What is this place?

Shocking Imagery and Erotic Experience

I could tell many stories about the times when I was turned on by something that should shock people, but here’s one which I’m not sure I’ve told before.1

Albert von Keller, Mondschein

Take a look at the image to the left. In 1989 I was browsing through the campus bookstore of one of the oldest, richest, and most prestigious universities in the United States. I had pulled an art history book2 from the shelf and was leafing through it when I was arrested by that very image, just in black and white, and about the same size and resolution as you see there.3

A naked, crucified woman in what, it must be said, is rather appealing painterly light. It is an image of someone being put to death in by an excruciatingly painful and humiliating means. Was my reaction one of horror? It was something rather different, and one which required the summoning of concentration toward the end of not presenting an indecorous appearance to my august surroundings.

I have long known about a capacity to find erotic stimulation in certain kinds of horrific imagery. Many other people do as well. There are various cute theories as to why this should be the case, for example psychoanalytic explanations that I am reliving and revenging some sort of infantile rage at perceived insufficiency of maternal love or polemical feminist insistence that I am gratifying some deep misogynist urge which they are proposing to eradicate from society. I place little stock in any of that. My own best guess as to what is going on here has to do with the workings of the brain. We are not the Cartesian egos of philosophical fancy. We are a bunch of neural systems that mechanically carry out their functions, functions which sometimes cross or contradict each other. Show me a picture of a naked woman nailed to a cross and old, deep structures somewhere in that brain of mine are going to start reacting to the emotional shock — rage, fear, pity it may not matter all that specifically what — and pump out an interesting cascade of neurotransmitters like epinephrine and various endorphins which had the function from back in distant evolutionary time of helping my ancestors deal with whatever hideous crises their lives threw up. Meanwhile, some more recently-evolved neural assembly elsewhere in my brain is carrying out a common and important (if often underappreciated) cognitive operation known as “distinguishing fantasy from reality,” reviewing prevailing neural inputs from my immediate environment and producing the reassuring conclusion that “it’s only a picture (story, movie, etc.)” Having come to this conclusion (it all happens very quickly) I now can act differently. Instead of doing what I might do if I had in reality come across a crucified woman in the woods (dialing 911, perhaps),4 I can simply ride the neurotransmitter wave for pleasure, and release.5

I feel no shame about this reaction or this practice, feminist shaming and finger-wagging moralism notwithstanding. The whole dynamic that make this whole cascading experience possible is critically dependent on being able to distinguish fantasy from reality. Making that distinction continuously makes it entirely possible for me to function as a (reasonably) civilized individual in actual social life. Just as people who attend performances of King Lear are very rarely inspired to go around looking to put out the eyes of English noblemen, I do not nail women to crosses in the moonlit woods and feel no inclination to. We are accountable for our behavior, but inside our minds Eros is and ought to be an incorrigible outlaw.

Horror and Pessimism


Of course, not all of the imagery found here will carry and erotic charge, even for me. So of it is just plain darkness, and its presence here serves a different function.

As I shamble into middle age, certain voices whispering to me since young adulthood speak relatively clearly, and what they say is this: “It’s not really all right to be alive. Life is mostly suffering. It was a misfortune for you to have been born.” I didn’t begin believe what I heard, though I now think that a lot of what might be called my intellectual “development” might be considered a working-through of one way of thinking after another in an attempt to refute these ugly truths. But I can’t anymore and that, together with my share of unfortunate life experience, has made me into something of a pessimist. Those who wish to see my ruminations on the matter can refer to a a little blog I write on the subject, if they really must.

It would have been better for me never to have come into existence at all. But here I am. If you have a dark view of the world, what are you supposed to do? Kill yourself? A respectable choice for some, though not one I am prepared to contemplate at this time for personal reasons I do not care to enter into at this point. Should you complain? Engage in whatever the opposite of evangelism is to the world? An interesting possibility, I suppose, but not one with much practical merit. No one is interested in your complaints, and no one is interested in your views. No one is even interested in the judicious weighing-up of evidence or the parsing of arguments that might either affirm or even refute the proposition that being alive is not okay. Rather, the very act of expressing pessimistic views are immediately dismissed as evidence of a broken mind. Get thee to a therapist! (That is, submit to brainwashing intended to turn you into the same mindless working-consuming-tax-paying-breeder-of-others-just-like-yourself optimist the rest of the world is — or else!)

Perhaps you could just suffer in silence. But that is more difficult than one might imagine. One of the many dirty little tricks that evolution has played on us is to make us is to make us garrulous creatures, and to keep silent about what matters to us is to live a life of slow suffocation. But society, religion, our families, and so forth, all want us to remain silent. What to do, then? People might hate negative thoughts expressed directly, but they sure suckers for stories. So if you can wrap some art around your worldview, you have a channel of expression. The sick joke, the shocking image, the horror story, all express some darkness from their creators that conveys forbidden truths that cannot be kept completely silent. Some very great artists have done this. Imagine how little known H.P. Lovecraft would be today had he expressed his bleak view of the cosmos in expository essays (how few people today even read Schopenhauer!) rather than writing his immortal stories.

You can speak through the shocking. Life won’t be good, exactly, but at least it won’t be slow suffocation.


I am collecting these images here and now in part because I have a lot of them and would like some organization in my collection. WordPress’s posting facility is a remarkably smooth-running engine for collecting, tagging, and commenting on images. As long as I’m doing that, why shouldn’t I share with the world? I am also motivated by the fact that many of the images posted here were originally collected on a Tumlbr inelegantly entitled Disturbing Erotic Mad Science stuff, and for reasons I have discussed elsewhere, I am not optimistic about the future of Tumblr for anyone with non-vanilla tastes in imagery. Collected here the imagery will curated properly and kept safe from any future pornocalypse at that resource. Other imagery belongs to collections that have long lingered on my hard drives. I intend to tag and share and, where possible, provide additional image provenance provided either by myself or (better) through the work of Bacchus of ErosBlog who provides an outstanding (and, as far as I know, unique) image research and attribution service.

If you, dear reader, should have any questions about what is going on at this site please feel free to get in touch with me. Otherwise, browse and, to the extent you have the capacity for it, enjoy!

Iago Faustus, Ph.D., November 17, 2013 (updated November 24, 2013)

1Examples of my having done so in the past would include my Thaumatophile Manifesto and a post “A Dark Inspiration,” both of which appeared at the primary site I run, EroticMadScience.com. Back to main text.

2The book was Bram Djikstra, Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-siècle Culture. (New York and Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1988). Back to main text.

3The image is an 1894 painting by Albert von Keller (1844-1920) known variously as either In the Moonlight or Martyr. Von Keller appears to have been a curious combination of Swiss-Bavarian bourgeois and rather trippy character. I wrote a bit about his work as an eroticist in an ErosBlog post. I have reason to believe that its very first appearance in color on the Internet was in a post I wrote for ErosBlog in 2009, The Ecstasy of Saint Beauty.” I have made it available for the first time in high resolution in a post on this site. Back to main text.

4This is an explanatory note for readers outside North America, in which 911 is the near-universal emergency response telephone number, equivalent to 999 in the United Kingdom or 112 in the European Union. Back to main text.

5I strongly suspect that a similar dynamic of triggering neurochemical cascades explains quite a few common human practices, from horror movies to BDSM.Back to main text.

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