I’m clearly feeling…

I'm clearly feeling oddly wordy this morning -- I keep posting long things to mailing lists and the like. Here's something I just posted to the EROS list, which has just started up again after a long quietness. They got back into the perpetual discussion of what is erotica, and I felt compelled to pontificate. Feel free to disagree. :-)

What I normally use to distinguish erotica from just simply writing which addresses sexuality, is that in erotica, the writer attempts to arouse, just as in horror, the writer attempts to horrify. The aim is to elicit a particular emotional response. If a comedy doesn't make you laugh, it fails. If a tragedy doesn't make you cry, it fails. If erotica doesn't turn you on, it fails.

Now, of course, with all of these, there's going to be some variation in individual response. Lots of people don't think Monty Python is funny -- I find it hilarious. And most people seem to think Sienfeld is funny, but I never quite got it. Similarly, not everyone will be turned on, reading your erotica, and that's okay. Individual response. But if *no one* is turned on, reading your erotica, then I'd say it's not working as erotica.

At that point, you can either try to make it work as erotica, or you can decide it's something else entirely -- sexual writing, for example, a valid field in its own right.

By the way -- I'm not distinguishing between erotica and porn in any of the above. I think that's all just a matter of degree. In exactly the way that you have high tragedy at one end of a spectrum, and trashy tearjerkers at the other. And sometimes you want one, and sometimes you want the other. If you're looking to get off in five minutes before you fall asleep, you might well reach for a raunchy page of porn (that you'll read over and over a half-dozen times), instead of something complex, that requires a bit of thought to enjoy.

I think part of the confusion comes from people thinking that erotica is a genre of content, when it's really a genre of mood. (These are my definitions below, not generally accepted ones, but I stand by them. They work. :-) They are also not comprehensive lists of the various types.


A. Genres of mood: comedy, tragedy, horror, erotica, romance
B. Genres of content: science fiction, fantasy, western, mystery, immigrant lit., mainstream
C. Genres of style/structure: surrealism, magical realism, minimalism, metafiction, myth, folktale, fairy tale

There is overlap, of course, among the genre types. But generally speaking, a story will participate in 2-3 of the genre types above. So you can have a comic fantasy told in the surrealist mode. Or an erotic western told in the minimalist mode. Or a tragic mainstream story told in metafictional style. Mix and match, have fun. :-)

Note that *none* of the above are labelled 'literary'. Literary should never, in my opinion, be used as a genre term. Any of the three stories I just described could end up having literary value, or not. And even if they have no redeeming literary value, they can still be entertaining and fun, and worthwhile for that alone. Literary is a separate axis that just shouldn't come into genre discussions, and it's sheer sloppiness on our part that's allowed 'literary' to become synonymous with 'mainstream' fiction.

2 thoughts on “I’m clearly feeling…”

  1. Hadn’t really thought of it that way. Good way of thinking about it, because I’ve definately seen the “combo” genres and wondered how to address them. I also think that is one of the better delinations for erotica versus porn. I have a hard time IDing to other people what I think of as porn and what I think of as erotica. The idea of a scale works very well.

  2. You’re exactly right about that!

    I’ve been thinking long and hard about the relationship between belief systems and aesthetic enjoyment (See http://www.imaginaryplanet.net/weblogs/idiotprogrammer/?p=83398279 )

    In USA, we tend to think that straight people can’t enjoy gay fiction, that atheists can’t enjoy Christian fiction, etc. Contrast that with Indian aesthetics, Bharata’s 8 rasas (i.e., evocation of moods and emotions). If we are basing our genres and aesthetics on moods, then it’s meaningless to talk about breakdown by fetishes or sexual preferences.

    Some moods that come to mind in erotic genre:

    1)love/romance (no explicit sex)
    2)the vulgar/gross-out (yes, erotica can delight in that while simultaneously being grossed out about it)
    3)the criminal/transgression/forbidden
    6)”moral love”; passion in marriage
    7)desire unquenched or unreleased.
    8) master and servant; helplessness/control
    9)fidelity v/ promiscuity

    (Others? Hmmm)

    The problem with using moods to define literary genres is that people tend to gravitate towards one or two moods. That is one reason by the way that I’ve not liked storycodes on erotic stories, though I recognize they serve a purpose. It’s kind of creepy for a person to choose a story purely on the basis of story codes. We need to be surprised on occasion.

    The gay/straight thing for example. I avoid gay fiction, but I’m sure there’s some gay erotica that even I would enjoy, if only for its literary qualities.

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