Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Ninety-Two: Decor

A cold Christmas Day morning, and I am thinking about the idea of writing erotica. I'm still not entirely persuaded that anyone male--- straight, white, "cis/cis-presenting" male and of a certain age ----is allowed to write erotica at all here in the age of the gender wars. That's an issue that needs to be considered, isn't it? Is it permissible at all for anyone male (let alone male and embodying all the other things so despised by the gender warriors) to describe sex or create sexual imagery? Is it permissible for males to have sexual fantasies at all in the age of the gender wars?

I'm looking out from my rooms at a winter morning and trying to explain what I'd like to see in erotica, or what I'd like to write about.  Sets and settings, obviously. I always begin with sets and settings. Where something happens matters intensely to me. Place, time, decor--- the context matters. Sex, or at least a rencontre, means very little without the right mise-en-scène.  Setting matters.

A fairly well-known writer of on-line erotica, an expat woman in Indochina who calls herself Remittance Girl once angrily blocked me from a discussion because I disagreed with her about the use of brand names in erotica. I'm no fan of the sex-and-shopping novels ("shopping and fucking") from the 1980s that made having Louboutin pumps and a millionaire, hard-muscled lover totally interchangeable for  wealthy cougars in L.A., but I do like the idea of brand names in stories (and not just in erotica). Brand names provide context; they do help define a social background for the story. And, yes, they are aspirational. Brand names allow me the chance to make lists.  I've done that with all kinds of genres, and done it all my life. Lists and brand names do help shape the encounter.

The hero in a thriller drinks this kind of Scotch and wears these kinds of shirts.  He takes these items of equipment with him to the hills of Nuristan. Some writers do that deliberately, of course. Ian Fleming's James Bond novels were notorious for that. They were as much about teaching postwar young Englishmen how to dress for an upwardly mobile life as much as they were about the spy plots.  I do want brand names and lists, despite Remittance Girl's hostility to them. I want to be able to read erotica and look for class markers and style guides. Sex has to be about a certain kind of stylishness. The physical encounter is never as important as the presentation.  And I do judge sex by presentation. Flesh and bodies are never very attractive on their own, or at least they're not sufficient to make an encounter work, even if they are necessary.  I don't want to be inside a story, or identify with a story, that's not appealing to the eye, or to a sense of style. That's style in both senses, mind you--- literary as well as fashion. Maybe that's what Remittance Girl was objecting to.  Maybe she was angry that I was saying that sex--- an encounter ---is or should be defined and judged not by flesh or physical pleasure, but by presentation.  I can't imagine it any other way, though.

Writing erotica... Anything I'd write would have lists implicit. What the characters did and how they approached it would be shaped by locations and decor. It would be important to them that what they were doing be part of the stories in their heads. My characters wouldn't be the Beautiful People from the "Dynasty"-era shopping-and-fucking novels, but they would be people who wanted sex to be framed like a story, to happen in ways that would allow them to live up to the stories in their heads. If they're over-literary, well, so am I. The important thing is to have a correct setting and a correct set of symbols and markers to deploy.  I grew up reading things like "Story of O"--- erotica set in the places and social settings I wanted to visit, erotica set in what were always aspirational settings for me.

Erotica for me has to have a self-aware literary edge. And it has to have a certain kind of s/m flavor. But that goes back to the idea of literary style. What's more "literary" than high-end s/m, with all its roots in Catholic ritual and French novels...?

I need to think more about that, about what and how to present the kinds of characters I'd like to use. And about how to present s/m--- how to deploy it and how to have my characters understand it.

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