A Brief History of Erotica and What it Has Become

"Paul Avril - Les Sonnetts Luxurieux (1892) de Pietro Aretino, 6" by Édouard-Henri Avril

“Paul Avril – Les Sonnetts Luxurieux (1892) de Pietro Aretino, 6” by Édouard-Henri Avril

I’m a member of a very vibrant private group on Facebook called The Erotic Literature Appreciation  Society. A fair number of its members are some of the writers I most admire. However, what is clear is that, beneath the surface, there is a pretty massive schism as to what we are calling ‘erotica’.

Historically, erotica, as a written art form and often referred to as (textual) pornography, has never been a ‘fixed’ thing. Some scholars consider Sappho’s poetry erotica. Historians of ‘erotica’ point to works like The Decameron, The Heptameron, the verse and plays of John Wilmot (dramatized first as a play and then the film The Libertine), the works of de Sade, and then we arrive at the Victorian anthologists, writers and poets: Richard Francis Burton (who translated One Thousand and One Nights and the Kama Sutra), Swinburne, Pierre Louÿ.

Then came collections like The Pearl, and The Romance of Lust, and psuedo-autobiographies like The Amatory Experiences of a Surgeon and My Secret Life by ‘Walter’, and the astonishingly explicit The Sins of the Cities of the Plain – the first exclusively Queer erotic work.

I want to pause here to reflect on the nature of all these works: yes, they were all aimed at erotic arousal, but reading them now they seem very quaint, funny, even boring. But to get a sense of the nature of ‘erotic literature’ you have to take the context of the times in which they were written into account – because without it, we lose the sense of the wealth of what they are. The Decameron was written in Italy during an outbreak of the Bubonic Plague with its sense of impending doom and the Christian view that the Plague was a consequence of sin. The Heptameron’s context is intense religious and dynastic power struggles in France and Spain. The libertine texts appear during the Restoration – in the wake of incredible slaughter after the long power struggle over the British throne. Similarly, with de Sade’s works, they appear as the French Monarchy is crumbling and the Revolution looms on the horizon.

Victorian erotic literature evolves in the context of four massive upheavals: the dramatic shift from an agrarian to an industrial economy, the scientific method taking hold and being applied to every form of natural phenomenon and clashing fantastically with long-held religious beliefs, the migration of large segments of the population from the country to the cities and the expansion of the British Empire.

I want you to consider the content of these works in conjunction with the times in which they are being written, because without doing this, we tend to lose perspective on what the author was doing – what they were writing against, what social norms they were challenging.

Flash forward to the 20th Century, and we have D.H, Lawrence – deeply influenced by Freud and the English Class system. Radclyffe Hall writes The Well of Loneliness which, although not explicit, confronts the reading public with the realities of suffering in a society where same-sex love is stigmatized and criminalised. Bataille’s work is produced as Fascism is about to eclipse Europe. Women writers like Nin and Duras are writing in the shadow of the first wave of feminism and in a world still wholly steeped in sexist misogyny and hypocrisy over what is sexually permissible for a woman to do, to say, to write. Miller and Nabokov are breaking open the rigid roles of men in society and revealing the underbelly.

This isn’t by any means even a pathetic intro to the history of erotic literature, but I wanted to go through it a little to underscore that erotic literature has always been socio-political critique. It has always used the premise of the singular erotic human being’s struggle, eroticism as a kind of body-bound truth point in contrast to or in concert with the culture and society of the time. In a way, it has always been escapist writing – but it is important to ask yourself what a contemporary reader was escaping from. The hand you push into your pants or under your skirt is stained with the everyday world you live in. The semiotics of eroticism are always, always curved by the gravity well of prevailing ideologies. Erotic literature has always acknowledged this.

So, although I understand that people who call themselves erotica writers but whose aim is simply to produce something that enables a quicker wank, and the readers who want to buy ‘erotica’ only for that one purpose – want to be ‘in the club’, they don’t want to bother with the philosophical aspect of the genre’s canon at all.

These days, the vast bulk of what is published as erotica is utterly untransgressive. It doesn’t press against prevailing norms at all. We keep telling ourselves the lie that it’s daring to write about sex explicitly, but it’s NOT. Explicit sexuality is almost everywhere. It’s so ubiquitous that people have to buy programs to make sure their kids don’t stumble across it on the net. There’s absolutely nothing counter-cultural about blogging your sexual exploits. It’s feeding the contemporary content machine. I’m sorry. You are not transgressive. And saying you are, over and over again, doesn’t make it so.

