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Posts Tagged ‘sex’

Kicked Toward Saintliness

January 21, 2016 | by

On the dark erotics of Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers.

From a German edition of Our Lady of the Flowers.

On September 11, 1895, the deputy chaplain of Wandsworth prison wrote a worried report about one of his new charges, Oscar Wilde, who had been transferred from Pentonville two months before. “He is now quite crushed and broken,” the chaplain recorded:

This is unfortunate, as a prisoner who breaks down in one direction generally breaks down in several, and I fear from what I hear and see that perverse sexual practices are again getting the better of him. This is a common occurrence among prisoners of his class and is of course favoured by constant cellular isolation. The odour of his cell is now so bad that the officer in charge of him has to use carbolic acid in it every day.

The possibility that a famous author had been driven to masturbating during his internment in Wandsworth would not have reflected well on the prison’s authorities, who immediately denied the charge and changed the indiscreet chaplain’s assignment. One wonders how they would have reacted to Jean Genet’s short film Un chant d’amour (1950), which the French author, playwright, and criminal directed in collaboration with Jean Cocteau soon after writing the last of the five novels that earned him international fame. Midway through the film, a poker-faced prison guard peers one at a time into a row of cells, each of which turns out to contain an autoerotic peepshow more wild, graphic, and uninhibited than the one before. A convict rubs his exposed member against the wall of his cell; a smiling bather lathers himself lasciviously in soap; a young black man, one of the many dark-skinned figures in Genet who appear to their white observers as sexual threats, dances with a tight grip on his open-flied crotch. Read More »

Bodies in Space: An Interview with Garth Greenwell

January 19, 2016 | by

Photo:  Ricardo Moutinho Ferreira

Photo: Ricardo Moutinho Ferreira

Garth Greenwell’s “Gospodar,” which appeared in our Summer 2014 issue, is a slow-simmering story of unease, humiliation, and eroticism—it concerns a man’s experience with sadomasochistic sex in Sofia, Bulgaria. Greenwell, also a poet, is exacting in the language he uses to describe the encounter; the result is an intimate and intense intermingling of desire and trepidation.    

Greenwell’s debut novel, What Belongs to You, out today, dilates those same concerns: over three sections, the book’s unnamed narrator plumbs the feelings of exploitation, loneliness, and overwhelming desire that are produced by his complicated, compulsive affair with a bewitching male prostitute named Mitko. The first section is a revised version of a novella, Mitko, which won the Miami University Press Novella Prize in 2011 and marked Greenwell’s first foray into fiction. It follows the young American teacher, new to Bulgaria, as he engages Mitko for sex in the bathrooms under Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. The second section comprises a single unbroken paragraph that reflects back to the narrator’s childhood, and the third returns to his troubled relationship with Mitko.

I met with Greenwell last November after eagerly reading an early copy of the novel. He spoke easily and at length about growing up gay in Kentucky, erotic freedom, and the many faces of desire.

I thought we would start by talking about sex.

Great. That’s my favorite thing.

The novel is concerned with sex and desire, and often we think of those two things as being intertwined, but they’re largely kept separate in this story. Sex and desire are sometimes linked, but they’re also independent entities.

Maybe that’s tied up with the experience of growing up queer in the eighties and early nineties in Kentucky. I remember very clearly thinking about sex all the time when I was twelve or thirteen and feeling an intense desire that I was pretty sure I would never be able to act on. I remember asking myself, Will I ever be able to do any of these things? Will I ever find anyone with whom to do these things? It really did seem possible that the world would never accommodate my desires. And so in that way, desire was separated from sex. And then when I did finally have sex, I found that the world accommodated those desires in these weird marginal spaces, where sex wasn’t exactly analogous with desire—places like cruising bathrooms and parks—and where there can be a circulation of bodies that, if it’s about desire, it’s about a kind of desire that can be detached from specific people. Read More »

Roger That

December 25, 2015 | by

We’re away until January 4, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2015. Please enjoy, and have a happy New Year!

