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In a scene in the film Le Pornographe, Jacques Laurent (Jean-Pierre Léaud) notes with vexation that something has happened to sexuality. Having been a director of X-rated films in the 1970s, financial circumstances force Laurent to go back to the industry thirty years later. The century of the sexual revolution is over, and for the director Laurent, nothing is the same. On set, he asks the actress not to show any emotion at the moment of orgasm and to swallow the sperm of her partner without letting the camera observe her. This constitutes an attack on the dictates of contemporary pornography, which allows the viewer to see and hear everything. The producer refuses to permit the use of such Bressonian minimalist aesthetics in a film that is being made for erotic film producer Marc Dorcel's company. Taking over the camera, he shoots the sequences in the format now expected by the industry: first of all penetration, filmed to the rhythm of exaggerated cries of pleasure, followed by an act of fellatio whose effects can be fully seen on the actress's face. Laurent watches the filming going on without him, clearly feeling that all of his old utopias have disintegrated.
There are several ways of explaining this lack of fulfillment of the expectations of the era of sexual liberation. The currently prevailing explanation is based on common sense and some loosely sociological arguments. It is more or less held to be true that the individualization of sexual practices has been accompanied by a depoliticization of desire…


According to the liberal hypothesis, individuals are free to represent their desires whereas, according to the disciplinary hypothesis, such representation consigns the individual to a given identity. In both cases, sexuality is reduced to a representation that prevents pleasure becoming an event.

Michaël Fœssel
Philosopher and professor at the French École Polytechnique, Michaël Fœssel recently published La Nuit. Vivre sans témoin (Autrement, 2017).
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Uploaded on on 19/01/2018
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