Erotic Interlude: Doing Things, Feeling Things
By Hapax Legomenon

99 Erotic Notions Index
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Bocklin, Triton und Nereide 1877
Arnold Bocklin, Triton und Nereid (1877).

That story Erotic Notion #79: Half-Lust is horrible," Lisa said. "I hope to never meet a man like that. Or is that supposed to be you?"

"Why did you find this man so horrible?"

"His attitudes toward sex were cold-hearted. The man was too rude and uncaring for this story to be erotic. The story is almost anti-sex."

"I won't challenge that interpretation," I said. "But a story can succeed as erotic stimulation even if it depicts sex unflatteringly. "

"Your story almost portrays sex as an ugly event," Lisa said. "Why portray the female character as an idiot? No woman is that servile – no woman I know anyway."

"Lisa, I begin with the premise that sexuality consists of both civilized and uncivilized impulses. For centuries people self-censored sexual thoughts and feelings. But evolutionary theory and psychoanalysis changed all that. Suddenly it became fashionable to understand sexual passion as separate from romantic passion. And when you talk about sexuality alone, you have to acknowledge the raw and irrational impulses that drive people together or apart."

"Even the Romantics understood the raw irrational side of humanity," Lisa said. "They portrayed sexual passion without getting bogged down by biology and bodily fluids. The Werthers of the past might have been crazy, but at least they weren't obsessed with anal sex or bukkake."

"I'm not so sure. In previous centuries only the elite and educated had access to printing presses. Perversions were probably talked about, but rarely mentioned in print. If these things were happening openly at the local brothel, why waste paper writing it down?"

"But this is literature we are talking about," Lisa said, "not brothel culture. Baudelaire may have found inspiration in brothels, but most people from that era were reading and writing about conventional passions. "

"Meanwhile centuries later," I said, "people are more candid about sexual inclinations; look at people's tolerance of homosexual behavior. Technology and mass communication make it easy to see what everybody else is doing and thinking."

"But has this new sexual candor radically changed society?"

"I don't know," I admitted.

"Look around," Lisa said. "There are churches, supermarkets, playgrounds, schools. Everybody is playing by the rules; nobody is raping or having orgies or pursuing fetishes except for isolated subgroups. Civilization has not crumbled away, and men are not complaining. If given a choice between boring married life and the thrilling anarchy of single life, men usually choose marriage."

"But only if they can watch Sunday football games without interruption," I added. "Lisa, this story wasn't trying to be subversive. It depicted the contradictory nature of this man's attitudes towards his woman friend."

"But does this character come alive? To me, he is little more than a random series of cruel observations. He lacks a soul. To be erotic, a story needs to portray sexual experiences in a recognizable, coherent way; we need to be able to identify with his motivations. Honestly, I can't imagine this kind of man actually existing... unless he were a social outcast or living in an institution. "

Lisa was making me angry. What basis did she have for saying this man couldn't exist? I knew plenty of men like that. "Erotic stories don't need to be realistic," I said.

"But the fictional world needs to be recognizable." Lisa said, "In literature you can imagine anything – a woman with ten breasts perhaps – but you can't awaken the reader's erotic imagination merely by putting her in a sex scene. The way you describe emotions and physical sensations should remind the reader of her own erotic dreams. To bring the reader into the character's world, the character's world need to resemble the reader's. But your story is too fragmented to resemble anyone's world."

I paused. I was about to mention that "reader identification" was a hazy standard to make, especially because males and females experienced sex so differently. But no, we had argued that point already. "It seems that your real gripe with my story is not the negative portrayal of sex," I said, "but my use of stream-of-consciousness technique."

Lisa thought for a moment. "Kind of. Your story is too fragmented, too abstract. Many erotic stories succeed without excessive style or narrative tricks. An erotic story needs to be about people doing things, feeling things."

"Erotic fantasies don't have to be coherent," I said.

"I'm not talking about coherence," Lisa said. "A stream-of-consciousness story is nothing more than a catalog of sensations or conversational fragments. The protagonist is almost an afterthought. I can talk about the rustling of a belt against bare skin, but what does it mean? How can that be erotic? You need characters and emotional moments and erotic situations. Without these things, a rustling of a belt against bare skin is no more erotic than the Pythagorean theorem."

"Characters arise from the accumulation of detail," I said. "You make it sound as though the author needs to make a special effort to breathe life into a character. But this happens automatically. Every detail or incident provides a fuller sense of the narrator's point of view (and sense of the erotic). Really, it's easy. "

"Not at all," Lisa said. "It takes skill to choose the right details. It takes effort to imbue stories with sympathy and humanity. You can't just throw together a jumble of images or sensations and expect the reader to be titillated. "

"Why not – have you tried? Start with any image – such as the belt against bare skin – use your imagination to make it erotic."

She looked at me and sighed. "I don't feel like writing a story – especially not today."

"Belt. Bare skin. Write it."

Oh, all right," she said. "It may have poetic touches, but it certainly won't work as an erotic story."

"Let me be the judge of that," I said.

(The results of this challenge is found in Unbuttoned Tale #5: Pushed ).

Written July, 2007.

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If given a choice between boring married life and the thrilling anarchy of single life, men usually choose marriage."
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