“Literature is all, or mostly, about sex,” Anthony Burgess.
But what sex? Sexual Intercourse! Oh-Jeez, not the dreaded “S” word again.
To look at this quote is, of course, to look at ambiguity. I am fairly certain Burgess means to use sex in relationship to gender, another ambiguous term in psychology when applied to individual morals.
But I am not speaking about gender, sexual identity, or being a man or woman. I am speaking about the act of physical sexual intercourse. I am sure in today’s modern over-sexed society, Burgess has been misinterpreted plenty. When I first read it, I was like…what?
Literature is definitely not, not even “mostly”, about sex. It is about desire. The need to understand, to comprehend, and even to share empathy with characters, or situations, in which we identify with or find interesting by learning something about ourselves or the world.
But what about sexual desire? We all have it, right? Well most of us in one way or another. But sex scenes have often been said to rape literature of it artistic value. However, sex in literature has been around for a long time. The Bible’s Song of Songs is an interesting example. Dante in his Divine Comedy makes an adulterous reference, though excludes to describe the act. In fact, sex is clear in many works of literature written during times we believe society to moral and pure. The Victorian Gothic is often filled with reference. Jane Eyre resist Rochester’s grouping and she listens to his stories of debauchery while in he is visiting France. D. H. Laurence, Bram Stoker, Virginia Woolf, and even Poe uses perversity in his story Ligeia.
Somewhere, during the great feminist movement, sex, in one way or another became graphically written on the pages. I can’t say I’ve read an Angela Carter story that hasn’t used sex as a metaphor, but most of her work that I am acquainted with was written before the so-called “second wave” of the feminist movement in the 1970’s.
Today, sex is everywhere. Books, TV, internet, bill boards, street corners, magazines, you name it, it’s there. I believe that for some modern writers, sex seems necessary. Romantic and Erotic Authors make their money wooing the wiles of women and men. However, when it pops up in popular contemporary literature, even genre fiction, critics place it on a double-edged sword.
And then there is the stories where sex must be used. If you have read any Bret Easton Ellis, then you know how he uses sex to convey his characters and modern society. American Psycho had so much sex in it, I thought I was reading Penthouse fan literature at times. Less Than Zero was like verging on the tip end of a moral dilemma. Yet it was necessary to show Bateman and Clay’s psychological state.
I am no amateur to implying a sex scene in my work. However, I have come on a character who requires me to express her character in the terms of sex. I guess her being a girl has made it all the more challenging. I penned my first graphic scene last night using sex as metaphor for drug abuse and anorexia. My theme explores, sometimes in brief, all the hot topics of our day. It is my first attempt at being generally Contemporary; though I am attempting to raise the bar, so to speak, on what is and isn’t acceptable to speak about in my rural society. Here is an excerpt:
I hesitate at first to do the same. Not that the thought hasn’t crossed my mind to be with another girl, just there is an overwhelming sense of disgust in myself for finding her attractive. I feel intensely bitter exploring the fine patina of her firm tummy and crevasses of her protruding ribs. Suddenly, I witness the letters E-P-I-P-H-A-N-Y floating out of her glossy blue eyes. I hardly know if it spells anything, but I realize her flesh is like an offering from God and I am at the altar.
Of course this is subject to change and I do go into rather graphic detail between Alex and Mouse, but I am attempting to do so much more than have two girls, people, have sex. Sex written for the sake of being written is wrong. It must have purpose and move the plot.