Very recently, the marvelously accomplished erotic writer Will Crimson sent around a letter, addressed to a few other writers, inviting them to a discussion on how their writing and motivations for writing have changed over time, with the evolution of their practice. Answering this invitation forced me to write a manifesto of a kind and to identify my position as a writer on the margins of the erotica genre. Below, and as a public invitation to join that discussion, is my answer:
Both my motivations and my goals in writing have changed substantially. When I first started writing, my primary interest was to tell myself stories I could not find elsewhere. I was, of course, interested in the sex – and there was lots of that to be found on the net – but what was much harder to find was a richer bed in which to lie that sexuality. Pornography – the simple telling or showing of physical acts – did not arouse me reliably, or consistently, or in the way I imagined a I might be more satisfactorily aroused. I required that the sex be situated within a larger context.
I needed to be teased, but in a much more complex way than is usually found in most pornography. I needed the risk that perhaps my desires would not be met. I needed my erotic landscape to be populated with something more than sexual cyphers who stood in for me. I needed to look upon others, subjectivised others. I wanted stranger-sex in the widest possible understanding of the term. I wanted people who were not me – not just another gender, or another race, or have different physical characteristics to my own – but entirely different lives, personalities, desires, different cultural paradigms in the deepest sense. I wanted an erotic experience that was as far from a narcissistic one as could be had.
In a way, that is still my pursuit. Even though there is more contextualized erotic writing being produced, it often pays only lip-service to context (the writers feeling that the act of storytelling and a modicum of literary obeisance demands some textual gesture of context) or it employs contextual devices that are so cliche as to be devoid of real meaning.
I guess it is this that has led me to believe that, for me and perhaps for some of my readers, sex is simply bigger than that. It is not that eroticism happens within the environment and the culture, but that environment and culture are an integral part of eroticism, and that the physical act of sex is of no interest to me in isolation.
As time has gone on for me as a writer, I have come to believe that sex is not erotic in itself. It is desire that is erotic and that desire for desire at the very foundation of what is erotic as opposed to any biological imperatives, no matter how adorned or convoluted the pursuits those imperatives might be made.
I think the stories, the characters, the settings, the circumstances, and the chain of causality have become more erotic to me than any sex act. And, consequently, I find the sex act the least interesting to write. Of course I, like most erotic writers, I think, still have that nagging feeling that we’d better throw in a sex scene for the satisfaction of the paying crowd. But I have to admit to caring less and less to address those needs we assume are there.
There is lots of erotica with explicit sex and not much else out there. And I am happy to cede to them an audience for whom that is of primary importance. Very much like my belief in life on other planets, I believe that the chances of being the only person who find eroticism in the more complex panorama of life is small. There must be other readers out there who, like me, require more complexity, more lateral erotic relations – for whom sex is much bigger and much more important than a meeting of genitals or the pairing of copacetic kinks.
It could be said that this is the ultimate perversion – this uncoupling of the physical drive and the biological imperative from the erotic. But from a psychological standpoint, I would say that it is not perverse but rather hysterical. This de-linking does not transfer desire from the shoe-wearer to the shoe and end there, satisfied. This de-linking, I think, is a position of doubt, of challenge, of questioning the given understanding of what eroticism really is. That is the stance of a hysteric, not a pervert.
What is pleasure, what is bliss? What is the mechanism of desire that drives us to pursue those aims? How does the pursuit of those goals and its attainment construct us as individuals, or as societies? That those questions haunt me and drive me means that the act of writing itself is an erotic one for me. And that the readers who persist in reading my work are, in some way, my erotic partners in this hysterical pursuit of pleasure. They are companions in the demand for answers that, I know quite well, I will never have. Perhaps they, like me, have decided that the pleasure is in the continued questioning. Perhaps eroticism lies in the journey and the decision to continue it – the jouissance in the recognition that the destination is an unattainable spectre on which we may project an infinite number of meanings.
True, it could be labelled a masturbatory activity. But only if I did not believe in the power of the reader to construct his or her own meaning of what I write. Once that is acknowledged, it is most definitely a consummation of a sort. It is most certainly at least a threesome, and very often, it is an orgy.