6 December 2017 from 16:15 to 17:30

PhD thesis defence Simon Cook on the representation of pornography in Anglo-American fiction

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In his dissertation Simon Cook (Literature) shows how pornographic motifs in fiction by four major writers reflect the incursion of pornography into the public arena. It follows two intertwined chronologies: the work of Englishmen J.G. Ballard and Martin Amis and Americans Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace, and the responses of waves of feminist critics to the rise of porno-driven media. The defence will take place on Wednesday 6 December.

Increasingly graphic sexual content

The rollback of censorship in the 1960s broke any restraint on literary fiction in the U.K. and the U.S.A. in its representation of increasingly graphic sexual content on the page. In the decades that followed, technological advances in the recording and dissemination of explicit still and moving images fuelled the exponential expansion of the sex industry. The sexual image in photography, film and video was among the causes of the death of affect in J.G. Ballard’s fiction. Nevertheless, he advocated pornography’s proliferation without compunction and calculated its politically transforming value.

Normalisation of a sexualised mainstream

Sex in Pynchon’s novels can be mapped onto contemporary pornographies after they crossed over from covertly gathered male audiences watching short, silent, underground stag films, first to mainstream cinemas openly showing adult features in the New York of the early 1970s, and later into suburban living rooms and bedrooms via VHS, DVD and streaming. Ultimately, Pynchon came to normalise the insidious influence of a sexualised mainstream colonised by hard-core.

Feminist criticism and anhedonia

Martin Amis evolved from edgy exploiter into self-appointed feminist critic, and came to see Internet gonzo porno as occasioning real damage to performers and consumers alike. David Foster Wallace diagnosed pornography as a media addiction, with anhedonia as its primary symptom.

An eternal struggle for fictionalists

Once literary fiction’s role as a ground-breaking purveyor of sexual content had been usurped, and its concomitant transgressive edge blunted, the writers examined here came to take as their subject the mechanisms and consequences of mediated sex. Whether one expresses the phenomenon as the on/scenity of mediated sex, the sexualisation of the mainstream, the pornification of society or the democratisation of desire, fictionalists will forever struggle to clear it from the room when they ask their characters to have, or even think of, sex.

Start date and time
6 December 2017 16:15
End date and time
6 December 2017 17:30
PhD candidate
Simon Cook
“The Obscenification of Everyday Life”: Representing Pornography in Anglo-American Fiction since 1970
PhD supervisor(s)
Prof. D.A. Pascoe
Entrance fee
Free of charge
More information
Full thesis Simon Cook