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Issue 10 - A Journal of Letters and Life
Critiques & Reviews
Suzann Kole PhD File

Editor's Preface: Art, Porn, and the Fuzz, or Thank Heaven for Little Girls, Really?

The file you are about to peruse is slick with the sweat of ambiguity. What is it about? Dr. Suzann Kole, an articulate mom, took some nude photos of her eight year-old daughter on the beach. She became news when a dirty-minded Wal-Mart employee snooping about the store's digital copy machine asked to see the copies. She accused Dr. Kole of "running pornography through public machines." The store manager and the police were called. There were news stories. This case is on a continuum with a number of notorious instances of censorship, including some involving art exhibitions. That paranoid continuum is the symptom of a peculiar American sickness arising from the clash between unleashed pornography of advertising and the hypocrisy of official discourses on morality, whether they be from the Helms Right or from the PC Left.
     But if the Dr. Kole file were just another example of that sort, we wouldn't have bothered. However, there are other issues. In asking the Corpse to present her case and her articulation of it, Dr. Kole also sent along the controversial pictures. Had we still been a print magazine, we could have surrounded the images with text in such a way as to make it clear that this was a case of art-expression, protected by the courts. But since this is the Web, we have a problem. Anything that can be remotely classified as child pornography is illegal. If we publish these pics, the FBI can come to the office and arrest us. But it wasn't just fear of the FBI that gave us pause. What gave us pause were the pictures themselves. In at least one of our minds, the pictures were not all that innocent. None of us (as far as I know) has any pseudo-lusts, but we have no polygraph to measure these things. Most of the pictures were just cute in an old-fashioned sort of way, but three of them gave me an odd sort of feeling, of the kind Lewis Carroll must have experienced all the time. One of these pictured our incipiently curvaceous but all-girl heroine from the side, with an arm raised dreamily over her head. Her barely there pubic proto-pillow is lightly tensed below the long curve dipping from her belly-button. She is standing in the shallow surf with the white foam of a gently-breaking wave in the background. In the second picture, the same wave breaks in the background, but the foreground is wholly busy with her smooth ass, which could belong to a very young woman. The child's pose suggests something unsettlingly mature. In the third picture, she poses with her legs wide apart in a sunset-drenched golden sea below a stormy sky. She smiles seductively at what appears to be the knowledge that the center of her gravity is in the clearly delineated place between her legs. None of the other images were nearly as ambiguous as the ones I have just described. We have therefore decided to publish the ones we have found innocuous, in hope that the phantomatic perverts haunting the Web will be unmotivated to detach them for their private ceremonies. Plus, the FBI can't bust us.
     In so doing, however, we feel somewhat abashed. In the first place, we believe in freedom on the Web, despite personal queasiness about pedophilia. Secondly, we think that this country's schizophrenic hypocrisy on sexual matters should be flayed open and revealed for what it is: sickness. Thirdly, the Corpse never shied away from a scandal.
     And there is one more thing: the highly articulate language of Dr. Kole, mom and PhD. Beyond the understandable indignation of a citizen who had her rights trampled, lies the horizon of a mystical paganism that animates her world. A frolicky nude universe clashes with the bayonets of paranoia. We have long been partisans of frolic in its simpler older forms, but we are now forced to acknowledge some ambiguity. On the other hand, what nobler goal hath art than to "run pornography through public machines"?

