Lesbian erotica

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Le Sommeil (Sleep) by Gustave Courbet (1866). Gustave Courbet - Le Sommeil (1866), Paris, Petit Palais.jpg
Le Sommeil (Sleep) by Gustave Courbet (1866).

Lesbian erotica deals with depictions in the visual arts of lesbianism, which is the expression of female-on-female sexuality. Lesbianism has been a theme in erotic art since at least the time of ancient Rome, and many regard depictions of lesbianism (as for sexuality in general) to be erotic.

Contents

For much of the history of cinema and television, lesbianism was considered taboo, though since the 1960s it has increasingly become a genre in its own right. First found in softcore movies and erotic thrillers, depictions of lesbianism entered mainstream cinema in the 1980s. In pornography, depictions of lesbian sex form a popular subgenre, directed toward male heterosexual audiences, lesbian audiences, and bisexual audiences of any gender.

Cultural background

Sexual relations between women have been illustrated as well as narrated, but much of the written material from the early modern period has been destroyed. [1] What seems clear from the historical record is that much of the lesbian material in pornographic texts was intended for a male readership. [2]

Visual arts

Classic and classical depictions

Boucher, The nymph Callisto, seduced by Jupiter in the shape of Diana (1759). Francois Boucher - La Nymphe Callisto, seduite par Jupiter sous les traits de Diane (1759).jpg
Boucher, The nymph Callisto, seduced by Jupiter in the shape of Diana (1759).

Depictions of lesbianism are found among the erotic frescoes of Pompeii. Having all but disappeared during the Middle Ages, they made a comeback after the Renaissance. François Boucher and J. M. W. Turner were among the forerunners of 19th century artists who featured eroticism between women among their work. Like other painters (such as Jean-Honoré Fragonard), Boucher found inspiration in classical mythology. He was one of many artists to use various myths surrounding the goddess Diana, including the often-depicted story of Callisto, Diana's nymph who was seduced by Jupiter, with the god taking Diana's form since Callisto had vowed chastity. [3]

19th-century developments

In the 19th century, lesbianism became more openly discussed and found its way into many fields of art. In France the influence of Charles Baudelaire is considered crucial, on literature as well as on the visual arts, [4] though according to Dorothy Kosinski it was a matter not for the high arts but mostly for popular erotica. [3] Auguste Rodin's illustrations for Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal included lesbian scenes. [4] Gustave Courbet's Le Sommeil (1866) illustrates a scene from the 1835 story "Mademoiselle de Maupin" by Théophile Gautier (though Baudelaire's "Delphine et Hippolyte" from Les fleurs is also cited as an inspiration [4] ), depicting two women asleep after love-making. [5] [6] Its lesbian subject matter was controversial enough to be the subject of a police report in 1872, [7] but Courbet's painting is credited with inspiring others to depict "sapphic couple[s]", which in turn led to "soften[ing] taboos by revealing love between women and forcing society to see those whom it regarded as deviants and sinners." [8] Nonetheless, the audience for such artwork was predominantly male (Courbet's painting was commissioned by a profligate Turkish diplomat), therefore "the term lesbian should perhaps be provided with quotation marks, insofar as we are dealing with images made by men, for men, and in which the very disposition of the women's bodies declares that they are arranged more for the eyes of the viewer than for those of one another." [9] In the twentieth century the image's sensuality would appeal to lesbian viewers as well. [10]

An Orientalist depiction (cunnilingus as exotica) OttomanCunnilingusOrientalism.jpg
An Orientalist depiction (cunnilingus as exotica)

In 19th century French painting, lesbianism was often depicted within the context of Orientalism, and was thus apt to be affected by the era's colonialism and imperialism; as a result, assumptions regarding race and class informed the images, especially when lesbianism was linked to harem and brothel scenes. Later depictions of lesbians in British and American art may reflect like cultural mores, or merely borrow from formal pictorial conventions. [11]

In the second half of the 19th century, the lesbian theme was well-established, and its artists include Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, [3] Constantin Guys, [3] Edgar Degas, [3] and Jean-Louis Forain. [3] Later artists include Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Christian Schad, [12] Albert Marquet, Balthus, and Leonor Fini. More explicit depictions were an important part of the work of erotic illustrators such as Édouard-Henri Avril, Franz von Bayros, Martin van Maële, Rojan, Gerda Wegener, and Tom Poulton. Explicit depictions of lovemaking between women were also an important theme in Japanese erotic shunga , including the work of such masters as Utamaro, Hokusai, Katsukawa Shunchō, Utagawa Kunisada, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Yanagawa Shigenobu, Keisai Eisen, and Kawanabe Kyōsai.

