just another moment in the certamen between vision and word, harking back from herodotus, through leonardo da vinci, lessing, and till the discussions of realism in cinema, the crossover between pornography and art, between performance and experience.
here is what linda williams says in ‘hard core: power, pleasure, and the frenzy of the visible’ (berkeley, ucpress, 1987, p. 185 ‘an ontological perversion’): “the inherent and unprecedented realism in movies seems to lead directly, then, to an equally inherent and unprecedented obscenity. most realist theorists of the cinema seem to come up against this “ultimate” obscenity of the medium at some point in their thinking. Stanley cavell in ‘a world viewed’ for example asserts that ‘the ontological conditions of the cinema reveal it as inherently pornographic’. and stephen marcus, who is not a film theorist but whose attitude to cinema could be termed realist, writes that ‘the motion picture was what the genre of pornography ”was all along waiting for”, since language in literary pornography had only been a ‘bothersome necessity’.”
well, i wish i could write a book-length essay discussing this point, especially the statement by marcus at the end of the passage. language will transform literary pornography into pornology and into artistic erotic writing: words are a very potent stimulant. a poetically inspired aesthetic composition harmonizing both word and image (rather than the silly challenge of choosing one over the other) is explosively stimulating, will bring a breath of fresh air to art cinema, to literature, and to pornology and pornography, and will also once and for all put to rest the futile contest.
von trier is not really innovating anything; catherine breillat made the initial moves more than ten years ago in the cutting edge between performance and authentic experience in cinematic sex scenes; the porno chic experiments were done in the 1970s, for example by wakefield poole; and in 1955 the artistically breathtaking, sublime use of words was applied to the description of the perversion of the nymphetophile humbert humbert, in a fiction fabricated by the word-pervert vladimir nabokov.
excellent question, anonymous! i don’t know how to answer this. the story of gyges in herodotus, interestingly, suppresses the whole element of the magic ring, and is more one of how fate changes, and at the same time is presented as being about ‘choice’, although the narrator somehow implies that although the queen gave gyges a choice, he had no choice. in the complementary narrative, as it is told in plato’s republic, the whole series of events involving kandaules showing off his wife and what unfolds, is suppressed, and the issue is more about how, given an opportunity to do injustice without getting caught, people (gyges) will try to ‘get away with murder’. it is embedded within the context of a dialogue on justice. although ostensibly, one never knows where one stands when one is enmeshed in the web of platonic irony, most readers take the ‘moral of the story’ as one in which without a system of legislature and enforcement, people will usually act immorally or unjustly. thanks for your question, which has directed me to think about the ideological dimension, usually when i read these stories and myths, i am blind to that aspect, and sink into the pathos, wit, and artistry of the narrative, and how its motifs have lived on in art.