Discussing historical turn ons
March 20, 2012
Historian Dorothee Kocks, author of "The Glass Harmonica: A Sensualist’s Tale," is primed and ready to talk about the sexual revolution of the ’60 the 1760s.
She will give a presentation about historic erotica at J GO Gallery’s Wonderbox, 408 Main St., on Saturday, March 24, from 5:30 p.m. until 7 p.m. Admission is free, and for mature audiences.
The presentation is connected with her new eBook, "Such Were My Temptations: Bawdy Americans 1760-1830," that will be released in April.
"It’s a trans-media eBook and what that means, it’s multi-media," Kocks said during an interview with The Park Record. "There is text, movies, pictures and music in the book, and another element of the trans-media part is people can interact with it."
Since the programs in the eBook are new and the technology is changing every day, Kocks, who earned a PhD in American Studies from Brown University, plans on trying out some of that interaction during her presentation.
"One of the reasons why I published the book is because we can have conversations about it within the text from Facebook and other places," she said. "So, we’re going to see how it works."
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The presentation will also feature a short film by filmmaker Peter Pilafian that is imbedded within the eBook and features actress Jennifer Waterhouse from Salt Lake.
"She recited a poem from 1763 called ‘The Happy Pair,’" Kocks said. "It’s about this married couple and the husband has his mistress and the wife has her gallant.
"Jennifer did a wonderful job bringing the ribald mood to life," she said. "We filmed it in a bed and breakfast and lit candles and it turned out really well. We’ll show it for the first time at J GO."
A discussion about historic erotica is something that fits well with art and literature, especially historic art, said Kocks, a former editor of the now-defunct Wasatch Magazine.
"I’m interested in history because I’m interested in the human condition," she explained. "I’m a historian and a novelist, and as a novelist, we’re interested in what makes people tick."
Sex is one of those things and she started gathering material as she was doing some research for her book "The Glass Harmonica," a historic novel about a woman from the 1760s who plays the instrument to find salvation, but ends up marrying a man who hawks erotic literature.
"Such Were My Temptations" is a non-fiction, spin-off resulting in the research, Kocks said.
"I was writing a literary historic novel about a woman who plays a glass harmonica, which doesn’t look like a blues harmonica at all," she said. "In fact, the instrument was banned in some places for being too sensual.
"Anyway, while I was writing, a character named Henry Garland appeared in the book and as it was, he turned out to be the Johnny Appleseed of porn who went from village to village with a horse and cart and, secretly, under the virtuous books, he sold the books and items that people really want to get their hands on."
When Kocks discovered Garland, she tried to resist putting him in her novel.
"But I have learned as a writer that you have to trust those places that keep you awake at night, because that’s where the really important learning is going to happen," she said. "I’ve always felt as long as you go in with an open heart and your values are in tact, you can go into those edgy places and find out what it is that you need to learn, and that’s what happened when I was writing ‘The Glass Harmonica.’"
Although Kocks had heard about the sexual revolution of the 1760s, she didn’t know all of it.
In fact, some aspects surprised her.
"While I was doing my research, I was reading a large historic book and in it were some pictures," she said. "I thumbed past them and started reading, but stopped and turned back to the pictures and couldn’t believe what I was seeing, because they were so explicit."
Back when the pictures were drawn, the word "pornography" didn’t exist.
"We didn’t make the word until the 1850s, but prior to that, people used words like ‘ribald’ and ‘bawdy’ and ‘risqué,’" Kocks said. "When I began writing ‘Such Were My Temptations,’ I wanted to give an idea to people about what those words meant."
Still, during the writing process, Kocks did find out many things about America’s forefathers.
"I always imagined they would be more modest, because we have a stereotypical idea that we are a puritanical nation," she said. "In a way that is true, but not really the case."
The reason for the misunderstanding stems from the fact that the Puritans were misunderstood," Kocks said.
"They really believed in the important of sex and there were cases of divorce where one of the parties didn’t provide companionship for the other," she explained. "And there was the common understanding of the time that the body was made of fluids that needed to be aligned in the proper way and so it was a matter of health to have sex."
Through her research, Kocks found the Puritans did regulate sexuality.
"We know once their power began to wane, especially during the 1760s, they desperately counted fornication cases in the law courts and making people confess to pre-marital sex so they could be accepted back into the church," she said. "Because they regulated sex so much, we have this wonderful set of records and we can see between the late 1700s to 1830 we had this spike in illegitimate births and premarital sex. Also, one in three brides was pregnant on her wedding day, according to these records, which makes me realize that premarital sex was not a fringe movement."
Kocks is happy with how the "Such Were My Temptations" has turned out and is looking forward to sharing these things with people, but did say, she never thought she would be using her degree to examine historic erotica.
"I never dreamed that I would be calling up rare-books librarians and asking them if they have any smutty stuff," she said with a laugh. "I also never dreamed that there would be a pause and then, ‘Well, as a matter of fact ‘
The J GO Gallery Wonderbox, 408 Main St., will host a slideshow and discussion of historic erotica by historian Dorothee Kocks on Saturday, March 24, from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. The presentation is for adults only and admission is free. For more information, visit www. jgogallery.com.