In art and fetish photography, notable artists to work with lesbian themes include David Hamilton, Steve Diet Goedde and Bob Carlos Clarke. More recently, lesbian and bisexual photographers such as Nan Goldin, Tee Corinne, and Judy Francesconi have focused on erotic themes, reclaiming a subject that has traditionally been mainly treated through the eye of male artists.

Cinema and television

Lesbian and erotic themes were restrained or coded in early cinema. Even scenes suggestive of lesbianism were controversial, such as the presentation of women dancing together in Pandora's Box (1929) and The Sign of the Cross (1932). Pandora's Box is notable for its lesbian subplot with the Countess (Alice Roberts) being defined by her masculine look and because she wears a tuxedo. Lesbian themes were found in European films such as Mädchen in Uniform (1931). By the mid-1930s, the Hays Code banned any homosexual themes in Hollywood-made films and several pre-Code films had to be cut to be re-released. For example, The Sign of the Cross originally included the erotic "Dance of the Naked Moon", [13] but the dance was considered a "lesbian dance" and was cut for a 1938 reissue. Even suggestions of a romantic attraction between women were rare, and the "L-word" was taboo. Lesbianism was not treated in American cinema until the 1962 release of Walk on the Wild Side in which there is a subtly implied lesbian relationship between Jo and Hallie. Depictions of lovemaking between women first appeared in several films of the late 1960s – The Fox (1967), The Killing of Sister George (1968), and Therese and Isabelle (1968).

During the 1970s, depictions of sex between women were largely restricted to semi-pornographic softcore and sexploitation films, such as Cherry, Harry & Raquel! (1970), Score (1974), Emmanuelle (1974), and Bilitis (1977). Although semi-explicit heterosexual sex scenes had been part of mainstream cinema since the late 1960s, equivalent depictions of women having sex only began making their appearance in mainstream film during the 1980s. These were typically in the context of a film that was specifically lesbian-themed, such as Personal Best (1982), Lianna (1983), and Desert Hearts (1985). The vampire film The Hunger (1983) also contained a seduction and sex scene between Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon. Jacques Saurel's film "Joy et Joan" (1985) also belongs to this new more-than-softcore film performance.

Henry & June (1990) had several lesbian scenes, including one that was considered explicit enough to give the film an NC-17 rating. (There was some controversy as to whether the MPAA had given the film a more restrictive rating than it normally would have because of the lesbian nature of the scene in question.) Basic Instinct (1992) contained mild lesbian content, but established lesbianism as a theme in the erotic thriller genre. Later, in the 1990s, erotic thrillers such as Wild Side (1995) and Bound (1996) explored lesbian relationships and contained explicit lesbian sex scenes. [14]

From the 1990s, depictions of sex between women became fairly common in mainstream cinema. Females kissing has increasingly been shown in films and on television, often as a way to include a sexually arousing element in a film without actually having the film gain a more restrictive rating by depicting sex or nudity.[ citation needed ]

The L Word was an American television drama series originally shown on Showtime from 2004 to 2009 and explored lesbian, bisexual and transgender relationships, and contained numerous explicit lesbian sex scenes.

Pornography

French pornographic performers Liza Del Sierra and Sharon Lee shooting a video. Liza Del Sierra Sharon Lee.jpg
French pornographic performers Liza Del Sierra and Sharon Lee shooting a video.