William_Byrd_II

Hans Hysing’s portrait of Byrd, ca. 1724.

The complicated sex drive of William Byrd II.

William Byrd II was a colonial Virginia gentleman who, on occasion, was no gentleman at all. Writing about himself in the third person, in 1723, he bemoaned “the combustible manner in his constitution”; he cursed the innate passions that “broke out upon him before his beard,” making him a “swain” before all women. Byrd’s carnal drive underscored the eyebrow-raising vigor of his lust. On a trip to London in 1719, according to his secret diary, he “rogered”—an easy enough euphemism—no fewer than six women in nine days. Of one woman, he (proudly) recorded having “rogered her three times” in a single evening. That same night, Byrd, aged forty-four, noted with a tinge of sadness that he had “neglected my prayers.”

When he wasn’t on a whore-chasing jag in the metropolis, Byrd was back on his Virginia estate, called Westover, with his wife, Lucy. At Westover, his sexual proclivities certainly raged with similar, singleminded intensity—he wrote in his diary about having urgent sex with Lucy on a billiards table—but it was also tempered by a healthy desire to achieve mutual pleasure with her. He was just as inclined to “give my wife a flourish”—bring her to orgasm—as he was to “roger” her, a semantic shift suggesting that Lucy’s response to their sexual union mattered as much to Byrd as his own physical gratification. On April 30, 1711, he noted in his diary that although he discovered his wife in a “melancholy” mood, the “powerful flourish” he delivered filled her with “great ecstasy and refreshment.” He recalled one morning during which “I lay in my wife’s arms” while, during another, his wife “kept me so long in bed” that “I rogered her.” That evening he got around to saying his prayers—before rogering her again. The man could be a virtuous, even tender, Tidewater lover when he wasn’t being a London sleazebag. Read More >>

No Stranger to Excess

December 17, 2015 | by

Terry Southern, as pictured on the cover of Yours in Haste and Adoration.

A letter from Terry Southern to Fayette Hickox, dated June 29, 1978, and sent to the offices of The Paris Review. Southern, a novelist and screenplay writer, contributed often to the Review; he died in 1995, and our humor prize is named after him. Hickox—who is, as Southern was apparently unaware, a man—was George Plimpton’s assistant and a former managing editor of the magazine. Gene Andrewski, referred to below, was a former managing editor, too, and Maxine Groffsky ran the Review’s offices in Paris from 1966 until it moved to New York in 1973. (The letter’s original spelling and punctuation have been retained.)

This letter appears in Yours in Haste and Adoration: Selected Letters of Terry Southern, edited by Nile Southern and Brooke Allen, out now from Antibookclub. Read More »

All Writers Have a Corpse in Their Closet: An Interview with Andrés Barba

November 3, 2015 | by

Andrés Barba. Photo © Andrés Barba

Andrés Barba’s August, October, now translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman, should bring him the wide Anglophone readership he’s long deserved. The novel follows the fourteen-year-old Tomás as he travels to the coast with his affluent family on their summer vacation. He’s at a point in his life when everything feels distant and strange: friendships, sex, the alluringly lawless behavior of the lower-class kids he meets. Tomás ends up becoming complicit in the sexual assault of a local girl, the central event from which the narrative unspools, and back in Madrid, assailed by guilt, he tries to plot a path toward atonement—one that shines at times with an uneasy air of self-interest. The reader becomes trapped in a story of immaturity and transgression that leaves no room for the usual reassuring tropes of coming-of-age novels. The prose moves on constant commas, swaying between arousal and revulsion, and in its subject matter August, October brings to mind the early work that earned Ian McEwan the nickname “Ian Macabre”: First Love, Last Rites; The Cement Garden.

