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Yeah, why can’t we?

December 1, 2010 \pm\31 5:44 pm

At first I wasn’t going to dignify this at all here. But today on Facebook, Susie Bright linked to this article by Laura Miller at Salon, and my naughty librarian self was just tickled to read it. I did however resist trying to find out who the [insert your favorite derogatory name] was who said that getting turned on is a “cheapening effect.” Mainly because I just don’t have the time to go searching.

Perhaps terminology lies at the heart of the problem. The presenters of the Bad Sex in Fiction Award gleefully seize upon their targets’ most outlandish metaphors; Somerville compared a nipple to the “nose of the loveliest nocturnal animal, sniffing in the night.” Yet perfectly serviceable, if disreputable, four-letter words risk turning a scene, in the words of one commentator, into something “perilously close to erotica, with its cheapening effect of sexual arousal.” And we can’t have that, can we?

Well, why can’t we? Is there any reason why the literature that makes us laugh, cry and rage shouldn’t also, occasionally, turn us on?

I do recall wondering, when I saw the list and realized that I’d read one of the books on it (Franzen’s), what bad sex?

And though I hate the whole every cloud  has a silver lining thing, in this case it might be true. The winner of this illustrious award, Rowan Somerville, in a wonderful blog post, says this:

My novel has lots of sex in it because it is about sex. Its real title was Sex That Lasts For Years but the publishers wouldn’t allow it. Despite appearing to be a love story, it’s really about how the scars of childhood abuse affect later relationships and it’s based on two people’s real experience – so it’s been quite hard to see lines wrenched out of context and picked up by the press around the world. I do not blame the personable Alexander Waugh or the editors of the Literary Review who judge the prize, as I am aware that most of them had not read the book and their publication survives on the publicity this award generates.

The result of reading this is that now I have another book to add to my already exceedingly long list of must-reads. I know a lot of my posts are “fun” and I like it that way, but I’m dead serious when I say that it’s about time writing sex was taken seriously. Yeah, the “about” was left out on purpose. Okay, gotta go fix dinner, so I’ll hop down off my erotica-filled soapbox for now.

Not bad company at all.

  1. December 1, 2010 \pm\31 8:04 pm 8:04 pm

    british people are just weird about sex. like when i first got here i thought ‘hell yes’ — dudes proper making out on primetime (hot), girls topless after the ‘watershed’ — but then i got to know some people and seems like many can’t think sex, like they use puns a lot and are passive aggressive or sarcastic about it. so the award and the shittalk around it didn’t surprise me. still, the thought of my nipple being like an animal sniffing the night, i don’t know.

    • Robin Elizabeth Sampson permalink
      December 1, 2010 \pm\31 10:06 pm 10:06 pm

      “still, the thought of my nipple being like an animal sniffing the night, i don’t know” – yeah, brought to mind an opossum.

      • December 2, 2010 \am\31 4:42 am 4:42 am

        i instantly thought ‘meerkat manor’ for some reason.

  2. rowan permalink
    December 2, 2010 \am\31 4:22 am 4:22 am

    Hi Robin

    thanks for the the interesting comments and the great blog. I’m sure your nipples are not oposum like in any way.


    • Robin Elizabeth Sampson permalink
      December 2, 2010 \am\31 9:35 am 9:35 am

      I sure hope not.

  3. December 2, 2010 \am\31 11:17 am 11:17 am

    Thanks for posting this and for linking to Miller’s excellent article. Re Franzen, I did note that “Freedom” seemed looser about sex than his earlier work (though I haven’t read all his earlier work). One of his essays (I can’t remember which one) deals with how hard it is (sorry) to write about sex, and more or less decides it’s not worth trying. So I was glad to see him reverse that a bit. I trust he made the inane list only to drum up more publicity. William Gass’s “On Being Blue” has the most intelligent argument against writing directly about sex that I’ve read, though I think it’s mostly wrong, especially when he says something to the effect that a blow-by-blow description of sex is about as ridiculous as a blow-by-blow description of eating a chicken wing.

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