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Fiction International’s twenty second issue, entitled “Pornography/Censorship”, published in 1992, takes a deep, unapologetic and daring view, through a collection of short stories, interviews, articles, experimental writings and images, into the uncomfortable grey areas between sex and art, demanding that the reader confront their views about what types of expression are allowable in society and challenging them to redefine social, sexual and personal boundaries within the context of art and literature; all this at a time when the editor believes “The body is in pain” and “The collective body is in agony.”
The issue tries for a balance between explicit fiction and informative essays and interviews. Despite its name, passed on from an earlier incarnation in New York, Fiction International is not exclusively devoted to fiction, but is an arts and culture journal. Hence, the factual interviews and essays in the issue, which given the nature of the material, adds to the overall reading experience by contributing a edifying context and making connections to peoples’ struggles with the topical issues. They also give the reader a shift from the overwhelmingly candid, powerful and primal aspects of the text, which is organized in such a way as to provide a nice back and forth between the informative reality and the imaginative fiction; almost a conversation between the factual and the fantastic.
The frequent and shocking use of vulgarities and profanity elucidate the visceral nature of subject matter that is often overlooked, subjugated or negated by society: Casual sex, transsexual issues, transgender issues, homosexuality, sexual fantasies (sometimes violent and bizarre), masturbation, psychosexual issues. This subject matter is brought to light with the honest intention of achieving a sort of social/sexual didacticism against the backdrop of the early nineties in America, which was a time of war, of change and of reinvention after the conservative dominance and cultural excesses of the eighties. The result, as the editor claims is that, as mentioned above, the body, both societal and individual, physical and mental, is indeed in pain. From the shocking confessions of a teenage girl and a female teacher in Jennifer Lane’s “Girl Talk” to the Christian take on sexual repression in Greg Boyd’s “Horny”, from the tenderly treated BDSM involved in Cholodenko’s “The Story of Vivant Lanon” to the short stream of consciousness piece with a violent end for a twelve year old boy in Karl Keller’s “What It’s Like to Grow Up in Manti, Utah”, the text attempts to heal the assaulted “body” by addressing and confronting issues of pornography and censorship.
The text asks the reader difficult questions on two levels, one being “should this kind of material be printed and read because it is explicit?” and the other: “Should the kind of behavior the material describes be tolerated or accepted in reality by society?” Many of these stories seem fanciful, on the fringes of reality, but for many people, the thoughts embodied by the texts and the actions described in them are integral parts of their lives. It is the repression and censorship of these thoughts and actions that are causing the sickness of the “collective body” the editor mentions; thus the text attempts to express them by asking those two questions of the reader in order to initiate a curative process. Each reader will have a different answer to them, but to open a healthy productive dialogue over these repressed issues seems to be a focus of the text.
By Robert Martinez