Thursday, February 28, 2013
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
by Jean Roberta
In about 450 BCE (Before the Christian Era), give or take a few years, a jolly Greek playwright named Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata, a comedy about a woman leader who ends the war between Athens and Sparta by persuading all the other married women of Athens to refuse sex with their husbands until they stop fighting. (Meanwhile, Lysistrata’s Spartan counterpart Lampito is doing the same thing on her side.) By the end of the play, all the men are so horny that they agree to a peace settlement, to be followed by a feast and an orgy. And the women are as horny as the men.
The logic of the play is unassailable. If you had to choose between killing “enemies” in a war while risking mutilation and death or enjoying every kind of physical pleasure, which choice would appeal to you more? If you, as a non-warrior, had to deprive yourself of sex temporarily in order to pressure the warriors into a lasting peace, wouldn’t it be worthwhile?
Centuries later, in the 1960s, the protest movement against the American war in Vietnam (re-)invented the slogan “Make love, not war.” This command, as compelling as it seemed, was about as effective as Aristophanes’ play. (In the real world, the war between Athens and Sparta caused massive damage to both sides and ended the “golden age of Greece.”)
In fantasy, any activity that creates sexual pleasure can solve most personal and social problems. Sex is a form of exercise that burns calories, it enables two or more people to transcend their basic human loneliness, at least temporarily, and it increases the participants’ knowledge of themselves and each other. It is earthy and spiritual at the same time. Being desired is good for the self-esteem, and having one’s own desire satisfied is an antidote to negative feelings of all kinds. The hippies of the Counterculture of the 1960s and ‘70s proposed orgies and “free love” (sex outside the bounds of formal, committed relationships) as an alternative to materialism, the profit motive and organized violence.
We all know how that revolution turned out.
Ideas for erotic stories are not hard to find. I assume that sex fantasies are part of every person’s stream of consciousness. Utopian fantasies about ideal societies seem closely related to fantasies about satisfying sex. Erotic romance, with an emphasis on an evolving relationship between soulmates who live happily together ever after, seems like a logical component of utopian fantasy.
So why do I often have trouble completing either a work of erotica or of erotic romance in which all the characters get what they want? Because real life messes with my imagination.
In the real world, several decades after the advent of “Second Wave” feminism in the industrialized world (circa 1970), sexual harassment, gang-rape, and forced prostitution are rampant in countries once classified as “Third World,” and there is no evidence that these traditions are disappearing in the “First World.” I am well aware that my currently privileged life (secure job with good income, equal relationship) is an exception to the way most women live.
Lately, when I try to imagine a delightful scene of “ménage,” formerly defined as “group sex,” my mind’s-eye flashes on a scene of gang-rape on a city bus, committed by a group of male buddies who apparently assumed they would get away with forcing increasingly violent forms of penetration on a young woman who clearly didn’t want it, wasn’t ready for it, and hadn’t invited it.
Religious and cultural traditions in which all females are defined as worse than males in every sense obviously have an effect on male-female interaction, but violence against women is only part of the problem. Dread of sexual “perversion” results in homophobic persecution, and while same-gender couples in Europe and North America increasingly have the option of getting legally married, violence against unmarried non-heterosexuals, especially those known to be transgendered, is still widespread.
Deteriorating economic conditions for the majority of the population all over the world seem to intensify existing hierarchies of power. A man who doesn’t think he could be thrown in jail for beating his wife is more likely to take out his frustrations on her when he loses his job. An unemployed racist who blames immigrants (legal and illegal) for his poverty is likely to attack them one way or another.
The Athenians blame the Spartans, and the Spartans hate all things Athenian. The feast has been cancelled, and the orgy has been transformed into a massacre. After the most aggressive humans have killed off all the rest, the ultimate earthquake or tsunami is likely to swallow up the "winners."
The part of my mind that could be labelled “Leftist Puritan” warns me that thinking about sex when the world is on fire is self-indulgent at best. How can I think about tempting bodies when so many people lack the necessities for healthy survival?