Fifty Shades of Grey is a model of complete contemporary conformity. It valorizes obscene wealth, the whim-driven and nepotistic use of power, the narrative that men want sex but women want love. I’m not going to go on about it. It’s no more transgressive than a Calvin Klein ad.

Meanwhile, there are a small but not insignificant number of writers – who call themselves erotica writers – who are interested in carrying on the legacy of erotic literature: using eroticism as a frame through which to look at, complicate, contrast, and destabilize how mainstream culture perceives ‘reality’. We think it is part of our calling to use eroticism as a way to ask readers to question their assumptions, not just about sex, but desire.

The problem is that the majority of readers, publishers and writers do not think that is ‘erotica’. The economic success of erotic romances like FSOG and the strung-together-sexually-explicit vignettes aimed solely as ways to help women get off textually have really redefined the genre. Because this is the reality in our culture: a genre has become whatever its most economically successful exemplar determines it to be. And it has no place for me, and the small group of writers like me, who write something else.

Maybe we are dinosaurs. Maybe we are writing for a readership that doesn’t exist or is too small to merit a super-structure of editors, publishers, and sales outlets.

I’m never going to stop writing what I write. It forms a core part of my identity. If that means I only have 5 readers, that is okay. I’ll still keep writing. But I do harbour a hope that what I and a dwindling number of writers produce is culturally valuable and, perhaps, the problem is that the label we use for what we write has become so unrecognizable from its historic canonical texts, that we need to find another name to call the kind of literature we produce.

The one thing I know is that the marketplace has won. What the majority of readers call ‘erotica’ bears no resemblance to what I want to write. I’ve wasted a decade fighting a losing battle. It’s time to formulate a new strategy.

I want to frame this in a more positive light. Perhaps this is a good thing for literature. I know a lot of writers I deeply respect have struggled and self-censored and compromised to accommodate what publishers want and what readers expect. I know it’s been incredibly soul-destroying for some of them. Maybe this was our sin: erotic literature IS NOT BY ITS NATURE accommodating to the marketplace or the mainstream. No wonder we’re failing. Let us please stop trying to fool ourselves that we can make a living at this if only we cater to publishers guidelines, political correctness and reader expectation. Let us write freely and courageously into the underbelly of our culture and know that some people do read it and are enriched by it in profound ways.

That’s our job. Let’s just do it. Meanwhile, we really do need a new name.

  35 comments for “A Brief History of Erotica and What it Has Become

  1. July 11, 2015 at 11:18 am

    I’ll be interested to see what your new strategy is.

    • July 11, 2015 at 11:24 am

      Um, I was hoping you’d help, Ed. Since you’re one of those writers who DO write absolutely politically and socially transgressive work.

      • July 12, 2015 at 4:32 am

        I have no idea about a name. I’ve just given in and started calling my stuff in that vein “literary erotica”. I do agree a new name is needed. I’m happy to help in whatever way I can.

        As for me being one that writes that–blush. I write a *lot* of different directions. I’d do more transgressive work if there was an outlet for it besides just putting it on my site mixed in with the old erotic romance and stroke stuff. Of course, some of the stories that tug at me would be anathema to most publishers as well… (I have this boyfriend-woman-dog story tugging at me)… and a lot of them would be “oh, that aroused you? Well, that’s a nice side effect.” Those don’t seem to have a good home…

        • July 12, 2015 at 7:23 am

          “some of the stories that tug at me would be anathema to most publishers”

          I’ve come to firmly believe that any type of writing of the sort I’ve tried to describe in this blog post SHOULD be an anathema to most publishers. If you think about the canon – it was ALL an anathema to publishers in its time. And that’s a pretty good indication that you’re doing something right.

          I do think, however, there is a very hard to describe, but vital gap between what offends purely for the sake of offense, and what offends because it strikes at some uncomfortable truth. That’s the tightrope we walk. We’re not always going to get it right. And that’s where a supportive but critical community of writers becomes a very important asset.

