Friday, January 25, 2008

Sex and Death

Eeek. That's what my agent said when she saw my latest partial.

In it, a major character is dying (in Forbidden Shores one of the protagonists was dying but it was apparently okay because he was bad) but coming gently into that good night. No no no no. It would scare editors. As would the fact that he might or might not be in a wheelchair--the ADA does not apply in the rarified world of erotic romance.

Uh, I said, which is so often the case when I talk to her, I'll rewrite.

And thought about it. What about Tristan and Isolde?

Or Romeo and Juliet?

Oops. Of course: no HEA.
But there is a very strong connection between sex and death. The Elizabethans referred to orgasm as a death--it can take you out of your body, it can suspend time, and it's a mystery. (Oh and quite often people shout "oh God oh God" so it must be a religious experience, right?).

It means that Orsino's line from Twelfth Night is highly erotic:

That strain again, it had a dying fall.

And here's the first stanza of a song by Dowland:

Come again! sweet love doth now invite
Thy graces that refrain

To do me due delight,

To see, to hear, to touch, to kiss, to die,

With thee again in sweetest sympathy.

If you want to hear the song, follow this link to Kathleen Battle and Christopher Parkening's recording Pleasures of Their Company and listen to the song. Even in the brief sample, you'll hear the breathless build up on the fourth line, and then a wonderful suspended note on die. (Sorry I can't give you a more precise link to the song.)

It can be all about the breathing--here's an interesting article by Annie Sprinkle.

I'm just doodling around on the edge of a huge subject but of course the French refer to orgasm as le petit mort (the little death--I think that's the right gender. It's spelled in all sorts of different ways online). Because people in the throes can look as though they're dying--or having a fit, yawning, hiccuping, sneezing, an infinite variety. Try looking in the mirror if you haven't already. Or, take a visit to this splendid site which has some free content, including a nicely edited sequence narrated by two jolly Australian women:



Pam Rosenthal said...

I've been thinking about this subject for some years, ever since I had to apply my editor's revisions to Almost A Gentleman. Her instructions were simple and to the point: take out the anal sex. And her instructions were also correct. At that point in the story the anal sex was a bit sensationalist.

But I did need something very intense at that point in the story, and so I came up with... um... death.

He pulsed within her. One last, high -- oh very high -- hedge to jump. They took it perfectly, together even as they lost their individual selves in orgasm. And together, still together, for the descent into inevitable sadness, the recognition that (as all things must -- as life itself must) it had come to an end.

As it turns out, this silent recognition is what allows my heroine, the next morning, to give voice to things she hasn't been able to voice hitherto.

I think such flashes of knowledge of human finitude constitute a core aspect of eroticism (at least after you reach a certain age). My forthcoming novel deals with this as well.

Thanks for bringing up such an important topic, Jane.

Kate Pearce said...

I think orgasm is such a primitive thing that we don't have the right words to express how we feel because we're too busy feeling it.

Does that make any kind of sense?

There's a lack of language so all you can do is 'show' it in your writing without resorting to cliches and that's hard.

Celia May Hart said...

Ooh, you can download it on iTunes. Verra pretty. Dowland's what era again?

(*says she who has been without internet for THREE DAYS and finally has it back.*)