Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pornography for the Mind

The death of J.G. Ballard, writer of autofetish erotica in "Crash", combined with a bit of a Twitter conversation about "The Story of O" makes me nostalgic for a certain type of literary pornography. I've not read, and have little intention of reading, recent "hot" novels like "Wetlands" and "Girl with a one track mind", though perhaps I should get over my prudishness, and indulge. The Story of O won a major French literary prize and remains, despite its somewhat relentlessness, a classic of its genre. Looking it up on Wikipedia it was only published in English in 1965, and I can't remember when I first heard about it, but it surely had a bit of a literary cachet, both with its regal red cover, its mysterious provenance, and its literary style. Clearly, as a teenage boy, it had certain appeals beyond the aesthetic, but even then, it was female friends who were more likely to be reading something salacious (the notorious "Lace" for instance) than male friends (who didn't read, or at least not books with words.) Looking back, my "erotic bookshelf" if I had one, was always a bit on the thin side, and a little androgynous as well. William Burroughs, Kathy Acker, "The Ages of Lulu", "The Story of O", it never went much further than that. Even "Lady Chatterley" stayed unread till much later; (though I did get around to "Oranges are the Only Fruit"). Henry Miller and Anais Nin remain mostly unread (though I do love "Spy in the House of Love"), and in terms of erotic potency its a scene in Updike's "Rabbit Redux" that stands out. There's clearly a market for salacious novels, even today, but are they all taken from blogs? My creative writing tutor memorably approved the "failed sex" scene in my M.A. novel. "All made up," I probably, implausibly murmured - and there's the rub. Writing about sex in books is always problematic. It's probably why women have often been better at it - Winterson, Reage, Acker for instance - in that there's a superior pornography of the mind that still benefits from the imaginative written word. I guess, with the abundance of er... riches available via the internet, the literary erotic novel, smuggled into the bookstores under its Olympia books cover, and with a veneer of literary respectability, has perhaps had its day. I would imagine that alot of writers have an unfinished piece of erotica hidden away in a bottom drawer some place. "The bad sex award" has probably done its bit to stop dull writers spicing up otherwise mundane novels with a bit of literary rumpy pumpy; the true erotic literary classic, like its subject matter, requires some staying power.


loscuadernos said...

Adrian, great post! Last time I had anything to do with The Story of O was still in Russia when I watched a screen adaptation. I read it a few times, though, and I think it had had some influence, though certainly benign one.

In one of my texts I compared writing about erotica to entering a bedroom as a virgin, or at least a cliche virgin who's got this bulk of emotions, feelings, ideas, and fantasies, but usually doesn't put it all together well, so ends up f*cking up the entire *narrative*.

I do think though you should read The Delta of Venus by Anais Nin, if you haven't yet. It's an amazing collection of erotic (not pornographic) stories, and being writter by a woman, it stands out on its own. What I love about both her and Henry Miller is that they have an unfailing literary, aesthetic taste that doesn't escape them even when they narrate the most improbably sex scenes.


Adrian Slatcher said...

Come to think of it, I've read some of those stories, they were extracted in one of those little Penguin 60s a few years ago, excellent. There's a lovely quality to her prose.

sexy said...
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Detroit Dilletante said...

I love your post. I realize I come to praise years too late for you to probably care...I comment on a 2009 post and have not yet checked to see if you are still kicking in 2010/soon2011. If so, I want to reiterate to you that the always incisive Updike, my personal literary hero, wrote most honestly and most ugly-ly about natural human desires working through-and with-reality.

Adrian Slatcher said...

Pleasing that the blog post got picked up even a couple of years later. The blog is still ongoing, thanks. I find myself going back to and/or defending Updike every now and then as his star seems to have waned somewhat in the UK. I think he doesn't get read as much as he ought.