Tuesday, June 26, 2012
The problem with this book was that it came from elsewhere. My publisher pitched the idea and it was indeed a good one. I could see the potential in it. I was excited by the idea of reading the cannon of sex classics. I wanted to expand my knowledge of erotic fiction by immersing myself in the form. I did it for the fun of it and was surprised half-way through by the excitement I felt when I discovered the work of Wilhelm Reich. This book has, in fact, been endlessly exciting. The discoveries were many. The ones that strike me most at this point are James Salter, Angela Carter, Peter Reich, Pauline Regae. I am interested in the fact that certain books confounded me. I didn't finish Ador or Adore by Nabakov. I wonder if one day I will go back to it and find it suddenly makes sense. I know I will reread A Sport and A Pasttime one day because the first half of the book confused me so much on the first reading, but by the end I was in love. There is more Carter to visit and de Sade was wonderful but I didn't get to the end of either of his books that I attempted. There is more work to do.
I want to stop for a moment and talk about the ending. I don't want to spoil it for a reader but I need to mention that I found the point I was making only after weeks of searching within myself. It is too easy to make the book about love. All we need is love. It is an old adage but a useful one. When we are 'in love' it seems that this must be the answer to every question. Love will win out. Love is all we need. The thing is this feeling that we call 'love' is such a transient thing. A lovely transient thing. It is a feeling we do not bestow on just one person. It is something to be passed around from lover to lover, friend to friend. I needed to know what I was saying about sex. It is a book about sex after all and therefore I must know what my position is. Sex is a powerful transformative force. Sex can change our views, our morality, our ethics. Sex can shake governments and change the social structure of the wold. This then my answer. Sex. The most powerful, dangerous, wonderful transformative force.
I need to go away and think about this for a while before I start revising. I need to write this on an index card and hang it on my wall. Abstinence is stasis. Sex is change.
This is what I have learned so far from all this reading and all this writing.
I have picked up Susan Sontag's journals and there is something wonderful about her short thoughts, her little trains of ideas that link each day of her life. A pillow book of ideas. I think I need to start one of these, perhaps on this blog. I need to track my thoughts as I move towards a redrafting of the book. I also need to continue with my reading. I have read a heap of classic and modern sex books this year but there are so many more to forrage through. I started Fanny Hill but never Finished it. I started the Felix Saltern and I feel a little sad that it was never used for the book itself. I need to read another Carter to see if I can have my mind opened and changed yet again. And so begins my pillow book, with questions, an idea about the nature of sex, and a plan.
Well, well, well. Here is a book that is very very sexy indeed and yet also challenges all your assumptions. There was perhaps a bit more 'fashion' in this book than I remember from y furtive reading of it all those years ago. I think, like with American Psycho, I skipped through the descriptions of clothing that first time around. On this reading I skipped nothing, and enjoyed everything. The descriptive passages are beautiful, there is no distinction made between the descriptions of sex and the description of a gown. BDSM has always challenged my feminist nature, particularly when a woman is the bottom and a man is the top. In O, surprisingly, power comes from her submission. Regae has deftly made it clear that submissiveness is one thing on the surface, but another at its core. O becomes more powerful with each act of submission. What a challenging and culturally interesting move on the part of the author. I now must elevate Regae to a similar position to Angela Carter in my writer's hall of fame. Here is a woman who can play with cultural assumptions and throw the world on its head. The thing with Regae is that she does this whilst also titillating the reader with some of the sexiest sex scenes ever translated into English.
My hat is off to you Ms Regae and, if you command it off me, so is the rest of my clothing. I will be forever your slave.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
What makes a book erotic? For some people it is the presence of flesh, for some it is the descriptions of sex, and if you are one of these readers, then My Hundred Lovers will not disappoint. But for me a truly erotic book is one which can seduce you with language, and Susan Johnson is the queen of literary seduction. This is a book which tracks one very rich and full life. A woman who is turning 50 looks back on the years she has lived and the ‘lovers’ she has had. She does this in extremely short poetic chapters that show us that a ‘lover’ does not necessarily mean a sexual partner. From the love of a parent, to the touch of the wind, from a woman who falls in love with objects to a full blown physical love between people, the ‘lovers’ in her life receive equal treatment whether they are human, animal or intangible. Each one is beautifully described and the small individual moments add up to a life that is full, sensual, poignant and wonderful.
Two things. I didn't finish these books. Also I enjoyed them more than I expected. I started with Justine and although at first it caused me pain to trawl through the unwieldy sentences, the archaic language, the odd turn of phrase, eventually I fell into the rhythm of it and, surprisingly, began to laugh. Who was to know that de Sade is funny? I certainly didn't expect this. I really enjoyed the hilarity of silly Justine making the same mistake over and over. I want to be virtuous, and the universe slapping her down again and again.
It was kind of an anti Ayn Rand, or perhaps it was satirising all that Ayn Rand holds dear. Her serious love of capitalism was held up and shaken in de Sade. His rich and powerful people win, of course they do, because life is ridiculous. But the winners are not painted as you would expect. The winners are ugly, and, when, listening to my more learned friends, I switched to 100 Days of Sodom, they are painted as a crazed and ugly crew. Priests have penises that are deformed and fail to become erect, noblemen delight in defecating on small children. I love his extremities, how he takes everything so far that it becomes ridiculous in its excess. de Sade is not being serious. He is taking the piss. He is thumbing his nose at the rich and slashing at the very fabric of society.
Probably better in small doses. In a big chunk it loses it's startling obscenity, the extreme seems mild - perhaps that is the point, but I like de Sade, just in small doses. I must finish Justine for bookclub or at least I will try, this weekend of dedication to the debauched. Lets see if I emerge with my sense of humour still intact after that.