In Alex Neill and Aaron Ridley, ed., Arguing About Art: Contemporary Philosophical Debates (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995); reprinted in the Second Edition (London: Routledge, 2002).

Art, Oppression, and the Autonomy of Aesthetics

Curtis Brown

I. Introduction.

Mary Devereaux has suggested, in an overview of feminist aesthetics[1], that feminist aesthetics constitutes a revolutionary approach to the field: "aesthetics cannot simply 'add on' feminist theories as it might add new works by [Nelson] Goodman, Arthur Danto or George Dickie. To take feminism seriously involves rethinking our basic concepts and recasting the history of the discipline." In particular, feminist theory involves a rejection of "deeply entrenched assumptions about the universal value of art and aesthetic experience." Overthrowing these assumptions "constitutes what art historian, Linda Nochlin, describes as a Kuhnian paradigm shift."[2] Near the end of her essay, Devereaux returns to this theme: "If feminism constitutes a new paradigm, then we may wish to ponder how far the old model of aesthetics and the new are commensurable. Is traditional aesthetics contingently or necessarily associated with patriarchy? Can the 'gender-neutral' aesthetics of the traditional model be reformed or must it be rejected?"

At first glance, we may be uncertain why feminist aesthetics should either replace traditional aesthetics or be added to it. Concerns about the relation between art and women's oppression seem to be broadly speaking moral concerns rather than aesthetic ones, and we may wonder why aesthetics cannot acknowledge that the concerns are important and interesting, but deny that they ought to form part of the subject matter of aesthetics itself. This is precisely the attitude we take toward many other concerns that are germane to issues about art: the economics of the art market, however interesting to aestheticians, is thought of as part of economics, not as part of aesthetics; the interpretation and evaluation of particular works of art are a matter for art criticism rather than for aesthetics; the chemistry of pigments is part of natural science rather than of aesthetics; and so on. From the point of view of traditional aesthetics, one might well wonder what makes feminist aesthetics aesthetics at all, rather than ethics, social and political theory, or art criticism.

In order to regard feminist aesthetics as aesthetics, it may seem, we need to show that aesthetics is not, or should not be, as isolated from other subject matters as much modern aesthetics has taken itself to be. A good deal of modern aesthetics has taken itself to be autonomous. The term "autonomy" here is broad and not terribly clear. I shall use it to describe the general view that artworks may and should be studied and appreciated as objects in their own right, without regard to the causes of their production, their historical context, their effects on an audience, or even their relation to the (rest of the) real world; and, moreover, that the contemplation or study of artworks should appeal only to some of the properties of the artwork, namely its aesthetic properties -- as opposed especially to its moral properties, but also to its economic or physical or practical properties.[3] Harold Osborne describes the view as involving:

the concentration of attention on the work of art as a thing in its own right, an artifact with standards and functions of its own, and not an instrument made to further purposes which could equally be promoted otherwise than by art objects. . . . A work of art, it is now held, is in concept an artifact made for the purpose of being appreciated in the special mode of aesthetic contemplation; and although particular works of art may be intended to do other things and may in fact serve other purposes as well as this, the excellence of any work of art as art is assessed in terms of its suitability for such contemplation. This is what is meant by claiming that art is autonomous: it is not assessed by external standards applicable elsewhere, but by standards of its own.[4]

As this quotation suggests, the doctrine in question is often described as the doctrine that art is autonomous, but this is misleading. The artwork itself is not held to be independent of its context, its causes and effects, and so on. Rather, the point is that the appropriate examination of art as art is an examination which abstracts from or ignores these factors. That is, what is held to be independent of external factors is not the artwork itself, but rather its appropriate study or contemplation. In short, it is aesthetics rather than art which is held to be autonomous.

It is no accident that feminists have attacked the view that aesthetics is an autonomous discipline.[5] For the autonomy of aesthetics seems to show that any relation art might bear to the oppression of women is irrelevant to its aesthetic value. Were women oppressed in the production of the work, or by the actions of people influenced by the work? No matter; the concern of aesthetics is the work itself, not its causes or effects. Are women represented by an artwork in false and degrading ways? Again, no matter; for, first, the work says nothing about the real world but merely sets up a fictional world; or, second, if the work can be construed as saying something about the world, nevertheless its representational content is irrelevant to its aesthetic value; or, third, even if representational content is relevant to aesthetic value, moral evaluations of this content are irrelevant to the artwork's value as art. To make the case that the oppressive character of some artworks is aesthetically relevant, it seems, feminist aesthetics will have to challenge the doctrine of aesthetic autonomy.

I will be arguing in this essay in favor of two specific kinds of insulation of the aesthetic, two ways in which aesthetics is autonomous. I will suggest, first, that the history of production of a work of art is relevant to its artistic value only by way of its effects on the work's sensory properties or its content; and second, that the content of a fictional work of art says nothing about the real world, but only describes a fictional world. Both of these doctrines threaten to render at least some facts about women's oppression irrelevant to the philosophy of art. But I will also argue that the insulation provided by these principles is not as thick as might at first appear: feminist criticisms of art are sometimes legitimate aesthetic criticisms despite the fact that in the respects I have mentioned aesthetics is autonomous.

This conclusion opens up the possibility of a kind of reconciliation between feminist aesthetics and traditional aesthetics. Feminist aesthetics need not overthrow the two autonomy doctrines I will defend in order to legitimize itself, and at the same time traditional aesthetics cannot employ the doctrines in question to dismiss feminist aesthetics as an imposter. Of course, the two doctrines I will discuss express only two of the many ways in which aesthetics has been held to be autonomous, and the doctrine of autonomy is only one of many traditional doctrines of aesthetics called into question by feminists. But my admittedly limited conclusion may give some reason to hope that feminist aesthetics and traditional aesthetics will in the end turn out to be more compatible than many have thought.

II. Oppression and the Production of Art.

Can oppressive treatment of women in the production of a work of art affect the artistic value of the work of art itself? The view that aesthetic value is autonomous, that we can and should determine an artwork's aesthetic value without considering such external facts as how the work came to be, seems to provide a powerful reason for insisting on a negative answer to this question. In this section I will defend a restricted version of the independence of aesthetic value from history, while arguing that this principle is compatible with the view that in some important cases, oppression of women in the production of art is aesthetically relevant.