Lesbianism is an important theme in both hardcore and softcore pornography, with many adult video titles, websites, and entire studios (such as Girlfriends Films and Sweetheart Video) devoted entirely to depictions of lesbian sexual activity. [15] Lesbian pornography typically is aimed predominantly at a male audience, with a smaller female audience, and many heterosexual adult videos include a lesbian sex scene. However, in Japanese adult video, lesbianism is considered a fetish and is only occasionally included in heterosexual videos. Rezu (レズ—lesbian) video is a specialized genre, though a large number of such videos are produced. [16]

Audience

Erotica and pornography involving sex between women have been predominantly produced by men for a male and female audience. A 1996 study by Henry E. Adams, Lester W. Wright, Jr., and Bethany A. Lohr, published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology , found that heterosexual men have the highest genital and subjective arousal to pornography depicting heterosexual activity, rather than lesbian activity. [17] Another study indicated that heterosexual men are more aroused by depictions involving lesbian sex than they are by depictions of heterosexual activity, while heterosexual and lesbian women were aroused by a wide range of sexual stimuli. [18] On-screen lesbian sex (in both Western and Japanese pornography), while typically aimed at a male audience, has developed a small lesbian audience as well, but still contrasts with gay male pornography, which is considered a genre of its own.

Deborah Swedberg, in an analysis published in the NWSA Journal in 1989, argues that it is possible for lesbian viewers to reappropriate lesbian porn. Swedberg notes that, typically, all-women films differ from mixed porn (with men and women) in, among other things, the settings (less anonymous and more intimate) and the very acts performed (more realistic and emotionally involved, and with a focus on the whole body rather than just the genitals): "the subject of the heterosexually produced all-women videos is female pleasure". She argues (against Laura Mulvey's "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cineman" and Susanne Kappeler's Pornography and Representation, for example) that such movies allow for female subjectivity since the women are more than just objects of exchange. [19] Appropriation by women of male-made lesbian erotica (such as by David Hamilton) was signaled also by Tee Corinne. [20]

Some pornography is made by lesbians, such as the defunct lesbian erotic magazine On Our Backs ; videos by Fatale Media, SIR Video, Pink and White Productions, and BLEU Productions; and web sites such as the CyberDyke Network.

A PornHub report indicates that "lesbian", "orgy", "BDSM" are the most popular category for female viewers of its porn portal. The category was 151% more popular with women than with men. [21]

Mainstream inauthenticity

Mainstream lesbian pornography is criticized by some members of the lesbian community for its inauthenticity. [22] According to author Elizabeth Whitney, "lesbianism is not acknowledged as legitimate" in lesbian porn due to the prevalence of "heteronormatively feminine women", the experimental nature, and the constant catering to the male gaze, all of which counter real life lesbianism. [22]

A study conducted by Valerie Webber found that most actors in lesbian porn consider their own pornographic sex somewhere on a spectrum between real and fake sex, depending on several factors. [22] They were more likely to consider it authentic if there was a real attraction between themselves and the other actor(s) in the scene, [22] and if they felt mutual respect between themselves and the producers. [22]

Authenticity in porn is disputed because some assert that the only authentic sex has no motive other than sex itself. [22] Porn sex, being shot for a camera, automatically has other motives than sex itself. [22] On the other side, some assert that all porn sex is authentic since the sex is an occurrence that took place, and that is all that is needed to classify it as authentic. [22]

With regard to the authenticity of their performance, some lesbian porn actors describe their performance as an exaggerated, altered version of their real personality, providing some authenticity to the performance. [22] Authenticity depends on real life experiences, so some lesbian porn actors feel the need to create an entirely different persona in order to feel safe. [22] Webber writes of Agatha, a queer actor in lesbian porn who "prefers that the activity and ambiance of her performances be very inauthentic, because otherwise it feels 'too close to home'", referring to the oppression and verbal abuse she is subject to by homophobic men in her daily life. [22]

Penetration

Like in straight and gay male porn, there is an emphasis on penetration in lesbian porn. [22] Even though studies have found that dildos have minimal use in real life lesbian sexual activity, [22] [23] [24] lesbian porn prominently features dildos. [22] According to Lydon, the ability to achieve orgasm clitorally, as opposed to penetratively, eliminates the need for a phallus and, by extension, for a man. [22] For this reason, male producers continue to include, and male viewers continue to demand, a phallus as a central feature in lesbian porn. [22]

Views on lesbianism in erotica

Live "girl-on-girl" sex show in Granada, Spain. Cream (Lesbian show V).jpg
Live "girl-on-girl" sex show in Granada, Spain.

