By the early 1990s, a peculiarly British form of disapproval had grown out of the notion that sex and serious literature made for uncomfortable bedfellows. The priapic imaginings of otherwise revered writers – Philip Roth, John Updike, Amos Oz, John Banville – were selected and sneered at for inducing the wrong type of grunts and groans, in the annual tradition that has become The Literary Review’s Bad Sex Awards.
Updike has already become required reading in literature survey courses so there is little damage I could do here in saying, do not read him for the sex. His take on sex is like dry humping, only even less rewarding. Yet what was he to do if he was going to chronicle the American WASP in modern culture. It would have been like a landscape artist who never painted a tree. These are people who have no guilt about dumping toxic waste into your water supply or bankrupting the world’s economy, but have the deepest of angst about orgasms.
Mitzi Szereto, an author and teacher of erotic writing workshops, says writers on her courses are held back when they seek refuge in their own sexual histories: “You wouldn’t rely on personal experience for any other kind of fiction writing so why would you when crafting a sex scene? I encourage people to write beyond their own sexual encounters, and when they do, they are less inhibited and more creative.”
Szereto thinks the best kind of sex writing needs to explore the “psychology of desire”. In an age in which sex has been divested of most of its mystery (hard-core pornography is a website away and Mills & Boon has invested in a “raunchy” series), it may be that the “psychology of desire” is the only unknown territory to explore.
Howard Jacobson, who last month won the Man Booker prize for The Finkler Question, believes it is the discussion of sex that is the intriguing part, not its depiction. “The only point in writing a ‘he puts that in there and she puts this in here’ scene is to arouse, and I’m not interested in doing that. Some critics who should have known better complained that my last novel, The Act of Love, didn’t arouse them. It wasn’t meant to. It was a book ‘about’ compulsive jealousy. It wasn’t intended to make them jealous or otherwise titillate them.
Not so fast there Mr. Jacobson. Humans about sex multiple times per minute. Even when we think about baseball and Cuisinarts we’re thinking about sex. Even not writing about sex is a way to write about sex. That’s because it is not a thing, an episode or even an opinion it is – along with the prospect of our mortality, the envelope in which we exist. Though I agree with Szereto that the “psychology of desire” is a much deeper and richer territory than the mechanics. Desire is like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. No matter when, who or from what angle you study it you can never know with any real precision exactly what you’re examining. It is an eternal mystery. A glimpse of something beautiful, ugly bizarre, loving, exhausting, queasy inducing. It is close and far. The staid old Anglophile T.S. Eliots Four Quartets he wrote of the difficulty of finding anything new to say. It is probably the case with writers such as Jacobsen that such a task is so arduous regards sex in particular, it is easier for them to dismiss it as territory too well tread.
To be fair to Jacobsen, for him too, it may be the actual mechanics that he finds tedious.
Achieving the Declaration’s goals won’t be easy. Tiger populations have plummeted from 100,000 a century ago to just 3,200 today. Even that number doesn’t tell the full story. The 3,200 wild tigers are divided among six sub-species (one of which may already be extinct in the wild) and spread out among 13 countries. Many populations are already so small that they are suffering from genetic bottlenecks. Others are immensely vulnerable to poaching and habitat encroachment. And no countries sufficiently punish people who kill tigers or illegally traffic in their skins or body parts.
The goal of the Tiger Forum is to double the tiger population in the wild by 2022. Since inbreeding is already a problem that may take of direct human intervention like a capture, bred and release program.
KB: Back in 1994, journalist Allan Nairn reported the sentiments of Major Louis Kernisan of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, who said “You’re going to end up dealing with the same folks as before, the five families that run the country, the military and the bourgeoisie … it’s not going to be the slum guy from Cite Soleil.” This is an example of what you’ve discussed: honest planners using Marxian analysis. Elites and strategists seem to have a good grasp of social and international relations, but with the values reversed. You’ve said you don’t particularly care much for Marx. Does this include the analytical framework that planners and elites employ?
NC: It’s not quite accurate; I don’t say I don’t care much about him. I wouldn’t call myself a Marxist, I don’t think anybody should be any kind of an “-ist.” As far as Marx’s analysis of capitalism, there’s a lot of very useful ideas in it, but we have to remember – and he would’ve been the first to say – he’s developing an abstract model of 19th century capitalism. It’s abstract and it’s changed. As far as his prescriptions for the post-capitalist future were concerned, he really didn’t have much to say. And with some justice, I think. On the other hand, I wouldn’t say that I don’t care much for Marx; he offered lots of insights into how society works, and he was an extremely good analyst of the current events of the day. I think he would take it for granted that elites are basically Marxist – they believe in class analysis, they believe in class struggle, and in a really business-run society like the United States, the business elites are deeply committed to class struggle and are engaged in it all the time. And they understand. They’re instinctive Marxists; they don’t have to read it.
I think most liberal bloggers and pundits have caught on to conservative and libertarians rants against liberalism. There is a remarkable amount of projection. Just as there are a few actual sword swallowers, there are also probably a few people who think of themselves as both Marxists and liberals. But for a genuine look at a synthesis of Marxisms and elements of fascist elminationism, look no further than the conservative and rightie libertarian movements.
Found the particular passage from T.S. Eliot I was thinking of, EAST COKER, (No. 2 of ‘Four Quartets’)
So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.