Erotic Review Magazine

When erotica becomes porn and vice versa

by John D. Michaelis / 23rd September 2011

In the great debate of pornography v. erotica the view is that, among its other failings, porn is clichéd and mechanistic. There are no surprises. It’s all as predictable as a Big Mac with fries and coke. With the burger, you know just what you’re getting and how it will satisfy your hunger down to the stomach’s final gaseous expression of satisfaction at the end of the meal. Despite the subsequent feeling of mild self-disgust it does the job, in a linear sort of way. Porn is no different, or so they say. It gets you off (which is presumably where you want to be) in a straight, uncomplicated line.

I wish it was as simple as this but unfortunately porn, both the visual and the written variety, is prone to pretentiousness: look at the number of aspirational, porn-alike movies that come out aping the Hollywood blockbusters. Except that high production values don’t really improve things much: cliché is merely heaped upon stereotype and then the de rigueur explicit action scenes sit uncomfortably and somewhat ludicrously atop these. Frantically wanking teenage males tend to fast-forward through any tiresome diegesis to reach the graphic sex as quickly as possible. By contrast, the more mature porn aficionados often rather like a bit of plot and, indeed, couleur locale. For the 19th century Romantics, the careful description of an exotic location often carried an erotic charge, and local colour helped them create a literary space where they could happily indulge in writing about violent passions.

This is not an ideal shared by Kojo Black: in his collection of four ‘drenched in holiday lust’ novellas, called Sun Strokes (even the title suggests this could be the onanist’s book of choice), ‘topography’ is one of the dirtier words.

On Kojo Black Tours, we’re seldom told the destination for our giant-paella-sized dose of holiday lust. There’s plenty of bland fucking, but not really much shopping. Sometimes the word ‘Mediterranean’ is mentioned, but Black’s characters might just as well be in Disney World, Florida. Their world is impoverished and consequently the characters become even more two-dimensional than the lacklustre illustrations that accompany the book.

Even so, there are moments of unintentional hilarity that make it really rather dear: ‘I watched in wrapped perversion. There was no other way to say it.’ Or, ‘…the rain cessated as suddenly as it had begun.’ Or, indeed, ‘The bag became amorphous as it tumbled from her control. It fell to the ground, expelling a phone, some lipstick, a book by Isabelle Allande (sic)…’

Nicholson Baker’s House of Holes, however, is full of intentional humour, imagination and quirky sex. There’re enough saucy neologisms here to make Jonathon Green break into a mild lexicographical sweat. To begin with this piss-take of jovial porno-speak is too funny to be arousing but eventually I found myself becoming affected by aphrodisiacal effect of Baker’s relentlessly lusty lingo. This prose is definitely, and definitively, erotic.

A cheerful disregard for the duller conventions of the real world soon sweeps the reader along on a euphoric ride into a hard-core utopia unlike any Disneyland you’ll ever have the misfortune to encounter. It’s true that the House of Holes is described as a ‘pleasure resort’. But not the sort you’d take your six-year-old to.

Baker’s story begins when Dave’s arm (with Dave unattached) provides Shandee with a portal to the House of Holes, where she finds a magical, but pricey, sex resort. And it’s not just Shandee who gets invited here. Along the way we encounter a whole cast of strangely-named visitors: Marcella, Cardell, Polly, Henriette, Rhumpa… the list is long and each of them has her or his own raunchy predilections. All of them enjoy the Bosch-like delights of the House (which, thankfully, is less Big Brother, more an exquisitely rude version of Alton Towers), whether pussy-surfing on a lake of white rejuvenating oil, group moaning in the darkened Groan Room, or even visiting the House’s chatelaine, the big-bosomed Lila, whose breast milk has restorative properties. Lila’s helpmeet, Zilka, has had her clitoris stolen by a mysterious character called the Pearloiner. As well as being separated from his delightful arm, Dave has had a penis swap. And so it goes on, venturing more into the realms of magic or science fiction than surrealism until all these little adventures are satisfyingly resolved.

Occasionally I was put in mind of the detachable sex organs in sci-fi author Philip José Farmer’s Image of the Beast and its sequel, Blown. Or the more magical, dreamlike erotic voyage of Alina Reyes’ Behind Closed Doors. Which isn’t to say that The House of Holes isn’t the highly original product of an impish, irreverent imagination; an imagination that takes on the worst of our porno clichés, squeezes out the bad stuff, then pumps them full of innocence and juicy humour until they become ripe, succulent fruits hanging on the tree of sexual honesty. Enormously enjoyable stuff, which reinforces the idea that porn is defined by its lack of imagination and erotica by its abundance thereof; hard to find two better exemplars of this theory than Sun Strokes and House of Holes.

Sun Strokes by Kojo Black; Sweetmeats Press; ISBN-978-0-9564390-3-1; paperback; £8.99

House of Holes by Nicholson Baker; Simon & Schuster; ISBN-978-0-85720-659-6; hardback; £18.99

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