Effects on heterosexual men

Several penile plethysmography studies have shown high levels of arousal in heterosexual men to pornography showing sexual activity between women. [17] [18] One study found heterosexual men to have the highest genital and subjective arousals to pornography depicting heterosexual activity, rather than lesbian activity, [17] while another study reported that on average heterosexual men are more aroused by pornography showing sexual activity between women than they are by depictions of heterosexual activity. [18] These findings correspond with reports in several earlier studies (summarized in Whitley et al. (1999); [25] see also anecdotal reports in Loftus (2002)). [26] Male perception of lesbianism as erotic has been shown [25] to correspond with recent exposure to lesbian pornography; however, men who have recently viewed lesbian pornography are no more likely than others to perceive lesbians as hypersexual and/or bisexual. Bernard E. Whitley, Jr., et al. hypothesized, upon reaching this conclusion, that "pornography may [...] lead heterosexual men to view lesbianism as erotic by means of a generalized association of female-female sexual activity with sexual arousal", but noted that "more research is needed to clarify the relationship between exposure to pornography and the perceived erotic value of lesbianism."

Enjoyment of lesbian pornography can have little connection to feelings towards homosexuals in real life. A heterosexual man may be aroused by pornographic depictions of lesbianism yet hold homophobic views. However, several studies suggest that men who perceive lesbianism as erotic may have less negative attitudes toward lesbians than they do toward gay men. [25] [27] Studies have further shown that, while men tend to correlate lesbianism with eroticism more often than women do, women perceive male homosexuality as erotic no more often than men do. [25]

Feminist views

Lesbian views on sex between women in erotica are complex. Historically, women have been less involved in the production and consumption of erotica in general and visual pornography in particular than have men. Since the late 1960s, radical feminist objections to pornography and the sexual objectification of women have influenced the lesbian community, with some feminists objecting to all pornography. However, since the end of the 1980s' "Feminist Sex Wars" and the beginning of the "women's erotica" movement, feminist views on pornography, both lesbian and heterosexual, have shifted. [28] Some lesbians are even consumers of mainstream pornography, but many dislike what they perceive as inaccurate and stereotypical depictions of women and lesbianism in mainstream pornography. Some are also uncomfortable with male interest in lesbians. [29] As of the early 2000s, there is a very strong lesbian erotic literature movement, as well as a small genre of pornography made by lesbians for a lesbian audience.

An increasing amount of queer erotic literature has been released in recent decades, written by women and usually for women. [30] There is a large sub-category of this erotica that involves various queer relationships while also including bisexuality and transgender characters into the writing. [30] By introducing various other identities and sexualities, it opens up the erotica world to more gender-fluidity and acceptance of other queer or non-heteronormative sexualities. [30]

See also

Related Research Articles

Erotica Media, literature or art dealing substantively with erotically stimulating or sexually arousing subject matter

Erotica is any literary or artistic work that deals substantively with subject matter that is erotically stimulating or sexually arousing but is not generally considered to be pornographic. Erotic art may use any artistic form to depict erotic content, including painting, sculpture, drama, film or music. Erotic literature and erotic photography have become genres in their own right.

Hentai Japanese pornographic animation, comics, and video games

Outside of Japan, hentai is anime and manga pornography. In Japanese, however, "hentai" is not a genre of media but any type of perverse or bizarre sexual desire or act. For example, outside of Japan a work of animation depicting lesbian sex might be described as "yuri hentai", but in Japan it would just be described as "yuri".

Sexual orientation is an enduring pattern of romantic or sexual attraction to persons of the opposite sex or gender, the same sex or gender, or to both sexes or more than one gender. These attractions are generally subsumed under heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality, while asexuality is sometimes identified as the fourth category.

Eroticism Quality that causes sexual feelings

Eroticism is a quality that causes sexual feelings, as well as a philosophical contemplation concerning the aesthetics of sexual desire, sensuality, and romantic love. That quality may be found in any form of artwork, including painting, sculpture, photography, drama, film, music, or literature. It may also be found in advertising. The term may also refer to a state of sexual arousal or anticipation of such – an insistent sexual impulse, desire, or pattern of thoughts.

Pornography in Japan Japanese pornographic industry

Pornography in Japan has unique characteristics that readily distinguish it from Western pornography. Reflecting Japan's views on sexuality and culture, Japanese pornography delves into a wide spectrum of heterosexual, homosexual, and transgender sexual acts in addition to unique fetishes and paraphilias.

