Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Why we need sex in fiction

Marina Hands and Jean-Louis Coulloc'h in Pascale Ferran's Lady Chatterley (2006)
I've a Sydney Morning Herald 'Life and Style' column today, 'The allure of erotic fiction'.

I'm arguing for the importance of well-written sex in fiction -- as against more perfunctory pornographic pumping. A taste:
A decade after Lady Chatterley's Lover was thrust into readers' hands, the philosopher R.G. Collingwood distinguished between two kinds of practice: craft and art. Craft takes skill, but it is the stuff of plans and quotes. It is, in short, a means to an end. 
Mainstream pornography is the craft of (chiefly male) arousal. The man downloading Buttman Goes to Rio might be shocked, but he will not be surprised. The whole point of the video is predictable intercourse, what Krauth's Layla calls "mechanical ... like putting together IKEA furniture." 
Art is not so predictable. The author, for example, will know she is writing a novel - but its characters, plot and mood will not be fully understood until the book's written. This, said Collingwood, is because the artist is not just triggering well-known emotions: rage, grief, arousal. She is expressing them: giving feelings a new clarity, vividness or nuance. 
Importantly, the opposite of art is not craft – it is what Collingwood calls “the corruption of consciousness.” Art helps the artist to understand their psyche more fully – and to help others do the same. 
So sex in fiction is not always for arousal, any more than Portrait of a Lady is for grief. Lady Chatterley's Lover gives a portrait of Connie's fear of physicality, and her gradual reconciliation of carnal and intellectual life. When Krauth, in just-a-girl, describes Layla aching for "the angling tip" of a tongue between her legs, this is not to make the reader tumescent. It's to portray the naive fumbling of a child, hoping for pleasure, but also for someone to care. We see her psyche within the intimacies – what novelist Emma Darwin calls "character-in-action".

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