Here’s a new thing for ErosBlog: offering a Kickstarter project for your possible support.

This morning I got a cold request on Twitter from somebody I did not know. Dude knows me, though, at least well enough to suspect this would tickle my fancy for vintage erotica:

It turns out that Justin O’Hearn is an grad student whose academic specialty is Victorian-era dirty books. (For which the academic term turns out to be “clandestine publication”… who knew?) This gives us a common interest that makes us kindred spirits, quite possibly to Justin’s great chagrin if he only knew it.

His project is rather fascinating and utterly worthy. Apparently there’s a famous dirty book (Teleny) whose famousness in part stems from a somewhat controversial partial attribution to Oscar Wilde. Another portion of what seems to have been the same text was published as Des Grieux some years after Teleny. Just two copies of Des Grieux are known to exist, and almost nobody has seen them because they have been in the hands of private collectors. One of those two copies is up for auction at Christie’s in less than a week.

Justin’s scheme is to raise money via Kickstarter so that he can (a) buy the copy of Des Grieux, (b) transcribe and edit it, (c) publish a scholarly edition of it, (d) use it in his PhD dissertation, and (e) donate the original to the British Library when he is done with it.

Justin has successfully done this sort of thing before, publishing a new edition of Letters from Laura and Eveline, of which only one copy was previously known to exist. And he’s already raised pledges for more than a third of his goal from 17 backers as of this writing.

I have long been fascinated by obscure pornographic works. (My particular mania is bringing them into the electronic domain, but it’s a lot of work if you do it right, so I’ve only gotten one of them all the way to the e-book stage.) I believe surfacing rare pornography for broader public access is important work, culturally and academically. I wish Justin’s project all the best, and encourage you to support it, if you’re so inclined and have the resources.

Normally that would be the end of my post, right there. But we live in the era of the #pornocalypse.

Kickstarter is one of the many corporate entities that’s on my shit-list for its vague-but-hostile approach to adult projects of any kind. As I read their rules of prohibition, this project is perilously at risk of being terminated by Kickstarter because it “involves” “offensive” or “pornographic” material. Justin himself unabashedly states that Teleny was obscene when published, and although few have seen Des Grieux, it seems unlikely to have a greatly different character. Is it “offensive” or “pornographic” by Kickstarter’s standards? Well, good luck answering that question; Kickstarter is careful to leave itself maximum discretion by unhelpfully refusing to define its own terms. This is the modern version of “we reserve the right to refuse service to anybody” under a veneer of obfuscatory dishonesty. But the #pornocalypse corporate trend is to shy away from anything even faintly pornographic, especially if somebody complains or if the project attracts media attention (as this project may be doing).

Fortunately Justin’s Kickstarter pitch projects oodles of academic probity and carefully avoids using the words “pornography” or “erotica”. So there’s a chance he’ll pull this off without getting his Kickstarter yanked at the last minute. I won’t deny, though, that my heart climbed into my throat when saw that he plans to be bidding on the Christie’s auction the day before his Kickstarter actually closes. If Kickstarter decides to screw him in the last 24 hours after he wins the auction, he could get financially screwed real hard. Let’s all hope that doesn’t happen.

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