  2. Steveh11
    July 11, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    I’m happy to read what you write regardless of what ‘genre’ you call it. In this respect I find a parallel with music: if it’s good, I’ll listen. Often the best is a crossover style that ‘breaks the rules’ – experimental stuff. The problem is that when you experiment, sometimes you fail.
    HEA Erotic Romantic fiction is a wildly successful experiment – at least commercially. I find it less than fulfilling as a reader generally -though there are exceptions. Whatever you end up calling what you have written (and hopefully will continue to write) may not be commercial but, like some odd jazz-punk fusion, will find a readership of some sort, and more importantly expresses YOUR creativity.
    Don’t stop!

    • July 11, 2015 at 2:48 pm

      Have you read Malin James’ latest piece? So worth reading. http://malinjames.com/2015/07/09/fiction-mourning-sun/

      • Taut
        November 16, 2015 at 9:38 pm

        Malin James’ piece is indeed exceptionally well worth reading. Her artful–and that is the critical notion here–linking of pathos and eros is painfully lovely. I can’t compete with the philosophical and histori-critical exchanges in the following posts; however, your reply to William Crimson regarding context strikes me as particularly important for two reasons. First, transgressive is a function of its moment, a point you drive home in your original post. Second, I believe context is most evident with perspective and that is often perspective of temporal distance. Was it clear to their readers in the moment what mores the authors you note were transgressing? Perhaps clear(er) to the authors themselves, but I would posit that for many contemporary readers the experience was more visceral than intellectual. Transgression is a function of norms. When norms are “violated” the action engenders reaction and the more engrained the norms the more dramatic the reaction precisely because the violation is profoundly psycho-physiological.

        I am a devoted consumer of art that engages my mind. When engagement encompasses the erotic, all the more satisfying. But the most satisfying experience in any genre is when I am pushed and challenged and forced to stretch my ideas to encompass and even sometimes understand what is presented.

    • l0813
      August 13, 2015 at 12:32 pm

      Ditto – I’m not a writer so that’s the best I can come up with. But I am a regular reader.

  3. July 11, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    The obvious choice would be someting inane like “post-erotic”. Which is obviously totally backwards, esp. since you want to go back to the time _before_ erotica became bland jack-off material, but its charme is that anybody who actually *wants* to read something transgressive would recognize it.

  4. Raz
    July 12, 2015 at 12:00 am

    We’re wishing to a return to erotic expression as a complex, rather than facile reflection of the times. This could be considered a “Neo-Classical” movement in erotica, but it seems to me that doesn’t serve either we can’t really be Nïns or de Sades anymore. Taking a page from the modernist Germans – form serving function – I would propose something like Begierdehaus, or Sündehaus; “House of Desire” or “House of Sin” What we are talking about is (now, and perhaps always) a niche. A school of erotic thought and transgressive writing that once was the norm, and therefore never needed to be named. Now the mainstream definition has diverged – and _become_ mainstream. Begeirdehaus/Sündehaus writing, or style focuses on the architectures of desire, departures from comfortable norms and the way they affect us.

    • July 12, 2015 at 7:36 am

      ” A school of erotic thought and transgressive writing that once was the norm, and therefore never needed to be named. Now the mainstream definition has diverged – and _become_ mainstream”

      Yes, it’s kind of a Hegelian dialectic in action. I just don’t know how much a hard-to-spell German word is going to gain traction. heh.

      • Raz
        July 12, 2015 at 8:43 am

        Ah, but that’s the thing. This niche, this school, doesn’t have traction but for a small population. What matters is that the practitioners see a flag to rally under. These names may not be it, but it doesn’t need popular appeal. How big was Bauhaus at the very beginning?

  5. July 12, 2015 at 1:35 am

    your last two posts have been such food for thought, and make me think a lot about my writing and the craft in general…

    • July 12, 2015 at 7:38 am

      Has it? I’m so glad. Because I’m thinking that a movement needs a magazine and, once I hand my thesis in, that’s what I’m going to start.

      • Catherine Mazur
        July 14, 2015 at 2:23 am

        I am so happy to read this.

      • Twittilate
        July 15, 2015 at 7:36 pm

        Looking forward to the mag. I imagine the title of the mag will name the style. There’s so much bland FSOG style stuff out there I can understand you wanting to distance yourself and your work from it. I think that despite writers with less interesting styles trying to claim the title, Erotic Literature is still a good description for your writing.

