Prostitution is a muddled and muddling issue, and The Prostitute in Progressive Literature doesn’t really clear the fog away. A mixture of history, sociology, literary criticism, it is a richly informative labyrinth that loses the reader even as it enlightens him. Paradoxical, I admit, but then the subject of the harlot’s solicitations is full of problematic paradoxes, such as the question, to legalise or not to legalise.
Prostitutes would be better protected if the present laws were changed (as many feminists think they should be). But the trade would also be immoveably institutionalized – a form of exploitation (class, sex) that is physically and psychologically damaging. Feminist thought pits itself against much advertising and most pornography. Isn’t prostitution culpable on the same grounds, but in extremis? At this point I find the author’s finger levelled accusingly at me:
In this society of exchange value, the bourgeois critic could only understand the whore’s generosity as a manifestation of her psychopathy ...
I plead guilty, but meekly add that (i) payment rather precludes the notion of a whore’s generosity and (ii) I would place social impoverishment far beyond psychopathy as a cause.
Khalid Kishtainy’s book may well convict us all, but it’s an excellent one nonetheless. It divests the harlot of her myth. Less sinner than sinned against, she has lived in a cloud of diseased iniquity, imaged as the sullied transgressor who spreads