It was with some mirth that I read the other day of a male author of “erotic fiction” who has resorted to Craig’s List to find a young woman willing to share a thirty-day erotic affair with him, an affair they would both write about, and which he would turn into a marketable book:
The book will detail every aspect of a mutually-agreed to romantic affair between myself and a young FEMALE lover (perhaps you), experienced over 30 days, as in the novel. The difference between the first book and this one will be verite: everything in this new volume will be the truth as both participants see it. If you agree to participate in this project, you will keep a diary of all of your thoughts, impressions and memories of the thirty-day affair that we will share. I will then combine your written thoughts with my own to present the reader with two versions of the same erotic story. One love affair, as seen separately by the man and woman.
My first thought was, this man has no real concept of the erotic, if he believes he can find it to order on Craig’s List. Others were angry at the implied sexploitation of the young woman (no payment offered) but I couldn’t get past my irritation at seeing the erotic so unforgivably reduced. Not to mention his confusion of the romantic with the erotic, which is like confusing Mills and Boon with The Delta of Venus.
I know that “romance” and “romantic” are common euphemisms for sex, but “erotic” is a whole other concept, and far more dangerous.
Take, for example, what the French philosopher Georges Bataille has to say about the erotic: The whole business of eroticism is to strike to the inmost core of the living being, so that the heart stands still.
..eroticism, unlike simple sexual activity, is a psychological quest…eroticism is assenting to life even in death.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to encounter the erotic on Craig’s List. One of its hallmarks is that it can manifest anywhere, anytime, between any two people, no matter how apparently unlikely. And when it does it is frequently in the form of a coup de foudre, and a kind of madness ensues, madness in the sense that desire for the other is so great it overwhelms common sense, and even one’s sense of self-preservation. It is impossible to satisfy the erotic through simply having sex. Indeed, there is no such thing as simply having sex when the erotic is involved.
In essence, observes Bataille, the domain of eroticism is the domain of violence, of violation…
I don’t believe Bataille is saying that actual violence and violation are necessary for the erotic experience, although they may be for some participants. Rather, the violence is in how the erotic explodes into a life, violating all boundaries and disrupting “normal” feelings and behaviours. One has up till that point been self-contained, with boundaries safely in place, and no particular sense of yearning, except perhaps now and then and weakly, for something nebulous, a yearning easily shaken off by attention to daily life and responsibilities. Then, in a moment, one’s self-containment is violated, violently, by a sustained gaze, by a touch on an arm, by the presence of one you didn’t know you were looking for until suddenly he or she is there. In the immediate clamour you cannot formulate the thought: I want to be in his arms. Only later do you allow yourself to admit that desire.
You are no longer who you were seconds earlier. And you will never be again. This is the violence I think Bataille is describing.
The whole business of eroticism is to destroy the self-contained character of the participators as they are in their normal lives…Eroticism always entails a breaking down of established patterns, the patterns, I repeat, of the regulated social order basic to our discontinuous mode of existence as defined and separate individuals… The stirrings within us have their own fearful excesses; the excesses show which way these stirrings would take us.
The idea that an erotic affair can be confined to thirty days is laughable: the erotic has its own timetable, it may be more, it may be less, but the idea that one can determine in advance its lifetime is an indicator that one is considering something else altogether.
It is possible to refuse the erotic. William Blake, in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, offers an opinion on refusal:
Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or reason usurps its place & governs the unwilling.
And being restrain’d it by degrees becomes passive till it is only the shadow of desire.
I suspect that what the author is searching for on Craig’s List is a shadow of the erotic, a shadow of desire. A simulacrum. And yet again, the reputation of a word is unforgivably traduced.