How Can Creative Writing Ever Answer a Thesis Question? And should it?

As I start writing the short stories that will make up the artifact portion of my thesis, the idea of the thesis question has come back to haunt me. Should a piece of fiction ever set out to answer a question or questions?  Or should it, as Barthes would have us believe, set out to examine questions and offer readers the opportunity to answer the questions themselves.

I arrived at my thesis questions easily:

If, as Bataille, Lacan, Foucault and Barthes all have insisted, transgression is a fundamental part of eroticism, what transgressions are possible in a society that has accepted and legitimized many of the things once considered prohibited or taboo? In our efforts to liberate ourselves from earlier erotic restrictions, have we killed off the possibility of eroticism?

Of course, taking a look at the fictional subject restrictions for almost all publishers of erotic fiction, it’s clear there are still some things the mainstream considers taboo: bestiality, incest, underage sex, necrophilia, snuff and rape.  But literary publishers don’t put such restrictions on works. It’s simply considered in bad taste to overtly eroticize those subjects.  If the reader happens to masturbate to Chuck Pahlaniuk’s “Snuff” or to Brett Easton-Ellis’s “American Psycho” – well – that’s up to them.

Even more to the point, if one accepts Zizek’s premise that pornography is essentially conservative and prescriptive, offering us superficially ‘forbidden’ but in fact widely available and avidly consumed exemplars of how to ‘do sex right,’ then no amount of explicitness can truly be considered transgressive and erotic anymore.

The low-hanging fruit would be simply to produce a set of short stories that explored, in an overtly erotic manner, the list of no-go subjects I listed above. ‘See?’ I could exclaim. ‘There are still transgressive possibilities! Here they are.’ But there are thousands of pieces of erotic fiction spread all over the net that eroticize these subjects. Admittedly, these pieces are often produced by people who lack basic writing skills, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t ‘writing’ or negate them as cultural product. Especially in this new era of self-published e-books and the ever-increasing number of indie e-publishers.  Taking the same subjects and simply writing them with more literary eloquence would not, in my view, address my thesis questions.

Moreover, I would argue that many of these ‘no-go’ subjects are written about  and consumed by the mainstream in transparent metaphor. Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight” series – in fact the whole romance with vampires genre – feature a lot of living people having sex with the dead.  Similarly all those sexy stories about sex with werewolves are tales of bestiality in thin disguise. We might not be producing any new “Lolitas” but the sexual inexperience and mental age of the female character in “Fifty Shades of Grey” is nothing if not a sexual experience between a very young virgin and an older, experienced man.  The fact that the author slammed an age (22) that bore no possible resemblance to the sexual maturity of the average western 22-year old female is what made it publishable.

What I decided to set out to do was to examine the things in our culture that were considered repulsive, unforgivable, politically incorrect and fundamentally unworkable and to say… I think these may be our new taboos. And here… we may seek new transgressions, and therefore new eroticisms.

For instance: in a society where money has become the sole measure of valuation, what happens when it is fundamentally rejected? In a time when surveillance and exposure are considered not only the measure of safety but also the path to savvy marketization, what of those who might obsessively seek out privacy and anonymity? Now that we are constantly exhorted to proclaim our identity, to ‘sell’ ourselves, our personas, our ‘brand,’ what might happen to people who absolutely refused to do so? And in a culture where time is money and money is everything, is there not some terrible transgression in squandering it? In refusing to consume or to consummate? In refusing its meaning?

Literary fiction has certainly explored levels of abjection, but it has also, overwhelmingly, refused it any metaphysical meaning. It often represents love as hysterical or naive unless it is can be portrayed as relativistic, transactional, or delusional.

And finally, if in the past transgression has been dependent on what the group considers prohibited, might there be scope for transgressions that are entirely singular? Transgressive singularities?

I don’t think any good piece of creative writing can or should offer answers to a question. But I think it can and should propose that subjects – in this case, what is erotic – be reconsidered.

One Thought on “How Can Creative Writing Ever Answer a Thesis Question? And should it?

  1. Dear MM,

    I love this idea. I was recently wondering about the emotional border between erotic and repulsive. Barthes’ “Story of the Eye” evoked nausea in me towards the end as his transgression increased but De Sade, in “120 Days of Sodom”, was just boring – more to do with style than content, I think.

    I will follow this and related topics from you with interest.


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