The Sensuous Character   Leave a comment

Susan Sontag defined ‘pornography’ as writing that is ‘intended to glorify the act,’ not surprisingly proving she was willing to go to a place that Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart was not.  In her essay, “On Pornography,” she drew a parallel with certain religious tracts whose sole purpose, as she put it, is to ‘glorify a deity,’ concluding that there was validity in both.  In this I concur, but beg to expand the discussion a bit.  Before you say it, I’ll agree that it is a huge stretch on my part to even consider trespassing on Sontag’s turf, but she’s left us now and unless Annie wants to raise an objection I’ll simply genuflect before the master’s ghost and then swing that gate open.

It is my contention that some form of physical intimacy exists in every committed relationship – however you wish to define it.   When writing about that relationship that intimacy should be acknowledged and explored, or else the absence of that exploration will itself become part of the story, albeit unwritten.  Is she frigid?  Is he impotent?  Is there something in either of their personalities that causes them to shun intimacy? Have they entered into a pact to remain celibate, and if so – why?  Any of these is perfectly legitimate as a literary device, as long as it is intentional on the part of the author.

The sexual bond between partners (however they choose to express it) is central to their relationship and to ignore it jeopardizes an author’s credibility at presenting a fully developed character.  Furthermore, I say, until that bond is established a barrier will exist between two individuals, fictional or otherwise.  The lack of that level of contact sets up a form of emotional no-man’s land where one or both feels unwelcome; the deeper other types of contact the more of a barrier this one will present.  The gulf will preclude a fully developed relationship since one party (or both) will feel excluded, even disinvited, into the other’s most private world, the inner one where fantasies come alive.  Such a relationship is two-dimensional and lacks the commitment that physical intimacy entails.

I do not consider myself a pornographer, at least not by Ms. Sontag’s definition.  My characters all exhibit a healthy interest in the bedroom, although I don’t believe that’s where they live.  (I say ‘I don’t believe’ that because ultimately that determination can only be made by the reader.)  A brief foray into the world of erotica will reveal an extensive vocabulary of terms used to describe both the act and the equipment central to its performance; I don’t use those words.  The ‘F-Bomb’ may get dropped, but as an expletive and not a descriptor, and only by a character whose personality includes a propensity for that kind of expression.  Pornography, at least in my experience, is characterized by a certain explicit quality that eschews the use of subtext, replacing it with words that generally do not permit nuanced or contrasting meanings.

So here’s my point.  (You were wondering if I actually had one, right?)  Foreplay is just one way the onion-skin layers of character can be peeled away to reveal the hidden core, but the verbal variety is a perfect vehicle for subtextual loading.  I don’t need to describe the culminating moment itself  (which, unless you are a hands-on participant, is actually rather boring) but each step of the prelude – the path the characters followed to get to that point – is critical, and can hypnotize the reader like a snake does a bird.  This fascination is particularly powerful if it is the first time the couple has visited that beach together, for them as well as us.  If one or the other reaches that point but remains reluctant to take off their shoes and wet their toes in the surf, that character may be demonstrating that, like each of us, they are flawed.  Otherwise, they should enjoy plunging into the waves,  together.

October 4, 2011

Posted October 5, 2011 by JD Rule

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