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Pornotopia is a fantasy state dominated by universal sexual activity, such as the idealized, imaginative space of pornography. [1] The word pornotopia was coined by the critic Steven P. Marcus. [2]


Daniel Bell saw the hedonistic promotion of pornotopia in late capitalism as paradoxically undercutting the very virtues of bourgeois sobriety upon which capitalism was originally built. [3]


Pornotopia is characterized by its freedom from the normal social restraints of place and time – as Marcus put it, "It is always summertime in pornotopia". [4] External reality is either split off entirely, or its problems dissolved under a tide of sex. [5]

Narrative flow will hang on a tenuous line [6] – a picaresque adventure allowing for multiple encounters, [7] or perhaps a Sadean multiplication of all possible combinations of persons/orifices.

Beginnings will be sketchy, but, as Marcus argues, "it is an end, a conclusion of any kind, that pornography most resists": [8] one reason Susan Sontag singled out the novel The Image as transcending its genre, was precisely its finely structured conclusion, retrospectively illuminating all that had gone before. [9]


Characters in Pornotopia are typically ithyphallic, ever ready for sex, and with an almost omnipotent capacity for renewal and further action. [10]

They are also largely invulnerable. Thus in the Story of O, just as the chains never rust in her fairytale-style château, [11] so too the inhabitants are never damaged by their ordeals, and never lose an iota of their allure in a triumph of the imaginary over the reality principle. [12]


Historian Brian Harrison criticized Marcus's concept of pornotopia for being based exclusively on a small number of mid-Victorian texts drawn solely from Britain, from which Marcus drew far-reaching conceptual conclusions about the comprehensive genre of pornography. [13] More recently, Thomas Joudrey, drawing on the same archive that Marcus had examined at the Kinsey Institute, challenged the concept of pornotopia by calling attention to the pervasive presence of bodily decay, suffering, and death in Victorian pornographic novels, manifested in such phenomena as impotence, castration, torn foreskins, slack vaginas, incontinence, and syphilitic outbreaks. [14] Joudrey further challenged the concept of pornotopia by drawing attention to extensive political commentary in pornographic magazines such as The Pearl , including references to the Reform Bills and Contagious Diseases Acts, in addition to many controversial public figures, including Annie Besant, Charles Spurgeon, Wilfrid Lawson, Newman Hall, Edmund Burke, William Gladstone, and Robert Peel. [15]

See also

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  1. "Definition of "pornotopia"". Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  2. Steven Marcus, The Other Victorians (1971) p. 272-276
  3. Daniel Bell, The Winding Passage (1991) p. 302
  4. Steven P. Marcus, The Other Victorians (1971) p. 276
  5. Linda Williams, Hard Core (1989) p. 239 and p. 170
  6. T. Lovell/J. Hawthorne, Criticism and Critical Theory (1984)
  7. Edwin Morgan, 'Introduction' Alexander Trocchi, Helen and Desire (1997) p. vii
  8. Steven Marcus, The Other Victorians (1971) p. 282
  9. Susan Sontag, 'The Pornographic Imagination', in George Battaile, Story of the Eye (2001) p. 84–86 and p. 109–110
  10. Steven Marcus, The Other Victorians (1971) p. 275-6
  11. Jean Paulhan, 'Essay', in Pauline Réage, Story of O (1975) p. 163
  12. Jacques Lacan, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (1992) p. 202
  13. Harrison, Brian. "Underneath the Victorians". Victorian Studies, Vol. 10, No. 3 (March 1967), pp. 239-262.
  14. Thomas J. Joudrey. "The Ethics of Anti-Perfectionism in Victorian Pornography." Victorian Studies 57.3 (2015): 423-32.
  15. Thomas J. Joudrey, "Against Communal Nostalgia: Reconstructing Sociality in the Pornographic Ballad." Victorian Poetry 54.4 (2017).

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