I am pleased to introduce to the ErosBlog readership one of Dr. Faustus’s newest web projects:

Infernal Wonders: Where Iago Faustus does squick or squee year-round

The site is devoted to horrific (or otherwise disturbing) imagery that is also erotic. If you’ve wondered how that is possible, Faustus has a theory that could double as a manifesto:

I have long known about a capacity to find erotic stimulation in certain kinds of horrific imagery. Many other people do as well. There are various cute theories as to why this should be the case, for example psychoanalytic explanations that I am reliving and revenging some sort of infantile rage at perceived insufficiency of maternal love or polemical feminist insistence that I am gratifying some deep misogynist urge which they are proposing to eradicate from society. I place little stock in any of that. My own best guess as to what is going on here has to do with the workings of the brain. We are not the Cartesian egos of philosophical fancy. We are a bunch of neural systems that mechanically carry out their functions, functions which sometimes cross or contradict each other. Show me a picture of a naked woman nailed to a cross and old, deep structures somewhere in that brain of mine are going to start reacting to the emotional shock — rage, fear, pity it may not matter all that specifically what — and pump out an interesting cascade of neurotransmitters like epinephrine and various endorphins which had the function from back in distant evolutionary time of helping my ancestors deal with whatever hideous crises their lives threw up. Meanwhile, some more recently-evolved neural assembly elsewhere in my brain is carrying out a common and important (if often underappreciated) cognitive operation known as “distinguishing fantasy from reality,” reviewing prevailing neural inputs from my immediate environment and producing the reassuring conclusion that “it’s only a picture (story, movie, etc.)” Having come to this conclusion (it all happens very quickly) I now can act differently. Instead of doing what I might do if I had in reality come across a crucified woman in the woods (dialing 911, perhaps), I can simply ride the neurotransmitter wave for pleasure, and release.

I feel no shame about this reaction or this practice, feminist shaming and finger-wagging moralism notwithstanding. The whole dynamic that make this whole cascading experience possible is critically dependent on being able to distinguish fantasy from reality. Making that distinction continuously makes it entirely possible for me to function as a (reasonably) civilized individual in actual social life. Just as people who attend performances of King Lear are very rarely inspired to go around looking to put out the eyes of English noblemen, I do not nail women to crosses in the moonlit woods and feel no inclination to. We are accountable for our behavior, but inside our minds Eros is and ought to be an incorrigible outlaw.

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