        It’s a shame your erotic literature isn’t bringing you fame and riches, it should do, you’re a master of the art (maybe mistress of the art sounds kinkier), your writing is the best I’ve come across (yes, in both senses). It’s nuanced, challenging and sophisticated. Thank you for showing the rest of us how it should be done.

        • July 16, 2015 at 2:28 pm

          I know it sounds disingenuous to say I really don’t want fame and riches, but I don’t. I don’t feel a need for either that kind of attention on me, personally, nor do I really need more money than I have. I’m moderately comfortable that way.

          I’d really like it to be easier for people who enjoy this kind of writing to find it, and for the far more numerous readers looking for textual pornography with a happy ending to look elsewhere and not arrive here and be disappointed.

          I’m fairly certain there are readers out there who would really engage with this more classical type of erotic fiction, but who assume all erotica is like FSOG and so don’t bother with the genre at all.

          • KC
            July 17, 2015 at 8:19 pm

            That would be me. I try for ‘queer literary erotica’ and get mostly shit but i really love your writing RG

            • July 17, 2015 at 10:17 pm

              I think most serious writers believe that most of the time, they ‘get shit’. That’s why they’re serious.

              • Jane Anne
                August 23, 2015 at 7:54 pm

                From Sir Richard Francis Burton to Lawrence Osborne the beat has gone on. But you have the explorers skill which takes us from self to other in a remarkable way. ” The Waiting Room” is a bridge of a special sort. You have depth, range, and remind us that the search for recognition is both instant and earned, ancient and immediate. You earn the thanks of recognition a reader feels throughout your meanders in meaning, genre. The shared experience and its acknowledgement is so human. Smart, wise, amused sometimes and always vivid, real, feeling. A hello acknowledged.

  6. Nobilis Reed
    July 12, 2015 at 1:37 am

    Hallelujah, Sibling.

    Some folks actually just call it “Transgressive Fiction”

  7. July 12, 2015 at 2:07 am

    Hi RG, this post is interesting to me on so many levels. Firstly, thank you for writing it – my knowledge of the history of erotica is patchy at best, and I’ll follow through some of your links, because I know I should know more about the genre in which I write.
    I don’t know if you’ve read any of my work. I certainly don’t count myself as writing erotic literature. I write populist stories, with an aim to allowing women to get off on them. However, I know my limitations, I know the sort of writing I’m good at, and being a realist, I’m wouldn’t attempt to write the sort of erotica that you’re talking about in your piece. But I’ve never for one minute claimed or even thought that I was writing something transgressive – and I’m not sure that people writing populist erotica are making that claim. I’m just writing the stories I write because that’s what I enjoy writing. And, yes, I’d like to make some money at it, if I can. Which in the current climate, I have to accept that I can’t.
    I really admire people like you and Malin who can write erotic literature that delivers a critique on contemporary mores/culture – it’s important and enlightening. However, it doesn’t mean that all writers have to strive to do this. That would result in some truly ghastly writing being unleashed on the world. There’s a place for writing of every level, from literature to porn – I’m as snobby as the next writer about badly written work, whether literary or porn, and I admire good writing when it’s literature but also when its’ populist or porny.
    I recently wrote an article, which I’m just shopping around the op ed sites, about the problems facing erotica – namely, 1) the divergence between why writers write erotica and why readers buy it, 2) the problems with writing long-form erotica (sex is usually the pay off/reward in conventional romance, while erotica calls for it to be present from the start, and 3) the genre is awash with self-published shit and the readers don’t care, as all they want is a wank aid. At the end of the article I actually suggest that anyone who wants to write decent erotica should leave the genre and work at placing their writing, including the sex, into other genres. Why should stories that deal with the most fundamental of human drives be shoved into a corner. All genres should contain stories that carry sex as a central theme – it shouldn’t be a separate issue. Perhaps if we stop labelling our own work as erotica but just position it as literature/contemporary fiction/romance/whatever, that happens to contains sex – and why the hell shouldn’t it? – we’d all get on better.
    Certainly, erotica is broken and it would be nice to find another home…

    • July 12, 2015 at 7:30 am

      ” I write populist stories, with an aim to allowing women to get off on them.”
      I don’t want to suggest for a moment, Tamsin, that there is anything wrong with this.