The answer to Leftist Puritan comes from Physical Self. My skin, my sensory organs, my clit, my orifices, my spine, my fingertips all remind me that a desire for touch that leads to orgasm can’t really be separated from the experience of living in a human body. Puritan disapproval tends to separate my consciousness from the body it lives in. If I want to stay in touch with reality, trying to function as an ego floating in space is not the way to do it.
So, when looking for an erotic story idea, I bounce from fantasies that are hard to hang onto because they seem unbelievably good (or childishly naïve) to a joy-killing awareness of human violence and misery. And I’ve been writing long enough to know that reality can never be completely ignored, even when I’m describing a fantasy world. If a feast and an orgy on some distant planet (Pelopponesia would be a good name) are to grab the imaginations of earthlings, they have to be fleshed out in realistic detail.
For the sake of my sanity, I should probably limit my exposure to world news, and other writers should probably do the same. Yet if we want to write honestly about sex, we need to be aware that it is a language that can convey many messages, including some that seem paradoxical (whips and bondage to express fierce love or pride; sexual abuse or sexual rejection to express contempt). Sex is literally used to create life, to enhance life, or to destroy life.
In an earlier post in this blog, Lisabet Sarai claimed that real sex can be as good as our fantasies, and I believe her. I’ve been there too. Yet so much of what passes for reality convinces too many to give up hope. As sex-writers, we’ve taken on the mission of keeping the faith. It’s a challenge.
Sunday, February 24, 2013
by Kathleen Bradean
Saturday, February 23, 2013
Thursday, February 21, 2013
By Lisabet Sarai
Monday, February 18, 2013
I learned just a few days ago that the erotica webzine Oysters & Chocolate has closed down. I expect everyone else knew this a while ago, but fortunately I’m used to being at the blunt edge of news and fashion trends. In any case, I was very sad to hear that yet another fine erotica literary magazine has faded into history.
When I first started writing erotica, I dutifully sent my stories out by quaint snail-mail to print magazines like Libido and Yellow Silk. Both of them ceased publication before my work was saleable enough to receive back more than a Xeroxed fortune-cookie-sized rejection. However, soon enough I did have more luck with the then-revolutionary online magazines like Clean Sheets, Scarlet Letters, Playboy’s CyberClub, Fishnet, Ruthie’s Club, dearly departed Oysters & Chocolate, and finally The Erotic Woman and the ERWA galleries (the only two left standing from my publication list). There are numerous other fine webzines that I won’t mention for space. Most of these focused on an edgy, complex, not-always-feel-good—also known as “literary”--type of erotica.
More important than a list of the fallen brave is the question of what is filling the void left by these magazines. I don’t have a confident answer, but I’ll hazard a guess that it’s not uncommon for a new erotica writer to dash off a story, throw it up on Amazon for ninety-nine cents, then dive into the self-promotion madness before she even really knows who she is as a writer--all the while receiving plenty of encouragement for business savvy. Of course, there are some publishers who still put out fine anthologies and welcome newcomers, but for me the webzine world was the perfect place to ease into publication and meet editors, not to mention share my work widely without imposing too much on my friends’ pocketbooks.
I have a temperament that has never loved rules or authority figures, so part of me is thrilled with the new “Wild West” atmosphere of self-publishing. I firmly believe that anyone who takes the time to write about sex, even in a formulaic way, is going to be paying more attention to an important aspect of our humanity that is still reviled, even as it is harnessed to manipulate us by providing the addictive hit of “ideal” sex. (See Remittance Girl’s recent Apollonian & Dionysian Dialectic: Inner Conflicts and Revolutionary Acts for a discussion of this and other thought-provoking arguments about what makes for a compelling erotic story).