Erotic art Visual art created for incite sexual arousal and activity

Erotic art is a broad field of the visual arts including any artistic work intended to evoke erotic arousal, usually depicting human nudity and/or sexual activity. It has included works in almost any visual medium, including drawings, engravings, films, paintings, photographs, and sculptures. Some of the earliest known works of art include erotic themes, which have recurred with varying prominence in different societies throughout history. However it has also been widely considered taboo, with either social norms or laws restricting its creation, distribution, and possession, particularly when it is deemed to be "pornographic", "immoral", or "obscene".

Latent homosexuality is an erotic attraction toward members of the same sex that is not consciously experienced or expressed in overt action. This may mean a hidden inclination or potential for interest in homosexual relationships, which is either suppressed or not recognized, and which has not yet been explored, or may never be explored.

Gay-for-pay Heterosexual actor, pornographic star, or sex worker paid to act or perform as homosexual professionally

Gay-for-pay describes male or female actors, pornographic stars, or sex workers who identify as heterosexual but who are paid to act or perform as homosexual professionally. The term has also applied to other professions and even companies trying to appeal to a gay demographic. The stigma of being gay or labeled as such has steadily eroded since the Stonewall riots began the modern American gay rights movement in 1969. Through the 1990s, mainstream movie and television actors have been more willing to portray homosexuality, as the threat of any backlash against their careers has lessened and society's acceptance of gay and lesbian people has increased.

Stag film Silent pornographic film genre

A stag film is a type of pornographic film produced secretly in the first two-thirds of the 20th century. Typically, stag films had certain traits. They were brief in duration, were silent, depicted explicit or graphic sexual behavior intended to appeal to men, and were produced clandestinely due to censorship laws. Stag films were screened for all-male audiences in fraternities or similar locations; observers offered a raucous collective response to the film, exchanging sexual banter and achieving sexual arousal. In Europe, stag films were often screened in brothels.

Sexual attraction to transgender people has been the subject of scientific study and social commentary. Psychologists have researched attraction toward trans women, cross dressers, non-binary people, and a combination of these. Cisgender men attracted to transgender women primarily identify as heterosexual and sometimes as bisexual, but rarely as homosexual. Sexual arousal research has confirmed that their response patterns are unlike those of gay men and resemble those of heterosexual men, except that they are highly aroused by transgender women in addition to cisgender women. They show little arousal to men. A substantial proportion of cisgender men attracted to transgender women report also experiencing autogynephilia, sexual arousal in response to the image of themselves as female. There has been some discussion of attraction to trans men, but it has not yet been the topic of scientific study.

Bisexual pornography

Bisexual pornography is a genre of pornography that most typically depicts men and at least one woman who all perform sex acts on each other. A sex scene involving women and one man is generally not identified or labeled as bisexual, even if the female performers engage in sexual acts with each other.

Women's erotica is any erotic material that caters specifically to women target-demographic of various sexual preferences. When erotica is specifically directed at lesbians, it is referred to as lesbian erotica. Women's erotica is available from a variety of media including video games, websites, books, comics, short stories, films, photography, magazines, audio, anime and manga. The content may cover many aspects of sexuality, from relationships to fetishes; the main idea being to convey sex-positivism from a woman's perspective, or to feature female empowerment and sexual fantasies.

Feminist sexology is an offshoot of traditional studies of sexology that focuses on the intersectionality of sex and gender in relation to the sexual lives of women. Sexology has a basis in psychoanalysis, specifically Freudian theory, which played a big role in early sexology. This reactionary field of feminist sexology seeks to be inclusive of experiences of sexuality and break down the problematic ideas that have been expressed by sexology in the past. Feminist sexology shares many principles with the overarching field of sexology; in particular, it does not try to prescribe a certain path or "normality" for women's sexuality, but only observe and note the different and varied ways in which women express their sexuality. It is a young field, but one that is growing rapidly.