Barba is the author of twelve books in Spanish. Besides literary fiction he has written essays, poems, books of photography, books for children, and translations of De Quincey and Melville. We discussed his obsession with aloneness, the difficulties of capturing Moby-Dick in Spanish, and why certain “pompous utterances” in literature are “only useful insomuch as Justin Bieber can get them tattooed across his ass.” Barba is fluent in English, but felt more natural discussing his craft in Spanish. Cecilia Ross kindly translated his answers. Read More »

Now Lay Me Down in a Grotto of Moss, and Other News

October 15, 2015 | by

A grove of mosses from Ernst Haeckel’s Kunstformen der Natur, 1904. Image via Public Domain Review

  • Today in persistence, doubt, the slow burn, and eventual triumph: Marlon James, who won the Booker earlier this week for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings, saw seventy-eight different houses reject his first novel. (Can you beat that record? Let’s talk.) “ ‘I had to sit down and add it up one day and I had no idea it was that much … I did give it up. I actually destroyed the manuscript, I even went on my friends’ computers and erased it.’ He said he retrieved the text by searching in the e-mail outbox of an old iMac computer.” James is the first Jamaican writer to win the Booker.
  • Behold, the awesome generative power of the image search, which has given rise to millions of mood boards and a lust for an intimate connection to pictures: “As the longing for emotional connection spreads from how we want our clothes or living room to feel to how we want our minivan or constitutional democracy to feel, the mood business continues to expand … fueled, in large part, by the sheer overabundance of available images. It’s hard to remember that a couple of decades ago, finding pictures of things involved countless, tedious hours of random page flipping. Now a few seconds of furious keystroking produces endless examples … As vast files of metadata and personal search histories are ferreted away in some server farm in god-knows-where, we crave the kind of anodyne, gauzy experiences that at least promise something warmer and more human.”
  • But even as the Internet helps us find too many things, it loses them. A thirty-four-part series of investigative journalism from 2007—nominated for the Pulitzer, even—disappeared from The Rocky Mountain News’s Web site, where it had been exclusively published. “If a sprawling Pulitzer Prize–nominated feature in one of the nation’s oldest newspapers can disappear from the web, anything can … today’s web is more at-risk than the iterations that preceded it. The serving environments are now more complex, and the volume of data involved is astonishing … Saving something on the web, just as Kevin Vaughan learned from what happened to his work, means not just preserving websites but maintaining the environments in which they first appeared—the same environments that often fail, even when they’re being actively maintained.”
  • Richard Spruce, a nineteenth-century biologist, was obsessed not with spruces or even conifers at large, but with mosses, liverworts, bryophytes: the true underdogs of the plant world. Most scientists of his kind found them boring, but mosses had an active life in other quarters of the Victorian imagination: “Bryophytes had a way of working themselves into art and literature as signifiers of privacy and secrecy … Moss in particular served to create some botanical, aesthetic sense of a setting that allowed for illicit sexual encounters and for primal yearnings … Moss provided a soft bed for sexual romps that had to take place outside of stuffy Victorian homes. Serving, perhaps predictably, as a slang term for pubic hair, moss was understood to be consistently moist and jewel-like, glittering like emerald colonies under light … Hidden moss grottoes conjured up an image of something semi-religious, some secret refuge from the trials of urban—and overwhelming imperial tropical—life.”
  • Hilton Als on Truman Capote’s early stories, and their approach to queerness, blackness, and the social politics of their day: “As an artist, Truman Capote treated truth as a metaphor he could hide behind, the better to expose himself in a world not exactly congenial to a Southern-born queen with a high voice who once said to a disapproving truck driver: ‘What are you looking at? I wouldn’t kiss you for a dollar’ … It’s interesting to think about him maybe taking in news reports from the time, like that story about those four black girls in Alabama, one of his home states, blown to bits in a church by racism and maleficence, and maybe wondering how, as the author of 1958’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, he could have written of Holly Golightly, the book’s star, asking for a cigarette and then saying: ‘I don’t mean you, O.J. You’re such a slob. You always nigger-lip.’ ”