Image (above) from Jerzy Skolimowski, Deep End (1970)

Online via iLearn
Dr. Robert C. Thomas
E-mail: theory at sfsu dot edu
Office: HUM 416, Office Hour: Wednesday: 1:50 PM – 2:50 PM In HUM 416, or via Zoom, via email, via iLearn forum, or by appointment.
Course Website:

This course meets the following requirements : Upper Division UD-C: Arts and/or Humanities, SF State Studies: Global Perspectives, GE Segment 3

Electronic Version of Course Syllabus in AdobePDF



This course is a critical study of the relations between eroticism and forms of human expression, including that form of expression we have come to name “pornography.” The historical formation of the concept of “pornography,” including its relation to modernism/modernity, will be foundational for this course. Equally foundational will be those works that seek to simultaneously challenge and re-conceptualize the concept of pornography (e.g. In the Realm of the Senses). We will consider important theoretical texts (Foucault, Bataille, Williams, Kendrick, Nash, Preciado), historically censored films, recent hard-core art films (Shortbus9 Songs), alt porn (Neu Wave Hookers), 1970’s narrative porn (Sex World), and narrative films that deal with issues pertaining to the social construction of sex (Deep End). We will read significant recent works from feminist (as well as black and trans theorists) in the field of porn studies: Paul Preciado’s Pornotopia: An Essay on Playboys Architecture and Biopolitics, Jennifer C. Nash’s The Black Body in Ecstacy: Reading Race, Reading Pornography, and Linda Williams’ Screening Sex, which will serve as an anchoring text for the class. In addition to our work on the concept of pornography, we will think pornography as a genre of film (i.e. a form of expression that makes use of cinematic conventions). Genre films (which are probably the majority of the films that you see) are those that feature scenes you have seen so many times before, in so many different ways, that you expect to see them again and again depending on the type or genre of film (western, zombie, porn, action, etc.). Genre films don’t just employ cinematic conventions, they also teach us about social conventions, and pornography is no exception (this is particularly true with regard to constructions of gender and sexuality). Students will gain foundations for critically thinking about obscenity, pornography, and sexuality, as well as the ability to think about and analyze “hard-core” films as a genre. This will enable us to look at the social conventions surrounding sexuality and gender expressed in these works. Students will learn to think critically about various aspects of pornography, censorship, obscenity, sexuality, desire, gender, feminism, gay and lesbian sexuality, sadomasochism, and other subjects in a cross-cultural and comparative framework. Throughout this course we will endeavor to think our relation to these subjects in the context of the historical present. Please be aware that my courses typically build over time. If you do not read the assigned readings, if you don’t take notes, if you are not otherwise engaged with what we are covering, you will likely do poorly in the class. While we are doing some really cool things in this course, this is still a challenging class. Please don’t take it if you have no interest in doing this work. Above all, we are not watching films to get people “off” but to analyze them critically. Many of the films we will watch in class will be graphic and sexually explicit, including “hard core” images of sexual acts. Some of the films we will watch have been previously banned and/or heavily censored. The social reaction against these films and the social taboos associated with them will form a part of our critical study. While we will all have strong reactions to some of these films—many of which may make students uncomfortable—we will endeavor to think critically, beyond the binary level of mere reaction, about this work. It is not just that some of these films shock us that is important to our study, but what that shock is meant to do (critically). In other words, how these forms of expression have the ability to make us think. The above disclaimers aside, everyone is welcome in this class. The online forums are a space where students are allowed to have a voice. It’s really important, especially with what is going on in the world, that we support each another and strive to be respectful of our differences, our contributions, and our points of view. From the primary course materials (written by women, women of color, trans men, and sexual minorities) to the work we will do in the online forums, this is an inclusive class.

A note on feminist porn studies

Feminist porn studies is a field of inquiry that began to emerge over the past several decades, informed by feminist and queer theory, moving beyond the simple binaries of anti-pornography feminism from the 1970’s and 80’s (which began to explicitly align itself with right-wing, neoconservative social and political institutions), to more neutrally consider the important historical, social, cultural, aesthetic and material aspects of “pornography,” particularly as these relate to gender, sexuality, race and class. While this course remains open to a wide variety of perspectives within the field, including the history of anti-pornography feminism, and while everyone remains welcome in this class, if you imagine that this course teaches feminism and pornography as incompatible, you are likely enrolled in the wrong course. The ways in which the scholarly study of pornography and feminism intersect is part of the journey that this course embarks on.

Prerequisites: ENG 114 or consent of instructor

REQUIRED TEXTS BOOKS (available at the SFSU bookstore)

  • Jennifer C. Nash – The Black Body in Ecstacy: Reading Race, Reading Pornography
  • Beatriz Preciado – Pornotopia: An Essay on Playboys Architecture and Biopolitics
  • Linda Williams – Screening Sex


Optional Essays

Optional Books

  • Georges Bataille, Story of the Eye (optional)


  • Handout on Critical Writing
  • Study Questions on 9 Songs
  • Study questions on Walter Kendrick
  • Study questions on Pornography: The Secret History of Civilization
  • Review Questions on Pornography: The Secret History of Civilization and The Secret Museum
  • Thinking About Andy Warhol’s Blow Job
  • Study Questions on The Black Body in Ecstasy
  • Study Questions on Sex World
  • Study Questions on Deep End
  • Study Questions on Belladonna of Sadness
  • “Psychedelic, Feminist, Anime, Revolutionary Porn: Some Brief Notes on Belladonna of Sadness
  • Study Questions on In the Realm of the Senses
  • Study Questions on Shortbus


  • Eon Mckai – Neu Wave Hookers (USA, 2006)
  • John Cameron Mitchell – Shortbus (USA, 2006)
  • Nagisa Oshima – In the Realm of the Senses (Ai No Corrida) (Japan, 1976)
  • Wakefield Poole – Bijou (1973)
  • Jerzy Skolimowski – Deep End (USA/Germany/Great Britain, 1970)
  • Anthony Spinelli – Sexworld (USA, 1977)
  • Kate Williams – Pornography: The Secret History of Civilization (USA, 1999) (selections)
  • Michael Winterbottom – 9 Songs (Great Britain, 2005)
  • Eiichi Yamamoto – Belladonna of Sadness (Japan, 1973)


  • Andy Warhol’s Blow Job
  • Pornography: The Secret History of CivilizationEpisode 4, “Twentieth Century Foxy(selection)

I encourage students to make use of additional resources made available to you in the course blog. (Please note that some of these resources refer to work done in previous semesters.) For additional research in the field, in addition to numerous books and publications, there is now a Journal of Porn Studies.