Pleasure for Pleasure’s Sake? On Pierre Joseph Proudhon’s “Pornocracy” Today

The Department of English and the Social Justice Institute (GRSJ) Visiting Speaker Series present

Pleasure for Pleasure’s Sake? On Pierre Joseph Proudhon’s “Pornocracy” Today

Dr. Karyn Ball
Professor, English Literature, University of Alberta

Date: Friday, October 20
Time: 3pm – 4:30pm

Location: 1099 Buchanan Tower, 1873 East Mall, UBC

In Pornocracy, or Women in Modern Times, the 19th-century father of mutualism, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, defines an ideal marriage as “the union of force and beauty,” which embraces “an absolute pact of devotion” that allegedly “immunizes” men and women “against all crime and felony.” In contrast, to prioritize pleasure, independence, and utility in relationships is to degrade male virility and female beauty as the respective virtues safeguarded by marital devotion. While a neo-traditional view of marriage may seem contradictory for the author of What Is Property?, Proudhon dramatizes a fantasy that aligns female circulation and the authority granted magistrates to arrange marriages — a governmental intrusion Proudhon compares, predictably, to pimping — with the bankers’ power to commoditize debt and profit through financial speculation, thus promoting the “promiscuity” of value he lambasts under the rubric of bankocracy. Keeping in mind how quickly the 19th-century moralist would be dismissed today, I will revisit Proudhon’s pornocracy as an anxious fantasy that illuminates the contradictions in contemporary situations where sexual economies reflect, threaten, or resist prevailing political-economic rationalities.

Karyn Ball is a professor of English and Film Studies specializing in literary and cultural theory at the University of Alberta. Her articles have appeared in Cultural CritiqueWomen in German YearbookResearch in Political EconomyDifferencesEnglish Studies in CanadaNew Literary HistoryAlif, the open-access journal HumanitiesAngelaki, and Law and Critique.  An edited collection, Traumatizing Theory: The Cultural Politics of Affect in and beyond Psychoanalysis, was published by Other Press in 2007 and a monograph, Disciplining the Holocaust, was published by the State University of New York Press in 2008. Recent articles include, “Losing Steam after Marx and Freud: on Entropy as the Horizon of the Community to Come,” which appeared in Angelaki in 2015 and “Post-Secular Messianism against the Law: Judith Butler on Walter Benjamin and ‘Sacred Life,’” which was published in Law and Critique in 2016.  She is currently completing a forthcoming special issue of Cultural Critique on “Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s ‘Pornocracy’ Today” that she has been co-editing with Stefan Mattessich.