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New YorkerIn The Erotomaniac (Da Capo), Ian Gibson investigates the life of Henry Spencer Ashbee, a respectable Victorian merchant who collected thousands of volumes of pornography spanning several centuries and languages. Gibson believes that Ashbee was also the author of My Secret Life, a notorious piece of Victorian pornography, reasoning, rather unflatteringly, that "it is a tale by someone who has not found erotic fulfillment, by someone for whom sex exists almost entirely in the head."
Of course, if we're to believe Freud, the impulse to collect is largely sexual anyway. Alfred Kinsey, before he embarked on his sex research, was a zoologist, and he collected millions of gall wasps in an attempt to log every variation in the species. Later, he switched to erotica; the editors of Sex and Humor: Selections from the Kinsey Institute (Indiana) gather some of the more lighthearted items from the collection -- kooky pinups, dirty postcards, and comics -- to illuminate their thesis that social taboos have forced people to "use humor to speak about sex."
There is no shortage of humor in the erotic art of Tomi Ungerer, whose wild imaginings include "Fornicon," a set of contraptions that look like a pornographic remake of "Metropolis." In Erotoscope (Taschen), a selection from four decades of drawings, Ungerer claims that he comes from a repressive Protestant background. This doesn't seem to have limited the amount of lewdness he can pack into a few swooping lines. Curiously, his artistic tastes seem to have dictated his sexual ones, rather than the other way around. His S & M kink reflects his love of shapes: tie a woman up, he explains, and "she becomes more fluid, and the pencil that draws her flows more easily across the paper." (Leo Carey)