Yet I think we do lose something important with the demise of an editorial vision on the web. As scary as gatekeeping editors can seem from the writer’s point of view, I appreciate that they work hard to select good stories for their readers. With the advent of self-publishing, it’s the reader who has to wade through the slush pile—and pay for the privilege. During the golden age of the webzine, you could click on over with confidence you’d be getting a certain level of quality. For writers, the magazines also provided an easy way to research and be inspired by a wider variety of stories selected by veteran editors. I learned a lot from my reading.
I may be flashing my West-Coast-hippie-romantic undies here, but I’m still dismayed by how often people invoke money as the reason they write erotica or retire from doing so. Or rather how we’re all okay with that as the most important reason to do anything at all.
“I thought I’d get as rich as E.L. James writing a dirty book, but it didn’t happen so I quit.”
“Smart move, follow the money, honey—maybe try Hollywood or country music?”
Which reminds me that erotica webzines paid little or nothing. This probably lessened their appeal to new writers as well. Yes, I know, we all need to make a living and pay the orthodontist, but presumably most of us have sex for pleasure and emotional connection without plotting a way to get paid for it. Why should writing about it be any different? And why shouldn’t we enthusiastically celebrate authors who write on even without thousands in royalties? (One inspiring example of the spiritual approach to writing erotica is described in Garce’s Confessions of a Craft Freak: Sex and the Apprentice Writer.) I'm not saying refuse payment or stop promoting, just, you know, appreciate there are other ways to be a success. Otherwise, we’re buying into the system that puts profit above all. Really.
Now I definitely don't believe the golden past is unquestionably better than the alloyed present. After all, in the old days ice cream only came in chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, and now we have Americone Dream. But while I’m reminiscing, I’m old enough to remember way back to about 2005 when traditional print editors suddenly decided they wanted to cash in on the erotica revolution. Many writers I know got juicy contracts for anthologies with big publishers, which meant not just money but respect. I had great hopes this would be the break-through for sexually explicit writing that dares to go deeper than titillation followed by a chaser of sin well punished. Finally, we were being taken seriously by the Big Boys. Alas, the hoped-for deluge of profits did not come and they dropped us cold, proclaiming erotica dead.
We could probably have an interesting discussion about whether 50 Shades of Grey genuinely revived the erotica cause or not, but obviously millions are still intrigued by sexuality and what other people do and think about it. Like any writer, I hope my work will be read and appreciated, although I’d choose fewer readers who appreciate what I do over millions who are getting a faked sensibility in the name of sales.
I guess I’ll just pull out the Americone Dream while I wait and see how this chapter in the publishing-and-money saga plays out. I can always soothe myself with the undying truth that whatever form it takes, humanity’s curiosity about sex and its meaning in our lives is here to stay.
Donna George Storey is the author of Amorous Woman (recently released as an ebook) and a new collection of short stories, Mammoth Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com or http://www.facebook.com/DGSauthor
Friday, February 15, 2013
Posted by Garceus at 12:30 AM
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Nietzsche wanted to get past the whole, very Judeo-Christian good/bad divide. He wanted to explore what forces were working on man to account for the way they behaved. Living during a time when people had begun to fear their cultural spirit was flabby and weak, he could see that a great many people were just too civilized for their own boots. And being trained in the classics, he reflected back on his early education and came up with the concept of the Apollonian and Dionysian dialectic. He felt (probably because he didn't know much about how appallingly Greeks treated women and slaves) that the Ancient Greeks had found a much better balance between their instinctual selves and their civilized yearnings.
What the hell has this got to do with erotica? Bear with me.
Apollonian forces are all the civilizing factors that allow us to get along with each other. They favour control over nature, discipline over instinct, rational thought over emotional drive. Dionysian forces are... you know, the opposite: chaos over order, instinct over culture, creative, libidinous, wild, violent, etc.
At the center of every good erotic story is a battle between the Dionysian and Apollonian forces within the characters. This is how great erotica manages to have conflict without writing a sub-plot about battling Nazi zombies.
