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.
Posted by Adrian Slatcher at 12:21 AM