Paging Michel Houellebecq

Or P.D. James, maybe. Here's the artist John Currin, profiled in the latest New Yorker (it isn't online), on his turn toward pornographic subject matter:

"In art school, there's always a guy doing porno," he told me. "It's such an obvious idea, and that bothered me, but at the same time I kind of liked it, because this picture was going to be good. If there was a way to make good work out of something that's been responsible for a lot of surefire bad art, that was doubly appealing. People came into my studio and said, 'Wow, that's a beautiful painting.' It had a strange life I hadn't gotten before. But at first it didn't have much meaning for me. I liked it a lot, but I didn't know why I was making it."

A reason presented itself soon enough, in the headlines about riots in the Islamic world over twelve Danish newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed. "The response to that totally shocked me," Currin said at dinner that night. "That the Times decided that it was not going to show the cartoons - O.K., they're terrible-ass cartoons from a quality standpoint, but the idea that these thugs get offended and we just acquiesce, that was the most astonishing display of cowardice. And also the killing of Theo van Gogh, the film director, by some jihadist in Amsterdam - all of a sudden the most liberal societies in the world were having intimidation murders happen. That's when it occurred to me that we might lose this thing - not the Iraq War but the larger struggle." When I asked how this tied into his making pornographic paintings, Currin talked about low birth rates in Europe, and people having sex without having babies, and pornography as a kind of elegy to liberal culture, at which point I lost the thread. "I know how right wing this sounds," I recall him saying, "but I was thinking how pornography could be a superstitious offering to the gods of a dying race."

Nathanael Peters has some comments over at First Things' blog.