Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fetishism 101: Notes from TheoryGirl

Wow, I'm still enjoying the reflected buzz off that last post. All those fabulous sex toys with their wonderful adornment -- how delicious, thanks so much, Lacy.

And also how very strange.

But that's one of my writing alteregos talking. I've got a crew of 'em in my attic and this one's called TheoryGirl. She's the one who's wired a little bit strangely, whose erotic apparatus is hopelessly and forever jacked into her intellect. TheoryGirl gets hot, bothered, and fascinated by the astonishing weirdness and awesome variety of the human erotic imagination.

TheoryGirl can't help but ask how come certain of us out there find ourselves so enthralled by the eroticization of inanimate objects and also the objectification of flesh (from where TGirl and I sit, you can't have one without the other). Here's a pic of me, btw, taken by Celia, at last summer's RWA National Conference, while I was channeling TheoryGirl.

Note the slightly wired quality. TheoryGirl's the one who asks the uncomfortable questions.

Uncomfortable because in the world of 70s feminism where I grew up, "objectification" was about the worst thing you could accuse someone of doing. And with good reason -- because in the real world of human relationships, you never want to treat anyone as anything but a political/moral/narrative end in her or himself. Everyone is the heroine/hero of her/his story/journey through life, and no one should be treated as any less. Which is about as close to a moral credo as I suppose I have.

And yet in our erotic fantasy lives, the opposite can often be true. It seems we like a little vacation now and again from the awesome and miraculous responsibility of being a human among other humans. We like to play at being less -- or more -- than human. Not only are we fascinated by jade and ivory phalluses, but we're fascinated by their obverse -- by bondage, immobilization, flesh constrained to mimic object. And we're fascinated by our human power to affect such transformations.

TheoryGirl's considered answer to this problem is that because one of the facts of being human is that we’re never exactly sure what “human” is, it’s not really so weird that we’d want to explore it at its boundaries and margins.

In a troubled world (where freedom is misinterpreted as unchecked power), this makes me extraordinarily nervous. But in my own blessedly sheltered private life and in my writing, it works just fine, thank you very much, and I've come to believe that you get into considerably more trouble pretending it doesn't exist. (I'm not going to give any contemporary examples of holier-than-thou sexual hypocrisy. Just read the newspapers -- and weep.)

I've never done any better describing it when I riffed off this quote from Dominique Aury, who wrote Story of O (as Pauline Reage). In a memoir-essay called"A Girl in Love," Aury remembers

those oft repeated reveries, those slow musings just before falling asleep, always the same ones, which the purest and wildest love always sanctioned, or rather always demanded, the most frightful surrender, in which childish images of chains and whips added to constraint the symbols of constraint.
To which I added that,
At the bottom of Aury's elegant and urbane pornography lies the fantasy life of an impressionable child -- the sort who listens carefully to the overheated perorations of an overzealous religious school teacher, who pores endlessly over the lurid imagery of a comic book or an illustrated saint's life. Because pornography's power doesn't reside in the extremity of its images and motifs, but in their naiveté and redundancy -- in the pornographer's need to employ the symbols of constraint, and to spell out the abstractions of power and passion in the most primitive terms possible.
You can find a link to this essay, my tribute to Dominique Aury/Pauline Reage on my web page, btw.

And yet, I’ve discovered that my erotic imagination has its own limits, too. I felt much freer to explore my fantasy of a global S/M underground in Carrie’s Story and Safe Word, because Carrie was a contemporary character who was so sure of her own political and intellectual autonomy (read: over-educated motormouth TheoryGirl type) that the reader could be sure she’d never lose herself in the rules of the game or mistake "the abstractions of power and passion" for the real thing.

Whereas when I write stuff that takes place in the 18th or early 19th century, where no woman (and not every man) could feel sure of her political and intellectual autonomy, I find I’m a lot more careful - less free with the whips and chains and other props. I use found objects more - I try to imagine how immobilized a body could be simply by being placed in a certain posture wearing a tightly laced corset.

Gotta go write that scene now. Deadline calls. I may give you a peek at that scene, tho, in some future post.

And I may also, in a future post, write about the astonishing, even if confused and constrained, erotic imagination of Emily Bronte (talk about the fantasy life of an impressionable child), who tells us in Wuthering Heights, that what 6-year-old Cathy Earnshaw really wanted, when her father set off to Liverpool on the fateful trip that brought Heathcliff home, was a whip.


Lacy Danes said...

I so agree Pam. I have only recently started to write contemporary M/s. The Brief I sold to Spice is one and the story is very free, I even use some knife play in it.

The historical pieces I write are much more restrained… wink. The use of mirrors, candles, ribbons, clothing garments, birches and the simple human hand I use.

I am using a bit of breath play in the historical I am writing now… My hero tells my heroine “Hold your breath, until I say breathe.” then my hero touches her mercilessly.

Kate Pearce said...

It's weird, I find the contemporary erotic romances harder to write than the historicals. In a contemporary world it's so much easier to walk away from a relationship, to refuse to accept a man or woman's particular sexual 'kink'.
In a historical setting there are all these embedded constraints of class, duty, marriage with no divorce etc etc which force people together making the conflict much more believable. But that might just be me :)

Grat post Pam

Pam Rosenthal said...

It's interesting, isn't it, the boundary between "contemporary" and "historical" when in both cases one is writing erotic fantasy. In both cases, what interests me is h&h's mutual effort to create an imagined world for the 2 of them, and the tension between that and my authorial effort to create an imagined world to contain this.