Let us begin with an example from the realm of sculpture. The following memorable account may be found in the autobiography of the sixteenth-century Italian goldsmith and sculptor Benvenuto Cellini. Cellini describes asking one Pagolo Micceri to keep watch both over Cellini's property and over "that poor young girl Caterina; I keep her principally for my art's sake, since I cannot do without a model; but being a man also, I have used her for my pleasures, and it is possible that she may bear me a child."[6] Pagolo later sleeps with Caterina; enraged, Cellini at first threatens to kill him, then forces him marry Caterina. There follows the incident in which I am principally interested. Cellini writes:

If I did not confess that in some of these episodes I acted wrongly, the world might think I was not telling the truth about those in which I say I acted rightly. Therefore I admit that it was a mistake to inflict so singular a vengeance upon Pagolo Micceri. . . . Not satisfied with having made him take a vicious drab to wife, I completed my revenge by inviting her to sit to me as a model, and dealing with her thus. I gave her thirty sous a day, paid in advance, and a good meal, and obliged her to pose for me naked. Then I made her serve my pleasure, out of spite against her husband, jeering at them both the while. Furthermore, I kept her for hours together in position, greatly to her discomfort. This gave her as much annoyance as it gave me pleasure; for she was beautifully made, and brought me much credit as a model. At last, noticing that I did not treat her with the same consideration as before her marriage, she began to grumble and talk big in her French way about her husband. . . . the wretch redoubled her insulting speeches, always prating big about her husband, till she goaded me beyond the bounds of reason. Yielding myself up to blind rage, I seized her by the hair, and dragged her up and down my room, beating and kicking her till I was tired. . . . When I had well pounded her she swore that she would never visit me again. Then for the first time I perceived that I had acted very wrongly; for I was losing a grand model, who brought me honour through my art. Moreover, when I saw her body all torn and bruised and swollen, I reflected that, even if I persuaded her to return, I should have to put her under medical treatment for at least a fortnight before I could make use of her. [The next morning Caterina returns.] Afterwards I began to model from her, during which occurred some amorous diversions; and at last, just at the same hour as on the previous day, she irritated me to such a pitch that I gave her the same drubbing. So we went on several days, repeating the old round like clockwork. There was little or no variation in the incidents (344-347).

Let us ignore questions about Cellini's reliability as a source.[7] And let us pass over a number of disturbing features of this story -- the way in which Cellini regards his torment of Caterina as an injury to her husband rather than to her; the fact that he apparently believes he acted wrongly only because he placed himself at risk of "losing a grand model"; the fact that his sexual relationship with Caterina consists, as he cheerfully writes, in his having "used her for my pleasures"; his apparent failure to see anything out of the ordinary in his becoming furious because Caterina brags about her husband, or in his acting on this fury by beating her.

The incident is useful for my purposes because during the modeling sessions in question, Cellini was sculpting what has come to be a famous work, the Nymph of Fontainebleau, now on display in the Louvre. The question I want to ask is whether Cellini's mistreatment of Caterina while producing the Nymph has any aesthetic significance. Does it affect the way we ought to see the work? My own view is that it does not. Granted, it has had an effect on the way I do, in fact, see the work: I cannot now look at photographs of the Nymph without thinking about Caterina, and without trying to glean from the Nymph's features some sense of what Caterina herself might have been like. But isn't this strictly irrelevant to the properties the object has as an artwork? Examining the Nymph to discover what Caterina looked like seems exactly on a par with, say, studying ancient Greek statues of athletes to glean information about the sports popular at the time[8] -- both endeavors may be intrinsically interesting, but they are at best indirectly relevant to the way in which we view the object as a work of art. The artistic value of the Nymph, I would suggest, is unaffected by Cellini's mistreatment of Caterina in producing the work.

This conclusion is underwritten by a version of the autonomy doctrine which holds that the history of production of a work can affect its value only indirectly, by virtue of affecting properties of the work itself. If this is correct, then oppressive treatment of women in the production of a work will affect the artistic value[9] of the work only to the extent that it leads the artist to produce a work which is, say, uglier or tawdrier or more vacuous or inane than it would otherwise have been.

This formulation of the doctrine will not do, however. It is completely empty to say merely that the history of production of a work is relevant to its value only to the extent that it affects properties of the work itself. Which properties of the work itself? After all, having a certain history is a property of the Nymph, and Caterina's beatings certainly affect that! We could say that a work's history affects its value only to the extent that the history affects the work's artistically relevant properties. If "artistically relevant" merely means something like "relevant to artistic value," however, the doctrine has an unpleasantly circular character. If the principle is to have any content, we need an independent way of specifying which properties are artistically relevant. I suggest that there are really two such properties. First, there is the work's appearance, including under this heading the way the object appears to any of the senses, not just its appearance to the sense of sight. In the case of a sculpture, for example, such properties as shape and texture are directly relevant to the appearance of the sculpture. Second, in addition to the work's appearance, its meaning or content is artistically relevant.[10] This second artistically relevant property, content, does not reduce to the first, appearance, since content may be affected by features of the work's history or context that do not directly affect the work's appearance. We know for example that the Nymph illustrates a legend about the origin of Fountainebleau.[11] But this fact is not completely determined by the shape, size, texture, and so on of the work. It depends as well on facts about the legends of the region and their influence on Cellini's creation of the work.

We are left, then, with the following version of the principle that value is independent of history: facts about a work's history are irrelevant to its artistic value unless they affect either its appearance or its content. I think that, provided we construe the notion of "content" broadly, this principle is correct -- though it must be admitted that the notion of content, so construed, is not as clear as one might wish.[12] I intend the notion to include at least linguistic representation, pictorial depiction, and the expression of emotion.

The autonomy principle I have just formulated has affinities with more radical principles which have been widely accepted. The New Critical doctrine that the artist's intention is irrelevant to the interpretation of a work of art,[13] and the poststructuralist doctrine of the "death of the author,"[14] may both be seen as effecting a similar, though more extreme, separation of the work from its genesis. These affinities may or may not be seen as support for the principle. Affinities aside, why should we accept the principle? The main attraction of the view, I think, is simply the thought that, if the notion of a discipline devoted to the study of art as art is to make any sense at all, there must be some way of discriminating between features of artworks which are the proper concern of that discipline and features which are not. Indeed, if the notion of an artwork itself is to have any content, there must be a distinction between features of an object which are relevant to its status as an artwork, and features of the object which have nothing to do with that status. If so, then there must be some autonomy principle which states that certain features of artworks are not related to their status as artworks. Any particular proposal about how to distinguish relevant from irrelevant features will be more controversial than the simple claim that some such principle is true. But I offer my principle as a reasonable first approximation, since appearance and content are the features which figure most prominently in discussions of art in criticism and in aesthetics. In particular cases, the clearly relevant facts I can think of all seem to pertain either to a work's appearance or to its content.[15]

I think that our first autonomy principle is correct: the artistic value of a work is independent of its history of production. I am quite content to accept the consequence that the artistic value of the Nymph is unaffected by Caterina's mistreatment during its production. I turn now, however, to a second example in which women are oppressed in the production of works of art -- an example which I find more troubling and more puzzling than that of Cellini and Caterina. The example I have in mind is that of certain sorts of pornography -- namely pornographic films depicting abusive treatment of women, produced by recording on film acts which are genuinely abusive of women.[16] Of course the abusive acts performed in the course of making such a film are objectionable. But what effect does their existence have on the artistic value of the resulting pornographic film?

