Sunday, October 19, 2008

Books: Name the Anti-Aphrodisiacs

Oh oh. Picking up on a post on Pandagon on the worst books to read while having sex, figleaf is turning this into a meme. Books? Sex? How could I resist? (Excuse me while I fan myself.)

Note: The question is "what are the worst books to read during sex?" If you decide to pick up on this meme, you are not allowed to say "why would anyone in their right mind read during sex?" Auguste at Pandagon already put the kibosh on that. So no cheating!

Now, figleaf put Hegel's Phänomenologie des Geistes on his no-fly list, and while I wouldn't personally recommend Hegel - he makes your blood drain into your brain and then freeze, never to flow southward again - I can vouch for the eroticism of reading German out loud in bed. I know that goes against the grain of every stereotype about erotic languages, but hey, my Italian stops at "una camera con doccia." (Which, come to think of it, could also lead to rather nice things.) There's something intimate and vulnerable about reading to your partner in their language, especially/even if you're not terribly adept at it. I wouldn't necessarily recommend halting the proceedings to do this, I'm just saying it can be a surprisingly good warm-up. High-quality German chick lit works rather well, believe it or not. (Oh, why do I have the feeling no one is going to believe me?!? And if you do, that you're going to think I'm much kinkier than you ever suspected?)

German history, on the other hand, is right out. I've had a copy of my doctoral advisor's book, Absolute Destruction, next to my nightstand for awhile. It's a very smart history of Germany militarism during its Imperial period. If you get off on that, you've got a paraphilia way beyond the bounds of what I personally would consider healthy.

Ditto for Ian McEwan's The Innocent, a spy story set in Cold War Berlin which culminates in scenes of such horror and gore that no other author could have kept me on board. I won't detail them here, because you might not want the spoilers. Except: Shortly before things come apart (all too literally), there's a scene where the clueless young British title character is doggedly losing his innocence with his German girlfriend. He goes down on her with such concentration and wonder that - even though I only read it silently to myself - it, um, led shortly thereafter to certain non-fictional inspirations. 'Nuff said.

More surprisingly, Sungold the Lust Kitten was totally disappointed in Jane Smiley's Ten Days in the Hills. It was billed this exhilaratingly transgressive erotic romp. I love Smiley, but darn it, this book was chock-a-block with chatter about Hollywood. Every once in a while there would be a sex scene featuring the word "cunt." I guess was the transgressive part. (Ooooh! Naughty words!) But the temperature just never rose above tepid for me, even though I was shamelessly looking for the steamy bits.

And apropos Hollywood: Just about anything I read for work is a guaranteed lust-killer, but the last thing I read tonight for tomorrow's class on psychoanalytis feminisms was Laura Mulvey's classic essay in feminist film theory, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." In discussing the phallocentric structures of classic Hollywood films, Mulvey writes:
It is said that analzying pleasure, or beauty, destroys it. That is the intention of this article.
Granted, this article is no doubt (as Amy Poehler said in her alter ego as Hillary Clinton) a "boner shrinker." (And not because it's a feminist manifesto, but because it assumes you understand Lacan, which - god help me - I don't.)

But. I'm not so sure Mulvey's entirely right about pleasure and analysis. Sure, there's a point of no return beyond which analysis is disruptive - and frankly and wondrously impossible. But as a form of flirtation? There's a level between analysis and appreciation where describing a partner's charms ... and how I might want to enjoy them ... can be all about pleasure.

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