I was going to rant…

I was going to rant about my net difficulties -- but really, you've all had net difficulties, you know what they're like, they're hopefully mostly over now and you'll all go back and read the five or so entries I posted in the last day or two if you missed them, and I'd rather give you something more interesting to read. And since I haven't come up with anything more interesting, I'll point you to two good pieces of writing I came across this morning:

Nick Mamatas, on section 8 and why you shouldn't be mad at the poor for their housing subsidies; enlightening *and* v. entertaining. I think more social science writers should be required to be funny. If only someone would go back and rewrite Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations and all of Marx, Engels, Weber, etc., so that it's making me chuckle every paragraph. I'd go reread them right now, if that were the case. I sort of understood basic economics back in college; now it's all a big blur to me. But Nick helped. Good Nick.

And on a totally different note, Debra Hyde talks about literary erotica in America -- I'm not sure I agree with everyone she says, but it's interesting anyway:

"Erotic reading must tempt and stimulate, and it's not verboten for the adult reader...to seek personal satisfaction on the heels of that arousal in either solo or partnered sex. And that's where literary erotica can't succeed. As long as it remains couched in the messiness of life, it will not capture most readers. People want erotic affirmation. They want the erections, not the brains."

I think she's right, in that literary erotica is caught squarely in that dilemma. The current proliferation of short story erotica anthologies is a short-lived phenomenon, I suspect, because most of those stories don't succeed well at *both* really turning lots of people on *and* being excellent literature. It can be done, but it's rare. I think most of my own stories err on the side of literature in this debate -- I'm not actually expecting to get most of the readers off; I'm more interested in created a sexy mood, or evoking a memory of what it felt like, the last time you felt that way. All in service to the story, not to the getting off. And given that, it's a little odd to classify the stories as erotica, and put them in erotica anthologies -- the only reason we do, really, is that they're still not quite acceptable in a lot of regular literary venues.

When stories like mine (sexually explicit, and sexy, but more about the story than the sex (and just as likely to leave you hanging as to get you off)) become widely acceptable (which seems to be happening fairly quickly, barring a massive backlash), then I suspect a lot of what's currently published in literary erotica anthologies will slide over into regular literary fiction (with perhaps the best of those being hunted down and collected into editions for the connoisseur (*)), and the anthologies themselves will become much more explicitly sexual and about getting off. So I guess I'm predicting a return to a division between literature and pornography -- which is fine with me, as long as a) literature can get as sexy as it wants/needs to be, and b) it's perfectly socially okay for anyone to go out and buy some porn to assuage their sexual desires, just as they'd go out and buy a burger to assuage their hunger. (Oh, the snooty organic vegans will still look down on the greasy cow eaters, but that's just part of being human. As long as everyone gets to eat who they want, in the way they want to eat them, it's okay with me if some people are a little snide about it.)

I guess I had something to say this morning after all.

All of this is of particular interest to me since an erotica anthology I'm in has just won an award. Best Lesbian Erotica 2003, edited by Tristan Taormino (which republished "How It Started") just won a Lambda Literary Award. Woohoo!

* connoisseur: the first word whose spelling I've had to look up in a good long while. I was startled to realize that I had no idea what letters were in it. It seemed worth a note.

8 thoughts on “I was going to rant…”

  1. Have you read the “for beginners” series? It’s not all a laugh a minute, but still fairly accessible. Of course, I’ve read big chunks of Marx for Beginngers and I still don’t really understand a lot of this stuff, so maybe it’s not the best approach. But it was the first thing that came to mind when you asked for a funny rewrite of Marx.

  2. Yah, I’ve seen those. They’re okay for quick cramming, getting the gist of the ideas, but they’re no good for following the thought processes of the authors. Really, I’d only use those for review, not for initial understanding. I’m just wishing some of these guys were funnier. Barthes is often funny, and so is Derrida, actually. A spoonful of sugar, y’know?

  3. Interesting parallels between what you’re talking about re erotica and what I see happening in speculative fiction. A lot of sfnal stuff is becoming acceptable in litfic (see Atwood), as long as it’s not labeled that way. What with fantasy being moved to the fronts of some bookstores, this could end up meaning that the genre/marketing label “science fiction” will start to be applied only to more and more marginal stuff; tech porn, if you will.

    …But I don’t think that’ll happen for a while, if ever; I think instead that there will continue to be not much difference between the sfnal end of literary fiction and the literary end of speculative fiction. It’ll just keep being published with different labels depending on who the author’s agent happened to approach with the book.

    There are also parallels in sexual identity politics: drawing a wider circle of what’s generally acceptable is good in various ways, but drawing that circle at all means excluding people, and the bigger the circle the more marginal the people at the margins are. But I don’t have time to elaborate, so if that doesn’t make sense just ignore it.

  4. Speaking of Atwood – she’ll be here in Chicago on Sunday at the Printer’s Row book fair (1:30pm I think). I’m not sure if she will be reading, taking questions, or just signing books – if she takes questions, I’m considering how to phrase a question to her re her comments about her latest book not being sf.

  5. Someone would have to explain to me why your work does not qualify as “literary erotica” (cf. Anais Nin,) and “How It Started” certainly qualifies in the “seek personal satisfaction on the heels of that arousal in either solo or partnered sex” department, at least in my case.

  6. “The Worldly Philosphers.” Don’t remember who by, but we read parts of it in my HS economics class, and while it may not have been laugh out loud hysterical, (and it might have been,I just can’t remember), it was interesting and educational at the same time. (Of course, I am a history major, so what I consider interesting may be suspect.)

  7. “The Worldly Philosphers” is by Robert Hielbroner. It’s still in print. I think I have a copy somewhere in the basement. I will have to dig it out, because I remember it was a real hoot.

  8. Jed and I have an established and minor dispute over SF, so it’s nice to see here that we are basically heading toward a similar conclusion. I tend to dislike traditional litfic because what I want to write is more or less normal universes where something – one fantastic thing – extraordinary happens and screws up everyone’s life. This is not allowed in litfic at present, as far as I can tell, if you want to be visible. Meanwhile I also tend to be wary of the label SF because, as Jed and MA know, I define that very narrowly indeed. “Tech porn” is a little harsh but it’s closer to my definition of SF than any that has gone before.

    Anyway, I figure if the SF borders DO narrow to come closer to my definition, and litfic allows more of my stuff into its snooty house, then it can only benefit me. On the other hand, what will probably happen is that BOTH clubs will become more restrictive and I will be left out in the cold. It’s been my experience that genre boundaries tend to narrow and fracture over time; they may split off splinter genres, but they never expand.

    I agree with MA completely that the retrenching of porn labels would be a great thing IF it met the conditions she sets out. But, pessimistically, I don’t think it will. I think that “erotica” will gradually involve less and less actual arousal material, that literature will continue to close its doors to anything that smells of sex, and that porn will continue to be a marginalized, semi-underground market.

    Call it the Theory of Increasing Blandness.

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