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Pornotopia is a term coined by the critic Steven Marcus to describe the idealised, imaginative space of pornography,[1] and used more broadly to describe a fantasy state dominated by universal sexual activity.[2]

Daniel Bell saw the hedonistic promotion of pornotopia in late capitalism as paradoxically undercutting the very virtues of bourgeois sobriety upon which capitalism was originally built.[3]


Pornotopia is characterized by its freedom from the normal social restraints of place and time - as Marcus put it, "It is always summertime in pornotopia".[4] External reality is either split off entirely, or its problems dissolved under a tide of sex.[5]

Narrative flow will hang on a tenuous line[6] - a picaresque adventure allowing for multiple encounters,[7] or perhaps a Sadean multiplication of all possible combinations of persons/orifices.

Beginnings will be sketchy, but, as Marcus argues, "it is an end, a conclusion of any kind, that pornography most resists":[8] one reason Susan Sontag singled out the novel The Image as transcending its genre, was precisely its finely structured conclusion, retrospectively illuminating all that had gone before.[9]


Characters in Pornotopia are typically ithyphallic, ever ready for sex, and with an almost omnipotent capacity for renewal and further action.[10]

They are also largely invulnerable. Thus in the Story of O, just as the chains never rust in her fairytale-style château,[11] so too the inhabitants are never damaged by their ordeals, and never lose an iota of their allure in a triumph of the imaginary over the reality principle.[12]


  • Marcus's concept of Pornotopia has been criticised for basing itself too exclusively upon a brief period of experience drawn solely from Victorian Britain.[13]
  • 21stC online-Pornotopia has been described[who?] as an arena of homosocial solace for lad culture, at the phantasised expense of their female counterparts.[14] Certainly Pornotopia to feminist eyes can appear as a place where no woman would like to live;[15] but perhaps that is to underestimate what sex-positive feminism has revealed about comparable female fantasies of omnipotent control and unlimited gratification.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Steven Marcus, The Other Victorians (1971) p. 272-6
  2. ^ "Definition of "pornotopia"". Retrieved 2 January 2016. 
  3. ^ Daniel Bell, The Winding Passage (1991) p. 302
  4. ^ Steven Marcus, The Other Victorians (1971) p. 276
  5. ^ Linda Williams, Hard Core (1989) p. 239 and p. 170
  6. ^ T. Lovell/J. Hawthorne, Criticism and Critical Theory (1984)
  7. ^ Edwin Morgan, 'Introduction' Alexander Trocchi, Helen and Desire (1997) p. vii
  8. ^ Steven Marcus, The Other Victorians (1971) p. 282
  9. ^ Susan Sontag, 'The Pornographic Imagination', in George Battaile, Story of the Eye (2001) p. 84-6 and p. 109-10
  10. ^ Steven Marcus, The Other Victorians (1971) p. 275-6
  11. ^ Jean Paulhan, 'Essay', in Pauline Réage, Story of O (1975) p. 163
  12. ^ Jacques Lacan, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (1992) p. 202
  13. ^ Harrison, Brian. "Underneath the Victorians". Victorian Studies, Vol. 10, No. 3 (March 1967), pp. 239-262.
  14. ^ "The New York Times article". Retrieved 2 January 2016. 
  15. ^ E. Baruch, Women, Love and Power (2012) p. 199
  16. ^ Nancy Friday, Women on Top (1991) p. 105 and p. 292

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]