     -Andrei Codrescu

Letter #1

March 23, 01

Dear Andrei,

Since meeting you this summer at the Pacifica "Thresholds" conference, I've thought to submit something to the Corpse. I've always been drawn to the journal, and then, after speaking with you, and listening to the way you "excite" in the interstices of existence (ahhh...a good clan), I longed more than ever to have time to contribute to the textual conversational you've kept animated--now, electronically.
     Hence, I am posting along a tripartite submission. The body of the submission is a longer poem on, "Pondering Censorship." However, to contextualize: The first part is an actual news clipping of an event which catalyzed the poem. The second part 2 consists of three photos which are integral to the "events" of the news clipping, and the third part is the poem. I, of course, have changed all names in the news clipping.
     I have posted only a small sampling of photos to correspond with the poem, as my experiences regarding their content have caused me to feel increasingly vulnerable in terms of freedom-of-aesthetic in the public realm. But then, this is a deeply emotional, disturbing, frightening, and complex subject for many, these days. Subsequently, I'd like to request your wisdom re: discretion in regard to the exposure of these images -- esp. in terms of them being on the WEB, as there are already enough spiritual incarcerations one must contend with each day in this era!
    BTW, in re-listening to a tape of the talk you gave at Pacifica re: life in quotations, I have been lingering over the mythos of interiority and exteriority. It's a terrific topic: to be "between covers"; enclosed by a certain necessary materiality.
     Though we allow ourselves to toy with notions of surficiality, the concept of interficiality ("latent switchers"?) remains taboo. It ruptures the popular and tacit game of dominance and submission that we emblematically textualize through kinky grammatical devices such as troping-quotation marks and ellipses (parentheticals, perhaps, the most eschewed in this culture because of their blatant and misconstrued humility)!

     Best Wishes,

     Suzann Kole.

Letter #2

April 6, 2000


Enclosed is a small sampling of photos that were confiscated during the time that the News, above, appeared in the paper. My daughter had just turned eight. I have taken many photos of my daughter playing on the beach --mostly public beaches -- over the years. My increasing vulnerability in light of the general American attitude regarding nudity and children has caused me to develop a "presentational discernment" that grievously pays more homage to my survival instinct in regard to social prohibitions, than to the aesthetic acumen to which I am ever-aspiring.
     However, since the images in the photos, are, in fact, the prima materia in regard to the catalyst for my enclosed essay-poem, I felt impelled to post along at least this sampling as a contextual companion.
     Regarding the images and my safety, I ask that that you please offer wisdom as an "aesthetic emissary" within a savage public. Should you print any of these images, I hope that you will use discernment as an educated voice which interfaces regularly on the unpredictable and boundless WEB. Thank you for this guidance and sensitivity.

Just as a matter of interest: when I went to copy these photos (and several others) this weekend at a "do-it-yourself" digital photocopy machine in Wal-Mart (in New Hampshire), I was shocked when one of the women manning the photo lab insisted on "reviewing" my copies. Though my gut response was "danger," her anxious insistence compelled me to hand her my envelope of copies. She immediately insisted that I had been "running pornography through public machines," and told me that the photos needed to be destroyed (by her), at once. The manager of the store and police, were immediately called.
     Having been through a similar situation previously, I thought I had sufficiently protected myself by using a public machine to make the seemingly benign prints. However, since I was again vulnerable to unstated moral codes regarding yet another supposedly "public" arena, I was quick on my feet this time, and snatched the photos from her grasp. She did manage to secure one sheet which I tugged at for a moment, but ended up leaving behind in order to avoid police and hometown gossip. I left the store quickly with my daughter holding my hand, and the sheets of prints wrapped in the sleeve of my coat.
     I, again, am shaken by this event that indicates a crime on my part for having "contaminated" public property with what is seen as perversion. As you will note in review of the prints, it is nearly inconceivable that these images would be considered pornographic, and yet, now, in two instances, they have been apprehended and labeled as such.


     Suzann Kole.

PONDERING CENSORSHIP: A Story of Innocence and Unveiling

Censorship takes many forms...
Even now. the light dims to accommodate rituals of season.
The brindled tones soften on the branches;
leaves shiver in golden robes.
A northerly gale inhibits the noise of neighborhood children who...
take cover in warmer tombs.
censored by predictions of fronts...
and fair-weather friends.

