Conference Paper Proposal: Spoonful of Sugar: In Defense of the Aroused Reader

Žižek interprets the film Titanic’s narrative strategy as one that uses the emotional power of an ill-fated romance to prime the viewer to receive the hidden ideological message 1 Other critics have underscored his point, arguing that the ideological subtexts in many works of genre fiction are consumed with little critical filtering by readers 2.

We’ve been warned that we can’t have both quality narrative and erotic revelation 3. Indeed, as a serious writer, one attempts to do so at one’s peril: there are scores of articles by writers on how hard it is to write sex well 4, and, reading Jonathan Beckman’s Bleak Encounters, it would appear that writing sex well and arousing the reader are almost incompatible 5.

An aroused reader is thus dichotomously represented both as wide open and vulnerable to ideology, while at the same time having no capacity to take in ‘serious’ ideas.  Yet, in the behavioral psychology field, recent research has indicated that sexual arousal makes people more, not less willing, to consider options they might otherwise not entertain 6. Is this not a capacity to absorb new ideas, new ways of thinking?

This paper examines critical and mainstream attitudes towards erotic writing and the aroused reader. It examines a number of texts (Jonathan Kemp’s Twentysix 7, Mike Kimera’s Fucking Ugly 8, Kij Johnson’s Spar 9, and C. Sanchez-Garcia’s An Early Winter Train 10) to illustrate that if, as critics have suggested, this is an intellectually vulnerable state in which repressive or normative ideologies can be reinforced then it is also a state in which a writer might, just as effectively and eloquently, destabilize normative gender, sexual, cultural and even socio-political values in the mind of the reader.


  1. Fiennes, S. (2012). A Pervert’s Guide to Ideology. UK: Zeitgeist Films.
  2. Gelder, K. (2004). Popular fiction: The logics and practices of a literary field. Routledge.,
    Huang, B. (2010). Contesting Genres in Contemporary Asian American Fiction. Palgrave Macmillan.
  3. Žižek, S. (1992). Looking awry: An introduction to Jacques Lacan through popular culture. MIT Press.
  4. Dyer, al. (2013). Let’s Read About Sex. New York Times. Retrieved from
  5. Beckman, J. (2011). Bleak encounters – FT Magazine. Retrieved January 31, 2013, from
  6. Ariely, D., & Loewenstein, G. (2006). The Heat of the Moment : The Effect of Sexual Arousal on Sexual Decision Making. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making,, 19(July 2005), 87–98. doi:10.1002/bdm.501
  7. Kemp, J. (2011). Twentysix. London: Myriad Editions.
  8. Kimera, M. (2010). Fucking Ugly. In M. Jakubowski (Ed.), The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 9. London: Perseus Books.
  9. Johnson, K. (2010). Spar. Clarkesworld Magazine. Retrieved November 24, 2013, from
  10. Sanchez-Garcia, C. (2010). An Early Winter Train. In L. Sarai (Ed.), Coming Together Presents C. Sanchez-Garcia. Baltimore: Coming Together.

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