Monday, December 16, 2013

Ninety-One: Pages

Classic and antique erotica--- I've been writing about that. I'd love to have a well-stocked library with its own section for classic and antique erotica.  If you've been reading here, you already know that. I'd want the books to be not just titles that are classics, or at least exemplars of  sub-genres, but finely bound as well. I'm not sure what it means to collect first editions of erotica, but having original editions--- high-end 18th-century and Victorian editions ---is an obsession all its own.

There's still one question, though. Let's say that I could have a shelf or two of classic erotica, of things done from the early 18th-century up through the early 1950s. The question remains: what counts as "real" erotica, "serious" erotica today?

I'm not at all sure what counts as "serious" erotica these days, and I'm not exactly sure what I'd be looking for in erotica. Certainly nothing like "50 Shades" or its progeny. Nothing like the long list of "erotic romance" titles listed at GoodReads, where far too many of the stories seem to be Harlequin romances with explicit sex.

I'm a literary snob, and I'll admit that. I'd want erotica to be literary as much as anything else. I'd demand something that was aware of itself as literature. Explicit is fine--- graphic is better. But it has to be crafted the way literary fiction is crafted. But you know that about me. I want erotica to have the same quality of writing I expect from any other genre I read.

But there's something deeper here as well. Even if I decided to write my own erotica, what am I still allowed to write in the age of the gender wars? It strikes me that so much of the erotica produced in the last fifteen or twenty years has been by female authors, and I'm wondering if there's not a kind of social rule here. Are men who write self-described erotica regarded with suspicion, or at least with more suspicion than female writers? Are male authors of erotica regarded as working not just in a sketchy field, but as being suspect themselves for all the usual sins?

If I decided to write erotica, I'd have immediate problems. Writing about sex is regarded as having political overtones, as being immediately subject to political criticism in a way that, say, writing detective stories isn't.  I'm male, white, heterosexual, and of a certain age. (Should I add "cisgendered", too? And "educated middle class"?) There'd be a question of whether I was even allowed to write erotica. All the more so if what I wrote had age-disparate couples or told s/m-inflected tales.

The columnist Sarah Nicole Prickett is noted for dismissing anything written by "Dads"--- white males over 30 ---as being works she refuses to read. She sees no reason for such people to write anything anymore.  And when I follow on-line literary feuds, I see that she's not the only one to hold that view. And it takes very little imagination to imagine the abuse a male author of  erotica could face.  You'd never be able to write literary s/m, especially if you had a heroine who volunteered to be the submissive parter. You'd never get away with trying to be inside her head, and making her "conventionally" beautiful would only seal your fate in the eyes of the gender warriors and the social justice mob.

There have been times when writing erotica was a sin--- providing temptation to lure readers into sin and debauchery. That actually sounds amusing these days, and I suppose anyone who was serious about what they wrote would enjoy the idea of having that kind of effect.  Here in these latter days, writing erotica is taken as being a kind of political statement, as being "really" about issues of oppression. To write erotica as someone too male, too old, too pale, and too straight is to be instantly accused of writing erotica for all the basest or most ideologically-evil reasons.

I can have classic or antique volumes on my shelves. What I can't do is write the erotica I'd like to read without being immediately attacked on non-literary grounds. I told you this before--- I am a roué and a gentleman of a certain age. In the age of the gender was, there are no words for what I am that don't imply that any desires I may have are vile and oppressive.

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