Saturday 22 December 2012


In 1976 Anais Nin wrote about her 1940s erotica: -->
At the time we were all writing erotica at a dollar a page, I realized that for centuries we had had only one model for this literary genre—the writing of men. I was already conscious of a difference between the masculine and feminine treatment of sexual experience. I knew that there was a great disparity between Henry Miller's explicitness and my ambiguities—between his humorous, Rabelaisian view of sex and my poetic descriptions of sexual relationships in the unpublished portions of the diary. As I wrote in Volume Three of the Diary, I had a feeling that Pandora's box contained the mysteries of woman's sensuality, so different from man's and for which man's language was inadequate.
Women, I thought, were more apt to fuse sex with emotion, with love, and to single out one man rather than be promiscuous. This became apparent to me as I wrote the novels and the Diary, and I saw it even more clearly when I began to teach. But although women's attitude towards sex was quite distinct from that of men, we had not yet learned how to write about it.
Here in the erotica I was writing to entertain, under pressure from a client who wanted me to "leave out the poetry." I believed that my style was derived from a reading of men's works. For this reason I long felt that I had compromised my feminine self. I put the erotica aside. Rereading it these many years later, I see that my own voice was not completely suppressed. In numerous passages I was intuitively using a woman's language, seeing sexual experience from a woman's point of view. I finally decided to release the erotica for publication because it shows the beginning efforts of a woman in a world that had been the domain of men.
If the unexpurgated version of the Diary is ever published, this feminine point of view will be established more clearly. It will show that women (and I, in the Diary) have never separated sex from feeling, from love of the whole man.
I would argue against the existence of a "woman's language" in the strict sense - after all, each writer uses the same basic linguistic toolkit, regardless of their gender. However, I agree that women have a different perspective on sex, albeit a shifted one from that of the 1940s in particular and even 1976. As I mentioned in a previous review of Anna Blumbach's Kurze Nächte, women writing literary fiction in German tend to close the bedroom door, aside from describing traumatic sexual experiences. I still don't know why that is, in a culture that has dealt with sexuality very openly for two or three generations.

Yet not unlike Anais Nin, Germany's women writers can now make a buck or two on the side with erotica published in a couple of imprints, notably Heyne Hardcore and Anais. Not long ago, I met the former series editor at Anais - you can read a piece about her and the imprint here - and she told me she'd written her master's thesis on women and masturbation and was really pleased to be able to publish erotica written specially by women, for women. Which I think isn't new as such (remember those teenage under-the-covers sessions with Virginia Andrews and Jilly Cooper? Or was that just me?) - just that Anais's books aim to be more realistic and the marketing is more explicit. As I put it in the previous review, they're literary jazz-mags for girls, and proud of it.

So my friend Anna Blumbach gave me her latest, Glitzerregen, and another friend also recommended Lulu Bachmann's Geschlechtsteilchen. Prompting an enjoyable road-test comparison of style and technique in women's erotica, certain aspects of which I shall sum up for you here. You're welcome.

Glitzerregen follows on from Anna's previous novel, again narrated by semi-single mother Eva. She starts pretty much as she left off in Kurze Nächte, clubbing, battling the job centre, enjoying sex with sundry attractive partners. That section of the book was a little frustrating at times - cut to the quick, Eva! I wanted to tell her, especially because we got only one sex scene and that was totally censored. Confused? Oh yes, I was. But luckily things take a turn for the better for Eva and her libidinous readers when she starts a project to build an ecologically autark house - and her long-term occasional lover Tom pops up while her son's away.

Cue ravishing amounts of amazing sex in countless locations, accompanied by soul-searching over whether relationships are a good thing for her. Anna Blumbach writes extremely well about sex. Her descriptions are precise and arousing and realistic and entertaining, and it's easy to visualise exactly what's going on. I think that's a very good thing in erotica. All embedded in a modern Berlin story with authentic backdrops and emotions, a political message, a feminist standpoint and even a soundtrack if you like that kind of thing. Read both the books for double the fun. Interestingly, Anna Blumbach shows how far we've come since Anais Nin's days by making her Eva a firm proponent of promiscuity.

And so to Lulu Bachmann's Geschlechtsteilchen. It's a collection of short stories, some slightly skirting the issue at hand, others full-on erotica. What most of them have in common is that they're slightly silly. A Cinderella not censored by the Brothers Grimm. A special birthday present of serial sex in bathtubs filled with – wait and see. A super-macho dog-trainer who enjoys – well, read that one yourself. Most of them passed the practice test; all of them were well-written and entertaining. At times I had the bizarre sensation of laughing out loud while reading porn. But I certainly enjoyed that because I do find sex very comical at times.

Lulu Bachmann's book, I kept thinking, is not unlike if Caitlin Moran had written girl-porn. Assertive female characters having a lot of fun but also plenty of arguments with their partners, honest and punctuated by excellent punchlines. In comparison to Blumbach, her descriptions aren't as explicit but the book offers the compensation of bizarre plots and outright comedy. Bachmann explodes Nin's suggestion that Henry Miller's humorous approach was due to his gender. And while she employs what Nin describes as "ambiguities" and ascribes as a female trait, Blumbach and a host of other women writers have proved that explicitness is by no means limited to men's writing.

I haven't read Shades of Grey because I'm a literary snob, but I'm told it's not very good for two reasons: the writing and the gender relations. If you read German, here are two options that have those two posts covered. In other words, neither of them leave out their own particular brand of poetry. What I'd like now is for women writing literary fiction in German to be equally open about sexuality under their own names as under pseudonyms. I know I find a little erotica within a literary novel a delightful thing, and I'd love to read that from a woman's perspective. A challenge, I realise.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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