Literary Erotica. The phrase has been bandied about for years. Its offer of a higher class of titillation is backed by no clear definition of just what literary erotica actually is or what emotions should be fed by it. Discussions revolving around the topic of literary erotica seem to drift and rot away like a lifeless worm dropped into a tank full of disinterested carp.
Yet there must be some way to separate compelling, titillating literature from the bits of drivel you find all over the web and in print. That said, I have to emphasize that there's absolutely nothing wrong with Sammy Q. Public scribbling his account of an unexpectedly hot night of diddling with the sex-starved babysitter and letting its moist verbiage float out onto the web like rough cotton panties peeled off a deliciously denuded quim (at least not in my book--the constabulary's blotter might reflect a different reality in these days increasing disdain for sexual expression).
No, the true bottom feeders of smut are the pretenders to the imaginary throne of "Literary Eroticist." You know who I mean. Their novels start with a selection from the short list of characters: ordinary people and above. These mostly well-heeled denizens of fantastically hip cities are so bored by the lives they've been handed that they tend to dabble in the somewhat kinky--but they'll take it in itty-bitty baby steps so as not to disturb the horses, thank you very much. A sex act in these books can be spread over as many as six chapters, interspersed with mundane bits from everyday life. People speak in stilted, embarrassed sound bites, saying little that can be considered even remotely interesting, much like news anchors dutifully reading the tripe they've been handed when what they really want to do is grab a double Scotch-on-the-rocks and batter you with the damning facts they've dug up on Bush and his Enron connections. Orgasm? It'll come. There's one on page 226. But before you can get there: Buffy traces the condom she's found floating in her afternoon Lapsang Souchong to Tony, who, it has been hinted, might be boffing his maid's aunt on Tuesdays, despite his chaste reputation amongst the tellers over at his bank. What passes for literary erotica these days is a maddening world of soap operas unleashed, but not nearly enough.
Enter Lofting, Alma Marceau's erotic novel. Know what lofting is? Ok, it's what Barry Bonds is often doing to a baseball in springtime. But besides that it's all about making complex, three dimensional designs (boats, usually, and airplanes) out of two dimensional templates--much like making literary erotica out of common smut, or fashioning a fully fleshed-out erotic life from a common, flat existence.
Right off the bat Lofting thrusts us into the world of Internet chat with a deliciously scripted bantering between Patroqueeet and Parapraxista, the noms de plume of Andres and main character Claire respectively. You'll notice: this jazzy, improvisational flight of intellectual fancy isn't anything like the dumbed-down claptrap we get from the "media"-- meaning it's not at all like the mini-litany "wazup" or the ludicrous anti-howl of a criminally simplistic, "those cowardly suicide bombers just hate our love of liberty!"
Got that? The dialog in Lofting isn't "real." It's better than that. It's impossibly hip, entrancing, and intellectual--and that's good. We all need an escape from the mundane and the idiotic sometimes, and perhaps now, in the current climate of anti-intellectualism in the U.S., we need it more than ever. Erotica needs it too, a genre long held hostage by the limitations of its practitioner's language and the ease of drawing from an over-evolved laundry list of sexual cliches.
While the characters in Lofting are three dimensional and the dialog compelling, the plot of the book follows the tried-and-true linear formula for smut. Woman discovers cybersex, finds a searing sexual relationship with a hunk named Nick who leads her on a quest to test the limits of her lust with increasingly more difficult and complicated sexual scenarios, which in turn expands her sexual boundaries like the uniform spread of a bomb's viral mushroom cloud. Soon she craves sexual experience obsessively, while her "real life", with its cravings for stability and normalcy, fades into the background. I'm reminded of Susan Sontag's pronouncement that obsession is the only choice of a theme for literary pornography, since the definition of the genre requires that sex be happening to the exclusion of all other endeavors.
What lofts this tome into the rarefied atmosphere of hot, literary erotica is less about its pornographic underpinnings and more of the realization that soppy, steamy sex is not only possible between people who aren't clueless, but that the experience may indeed be enhanced when the intellect discovers the trick of transferring erotic power between civil language and gutter talk, between the sacred and the profane:
"Nick, meanwhile, still masturbating, had begun to accompany his strokes with a lurid soliloquy. I heard myself transmuted into raw ore for his libido, vivisected into discrete erogenous parts: mouth, breasts, vagina ass--a sort of ultimate objectification. To my surprise, this carnal litany made me feel more deified than devalued, a Venus exalted through the naming and praising of her separate attributes." -p. 190, Lofting.
This introspection, a frequent device in Lofting, is cleverly crafted so that it doesn't overshadow the sexual content. As the main character Claire becomes abandons herself to the sexual control of others, the device seems to fade into the dark background.
And if I have a criticism of the book, it is this fading away of reason and introspection which bothers me. I wanted to know more of what compels Claire to act and feel the way she does, especially as she glides seamlessly into the "underworld" of bondage, discipline, loss of control, and sexual punishment. Admittedly, it's a world I've never felt a compelling urge to explore, which makes this an arrogant, uninformed criticism at best. Yet, like many, I'm thirsty for Claire to lead me through the steps that drive her to it.
And there's the rub. Can a person crossing over to a world where emotions are triggered by events outside of the allowed range of socially acceptable experience be expected to jump out of character to explain it all to us? Probably not. Like Zen awakenings and the taste of the perfect pinot noir, you just have to experience it yourself.
So I implore you to experience this book, and to do it with a great deal of happiness and wonder. After all, we've been allowed to witness a woman's self-proclaimed "rebirth to joy." Sometimes you just have to learn to sit back and enjoy the ride.
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