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Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405168908.2010.x


The term “erotica” is used most broadly to describe literature, art, and other media that contain sexual or amatory content. It is thus a category of eroticism that specifically designates media, although erotic media are often believed inextricably linked to erotic behavior. Further, erotica is a term used, often problematically, to distinguish “high-brow” sexual media from consumerist, mass-produced pornography. It is common to refer to the writing and study of erotic literature as the writing and study of erotica. Erotica is thus associated with imaginative textual/visual play, whereas pornography is deemed repetitive, exploitative, and utilitarian. Erotica is considered a “softer-core” version of pornography, which is believed more explicit and literal in its representations of sex. Yet such sharp distinctions do not hold up under closer scrutiny, particularly when one treats erotica as a closed or fixed generic category. The work of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–89) provides a particularly instructive example of this problem: Mapplethorpe's highly stylized homoerotic images are widely recognized as having artistic and intellectual merit, yet Mapplethorpe works have been confiscated, banned, and protested as pornographic, exploitative materials. “Erotica” and “pornography” are both words that enter into common usage in the mid-nineteenth century. Contemporary historians ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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