Centre for Internet & Society

As part of its Making Methods for Digital Humanities project, CIS-RAW organized two consultations on new figures of learning in the digital context. For a proposed journal issue on the theme of 'bodies of knowledge' which draws upon these conversations, participants were invited to write short sketches on these figures of learning. This abstract by Namita Malhotra examines the figure of the pornographer, as a mixed media figure entrenched in various networks of knowledge production, circulation and consumption.


Making Methods for Digital Humanities (2M4DH) project seeks to make specific interventions around methods in the larger debates and practices of Digital Humanities, which includes producing content within the field, building a living repository of knowledge content by developing methods as well as interfaces, platforms and knowledge infrastructure, and bringing together a range of practitioners, performers and researchers from different disciplines who are not necessarily only working on the digital. As part of this project two consultations were held in Bangalore, around figures of learning in the digital context. The following is a series of abstracts for a proposed journal issue, that perform multi-media writing, bringing in artistic practice, video, sound and theoretical concepts to describe a particular practice of learning and knowledge in India and focus on a specific body, figure or person that is at the centre of that knowledge practice.


The Pornographer

Namita A. Malhotra


The figure of the pornographer is deeply embedded in a network, and this allows for a rhizomatic appearance of other figures. Like the figure within the pornographic video, image or text, which is usually a woman since there is most global circulation of heterosexual pornography (as deduced from statistics from Youporn). This feminized figure in the pornographic video is vulnerable to our intrusive gaze, receptive to our desires, subject of urban legends; s/he is a fictionalized character in a Bollywood film (Devdas, Love Sex Dhoka, Ragini MMS) or a celebrity with a cloud account like Jennifer Lawrence. In the Indian and broadly Asian context where there is wide circulation of amateur porn, s/he could be anybody, an ordinary person whose semi-nudity or nudity is what makes the video extraordinary and watchable.


The pornographer also inevitably leads us to figure of the police and the judge, those who often invisibilize the pornographer. Pornography is a phenomenon that engulfs and occasionally excuses the particular crime of the pornographer, even as it exposes how treacherously pornographic we all are. The pornographer on the network is a slippery figure, their transactions are unfixable and their actions are often transferred to the next node on the network (Nishant Shah, Subject to Technologies [i]). Other figures also appear around whom the regulation of the internet is configured - such as the child whose innocence must be protected and whose curiosity is the market, or the adulterer whose affairs and online sex addiction threaten the institution of marriage.


Ontology in the digitalscape is also about the object that is being looked at, whether video or image or text. Can we know what this object looks back at even as it is lusted for by the pornographer, hunted down by the police and examined by the judge? Can we understand the experience of the object since it moves, feels, responds much like we do (Barker, The Tactile Eye [ii]) Other intriguing non-human figures also populate the pornographic scape, like the humanized yet robotic Gif caught in a repetitive loop that regardless of the imagery produces a delight and frisson, like a surprisingly responsive toy. Which perhaps would remind us of similar figures like the Bot that behaves and acts as a human, consumes bandwidth, promotes websites, rollseyes and follows and unfollows. Both figures and objects occupy the field that we want to understand.


Returning to the figure of the pornographer, they have the habits of a knowledge seeker though different from that of the scholar in an archive that is looking for history, narrative and depth. The pornographer skim reads, rapidly going from one link to the next, rejecting, choosing, enjoying fragmented pleasures and moving on. The relationship is tactile but brief, a surface encounter. The pornographer is a creator, consumer and distributor; sometimes contributing stories from their personal history to websites like Savita Bhabhi so that they can be inspiration for new comics, making amateur porn videos with cell phones and uploading them, commenting and linking to content, selling phones preloaded with pornography. The pornographer is a pirate, caught in the same discourse of criminalization, and often if the crimes of one are not convincing then one stands in for the other in legal and public discourse.


The pornographer can also be likened to the parasite as a figure that produces disorder and generates a new order (Michel Serres, The Parasite [iii]), or that it stores (sucks) energy and then redirects it (Matteo Pasquinelli, Animal Spirits: A Bestiary of the Commons [iv]). A vivid description of how pornographers are the points of conversion is as follows - "Netporn converts libidinal flows into money and daily siphons a huge bandwidth on a global scale. Netporn transforms libido into pure electricity: exactly as file-sharing networks are reincarnated as an army of MP3 players, Free Software helps to sell more IBM hardware and Second Life avatars consume as much electricity as the average Brazilian." (Pasquinelli)


The pornographer is self-taught, exiled, ashamed, an inveterate collector, insatiable, a bundle of shame and energy, all wires within lit and chasing. The pornographer is a criminal, a voyeur, a seducer and con artist. The pornographer is a godman caught in the act, a shaman of conversions in the digital, a gluttonous leader of digital consumption.


Figures can offer insight into a social formation, but also do figures dominate the scape and erase the particular and the subjective? The pornographer leads to an array of other figures and these offer insights into networks of illegality and exchange, into legal and technological mechanisms of control. As easily as these pornographic objects float to the surface of the digital scape, the pornographer (and also others like the pirate) are spectral presences who can only be deduced and whose trails can be followed. The pornographer is then a sort of mixed-media figure, an amalgamate of different assumptions and readings in public discourse, in the law, in networks of the circulation of pornography, in movies that are about their imagined back-stories, and in the ways in which children are warned about risks online.



[i] Nishant Shah, 'Subject to Technology: Internet Pornography, Cyber-terrorism and the Indian State', Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 8:3, 2007, pp.349 - 366.

[ii] Jennifer Marilyn Barker, The Tactile Eye: Touch and the Cinematic Experience, University of California Press, 2009.

[iii] Michel Serres, The Parasite: Posthumanities, University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

[iv] Matteo Pasquinelli, Animal Spirits: A Bestiary of the Commons (Series Editor: Geert Lovink), NAi Publishers, Institute of Network Cultures, 2008.


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