughts on Hard Core: American Obscenity Law and the Scapegoating of Deviance." Gibson and Gibson 46-61.
Copyright Studies in the Literary Imagination Spring 2001
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

Monday, February 22, 2010

In the News - 2

More related items in the news: (Click on the links for more detailed articles)
  1. Pictures of Jesus Christ holding a can of beer and smoking appeared in school-books in Shillong, causing a nationwide uproar among Christians.  
  2. Facebook now has full ownership over any and all information on user profiles and can use the same for promotional purposes. 
  3. After his controversial tweets, Shashi Tharoor is again in the news (and in trouble with the BJP) for saying that singing Vande Mataram is 'optional' at a church in Thiruvananthapuram.  
- Deboleena Rakshit, UG II & Lav Kanoi, UG III

    This Week in Censorship History

    The last week marked quite a few important dates in the history of censorship.

    14 February: On this day in 1556, Thomas Cranmer was declared a heretic. He had been appointed the Archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of Anne Boleyn, but fell into disfavour with the court once Mary ascended the throne. Because of his active role in the Reformation, he was reprimanded by the court on more than one occasion. He was finally executed on 21st March 1556, after he renounced his recantations in public.

    15 February: Galileo Galilei was born on the 15th of February 1564. Galileo's belief in and teaching of the Copernican system of cosmology brought him to the notice of the Inquisition. The publication of his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems led to him being summoned by the Inquisition in 1633. He was found guilty of heresy but was spared his life for his recantation.

    17 February: On this day of the year 1600, Giordano Bruno was burned to death by the Roman Inquisition. Bruno who propounded the theory of an infinite universe, among other then-controversial teachings, was charged with various heresies; most notably for blaspheming against the Trinity.  Bruno refused to recant and was condemned to death after six years of imprisonment.

    Note: The Wikipedia article on Giordano Bruno discredits rumours of his being sent to the stake after his mouth was bound shut with iron spikes but does not give both sides of the argument equal gravity. Information supporting the rumours may be added from the following. Kirsch may not necessarily be correct but, I think, his writings may be used effectively as a counter-point to the argument.

    Jonathan Kirsch in his book, The Grand Inquisitor's Manual: A History of Terror in the Name of God
    One such gagging device, known as the mute’s bridle, consisted of an iron box that was inserted into the victim’s mouth and held in place by a collar around the neck. The gag itself might be used to inflict yet more pain and humiliation on the victim; when the Renaissance scholar and scientist Giordano Bruno was sent to the stake in Rome in 1600, he was wearing an elaborate contraption “so constructed that one long spike pierced his tongue and the floor of his mouth and came out underneath his chin, while another penetrated up through his palate.” Thus was the victim pointedly punished for his previous false utterings and prevented from making any new ones while, at the same time, he was prevented from uttering anyscreams that might have “interfered with the sacred music,” as Robert Held describes the scene. (Kirsch, 2008)
    (Kirsch quotes from P. 82 of Robert Held's Inquisition: A Bilingual Guide to the Exhibition of Torture Instruments from the Middle Ages to the Industrial Era. Florence: Qua d’Arno, 1985.)

    19 February: In 1989, it was on this day that Ayatollah Khomeini ordered a fatwa (or a death sentence) against writer Salman Rushdie for blaspheming against the Islamic religion in his book The Satanic Verses. Here is the (slightly controversial) article that appeared in the Hindustan Times on this issue.

    - Deboleena Rakshit, UG II

    Sunday, January 17, 2010

    Monday, January 04, 2010

    The first six weeks

    Week 1: Introduction—censorship in Greece and Rome
    Required reading: Frederick H. Cramer, ‘Bookburning and Censorship in Ancient Rome’, Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 6, no.2 (April 1945), 157-196;
    Christianity and censorship—the Nicene Creed

    Weeks 2 and 3: Inquisitions—Giordano Bruno and Galileo—Vatican and the Index Librorum Prohibitorum
    Required reading: Bertold Brecht, Galileo

    Week 4: Censorship and the Elizabethan stage
    Suggested reading: Steven Mullaney, The Place of the Stage: License, Play and Power in Renaissance England (Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press, 1988)
    Janet Clare, Art Made Tongue-Tied by Authority (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999)

    Week 5: Print censorship in 16th and 17th century England—Stationers’ Company—licensing acts—Miltons’ Areopagitica—Roger L’Estrange
    Required reading: John Milton, Areopagitica

    Week 6: Censorship in the 18th Century—Jeremy Collier—Stage Licensing Acts—Curll’s Venus in Cloister—Stamp Acts—Thomas Bowdler and Bowdlerization
    Required reading: Jeremy Collier, Short View of the Profaneness and Immorality of the English Stage (1696)
    Alexander Pettit, ‘Rex v. Curll: Pornography and punishment in court and on the page’, Studies in the Literary Imagination, Spring 2001
    Suggested reading: Robert Darnton, The Literary Underground of the Old Regime (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press 1982