Now, you might think that something like modern porn is wholly Dionysian - it's all about giving in to base instincts and indulging in wild pleasures, right? But step back. Porn does have a hidden Apollonian side to it. Porn tells you HOW to fuck. It shows you what you should look like, act like, sound like. It offers a 'fuck ideal'. Although you may not notice that with your hand around your dick, while the large-breasted blonde gets it up the ass and sucks dick at the same time, believe me, subconsciously, you're being schooled in how to do it right. This is why crazy-like-a-fox Slavoj Zizek can say that porn is ultimately a conservative art-form and get away with it.
Similarly, a lot of erotic romance might look like two crazy fools engaging in ton-o-kink, and falling into the chaos of unending love (Dionysian). But actually, if they're pairing up and planning on negotiating a mortgage together by the end of the story, they're ending up in a very Apollonian place. Most romances offer the reader a 'love ideal'. Society likes those neat family units.
What, I argue, makes good erotica far superior an art form to either porn or romance, is that it refuses to offer 'ideals'. It recognizes that tension between the Apollonian and Dionysian forces, celebrates it, focuses on the storm of it, and leaves the reader with that battle unresolved.
Why do I think that's good?
I think it mirrors our real, lived experiences far better than either porn or romance. In truth, we live with those competing forces all our lives. Even poor, uptight T.S. Eliot was left pondering whether he had the rakish temerity to eat a peach and let the juice dribble down his chin.
Writing characters who are so wholly committed to either the Apollonian or Dionysian sides of their personality diminishes your ability to take them through a good, meaty story. If your character is too ready to take the plunge, too accepting of all the chaos that indulging in the Dionysian entails, it's going to be hard to effectively write any tension in the story. On the other hand, if your character is too hell bent on finding the right man with whom to settle down and start a family (or too hell bent on populating the perfect BDSM dungeon), you've got the same problem.
Revealing the inner tension of each character's Apollonian and Dionysian side (and fighting your own Apollonian or Dionysian preferences to get them to a place of static commitment to either camp) will allow you to leave your reader with characters who will haunt them beyond the end of your story, because although the story may have ending, you allowed the universal battle live on.
Now, if you're a savvy writer who wants to sell books, then right about now you are thinking... I don't care what you say, Ms Philosopher Name-Dropper, people want 'ideals'. 'Ideals' sell.
Yes, they do. They absolutely do. The public has been fed so many visions of an 'ideal' in the media, they're completely addicted to it. When they don't get it, they get pissed off, just like any junky who finds out his fix is actually almost all baby laxative.
And this is why I bring up Nietzsche and Zizek, and why I feel erotica is a fundamentally revolutionary, political act. Because I believe that feeding people 'ideals' is like handing them smack. And you can accuse me of being a patronizing, arrogant elitist - that's fine. But all those unrealistic, ideal-driven narratives accumulate, and ultimately leave people constantly yearning for a reality that cannot exist, or comparing their lives to fairy-tale fictional worlds and feeling like, if only they were cleverer, smarter, richer, better-looking, thinner... everything would be perfect. And ironically, this tends to make them go out and buy stuff that promises to make them all those things. Corporate profits go up and people's sense of self-worth, purpose and ability to cope with the ups and downs of a real life go to the wall.
When D.H. Lawrence published Lady Chatterly's Lover in 1928, he did something utterly revolutionary. He wrote explicit sex scenes in a literary world that had never tolerated them. He wrote about sexual love between people from radically different classes in a world where that was a serious social transgression. He wrote the ending it deserved. Not a happy one, but one where the characters were left transformed by their experiences.
There is no use pretending that, in a world saturated in porn, writing explicit sex is transgressive: it's not. And not only has fucking the help become acceptable, it's a goddamned porn meme. But writing stories that offer no ideals, and don't force the battle between the Apollonian and the Dionysian to a neat conclusion... that IS transgressive.
So do it.
Posted by Remittance Girl at 8:17 AM
Sunday, February 10, 2013
The thought of that makes your blood run cold, doesn't it? Well, rest assured, there's no reason to be scared ... well, maybe not that much of a reason to be scared...
Queerer Than You Can Imagine