Summer 2014 || Monday / Wednesday 9:00 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.  || HUM 408
Dr. Robert C. Thomas Office: HUM 416, Office Hour: 1:15 PM— 2:15PM
Course Website:



This course is a critical study of the relations between eroticism and forms of human expression, including that form of expression we have come to name “pornography.” The historical formation of the concept of “pornography,” including its relation to modernism/modernity, will be foundational for this course. Equally foundational will be those works that seek to simultaneously challenge and re-conceptualize the concept of pornography (e.g. In the Realm of the Senses). We will consider works of literature in the canon of erotic literature (Bataille, Ballard), theoretical texts (Foucault, Bataille, Williams, Kendrick), historically censored films, recent “hard-core art” films (Shortbus9 Songs), alt porn (Neu Wave Hookers) and narrative films such as Crash. In addition to our work on the concept of pornography, we will think pornography is a genre of film (i.e. a form of expression that makes use of cinematic conventions). Genre films (which are probably the majority of the films that you see) are those that feature scenes you have seen so many times before, in so many different ways, that you expect to see them again and again depending on the type or genre of film (western, zombie, porn, action, etc.). Genre films don’t just employ cinematic conventions, they also teach us about social conventions, and pornography is no exception (this is particularly true with regard to constructions of gender and sexuality). While the first half of the course focuses on foundations for critically thinking about obscenity, pornography, and sexuality, the second half (more or less) will, in addition to other work, follow Linda Williams in looking at “hard-core” films as a genre. This will enable us to look at the social conventions surrounding sexuality and gender expressed in these works. Students will learn to think critically about various aspects of pornography, censorship, obscenity, sexuality, desire, gender, feminism, gay and lesbian sexuality, sadomasochism, and other subjects in a cross-cultural and comparative framework. Throughout this course we will endeavor to think our relation to these subjects in the context of the historical present. Please be aware that my courses typically build over time. If you do not read the assigned readings, if you are absent during the discussion, if you are not otherwise engaged with what we are covering, you will likely do poorly in the class. While we are doing some really cool things in this course, this is still a challenging class. Please don’t take it if you have no interest in doing this work. Above all, we are not watching films to get people “off” but to analyze them critically. Many of the films we will watch in class will be graphic and sexually explicit, including “hard core” images of sexual acts. Some of the films we will watch have been previously banned and/or heavily censored. The social reaction against these films will form a part of our critical study. While we will all have strong reactions to some of these films, we will endeavor in this class to think critically—beyond the level of mere reaction. It is not just that some of these films shock us that is important to our study, but what that shock is meant to do (critically).

Prerequisites: ENG 114 or consent of instructor

REQUIRED TEXTS BOOKS (available at the SFSU bookstore)

  • Georges Bataille – Story of the Eye
  • J.G. Ballard – Crash
  • Julie Maroh – Blue is the Warmest Color
  • Linda Williams – Screening Sex
  • Linda Williams – Porn Studies

ON-LINE ESSAYS AND ARTICLES (posted to the course website)

  • J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition (selection)
  • Georges Bataille, Erotism (selections)
  • Michel Foucault,“22 January 1975” from Abnormal: Lectures at the College de France 1974 – 75
  • Michel Foucault, “Introduction” to Herculine Barbin
  • Walter Kendrick, The Secret Museum (selections)
  • Laura Kipnis, “How to Look at Pornography” from Pornography: Film and Culture
  • Oshima Nagisa, “Sex, Cinema, and the Four-and-a-Half-Mat Room,” “Theory of Experimental Pornographic Film,” “Sexual Poverty” and “Text of Plea” from Cinema, Censorship, and the State
  • Beatriz Preciado – Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era (selections)
  • Tasker, “Permissive British Cinema?”
  • Christopher Weedman, “Optimism Unfulfilled”


  • Gregg Araki – Kaboom (USA/France, 2010)
  • David Cronenberg – Crash (USA, 1997)
  • Abdellatif Kechiche – Blue is the Warmest Color (La Vie d’ Adèle) (France, 2013) •
  • Eon Mckai — Neu Wave Hookers (USA, 2006)
  • John Cameron Mitchell – Shortbus (USA, 2007) •
  • Nagisa Oshima – In the Realm of the Senses (Ai No Corrida) (Japan, 1976) •
  • Jerzy Skolimowski – Deep End (USA/Germany/Great Britain, 1970) •
  • Kate Williams – Pornography: The Secret History of Civilization (USA, 1999) (selections) •
  • Michael Winterbottom – 9 Songs (Great Britain, 2005)
  • Short Films • Fernand Legar/Dudley Murphy – Ballet Mécanique (France, 1924)


  • Attendance and participation 10%
  • First Paper 20%
  • Second Paper 20%
  • Final Paper 40%
  • Final Exam 10%

DVD’s that SFSU does not own will be on reserve at the Library. You will have to ask for the DVD’s listed under my name. They will be placed on reserve after the films are shown in class.

Electronic Version of Course Syllabus

HUM 390 Summer 2014