Feminist critics of pornography often stress that pornographic films at least sometimes are produced in ways that abuse women.[17] Here is Catherine MacKinnon: "Pornography is . . . routinely defended as "fantasy," meaning not real. It is real: the sex that makes it is real and is often abuse, and the sex that it makes is sex and is often abuse."[18] And compare this vivid passage from Andrea Dworkin's book Pornography: Men Possessing Women:

This book is distinguished from most other books on pornography by its bedrock conviction that the power is real, the cruelty is real, the sadism is real, the subordination is real: the political crime against women is real. . . . In this book, I wanted to dissect male dominance; do an autopsy on it, but it wasn't dead. Instead, there were artifacts -- films, photographs, books -- an archive of evidence and documentation of crimes against women. This was a living archive, commercially alive, carnivorous in its use of women, saturating the environment of daily life, explosive and expanding, vital because it was synonymous with sex for the men who made it and the men who used it -- men so arrogant in their power over us that they published the pictures of what they did to us, how they used us, expecting submission from us, compliance; we were supposed to follow the orders implicit in the pictures.[19]
This passage raises more issues than I will be able to discuss. But at this point, notice that Dworkin, like MacKinnon, stresses that the acts which pornographic films record are real acts between real people. The films are typically, of course, fictions; the characters in the films are imaginary, the plots invented. Nevertheless, these fictional characters and events are portrayed on film by recording real events involving real people. So, for example, Linda Marchiano, who appeared in the infamous pornographic movie Deep Throat under the name Linda Lovelace, has claimed that her treatment in the production of the film was deeply abusive -- indeed, that "every time someone watches that film, they are watching me being raped."[20]

The principle of the independence of value from history would seem to suggest that the reality of the abuse involved in producing a film is irrelevant to the artistic value of the film. Given two similar films of fictional abusive scenes, one of them produced by filming real abuse and one of them produced by filming feigned abuse, the autonomy principle suggests that, so long as their content is the same, this difference between the two has no bearing on their relative artistic merit, though of course it has a great deal to do with the relative moral status of the two filming episodes. What matters to the artistic merit of the film is only the features of the fictional scene it depicts, not the features of the real scene the cameras recorded. (One might argue -- perhaps Dworkin and MacKinnon would -- that the filming of pornography is always abusive of women. I am skeptical about this, but my point does not depend on denying it. The same point could be made with respect to nonpornographic fictions which portray abusive treatment, and it surely is not the case that any depiction of abuse must itself be abusive. Moreover, even in the pornographic case, there are presumably more and less abusive ways of depicting abuse; the disturbing point about the autonomy principle is that it seems to imply that this difference is irrelevant aesthetically.)

This view leads to consequences I find it difficult to accept. Suppose that a filmmaker wants to make a fictional film about a male character, "Bill," who beats a female character, "Jane." He has in his studio two actors named, coincidentally, "Bill" and "Jane." (Or maybe it isn't a coincidence; these are not experienced actors, and it may be easier for them to remember their characters' names if they coincide with their own.) He makes his movie by having Bill actually beat Jane, and recording the beating on film. Suppose that the same filmmaker also wants to make a documentary film recording the beating. He can set up a second camera (call it "camera B," and call the first one "camera A") and record the very same scene through it. Now, although cameras A and B are recording the same scene, the film produced by camera A is a fiction, while the film produced by camera B is a documentary. Isn't there something odd about this? Odder still, suppose it occurs to our filmmaker that it is a needless waste of resources to have two cameras recording the same scene. Why not make do with one? Then two copies of the same film can be made, one a documentary and one a fiction. In a final burst of economy, the filmmaker may even make do with a single copy of the film, simply changing the way he labels it depending on where it is to be shown.

It seems a cruel joke to suggest that a film of a beating can, by a simple relabeling, be turned into a harmless fiction. And it is precisely this cruel joke that feminists like Dworkin and MacKinnon argue is being told by many pornographic filmmakers. What the pornographers claim are harmless fictions are precisely what Dworkin insists are in fact "an archive of evidence and documentation of crimes against women."

What shall we say about this? We have three choices. First, we might bite the bullet, and concede that, odd as it may seem, there is a world of difference between the films recorded by camera A and camera B -- one is a fiction, the other not -- while at the same time insisting that there is no artistic difference between the fictional beating produced by recording a real beating, and the fictional beating produced by recording a feigned beating. Second, we might give up the principle of autonomy. Perhaps the two fictions are different in some artistically relevant way, despite being the same in appearance and content. Or, third, we might give up the idea that the content of a film is separable from the facts about the actual scene the camera records. Perhaps you cannot prevent a film from representing or being about a real beating simply by relabeling it as about a fiction. In that case we can preserve the principle of autonomy while still insisting that the two fictional films are as different as can be, and that the products of cameras A and B are alike in that each represents a real beating (though one of them also represents a fictional beating).

I think that the third option is the correct one. The autonomy principle is correct: the only things relevant to an artwork's aesthetic value are its appearance and its content. But the content of the film cannot be insulated from the difference between a real and a feigned beating. A film is not just a presentation of fictional characters engaged in fictional actions. It is also a recording of a performance. The artistically relevant features of the film include features of the performance. In criticizing the film, we quite legitimately talk not only of the characters, but also of the actors who play them, and we distinguish between the traits of the two: it's one thing to say that a particular character was inexpressive and unemotional; it is another to say that an actor's performance was wooden.

