Writer and translator Adrian Nathan West’s first novel, “The Aesthetics of Degradation,” was published by Repeater Books earlier this month. Nate’s one of the smartest people I know, so it was a pleasure to interview him about his book for Berfrois.
“Aesthetics” is a work of moral philosophy about a difficult subject–the effects of violent pornography on society. It’s a uniquely powerful book, one that presents the research into this topic and the narrator’s interiority in a careful, balanced way, making them resonate with equal importance, all the while refusing to shy away from the realities of these films, which depict extreme sexual violence against women. The book’s form makes this powerful resonance possible and, as West discusses in the interview, it took years to develop, a hybrid of memoir, essay, and fiction written with a steady, reasoned tone to tell the honest story of the narrator’s experience as he examines his thoughts and feelings over time in relation to various forms of pornography, from high art to low.
I had high expectations for the book, and it exceeded them; that doesn’t happen very often. Here’s the opening of my interview with Nate:
The Aesthetics of Degradation is an at times necessarily graphic, yet deeply philosophical and thoughtful novel about the effects of violent pornography on society. What moved you to write this book?
The impetus was an account I read as a teenager in John Zerzan’s essay The Case Against Art that describes a couple having sex in a museum in front of a camera that projected them onto a television. Zerzan writes that the man in the exhibit showed more interest in the representation of himself having sex than in the physical fact of his doing so. I wrote a conference paper not long after I’d read that later asking how the experience of abstract sexuality was distinguishable from sex with another person and what sort of psychological contingencies might make the former preferable to the latter. …
Read the entire interview.