Even the tips of the oak--still and contemplative--
burnish into a blur of magenta
under the persevering veil of evening.
Visual and auditory censors; note:
nature mutes life with audacious regularity:
the night rains beat relentless rhythms
atop the usual creaks and mumbles of aching wood.
We are captive in the rush of sudden torrents...
and a timely exhibitionism of seasonal change...
mandated to mutation.

Censorship implicates us in myriad instances of banal measure; consider:
We are defenseless within its unyielding clench and predictable damnation; victim within
its vexing moods... and familiar cycles. Ironically ...
we depend on the integrity of change with which nature censors:
Consider: the ostentation of summer fragrance evaporating
in the first frost; or...
the excitation of serenity, momentarily seared
on a winter afternoon...
in an avalanche of destruction.

Warning: it is the erratic moments of human interpolation:
that peculiar decline in organic censoring--
which relegates the natural act of molting
to a realm of "policing"; a redefining
of that necessary "denuding"...
into terms made unnatural and ravishing;
robbing plausibility
from a grander lament, the bias of human judgement
weakens organic movement; imposing
limits on an illiteracy of intent.

* * *

Flash! A cop slices through the afternoon heat in a roar of confusion, severing me from a necessary reverie:
"Your photographs are in the crime unit--confiscated--and we have reason to believe foul play." The headlines read: "Vacationing Family Takes Nude Photos on Public Beach ... while Child Plays... in Waves."

My daughter is eight. The waves
were peaked and straining in the July heat.
We were flush with the immediacy and chill
that only the limpid gaze of the sea can induce.
Everywhere: shrieks of joy--the gulls,
gathering around the fecund leavings
of late afternoon luncheons in the sand.
Even the shadows relaxed...
in elongated silhouettes of pyrite... and puce.

My daughter--dancing in the groaning of ocean ecstasy--throws off her new black bathing suit--the one with the "big girl" netting between the halves.
She is reviving in the shallow quench of the fiord
which cleaves the beach.
Curls of salt and clear water co-mingle in a subtext of rivulets
which pulse--back and forth--across her polished feet. She pees,
and the water teases her
with its feathered shimmies of foamy "pinking."
"This is a magic beach," she announces. And
the periwinkles, sand dollars and egrets which inhabit it
are charmed by a resident mermaid....

My daughter,
eight, naked in the estuary and floating sand,
attracts sun and radiates with a competitive roar
which ricochets against the constrained edges of audible atmosphere.
She is lanky and blonde--
tall for her age, they say,
with a pronounced sophistication. Mostly,
though, she is blonde, she is thin...and playing: naked.
An unabashed embodiment of a culture's three most sought-after features, She is thus,
inherently obscene...
in her natural ease...
of emblematic beauty. Her expression--
her uninhibited boast of joy--
must be censored; consider:
she is blonde, thin, young...and playing.

* * *

Later, there are repercussions--badges and uniformity prevailing throughout the precinct
of small-minded moral ordinances.
The gal in blue, shunts it all off to another; badgering her brother to make good on her judgement.
We wait--an endless futility--for arbitrators and interrogators to drop charges and suspicions ...
in their discarded drawers...as the parting elevates...
leaning toward charity and justice,
while my daughter's naked body rests still,
in prone 3 x 5s under the short arms of the law ...folding and unfurling in judgment and acquittal.

* * *

Another day, before parting, we excite final debuts
with waves and gale.
A rebellious thrust of heat and spray inspires a repeat movement
of dare and denuding...
but now, on an opposite dune from the original scene; note:
My daughter's proud body lays bear
the sinewy frustrations of an earlier joy
...now sounding in a renegade dance of power and reprisal.

To the softened sun, she blisters
into a thumping whirl of curiosity and catharsis. "I'm free."
She shouts in a repetition of ecstatic trills;
in memoriam of an earlier innocence of fiord and pee.
Now, however, the flash of restraint and control flickers;
the misted shore etched in a ghostly interruption of
sea birds and sand whips.
She dances... in whispers
close to an edge...of high tide and evening...
while the white mist descends;
an immutable censor.


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