In this respect, films are like stage productions, and unlike novels (and unlike some painting, sculpture, and poetry). When we watch a stage play, the aesthetic object to which we attend is not simply the fiction presented, but also the presentation, the way that flesh-and-blood actors portray the fictional characters they represent. I want to suggest that in some ways, a fictional film is like a documentary film which records a stage production. (The thinness of the line between the two may perhaps be suggested by a film like Bergman's The Magic Flute, which is a kind of borderline case.) There is more to a film than this, of course. Many of the aesthetic features of the film will not have been present in the performance: the cinematography, the editing, the special effects are all aesthetically relevant features of the film which have little or nothing to do with the recorded performance. But the addition of these features does not erase the film's documentary character, does not negate the fact that among the functions of the film is to record performances, which are real actions of real people.

Now, let us return to the difference between real and feigned abuse in the production of what is claimed to be a work of art. But let us shift the scene for a moment: consider now a stage production. We are sitting in the audience watching a play in which a woman is beaten. In version one of this example, the actors perform the fictional beating by feigning a beating. In version two, the beating is not feigned but genuine: the woman is genuinely being beaten before our eyes. Now, in this second case, we are liable to refuse to take the real beating as just part of the play. We will want to call the police, or to jump up on stage and stop the beating. But suppose we are somehow convinced to take the real beating as just a particularly vivid way of performing a fictional beating. Perhaps all the actors, including the victim, have agreed beforehand that the performance will be conducted in this way. (If Chris Burden can have himself shot as part of a work of "body art," surely a beating can also be part of a work of art. And if actors can portray fictional walking and talking by means of real walking and talking, surely it is possible in principle to portray a fictional beating by means of a real beating.) Despite our acceptance of the beating as part of the performance, however, we will legitimately feel not only moral indignation at the beating, but also that the resulting artwork is aesthetically inferior.

In saying this, I am explicitly rejecting one doctrine which has sometimes been described as the autonomy of art, namely the doctrine that aesthetic value is independent of moral value. This is the idea that art "might draw off by itself and be content with an emphatic assertion of autonomy -- its own kind of intrinsic worth . . . apart from, and perhaps in defiance of, the rival norms of ethics and politics."[21] To show that real abusive treatment is explicitly represented in a film is not enough to show that the film is aesthetically inferior; one must also show that our negative moral evaluation should carry over to our aesthetic evaluation. I wish I had more to say in defense of this view; all I can offer at present is that some moral views may be not only false but ugly, and some actions may be not only immoral but repulsive. Even ugliness and repulsiveness, of course, can be turned to useful artistic purposes but in the absence of some rather special redeeming context, they may be aesthetically debilitating. As much as I would like to have more to offer on this point, perhaps in the present dialectical context I need no more, since my main purpose is to defend and discuss the consequences of two principles of aesthetic autonomy; my dialectical opponents, the critics of autonomy, may reasonably be presumed to grant the relevance of moral to aesthetic concerns.

The point I have been making about the difference between two staged portrayals of a fictional beating applies as well to films. Recall Linda Marchiano's claim that she was raped in the production of Deep Throat. When we reach the scene in the movie in which this occurs, we cannot leap onto the stage and stop the rape. We might take the view that the movie stops being an artwork at that point, just as we might regard the play as effectively over when the real beating commences. But suppose that we are persuaded to take the film as an art object. It remains the case that it records a real rape, and this fact is not only morally relevant but also aesthetically relevant.[22]

Let us return to our original question: Can oppressive treatment of women in the production of a work of art affect the artistic value of the work of art itself? It now appears that we can answer this question in the affirmative even if, as our first autonomy principle maintains, the artistic value of a work is independent of its history of production except insofar as that history affects the work's appearance or content.

III. Oppression and the Content of Art.

Let us turn now to a second question: Can fictional artworks be oppressive by virtue of their content? I will defend a second principle of autonomy which may seem to show that they cannot. I will then argue that in fact, the truth of the principle is compatible with the view that artworks may constitute assertions of oppressive claims.

As in our previous section, a fairly plausible autonomy principle would seem to insulate fictions from the real world in such a way that they could not possibly be oppressive. The principle is this: fictions represent fictional worlds; they do not represent the actual world. Fictions may of course resemble the actual world in various ways, and our efforts to discover their similarities to and differences from the actual world may lead us to surprising discoveries. But fictions do not say anything about the real world, and so they cannot be oppressive or libelous or slanderous or defamatory or degrading -- nor can there be "orders implicit in the pictures," as Dworkin puts it.

In defense of the independence of fiction from reality, I would offer the following argument. No one will maintain that every representation in a fiction is to be taken to be an accurate portrayal of the world. At most, the defender of the view that fictions should be taken to represent the world accurately may hold that some represented features are to be taken to be accurate and some are not. This raises the problem of how we can determine which features are which. I take the following to be a useful way to think about this problem. Works of history or science carry a kind of implicit "It is true that . . ." operator. We are to take the representations they contain to be at least attempts at an accurate portrayal of the world. Similarly, works of fiction carry an implicit "It is fictional that . . ." or "It is true in this fiction that . . ." operator. Now, there can be mixed cases -- cases in which some sentences of a work[23] are to be taken to be fictional and others to be truthful. For example, it is common for philosophical essays to include brief fictional examples designed to illustrate a point. (For concreteness, consider Judith Jarvis Thomson's famous essay on abortion, in which the following interjection occurs: "It sounds plausible. But now let me ask you to imagine this. You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist . . . [whose] circulatory system [has been] plugged into yours."[24] The phrase "imagine this" notifies the reader that what follows will be a fictional interlude in a largely nonfiction piece.) But it is very difficult to imagine a mixed case which is predominantly fiction rather than predominantly nonfiction. In the philosophical case, we have a work we take to be implicitly prefaced with "It is true that . . .". Within this work, we hit a paragraph or two implicitly prefaced with "It is fictional that . . .". Now we have one operator embedded inside the scope of another, yielding "It is true that it is fictional that . . .". If it is true that it is fictional that a violinist is plugged into you, then it is fictional that a violinist is plugged into you. So far so good: a little fiction within a nonfiction work seems entirely possible.

But now consider a predominantly fictional case. The entire fiction is implicitly prefaced with "It is fictional that . . .". Now the author attempts to insert some material we are to take to be factual. How can the text indicate that this material is to be taken to be factual? It must include something tantamount to the "It is true that . . ." operator. The result is again that one operator is embedded within the scope of another, yielding "It is fictional that it is true that . . .". But to say that it is fictional that something is true is precisely not to say that it is true! Any claim to truth within a fiction is just one more part of the fiction. And of course creators of fictions take advantage of this fact all the time, producing fictionally true prefaces, fictionally true footnotes, fictionally true dictionary or encyclopedia entries, and so on. These fictionally true items may happen also to be actually true, but it cannot be part of the content of the fiction that they are (really) true.[25]

If this second autonomy principle is correct, then some of Devereaux's criticisms of Hollywood movies must be questioned. Devereaux distinguishes between different levels of feminist criticism of the content of movies. At the simplest level, feminists "attacked the Hollywood film for its patriarchal content." These films perpetuated a "mythology [which] defined the value of women as their value to men." In particular, these films portrayed women as falling into one of several stereotypical categories, such as "the Good Girl, the Vamp, and the Dutiful Wife."

