In this groundbreaking collection of essays, historians and literary theorists examine how, between 1500 and 1800, pornography emerged as a literary practice and a category of knowledge intimately linked to the formative moments of Western modernity and the democratization of culture. The first modern writers and engravers of pornography were part of the demimonde of heretics, freethinkers, and libertines who constituted the dark underside of the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution. From the start, early modern European pornography used the shock of sex to test the boundaries and regulation of obscene behavior and expression in the public and private sphere. As such, pornography criticized and even subverted political authorities as well as social and sexual relations.
“A fiercely intelligent and provocative collection that provides new insights into both the origins of modern pornography and the dynamics of cultural modernity.” —The New York Times
“These absorbing and beautifully researched essays, together with Lynn Hunt’s masterful introduction, give a new history to erotic writing and the representation of sexual action.” —Natalie Zemon Davis