Kathleen LubeyJul 24, 2023
What Pornography Knows
Sex and Social Protest Since the Eighteenth Century
Stanford University Press 2022
Kathleen Lubey's book What Pornography Knows: Sex and Social Protest Since the Eighteenth Century (Stanford UP, 2022) offers a new history of pornography based on forgotten bawdy fiction of the eighteenth century, its nineteenth-century republication, and its appearance in 1960s paperbacks. Through close textual study, Lubey shows how these texts were edited across time to become what we think pornography is—a genre focused primarily on sex. Originally, they were far more variable, joining speculative philosophy and feminist theory to sexual description. Lubey's readings show that pornography always had a social consciousness—that it knew, long before anti-pornography feminists said it, that women and nonbinary people are disadvantaged by a society that grants sexual privilege to men. Rather than glorify this inequity, Lubey argues, the genre's central task has historically been to expose its artifice and envision social reform. Centering women's bodies, pornography refuses to divert its focus from genital action, forcing readers to connect sex with its social outcomes. Lubey offers a surprising take on a deeply misunderstood cultural form: pornography transforms sexual description into feminist commentary, revealing the genre's deep knowledge of how social inequities are perpetuated as well as its plans for how to rectify them.
Kathleen Lubey is Professor of English at St. John's University. She is the author of Excitable Imaginations: Eroticism and Reading in Britain, 1660-1760 (2012).
Morteza Hajizadeh is a Ph.D. graduate in English from the University of Auckland in New Zealand. His research interests are Cultural Studies; Critical Theory; Environmental History; Medieval (Intellectual) History; Gothic Studies; 18th and 19th Century British Literature. YouTube channel.