This indictment is problematic even apart from considerations of autonomy. In the first place, a particular film cannot be said to imply that all women fall into one of these categories simply because it portrays women who do. No doubt there are real women who fit these stereotypes reasonably well, women who value themselves largely in terms of their value to men. So a particular film, in portraying women who fit the stereotypes, may simply be presenting fictional characters who in fact are significantly like (some) real women. Presumably, then, the indictment must be an indictment, not of any particular film taken in isolation, but of "the Hollywood film" taken as a whole: the objection must be that since all (most? many?) movies present women only in terms of their value to men, the body of Hollywood films taken as a whole implies that this is women's only value. But this would be a difficult claim to defend, as Devereaux herself recognizes. Although she writes at one point that "any alternative point of view, one which might tell a different tale or tell the same tale differently, was effectively excluded," by the next paragraph she is acknowledging that "not all films perpetuate patriarchy. . . . The strong-headed heroines typically played by Katharine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall and Bette Davis do not conform to this stereotype, nor do films such as Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday."

What we are left with is the claim that many or most Hollywood films, though not all, present their female characters from a masculine perspective according to which their chief, perhaps only, value is their value to men. This will permit us to say neither that any particular film endorses the view that all (real) women are valuable only insofar as they are valuable to men, nor that "the Hollywood film" as a whole endorses this view. This is not to say that frequent stereotyping is innocent or innocuous. (A very plausible account of what precisely is wrong with it has been offered by Noël Carroll.[26]) But the problems with stereotyping do not have to do with what films say, or film in general says, about women.

If the content of a fictional artwork says nothing about the real world, as the autonomy principle claims, however, then an even stronger conclusion is possible: not only is it doubtful on empirical grounds that "the Hollywood film" asserts or implies that women's only value is their value to men: no (fictional) film or set of films could assert or imply this. Characters in the film may assert, or reveal by their actions that they believe, that women are valuable only insofar as they are valuable to men, but that is not the same thing as the film itself endorsing this view. And, according to the defender of autonomy, this is what the film cannot do; all it can do is to present an imaginary world, and let viewers connect this imaginary world to the real one in any way they like.

The insulation of fictional content from claims about the real world also bears on other criticisms Devereaux offers. Citing the work of Mary Ann Doane, Devereaux writes that, "at a more complex level, the Hollywood film functions as a ‘recuperative strategy' designed to return the wayward woman to the fold." She goes on to say that in such films, "the message is that for a woman, unlike for a man, the satisfactions of solitude, work, or adventure cannot compare to those of caring for husband and children." But if films are insulated from the real world in the way the autonomy principle suggests, then they cannot carry "messages" about the real world. Again, Devereaux suggests that Hollywood films degrade women by portraying them "only as objects of aesthetic contemplation." This complaint too seems to presuppose that such films make general assertions about actual women. Portraying fictional characters as only objects of aesthetic contemplation may be degrading to the fictional characters, but cannot be degrading to actual women unless portraying fictional characters in this way expresses something about actual women rather than about fictional women -- and this is precisely what the second autonomy principle says cannot happen.

Some feminist discussions of pornography also take the view that fictional material may nevertheless make assertions about real people. Helen Longino, in fact, defines pornography in a way which presumes this:

Pornography . . . is verbal or pictorial material which represents or describes sexual behavior that is degrading or abusive to one or more of the participants in such a way as to endorse the degradation. . . . Pornography communicates its endorsement of the behavior it represents by various features of the pornographic context: the degradation of the female characters is represented as providing pleasure to the participant males and, even worse, to the participant females, and there is no suggestion that this sort of treatment of others is inappropriate to their status as human beings.[27]
Many other writers make similar claims, usually without doing as much as Longino to explain on what basis pornography is said to communicate an endorsement. Susan Brownmiller: "Pornography is the undiluted essence of anti-female propaganda."[28] Ann Garry: "Some pornographic films convey the message that all women really want to be raped, that their resisting struggle is not to be believed."[29] And we remember Dworkin's reference, quoted earlier, to "the orders implicit in the pictures."

All these claims are, I think, deeply problematic. Let us distinguish between two slightly different kinds of things pornography is supposed to assert. First, it is claimed to assert falsehoods about women, for example that all women want to be raped, or that women exist only for the satisfaction of men. Second, it is claimed to assert pernicious value judgments: that rape is a good thing, that women ought to be bound and tortured, and so on.[30] I claim that pornography does, and can do, neither of these things. Consider as an analogy the case of action films -- the sort of films that star Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean-Claude Van Damme or Sylvester Stallone. In these films, people often move their limbs through the air so fast they make a whistling sound, and blows to the face or body typically make a loud thwacking noise. Do the movies therefore represent the real world as working this way? Hardly! At most, they depict a world in which hitting someone in the face makes a thwacking noise, but they cannot assert that the world they depict is the actual world, or is like the actual world in this particular way.[31] The same point applies to moral features of the fictional world as well as to factual ones. In the world of action heroes, it may be an appropriate response to a perceived insult to punch the offending person in the face. I for one am quite prepared to cheer when a Schwarzenegger character punches an offensive boor for making an inappropriate remark. But although I accept this as appropriate behavior in the fictional world of certain films, I would be horrified if someone acted that way in the real world.[32] As I experience and interpret action films, the moral values presupposed in the fictional world are just further elements of the fiction; they may correspond to real values, but they need not. I believe this to be a common experience. And unless this common experience is missing something rather important, a film's acceptance of a particular set of values does not represent an implicit claim to the truth of the values it accepts. I would argue that, similarly, a pornographic film's depiction of a world in which it is a good thing to rape women does not constitute an assertion that in the actual world it is a good thing to rape women. Indeed, if the autonomy principle is correct, as I believe it to be, a film could not make this assertion, or any other.

