Thursday, 30 October 2008

The problem with erotica

Erotic Pompeii wall painting

I once owned a book of erotica. I was browsing a bookstore and bought it on impulse, anticipating robust stories of love and lust, impossibly endowed, abandoned couples in Kama Sutric configurations pleasuring each other in unlikely locations, enjoying ecstatic but improbable sensual marathons. I never finished the book because my stomach just wasn't strong enough to handle it, not even for the sake of research into the genre.

I'm not a prude. I'm a normal, healthy heterosexual female who could never understand the 'not in the mood' phenomenon. Hey, sex is good stuff! I assumed that my first brush with true erotica had been ruined by a particularly nasty example of the genre. Since I had a young child in the house back then, I burned the book. Yes, burned, as in took it outside, tore it apart and set it afire, then breathed a sigh of relief as I hosed away the ashes. Was I glad to see the back of that one - and how I wished I could erase some of those images from my internal memory drive! Unfortunately, that kind of stuff tends to stick harder the more you try to wish it away.

Since then I've read erotic romance novels and quite enjoyed them so, buoyed by these positive forays, I ordered Delta of Venus by Anaïs Nin a few weeks ago, fully aware that it was erotica, but with a difference, to my mind: her work is described as literary erotica. I've read a bit of Nin's bio, I'm fond of some of her quotations, and I anticipated a treat.

Now, I know that judging a collection on the basis of a partial reading is not exactly fair to the writer, but the four or five stories I've read thus far, including the very first, have served up an appetizing smorgasbord of incest, rape, genital mutilation, drug addiction, necro.philia, best.iality and pedo.philia - just to name a few. What else is in there, I wonder. Dismemberment? Human sacrifice? The stories also have a tendency to be plotless, consisting of the mindless wanderings of some character from one tasteless and depraved activity to another. I'm not a fan of no-plot, and the activities do not, for me, constitute a great romp.

Maybe I'm missing the point. Maybe it's too exalted a point for my limited faculties to appreciate, but this is not fun for me, it's not exciting, it's not entertaining and quite frankly, it makes me sick to the stomach.

I won't be visiting that particular buffet again, and I don't understand how we can be collectively horrified when this kind of thing turns up in the news in real life, yet endorse and enjoy it in literature. I can't seem to distinguish between this 'literary erotica' and some of the depraved porn out there. What am I missing?

[In case anyone can't figure out the gratuitous dots in some words, they're to (hopefully) keep sickos googling these topics on the net away from my site.]


Zinnia Cyclamen said...

It doesn't work for me, either. Although I have read some very erotic short stories - Ursula Le Guin springs to mind. But they're kind of incidentally erotic, rather than that being the main, er, thrust of the story (ahem).

Kaz Augustin said...

[Tongue somewhat firmly in cheek on this one]

You described "literary erotica" perfectly, Liane. After all, "literature" is mostly character-driven, so why would you expect a plot? Everyone goes through act after act of utter futility then dies in the end anyway. :) Using that benchmark, "literary erotica" must also be aimless, but with sexual tangents. LOL

Tbh, I can't comment on Delta of Venus, as I haven't read it but -- considering I write erotic romance -- I might have to give it a shot, just to broaden my horizons. Thanks for the warning, though; shall gird loins accordingly.

JJ said...

Hmmm, I've never read any of it either and agree entirely with Zinnia that something is incidentally erotic rather than explicitly so.

stephe said...

Ah, yes, I have to watch out when it comes to erotica as it is NOT all cut from the same cloth. I've read really nice stuff that makes you feel awfully GOOD and hits you with some amazingly layered characters. But then there's... that other bit. (You said it, pedo, beast, rape, mutilation and the rest of the gang. Me no like.)

Not just you--what are WE missing?

Kaz: ...shall gird loins accordingly. LOLOL!

Anonymous said...

Nin was writing on commission. This was not what she wanted to be writing; this was a way to pay the bills.

She also had more than a touch of contempt for those who hired her. They didn't like the 'literary' in her literary erotica, and her response at times was to push it even further, like a dare.

Her distaste for the work bled into it. As erotica, it's boring and pretentious. As literature, it's condescending and obnoxious.

In other words, it's not just you, and thanksfully, it's not erotica as a genre--it's just Anais Nin. :)

(Bah, blogger won't let me leave OpenID info. Sorry.)

stephe said...

Having to pay the bills... we can all certainly understand that.

I'm glad you commented, Anon 1:54.

wordtryst said...

Zinnia, I too find the incidentally erotic very effective. A scene in the movie Pavilion of Women where Willem Dafoe (a priest) rubs the foot of a Chinese woman springs to mind.

Kaz, LOL! I have no problem with character-driven, but I want a plot too! Yes, I want it all. As for Delta - it's a far cry from the erotic romance I've read thus far. Proceed with caution.

JJ, you're not missing anything if my experience is anything to go by.

wordtryst said...

Stephe, you must recommend the good stuff. I'd give it one more try if you guaranteed there was none of that other business that makes me violently sick.

Anonymous, thank you for joining in. This comment explains much: "Her distaste for the work bled into it. As erotica, it's boring and pretentious. As literature, it's condescending and obnoxious. Glad to know it's not just me.

Stephe, yes, those annoying bills, getting in the way of our 'art'. :)