Sunday, November 27, 2011

Susanna Paasonen's "Carnal Resonance"

Susanna Paasonen is Professor of Media Studies at University of Turku, Finland. Her scholarship includes Figures of Fantasy: Internet, Women, and Cyberdiscourse.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Carnal Resonance: Affect and Online Pornography, and reported the following:
Carnal Resonance explores the modalities and dynamics of online pornography in an attempt to tackle some of the affective complexities of porn as a genre and the public debates concerning it. The focus is especially on how digital production, distribution, and consumption has affected porn as a genre and how it might be possible to address the genre beyond the binary logic of the porn debates to date. Here, I have been especially interested in the interconnections between sensing and making sense--that is, in the resonances and dissonances that pornography evokes in its viewers and the possibilities of conceptualizing these sensations.

Page 99 of the book is very much about these issues. It can be found in the middle of chapter 3 on amateur pornography and it involves a discussion on texture and media images. The first paragraph connects to a passage on the “textures of domesticity” in amateur porn--the traces of everyday lives lived, the products of material culture displayed at the edges of the images, and the generally unglamorous body styles of the performers placed in front of the camera. Here, the discussion on the feel of the images is extended to media formats in order to pave way for a further discussion on the materiality of digital images (that tends to be generally understood more in terms of immateriality):
The physical aspects, formats, textures, and makeup of images resonate in different ways, and they give rise to different sensations and experiences. Hence, “it is not the meanings of things per se that are important but their social effects as they construct and influence the field of social action that would not have occurred if they did not exist, or ... if they did not exist in this or that specific format” (Edwards and Hart 2004, 4, referencing Alfred Gell). It matters how objects feel since such “feeling” gives rise to different kinds of attachment and resonance. The feel, tactility, and texture of pornography are intimately tied to its technologies of production and distribution—whether the high definition and texture of 35mm film, the grainy authenticity of gonzo and amateur videos, or the apparent immateriality of digital images, videos, and texts that consist of zeros and ones and are open to virtually endless remodification. A photographic print can be touched; its surface becomes marked with fingerprints, creases, folds, and other signs of wear; and it can be carried and handed over to other people. There is a certain uniqueness to photographic prints as objects. Film and video involve more distanced forms of viewing, and their images—projected on a screen or made sense of as a flicker of pixels—are much less tangible. Tapes and rolls of films are firmly material objects that can be grabbed and held, compared to digital image files that are stored as data files, easily downloaded and uploaded, saved as aliases, deleted, renamed, and circulated further. Porn stories printed in a book, read on a screen, or printed out on paper all involve a different materiality, as do relations between people, words, media formats, and experiences of reading. The same goes for digital images. Nevertheless, as Laura U. Marks (2002, 163) notes, “Digital and electronic images are constituted by processes no less material than photography, film, and analog video are.”
Learn more about Carnal Resonance: Affect and Online Pornography at the MIT Press website.

Writers Read: Susanna Paasonen.

--Marshal Zeringue