Even films which may appear to be commentaries on the relation between fiction and reality cannot really be said to represent the real world. Consider The Last Action Hero, a Schwarzenegger movie in which an action hero is transported from his fictional world into the "real" world, and is surprised by the differences between the two. In such a film, what we really have is a commentary on the relation between two fictional worlds, one of them a fiction "inside" the other. The relation between the fictional fiction and the fictional reality is, to be sure, analogous to the relation between fictional reality and real reality. But there is no way for a fiction to specify the respects in which it is like the real world and the respects in which it is not, and so there is no way for a fiction to assert anything about reality.

The second autonomy doctrine, although I believe it to be correct, is bound to sound rather hollow in some contexts. Let me offer one example among many. In the movie "I Posed for Playboy," several women decide to pose for Playboy magazine.[33] One of these women is the editor of the Yale student newspaper, a woman who has recently written an editorial protesting the presence of Playboy photographers on campus and urging students not to be photographed. She comes to realize that posing for the magazine can be a valuable affirmation of her independence and her femininity; in a monologue addressed directly to the audience, with the camera in a tight close-up on her face, she explains the reasons for her choice to pose and her satisfaction with that decision. It seems clear that the audience is supposed to find her reasons convincing. Moreover, it also seems clear that, in finding her reasons convincing, the audience is also supposed to recognize the potential value to real women of really posing for the real magazine. The movie, in short, seems to be more than a mere portrayal of a fictional world: it seems to make value judgments about the real world, and in fact to be a bit of propaganda for Playboy magazine.

Wayne C. Booth expresses a similar sense of the hollowness of appealing to the autonomy principle in his discussion of John Donne's "Song," which includes these lines: "Ride ten thousand daies and nights,/Till age snow white haires on thee,/Thou, when thou retorn'st, wilt tell mee/All strange wonders that befell thee,/And sweare/No where/Lives a woman true, and faire." Booth describes discussing the poem with "a large group of English teachers," and finding some of the women present defending something very like the autonomy principle we have been discussing:

Some of those who thought of themselves as professional critics scoffed at the very idea of worrying about "message." Why should we let annoyance at the male poet's direct assertion that women are inherently false and fickle interfere with our aesthetic responses? One said, "I can enter imaginatively into the world of the poem just as well as any man. Besides, Donne is not speaking in his own person -- he is creating a persona." Uh huh. Perhaps. Nobody could ever disprove the claim. But meanwhile we do know one thing for sure: many male readers, including at least one young male English teacher (myself years ago), have found in the poem a delightful reinforcement, from "high culture," of our "natural" sense of male superiority. Can we really claim that such a fact is irrelevant to critical talk about the poem's true worth "as poetry"?[34]

It can seem obvious that fictions do not say anything about the real world. Indeed, a number of accounts of the nature of fiction define fiction in terms of this sort of independence from reality.[35] On the other hand, it can seem equally obvious that the author of a fiction may, in creating the fiction, be asserting all sorts of things about the real world. As Kendall Walton notes:

There is no reason why, in appropriate circumstances, one should not be able to make an assertion by writing fiction. Indeed there is a long tradition of doing just that. There is what we call didactic fiction -- fiction used for instruction, advertising, propaganda, and so on. There is the not uncommon practice, even in ordinary conversation, of making a point by telling a story, of speaking in parables.[36]

Is there any way to reconcile these obvious, but apparently conflicting, views? Is there any way to account for our feeling that fictions can reinforce disagreeable values, or false beliefs, without abandoning the autonomy principle? I think that there is. What I would like to appeal to is a distinction analogous to the linguistic distinction between semantics and pragmatics.[37] We need to distinguish between the content of a film or other fiction, on the one hand, and the information it may be used pragmatically to express, on the other. To borrow Nathan Salmon's terminology, we need to employ a distinction analogous to that between semantically encoded information and pragmatically imparted information.[38]

Consider some straightforward examples to get a sense for this distinction. If I say, to someone who has telephoned me, "Well, I don't want to run your phone bill up," my words do not have the semantic content "I would like to stop talking now," but they may pragmatically impart that information. If I say "Good question!" to a student in class, I have not said that I don't know the answer, but I may have pragmatically imparted the information that I do not. If, in response to the question, "Don't you think he's smart?" I respond, "He works very hard," my words do not mean that he isn't all that smart, but in all likelihood I do, by uttering them, impart the information that I don't believe he is smart.

Many literary devices rely on the distinction between pragmatics and semantics for their success. Consider, for example, Jonathan Swift's essay "A Modest Proposal." This essay is a textbook example of irony. But irony is a pragmatic, not a semantic, phenomenon.[39] Semantically, the piece expresses the view that eating children is an appropriate response to famine. But the view pragmatically imparted by the piece is quite the opposite. Again, metaphor is best understood pragmatically rather than semantically.[40] "Richard is a lion" semantically expresses only the proposition that Richard is a lion -- an obvious falsehood. But this sentence may be used to pragmatically impart the proposition that, for example, Richard is brave.

The crucial distinction between semantic and pragmatic phenomena is that the semantic content of an expression is determined by general linguistic conventions about the meaning of expressions, while what is pragmatically imparted by a given utterance depends upon features of the context of the utterance. The semantic content of the same expression will remain the same from one use to the next, but its pragmatic content will vary with the context of the particular use. Thus the movie Reefer Madness presents a fictional world in which a few puffs of marijuana suffice to induce instant addiction and all sorts of bizarre behavior. It was originally used to pragmatically impart the idea that marijuana is a deeply dangerous drug which should be scrupulously avoided. By the time I was a college student, screenings of the movie were often used instead to pragmatically impart the idea that anti-drug propaganda is often factually inaccurate and absurdly overstated.[41] The fictional world of the movie remains the same from screening to screening, but the relations between that fictional world and the real world which are pragmatically suggested may vary widely from one context to another.

The implication of this view for our evaluation of pornography is this. We cannot indict a work for its degrading or defamatory treatment of women. But we can indict an artist, or a producer or curator or anyone else for using a work to pragmatically impart a message which is defamatory or endorses degradation. This is, I think, a result feminists ought to applaud; it has the consequence that one may criticize a pornographer for using pornography to propagate falsehoods about women, while not criticizing a feminist who shows all or part of the pornographer's work in a critical context. Fictional works are not intrinsically truthful or untruthful any more than technological innovations are intrinsically good or bad: everything hinges on how they are used.

V. Conclusion

Devereaux suggests in her penultimate section that feminist aesthetics radically challenges a number of features of traditional aesthetics, and thus constitutes "a new paradigm" in aesthetics. My own suspicion is that Devereaux overstates the incompatibility of traditional and feminist aesthetics.