Pornographic film actor Performer of sex acts in pornographic films

A pornographic film actor or actress, adult entertainer, or porn star is a person who performs sex acts in video that is usually characterized as a pornographic movie. Such videos tend to be made in a number of distinct pornographic subgenres and attempt to present a sexual fantasy and the actors selected for a particular role are primarily selected on their ability to create or fit that fantasy. Pornographic videos are characterized as either "softcore", which does not contain depictions of sexual penetration or "extreme fetishism" and "hardcore", which can contain depictions of penetration or extreme fetishism, or both. The genres and sexual intensity of videos is mainly determined by demand. Depending on the genre of the film, the on-screen appearance, age, and physical features of the main actors and their ability to create the sexual mood of the video is of critical importance. Most actors specialize in certain genres, such as gay sex, lesbian sex, bondage, strap-on sex, anal sex, double penetration, semen swallowing, teenage women, interracial or MILFs.

Gay pornography Pornography created mainly for, and by, gay men

Gay pornography is the representation of sexual activity between males. Its primary goal is sexual arousal in its audience. Softcore gay pornography also exists; it at one time constituted the genre, and may be produced as beefcake pornography for heterosexual female and homosexual male consumption.

Bisexuality Sexual attraction to people of either sex

Bisexuality is romantic attraction, sexual attraction, or sexual behavior toward both males and females, or to more than one sex or gender. It may also be defined as romantic or sexual attraction to people of any sex or gender identity, which is also known as pansexuality.

Sex in film Sex in mainstream film

Sex in film is the presentation of aspects of human sexuality in film. The presence in films of any form of sexuality has been controversial since the development of the medium. Some films containing such sexuality have been criticized by religious groups or have been banned or the subject of censorship by governments, or both. In countries with a film rating system, films containing sex scenes typically receive a restricted classification. Nudity in film may be regarded as sexual or as non-sexual.

Queer pornography depicts performers with various gender identities and sexual orientations interacting and exploring genres of desire and pleasure in unique ways. These conveyed interactions distinctively seek to challenge the conventional modes of portraying and experiencing sexually explicit content. Scholar Ingrid Ryberg additionally includes two main objectives of queer pornography in her definition as "interrogating and troubling gender and sexual categories and aiming at sexual arousal."

Women's pornography, sometimes referred to as sex-positive pornography, is pornography often produced by women and aimed specifically at the female market – rejecting the view that pornography is only for men.

Victorian erotica is a genre of sexual art and literature which emerged in the Victorian era of 19th-century Britain. Victorian erotica emerged as a product of a Victorian sexual culture. The Victorian era was characterised by paradox of rigid morality and anti-sensualism, but also by an obsession with sex. Sex was a main social topic, with progressive and enlightened thought pushing for sexual restriction and repression. Overpopulation was a societal concern for the Victorians, thought to be the cause of famine, disease, and war. To curb the threats of overpopulation, sex was socially regulated and controlled. New sexual categories emerged as a response, defining normal and abnormal sex. Heterosexual sex between married couples became the only form of sex socially and morally permissible. Sexual pleasure and desire beyond heterosexual marriage was labelled as deviant, considered to be sinful and sinister. Such deviant forms included masturbation, homosexuality, prostitution and pornography. Procreation was the primary goal of sex, removing it from the public, and placing it in the domestic. Yet, Victorian anti-sexual attitudes were contradictory of genuine Victorian life, with sex underlying much of the cultural practice. Sex was simultaneously repressed and proliferated. Sex was featured in medical manuals such as The Sexual Impulse by Havelock Ellis and Functions and Disorders of Reproductive Organs by William Acton, and in cultural magazines like The Penny Magazine and The Rambler. Sex was popular in entertainment, with much of Victorian theatre, art and literature including and expressing sexual and sensual themes.

References

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Further reading

Lesbianism in visual arts

Views about lesbianism in erotica

Reprinted as: Henderson, Lisa (1992), "Lesbian pornography: Cultural transgression and sexual demystification", in Munt, Sally R. (ed.), New lesbian criticism: literary and cultural readings, New York London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, pp. 173–191, ISBN   9780745011677.
Also reprinted as: Henderson, Lisa (1999), "Lesbian pornography: Cultural transgression and sexual demystification", in Gross, Larry P.; Woods, James D. (eds.), The Columbia reader on lesbians and gay men in media, society, and politics, New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 506–516, ISBN   9780231104470.