The Language of Lived vs Mediated Erotic Experience

At the core of my project is piece or pieces of creative writing that, I feel, must examine the qualitative difference between lived and mediated erotic experience in prose. Of course, there is irony in this, because the moment I write it, it becomes mediated to the reader.  And yet I feel that there must be a way, even in what isn’t written, isn’t shown, to communicate eroticism without robbing it of its complexity, because it’s there in the lines of certain poems, on the pages of certain books, in certain films.

I think, for the most part, it isn’t that creative artists have avoided eroticism, but felt the seemingly impossible challenge of capturing what Boodakian describes as “the revolt of body and mind intrinsic to the erotic.”[1. Boodakian, F. D. (2008). Resisting Nudities: A Study in the Aesthetics of Eroticism. Peter Lang Publishing Inc.]

Traditionally, the strategy for communicating this revolt has been to talk about something else, and most definitely to avoid any explicit description of the erotic moment in order to arrive at its truth. Certainly, visual artists who have used images of the body to reach their goal may have achieved it to their own satisfaction, and yet have trapped many their viewers at the threshold, bound to that beautiful but hypnotic earthy place of bone and sinew..  in traditional Japanese haiku, you see an attempt to skip past the journey of the flesh to arrive at the liminal beyond. This is true for a lot of the theorists I’ve been reading. An eagerness to jump past the details of the body, dismiss the flesh urge, and spend their time on the other side of the veil.

The problem with this, as I see it, is that we use our body as a vehicle to get to eroticism. Whether use or misuse, whether we allow our bodies their desires or we deny it, still the erotic experience cannot be unembodied, because fundamental to eroticism is this desire to reach beyond the boundaries of individual body THROUGH the body.  Even when the erotic experience is a completely mental one, the very absence of body is part of the eroticism.

So, for me, erotic writing must make a place for the body, but not a trap for it. The narrative needs to acknowledge the body and its sensations as the medium, the landscape through which the story must travel. And the description of those experiences must call, as much as possible, to the lived, embodied experience of the reader.

This is where the spectre of mediated sexuality raises its head. Because the language we have inherited to discuss eroticism – this war played out through the landscape of the body – has accreted words and phrases that were invented to serve the industry of sex. To enable the efficient classification and packaging of mediated sex products.

The problem is our world is inundated with this vocabulary. And on the other side, language that speaks to the experience rather than the act that can be visualized, there is a great sucking silence. We have the language of romance, which has been equally appropriated in the service of commerce. And eroticism is not romantic love, although they sometimes accompany each other.

Bataille believed there were three types of eroticism: the physical, the emotional and the religious (spiritual). [2. Bataille, G. (1986). Erotism: Death and Sensuality (M. Dalwood, Trans.)]. City Lights Books, page 15]. If pornography can be said to deal with eroticism at all, it usually only ever deals with it on the physical level.  There’s nothing wrong with this. If pornography transcends the purely outer husk of the experience, then it is indeed dealing with eroticism. But the problem is that, like the visual artist, pornography gets stuck in the mire of the visible. And so what pornography shows us is a semiotic shadow puppet play. It is essentially forensic, showing us the husk of the chrysalis that once lived in the cocoon but is gone. It has relied on our memory of how, for instance, penetration feels and engages us in a tacit agreement that we are recalling the lived experience.

Originally, there was great value to this, as a mnemonic of sensations we’ve felt, experiences we’ve had. Early pornography was a fair visual or textual representation of the physical side of eroticism. The people were normal people, their bodies did the things that most of our bodies can do. Admittedly, the communication of a state of desire was always a little clumsy – an erection, spread legs, the glint in the eye, but nonetheless, they were pictures and accounts of pleasures most of us had taken or could take.

As hyperbole crept into pornography, the gap between the lived experience of the observer and the mediated experiences offered grew. The feats of sexual excess became phenomenal, the transgressions more transgressive. But they were not our excesses, our transgressions, even though we tried to keep up with them. Now we are left watching, for the most part, the people we can never be doing the things we can never do. Pornography stopped being a mnemonic and began to enter the world of fiction.

Pornography has become the cartoon version of eroticism. With its horse cocks, its ever-wet cunts, its gaping assholes. And its language is equally cartoon-like: cream-pies and double-penetrations, reverse-cowgirls and horny MILFs. It is undoubtedly a very useful vocabulary for where to place things on a shelf, but these words have no resonance for experiences. They are the names of acts for the camera, not the names physical experiences in the landscape of eroticism.

3 Thoughts on “The Language of Lived vs Mediated Erotic Experience

  1. That’s a very interesting point about older pornography being something that the viewer could, in all likelihood, easily imagine themselves, while today… well, I’d like to find the source, written by a porn actor, that really it is sexual stunt performance. (Cartoonish language is also a highly apt description).

    I know what you mean about it being desperately hard to capture eroticism as lived on the page – though there I go using the word ‘capture’ like to trap it as you want to avoid. 😉 I like your point about making the body paramount to eroticism – it’s one of the aspects of writing I find both challenging and fun – ‘how do I describe so precisely this sensation, this feeling, to convey how it is for me, or how it is for my characters, so the reader knows what I mean?’ Is the eroticism found then through recognition of it, or from a vicarious new experience?

  2. I enjoy reading your entries, and find your research fascinating, thanks for sharing your process and path with us.
    I completely agree with you on pornography being something else than eroticism: a step lateral, a development in simpler and unequivocal terms, an extrapolation of acts and their being subjugated to the needs of the camera.

    And yet, the body is paramount to eroticism: in its presence, as a medium, or as you say in its absence, equally revealing.

    The body is our senses’ centre, which we need and yet want to sublimate. It’s a very difficult space to find.

    Thanks for giving me something to ponder! My PhD research is on completely different topics (and also slowed by other circumstances) but I have a strong interest in erotica/pornography, as a writer, and I look forward to read more of your speculations. Thank you 🙂

    • If you do go down this road in your investigations, I’d really like to hear and find out more about it! Hugs. Thanks for commenting

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