One of the challenges Devereaux notes is that "feminist theorists ask us to replace the conception of the artwork as an autonomous object . . . with a messier conception of art." My essay has largely been an attempt to take Devereaux's advice to "ponder how far the old model of aesthetics and the new are commensurable." I have tried to explore the extent to which two versions of the doctrine that aesthetics is autonomous protect art from feminist criticism. A diehard traditionalist might argue that these autonomy doctrines show that feminist aesthetics is simply not aesthetics at all; rather, it is "merely" social and political philosophy, or sociology, or art criticism. On the other hand, some feminists will insist that the autonomy doctrines are simply false; traditional aesthetics, which is committed to these doctrines, is moribund and needs to be replaced with feminist aesthetics. I hope to have shown one way to avoid both extremes, at least with respect to these two specific doctrines. The autonomy principles are correct, I have suggested, so at least two of the challenged doctrines of traditional aesthetics survive criticism. But the autonomy principles do not do as much as one might have thought to protect art from feminist criticism. The survival of traditional aesthetics may yet leave room for feminist aesthetics.[42]





1Mary Devereaux, "Oppressive Texts, Resisting Readers and the Gendered Spectator: The 'New' Aesthetics," reprinted in this volume.

2This attribution could be a little misleading, since Nochlin (a) is not talking about the overthrow of quite these assumptions; (b) does not mention Kuhn; and in fact (c) doesn't even explicitly mention paradigm shifts. But she does say that "the so-called woman question . . . can become a catalyst, an intellectual instrument, probing basic and 'natural' assumptions, providing a paradigm for other kinds of internal questioning, and in turn providing links with paradigms established by radical approaches in other fields" (Linda Nochlin, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" in Nochlin, Women, Art, and Power and Other Essays (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), p. 147).

3The doctrine of aesthetic autonomy seems to have its origins in the eighteenth century, especially in the work of Kant; it is closely related to the nineteenth-century notion of "art for art's sake;" and versions of it have played a role in the twentieth century in the "New Criticism" and, more recently, in post-structuralist criticism. For the early history of the notion, see the interesting Chapter 22, "Art for Art's Sake," of William K. Wimsatt and Cleanth Brooks, Literary Criticism: A Short History (New York: Random House, 1957).

4Harold Osborne, Aesthetics and Art Theory: An Historical Introduction (New York: Dutton, 1970), pp. 262-263.

5Devereaux's brief discussion of this topic in "Oppressive Texts" is much amplified and developed in her helpful article "The Philosophical and Political Implications of the Feminist Critique of Aesthetic Autonomy," in Glynis Carr, ed., "Turning the Century": Feminist Theory in the 1990s (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1992). The specific doctrines I will describe as "autonomy principles," however, are different from any Devereaux discusses.

6Benvenuto Cellini, Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, trans. John Addington Symonds (New York: Modern Library, n.d.), p. 334.

7Much of Cellini's autobiography seems incredible to the contemporary reader. But John Pope-Hennessy, observing that the book's credibility is often questioned, indicates his own belief that "almost every direct statement in the Life (direct as distinct from reported statement) is correct." John Pope-Hennessy, Cellini (New York: Abbeville Press, 1985), p. 13.

8Of course, the knowledge thereby gleaned might be indirectly relevant to the aesthetic properties of artworks; for instance, once we learned from whatever source about sports and the way they were practiced, such knowledge might enable us to characterize particular sculptures as realistic or idealized.

9I use the terms "artistic value" and "aesthetic value," and the terms "artistic property" and "aesthetic property," interchangeably. The term "aesthetic" in these contexts has the virtue of greater familiarity, but runs the risk of misleading, since historically and etymologically "aesthetic" properties have been understood to be restricted to properties of a work's appearance. The terms "artistic value" and "artistic property," though they sound a bit unnatural, have the virtue of suggesting precisely the notions I have in mind: "artistic value" is the value of a work as art; an "artistic property" is a property relevant to a work's status as a work of art.

10This has of course been denied, notably by Clive Bell: "If a representative form has value, it is as form, not as representation. The representative element in a work of art may or may not be harmful; always it is irrelevant." Bell, Art (New York: Capricorn Books, 1958), p. 27. On Bell's view, aesthetic value is independent not only of history, but also of representational content. But for rhetorical purposes, I need not defend my view that content is relevant, since I am defending a less extreme autonomy principle against those who would reject the autonomy of aesthetics altogether.

11Pope-Hennessy, p. 137.

12It is also not clear to me precisely what sort of effect on the content of a work its history must have in order to be relevant to its artistic worth. For instance, suppose that Cellini had mistreated Caterina deliberately in order to produce a certain kind of expression which he could then sculpt, as the photographer Karsh is reported to have stolen Churchill's cigar just before photographing him to produce the precise look of outrage he wanted for the portrait. Would this affect the artistic value of the Nymph? If so, how?

13The classic source is of course William K. Wimsatt and Monroe C. Beardsley, "The Intentional Fallacy," in Wimsatt, The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1954).

14See Roland Barthes, "The Death of the Author," in Barthes, Image-Music-Text, trans. Stephen Heath (London: Fontana, 1977), pp. 142-148. In the context of film criticism, see the discussion in Chapter 4, "Authorship," of Robert Lapsley and Michael Westlake, Film Theory: An Introduction (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988).

15I don't mean to be dogmatic about this. There may be further kinds of facts which are relevant. For example, the originality of a work may be germane to its value; originality clearly isn't a matter of appearance, and perhaps is also not a feature of the work's content. Similarly, in the performing arts, difficulty of execution may be an aesthetically relevant quality which does not affect the appearance or content of a work. The crucial thing is that there must be a distinction between relevant and irrelevant facts; my suspicion is that, whatever the right account of the distinction turns out to be, it will classify Caterina's oppression on the "irrelevant" side.

16One might insist that pornography is not art. Perhaps some of it is not. But I don't see how one could describe, say, a typical Hollywood movie as art and still insist that the better productions of the pornographers are not. At any rate, precisely the same points I will be making about pornographic films could be made about nonpornographic films. For example, it may be that the fictional mistreatment of the Peruvian Indians who pushed a steamboat over a mountain in Werner Herzog's movie Fitzcarraldo was produced in part by filming real mistreatment. (See e.g. "Art of Darkness," The Progressive 46 (August 1982): 20-21; George Dolis and Ingrid Weiland, "The Floating Opera," Film Comment 18 (September-October 1982): 56-59.)

17It may be that radical feminist critics overestimate the proportion of pornography of which this is true. For some relevant data, see Ronald J. Berger, Patricia Searles, and Charles E. Cottle, Feminism and Pornography (New York: Praeger, 1991), pp. 95-96.

