The Marquis de Sade tells us that his epic catalogue of perversions, The 120 Days of Sodom, should be treated like a vast banquet. Enjoy the breadth of what’s on offer, pick what you enjoy, and leave what you don’t. Criticise neither the host for giving you such wealth of choice, nor your fellow diners for picking what you find unappetising. Appreciate that dishes which might seem the same to you are, in fact, delicately nuanced. In short, don’t be prudish at the table: be philosophical.
Admittedly, advice from Sade should usually be taken with a large pinch of salt (I’m no advocate for abduction, cannibalism, and baroque torture machines myself). Yet we could do worse than adopt his approach to explicit literature. Sex, like eating, is invariably a question of taste. So while Eimear McBride’s critique of Desire: 100 of literature’s sexiest stories is undoubtedly well intentioned, I can’t help but think she would make a judgemental dinner guest.
It’s a funny time of year. Somehow the absence of visitors makes the landscape quieter. In the season it is as if the hum of their activities transmits even at night to the moors. Down at the Old Doom Bar we regulars retreat to the snug in small numbers and the landlord or his wife sometimes join us, though willing to knock out scampi and chips if we fancy them.
The women are less in evidence. This is because they are busy with seasonal preparations. As well as list-making, baking and provision planning these include two day excursions to favoured shopping centres such as Bath which is a smart city with spas and high end hairdressers.
There’s something rotten in the West. In the UK, the rabid anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Brexit campaign translated into a vote to leave the EU. In the US, a lunatic sociopath won the presidency on the back of a racialised political programme, Biblical levels of misogyny and a constant, almost cult-like worship of aggression and rudeness.
There is nothing like Joyce Mansour’s poetry. It expresses the erotic yet cruel power of love and desire. The poems are stark and painful, with an almost frightening and obsessive streak of sado-masochism. The consuming madness of sex and death are fiercely and passionately described with shocking and violent imagery, yet there is often a moving sensitivity in her work. Her vocabulary is precise, every word counts, these poems are bare and spare.
Sex is not often discussed in any direct way in our group. It arose though because one occasional member with literary pretensions happened to have been to the Cheltenham Festival. She (and it could only have been a ‘she’) drew to our attention to a suggestion by Jenni Murray of BBC’s Woman’s Hour during an address there, that schools should have porn lessons. That is, opportunities to review and critically analyse pornography and its underlying messages.
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‘Mr. Mannheimer had to go and get the stepladder to tie my hands to the beam. He used rope because he said he didn’t have any chains, but that I was to try to imagine that’s what they were seeing as that’s what he’d paint. He said he’d just tie me loosely but I said no thanks, if I have to hold my arms up myself I’d be worn out in no time so please to tie me up proper so I can hang from the chains and not pretend. Afterwards he got down and off my plinth and looked at me tied up there. I liked it when he did that, better than when he’s looking at me from behind his easel. Then he frowns and says, “Please not to shave under the arms again.” Then he says: “You are a dromedary.”’
‘And your name?’
That name is as good as any other – it is not hers. She does not ask mine and I do not offer it. Her voice is young – low and sweet. By the smooth whiteness of her hand I would judge her to be about 25 years old; the black lace of her domino conceals her neck and bosom, the flesh of which I have found is the most reliable in estimating a woman’s age. I raise her fingers to my lips and keep them there long enough that she may feel not just my kiss but my breath upon her skin. I lift her other hand then and kiss the palm, and note the ring she wears – la fede it is called here: faith. I wonder if her husband is present at this levée, if he watches us now, if they have arranged it so. I cannot say what colour are the eyes glittering behind the mask, for by candle-light we all have eyes like onyx marbles. She may be a whore, a lady, an initiate. With the mask all distinctions are erased.
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'What can MRI scans of brains in orgasm tell us? Past editrice of the Erotic Review Rowan Pelling reveals how the science of la petite mort might might hold the key to abolishing pain. This debate is brought to you by the Institute of Art and Ideas, home to cutting-edge philosophy and ideas from the world’s leading thinkers."
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DESIRE: FROSTRUP & EROTIC REVIEW
100 of literature’s sexiest stories, chosen by Mariella Frostrup and the Erotic Review.
Strict mistresses, naughty maids, handsome gardeners and disarming strangers; literature is awash with love, sex and desire. This collection brings together 100 of the best examples, hand-picked by Mariella Frostrup and the Erotic Review.
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