The Scandal of Pleasure: Art in an Age of Fundamentalism

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9780226772240: The Scandal of Pleasure: Art in an Age of Fundamentalism

Surveying a wide range of cultural controversies, from the Mapplethorpe affair to Salman Rushdie's death sentence, from canon-revision in the academy to the scandals that have surrounded Anthony Blunt, Martin Heidegger, and Paul de Man, Wendy Steiner shows that the fear and outrage they inspired are the result of dangerous misunderstanding about the relationship between art and life.

"Stimulating. . . . A splendid rebuttal of those on the left and right who think that the pleasures induced by art are trivial or dangerous. . . . One of the most powerful defenses of the potentiality of art."—Andrew Delbanco, New York Times Book Review

"A concise and . . . readable account of recent contretemps that have galvanized the debate over the role and purposes of art. . . . [Steiner] writes passionately about what she believes in."—Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

"This is one of the few works of cultural criticism that is actually intelligible to the nonspecialist reader. . . . Steiner's perspective is fresh and her perceptions invariably shrewd, far-ranging, and reasonable. A welcome association of sense and sensibility."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Steiner has succeeded so well in [the] task she has undertaken. The Scandal of Pleasure is itself characterized by many of the qualities Steiner demans of art, among them, complexity, tolerance and the pleasures of unfettered thought."—Eleanor Heartly, Art in America

"Steiner . . . provides the best and clearest short presentation of each of [the] debates."—Alexander Nehamas, Boston Book Review

"Steiner has done a fine job as a historian/reporter and as a writer of sophisticated, very clear, cultural criticism. Her reportage alone would be enough to make this a distinguished book."—Mark Edmundson, Lingua Franca

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From Booklist:

From the Mapplethorpe obscenity trial in Cincinnati to campus debates over academic freedom, recent cultural battles, Steiner says, arise from the same confusion. Muddled perception of the division between reality and fabrication, she argues, lies behind the holy wars against art. She thinks the American fundamentalist outcry against Mapplethorpe reflects the basic belief "that appreciating [art] is being it, and [fundamentalists] fear that the seductiveness of this art will transform them against their will." Steiner expands on this argument in cogent chapters about the antipornography dispute, the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, and multiculturalism in college literature courses. More than just attacking intolerance, Steiner considers renowned Nazi-sympathetic intellectuals Paul De Man and Martin Heidegger to spur appreciation of how difficult academic freedom can be. But, she maintains, no matter what a work of art represents or how tainted a professor's past, "we will not be led into fascism or rape or child abuse or racial oppression through aesthetic experience. Quite the contrary--the more practiced we are in fantasy the better we will master its difference from the real." Aaron Cohen

From Publishers Weekly:

Reviewing the controversy over Robert Mapplethorpe's many photos of sadomasochistic scenes and Andres Serrano's iconoclastic sculpture, University of Pennsylvania English professor Steiner argues that art, however disturbing, cannot be obscene because artworks, as thought-experiments, are always open to personal interpretations. The anti-pornography campaign of Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin ignores reports that no solid evidence exists to link pornography with rape or child abuse, declares Steiner, who castigates their militant feminism as an "unholy alliance between the far left and the far right." Interpreting Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses as a satirical attack on Islamic fundamentalism, she defends his artistic integrity and reads his novel as a work of magic realism. She also ponders the failure of teachers to live up to their precepts, as exemplified by philosopher Martin Heidegger, a dues-paying Nazi. Her brilliant, incisive essays breathe fresh air into the debate over artistic freedom and political correctness.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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