18Catherine MacKinnon, "Sexuality, Pornography, and Method," Ethics 99 (1989): 314-46, at 342.

19Andrea Dworkin, Pornography: Men Possessing Women (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1989), pp. xxxvii-xxxviii.

20Quoted in Dworkin, Pornography, p. xvi.

21Wimsatt and Brooks, p. 476.

22I suspect that this fact is not of much interest to Dworkin -- nor is there any reason it should be. For Dworkin does not take herself to be doing aesthetics; she is interested in moral and political issues rather than artistic ones. Regardless of one's view about whether the artistic content of a film includes facts about the real people and events filmed, a film which records real abuse will constitute evidence of that abuse in the way that footprints or tire tracks constitute evidence of the presence of people or automobiles.

23I take a literary work as my example here because it is difficult to formulate the point in a general enough way to be neutral as between literary fiction, cinematic fiction, painted fiction, and so on.

24Judith Jarvis Thomson, "A Defense of Abortion," Philosophy and Public Affairs 1 (1971), reprinted in Marshall Cohen, Thomas Nagel, and Thomas Scanlon, ed., The Rights and Wrongs of Abortion (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), pp. 3-22, at pp. 4-5.

25There may be special cases in which we have conventions dictating that certain portions of a predominantly fictional work are to be taken to be factual. Easy cases are prefaces and postscripts to literary works; consider e.g. Henry James's long introductions to the New York edition of his novels. This is an easy case because the introductions are outside the fiction proper; the initial "It is fictional that . . ." operator does not take effect until after the introduction. A little more difficult is a case like Eliot's footnotes to "The Waste Land," but again we may take the notes as simply external to the work itself. A very puzzling case is Henry Fielding's essays in Tom Jones. Perhaps we are to take them as nonfiction intermingled with the fiction. But it is very hard to be certain; for all we can glean from the work itself, they may be intended to be taken as the product of a fictional narrator, and so to be just more fiction. The only case I can think of in which clearly nonfictional bits occur within a predominantly fictional work is the case of fables in which a little story ends with an explicitly stated "moral." But this is surely a very special case.

26Noël Carroll, "The Image of Women in Film: A Defense of a Paradigm," The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 48 (1990): 349-360.

27Helen E. Longino, "Pornography, Oppression, and Freedom: A Closer Look," in Laura Lederer, ed., Take Back the Night (New York: Morrow, 1980), reprinted in Marilyn Pearsall, ed., Women and Values: Readings in Recent Feminist Philosophy (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1986), pp. 167-76, at p. 169.

28Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975), p. 374, quoted in Ann Garry, "Pornography and Respect for Women," Social Theory and Practice 4 (1978): 395-421, reprinted in Jeffrey Olen and Vincent Barry, ed., Applying Ethics, Fourth Edition (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1992), pp. 127-35, at p. 128.

29Garry, "Pornography and Respect for Women," p. 128. Garry also writes that included among the most objectionable pornography are "movies which recommend that men rape women, molest children and puppies, and treat nonmasochists very sadistically" (p. 131).

30This is virtually the same distinction drawn by Alan Soble between the criticism of pornography that it defames women and the criticism that it endorses the degradation of women. Soble offers some valuable arguments against both of these criticisms -- without, however, going quite as far as I would: Soble stresses that "I have not claimed that depictions . . . never implicitly or explicitly endorse." Alan Soble, "Pornography: Defamation and the Endorsement of Degradation," Social Theory and Practice 11 (1985):61-87, at 79.

31Alex Neill has suggested to me that the thwacking noises are not even part of the fictional world, but function rather like the lines trailing behind an object in a cartoon which indicate that the object is moving quickly. The suggestion is that the thwacking noises, like the cartoon lines, are part of the representation, but not part of the fictional world represented. I would be surprised to discover, however, that this is a common way of "reading" action films.

32In fact, I was horrified when I read that Texas Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez had in fact responded to a perceived insult in a restaurant near my University by punching the offender off his seat at the counter. I might add that I am puzzled by Thomas Nagel's remark that there's something peculiarly appropriate about a punch to the nose as a response to insult -- footnote 6 of "War and Massacre," in Nagel's book Mortal Questions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), p. 66.

33I saw parts of this movie on network television. In what I would be surprised to learn was a coincidence, the movie played at the same time another channel was showing a Miss Texas pageant.

34Wayne C. Booth, The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), p. 393.

35See especially Monroe C. Beardsley's account in Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism (Indianapolis: Hackett, [1958]1981), pp. 419-423. See also Beardsley's updating of his view in his 1980 Postscript to this book, at pp. xliv-xlviii.

36Kendall Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), p. 78.

37The distinction we need is only analogous to the semantics/pragmatics distinction, since many fictions are presented largely in media which lack precise semantic rules. Paintings and movies may be fictional, but there isn't literally a semantics of painting or cinema. Nevertheless, there are general conventions which enable us to extract from a painting or a movie a description of a fictional scene or world, and there is a genuine distinction between these general conventions and the context-dependent ways in which such a painting or movie may be used to impart propositions which are not a part of its content.

38Nathan Salmon, Frege's Puzzle (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986).

39See H. P. Grice's brief discussion of irony in "Logic and Conversation," reprinted in Steven Davis, ed., Pragmatics: A Reader (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 305-315, at p. 312; and Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson, "Irony and the Use-Mention Distinction," in Davis, ed., Pragmatics, pp. 550-563.

40There are by now a number of detailed accounts of metaphor which take it to be a pragmatic phenomenon. Two early and very influential pieces in this vein are Donald Davidson, "What Metaphors Mean," in Sheldon Sacks, ed., On Metaphor (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp. 29-46, and John R. Searle, "Metaphor," in Andrew Ortony, ed., Metaphor and Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), pp. 92-123. Both essays are reprinted in Davis, ed., Pragmatics, along with relevant essays by Merrie Bergman and A. P. Martinich.

41Soble, in "Pornography: Defamation and the Endorsement of Degradation," cited above, also discusses Reefer Madness (79). He uses the example to support the claim that "whether an item of pornography implicitly endorses degradation is partially a function of the nature of the audience" (80). I would want to suggest instead that pornography itself never endorses anything, but that it can be used to pragmatically impart an endorsement. This view avoids the awkwardness of Soble's apparent view that content depends on features of the audience.

42I am indebted to Alex Neill for detailed and very helpful comments.

Curtis Brown
last update: January 10, 2002