“I with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me innocent or naïve, who has the courage to treat me like a woman.” Anais Nin 1903-1977
To gaze or leer may be a question in the field of erotica that I could write about for pages. But I am here to mention erotica because, basically, I hated 50 Shades of Grey, when most of America loved it. Or at least most of American women did. 50 Shades of Grey, for me, felt a little like taking a spectacular tricked out Harley, stripping it down, removing all the curves of the chrome and calling it a motorcycle. But that’s just me. Since I grew up with Anais Nin, who by 1925 was busting down all the sexual doors as a writer and redefining erotica, I imprinted on a level of sensuality and eroticism that seems, well, either too hard for writers to capture on the page or just not the “quickie” that so much romantic and erotic storytelling seems to focus on.
The world of erotic writing crossed over into the pornographic realms long ago. Sex became the central focus of much erotica, and most of it pretty badly written along the way. I mean how many ways can you describe a penis, or fucking or body parts? E.L James worked overtime to find as many ways not to repeat herself when describing sex, but in the end ripped the heartbeat out of her story. But who cares, if the object of a sex scene is to arouse the reader? If the reader is satisfied, then it worked. But working and inspiring are two vastly different objectives in eroticism.
Erotica used to be considered art, and fine art, like painters who used the human figure as a subject to create a rich and beautiful sexual landscape. Erotica a while back did too. So sexual writing isn’t necessarily the same as erotica. Gazing can be just a big a turn on as someone leering or lusting after their object of desire, if it is written well. But, it is simply harder to write, and requires a depth of emotion that current erotica seems to have abandoned.
Anais Nin changed literature with a handful of others as she took herself into the world of erotic exploration and at the height of our provincial 20th century decided to break down the barriers receiving great criticism along the way.
Anais wrote journals which spanned more than 60 years, beginning when she was 11 years old and ending shortly before her death in 1977: novels, critical studies, essays, short stories, and erotica. A great deal of her work, including Delta of Venus and Little Birds, was published posthumously because she was a bit of an infamous woman for her time. But Anais Nin tore through the world of erotica and changed writing for and by women forever. Her passionate love affair with the notorious bohemian writer, Henry Miller fueled much of her writing. Here is a letter she wrote in Delta of Venus, in defense of a kind of erotica we do not see much any more. I will let my case rest with her searing words.
“Dear Collector: We hate you. Sex loses all its power and magic when it becomes explicit, mechanical, overdone, when it becomes a mechanistic obsession. It becomes a bore. You have taught us more than anyone I know how wrong it is not to mix it with emotion, hunger, desire, lust, whims, caprices, personal ties, deeper relationships that change its color, flavor, rhythms, intensities.
“You do not know what you are missing by your microscopic examination of sexual activity to the exclusion of aspects which are the fuel that ignites it: Intellectual, imaginative, romantic, emotional. This is what gives sex its surprising textures, its subtle transformations, its aphrodisiac elements. You are shrinking your world of sensations. You are withering it, starving it, draining its blood.
If you nourished your sexual life with all the excitements and adventures which love injects into sensuality, you would be the most potent man in the world. The source of sexual power is curiosity and passion. You are watching its little flame die of asphyxiation. Sex does not thrive on monotony. Without feeling, inventions, moods, no surprises in bed. Sex must be mixed with tears, laughter, words, promises, scenes, jealousy, envy, all the spices of fear, foreign travel, new faces, novels, stories, dreams, fantasies, music, dancing, opium, wine. How much do you lose by this periscope at the tip of your sex, when you could enjoy a harem of distinct and never-repeated wonders? No two hairs alike, but you will not let us waste words on a description of hair; no two odors, but if we expand on this you cry Cut the poetry.
No two skins have the same texture, and never the same light, temperature, shadows, never the same gesture; for a lover, when he is aroused by true love, can run the gamut of centuries of love lore. What a range, what changes of age, what variations of maturity and innocence, perversity and art . . . We have sat around for hours and wondered how you look. If you have closed your senses upon silk, light, color, odor, character, temperament, you must be by now completely shriveled up. There are so many minor senses, all running like tributaries into the mainstream of sex, nourishing it. Only the united beat of sex and heart together can create ecstasy.”
― Anais Nin, Delta of Venus.