|Roland Barthes: Total Perv & Handsome Devil|
When I was in secondary school, I had the most marvelous English teacher. He was obliged to take us through Hamlet and the Merchant of Venice, Pride and Prejudice, and all sorts of poems which are undoubtedly wasted on anyone under about 35. We had to read T.S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas and, of course, most of the poems made fuck-all sense to us at the time. It wasn't until I got older that I understood that most of the great poetry of the 20th century requires a hefty dollop of life-experience on the part of the reader, before it really communicates anything to you. Nonetheless, my teacher gave me a gift: a gift that would make little sense until I unwrapped it as an adult. He said, "Look, don't try to reach for the poem. There's no 'getting' a poem. There's only absorbing it."
Thirty-five years later, it was the assonance of the title I would remember. Not its message - because, with a good poem, the meaning changes subtly each time you read it - but the liquidity of the language. Its hidden whisperings between the cracks of the words and its sting of ear and heart. Its 'thistle in the kiss'.
In his book "The Pleasure of the Text," Roland Barthes talks about the pure hedonistic bliss of reading certain books. He differentiates between 'texts of pleasure' and 'texts of bliss.' When you read 'texts of pleasure,' he says, you are aware you are reading. You might stop and think how clever the writer is, how witty, how wise, but you are still dwelling in the culturally dominated world while your enjoying the book. With 'texts of bliss' you get so utterly lost in the process of reading, you are kidnapped, ravished, metaphorically fucked. Of course, it's fair to point out that Barthes was French and the French can be relied upon to find the eroticism in practically anything. But when in doubt, I always feel it's wise to take things on face value. When it comes to reading erotic fiction, there are texts of pleasure and texts of bliss. And the irony is, that for me, as a reader, some of the most blissful texts have not been the most explicit.
For me, two things contribute to offering a text of bliss. One is a story that disorients me. Being constantly reminded of wealth, physical buffness, and name brand products anchors me in the order of the everyday. Characters who have jobs that are alluded to - he's a stock broker, she's writes ad copy - but never actually take you deep enough into the world of what they do to overwhelm your assumptions, can never offer me more than pleasure. They can't transport me. For bliss, I need enough detail to shake me from my rational moorings of what I assume a stockbroker does, to a place where he's seeing patterns in the data or feeling the almost genital thrill of watching a stock price suddenly take off and go crazy. (Yeah, I know, you're sneering at my choice of example, but I assure you, I've chosen it on purpose). But what I'm trying to express is that everyone's life, when examined in detail, is a foreign land - a place of disorientation. It is only when we're forced to assume generalities that we feel grounded and safe.
The second element that offers me bliss is language. We use language on so many levels. Despite what Derrida says, its worked for us very well as an everyday tool to get information across from one person to another with surprising levels of accuracy. Read any newspaper article: there is a very definite structure to them. What, where, when, who...sometimes how and why. And yes, we get it - it's factual.
Then, of course, there is narrative language, which carries an perspective and subjectivities with it.At five o'clock on Thursday, September 5th, in the city of Buenos Aires, three diplomats were seen masturbating each other in a public cafe.
(Okay, so I got carried away there).
It took Melissa a moment to realize what she was witnessing. Three men in suits, all seated around the marble-topped cafe table, nonchalantly stroked each others' exposed cocks. Did the laws of Argentina allow this sort of thing? Was this the Buenos Aires version of the Cocktail Hour?It's more engaging. I could take pleasure from this text, but I'm still situated in the everyday world. Melissa's reaction is civilized. The scandalous nature of what is happening is pointed out to me, so I can agree. My feet are still firmly on the ground here.
The language of bliss is not something any writer - or any reader. for that matter - can tolerate for long stretches. It is disorienting, uncomfortable, disruptive. It intrudes on the structure of our ordered minds. It lies to us, misleads us, sets up irreconcilable polarities. It sequesters us to a place of otherness, just for a moment, while somehow making it all about that moment.
Antonio's soft, spitslick mandarin's hand tightened around my cock. Hot, fat fingers muffled the sounds of the cafe. Each downward stroke sloughed away another layer of the world until the singular pleasure of the tug was the universe entire. A cockfisted climb towards the airless void. All the way up, I fed on shutter-clipped mental images: the arterial spray that would scald my face and spatter the wall if the bastard dared to stop stroking before I came.
I'm not suggesting this is a brilliant example. Just having a go at it myself.