      “I really admire people like you and Malin who can write erotic literature that delivers a critique on contemporary mores/culture – it’s important and enlightening. However, it doesn’t mean that all writers have to strive to do this.”
      Absolutely not. People need to write what compels them and what they feel most fulfilled in producing.

      The point of the article was just to point out that just because we have sex as our subject, doesn’t mean that we belong in the same genre. At present, the reader expectation of ‘erotica’ has, due to the very great economic success of a very specific type of erotica, set up a situation in which anyone coming across what I or Malin writes is going to feel they have been mis-sold a product. And I don’t believe there is any point in fighting a losing battle by stamping my little foot and demanding that since the canon of ‘erotica’ was a site of socio-political struggle, that this is what it should be now. I did that for years.

      I concede it was a stupid, pointless battle.

      “At the end of the article I actually suggest that anyone who wants to write decent erotica should leave the genre and work at placing their writing, including the sex, into other genres.”

      Because other genres HAVE other focuses. And what I write has eroticism AS its lens through which the human experience is viewed. It doesn’t belong in another genre. And now it doesn’t belong in erotica.

      We just need a new genre. That’s all.

  8. Seldom
    July 13, 2015 at 4:12 am

    Not unlike one of the residents of 100 Acre Wood I am a reader of little brain. My original intention for exploring erotic writing was to feed my fantasies for my own pleasure. Having tired of visual porn which seems increasing to be made by gynaecologists and proctologists I hoped written stuff would give me a little more insights into what the characters were thinking or feeling – I guess trying to tap into an emotional level. Although I’ve never been one for ‘literature’ in general – I just like to read stories. Most of what I have read ( and I am not widely read in any genre) of erotica has failed me to date – apart from getting me aroused there seemed little substance.
    I don’t know enough of the scene to know if I am typical of consumers of erotica or not. This is the first time I have shared my thoughts with others.
    As I get older I guess I despair a little at how superficial we can be and have recently stepped up my quest for deeper meaning. So I feel like I get your frustration that people don’t seem to get that erotica is more than a lubricant for physical pleasure.
    I would not have found your work if you did not have ‘erotica’ as part of the description. The way you have introduced yourself and your work has drawn me in (spoken to where I am at right now) and invited/challenged me to think a bit more and examine myself (scary as that may be).
    To conclude my somewhat disjointed thoughts I suggest in searching for a new genre you might consider “thinking person’s erotica” or “classic erotica” – some way that flags that it is a bit more than what seems to be the popular expectation but is not too hard to decipher.

  9. July 13, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    I would be happy with transgressive fiction, if the retailers would accept that as a category. Amazon was quick to inform me there is no such thing’. Only smashwords recognizes it, and it was there I was able to find a little traction, because people browsing that category weren’t looking for what has come to pass as erotica. I find myself writing less and less, not because the urge has waned, but because writing demands readers. . .and those are so very hard to find.

  10. Elutris
    July 15, 2015 at 1:34 am

    Thank you for another insightful essay on the forms and functions of modern erotica!

    If we’re going to play with words (and don’t we all love to do that?), I think that the work you and a few others produce could be referred to using the word “Literature,” as opposed to the word “fiction.”

    Anyone can write a work of fiction, and many people can write works of fiction that appeal to a mass audience. Literature has always been a harder sell. The term literature certainly has elitist connotations, but for me it implies fiction that has been carefully crafted to include deeper elements than just literal narration/description/conflict. This could include symbolism (yes, I am Jung at heart), inner motivation and conflict, complex, unpredictable, multidimensional characters, and other crafted or improvised content that reflects the writer’s personal outlook and struggles (both internal and external).

    In our consumerist society, almost any work that is written to communicate one’s inner passion to others without an intent to make money is in some way transgressive. That doesn’t mean it’s literature, of course. To me, literature requires consumate craft or at least a consuming passion carried relentlessly through a work.

    Many of the works that you cited in your essay would now be considered “literature,” even if they were considered “trash” when they were first written. Some were quite commercially successful. Others were not. But they all tapped some universal aspect of the human condition (beyond the need for a good wank) that makes people still want to ready them, decades or centuries later).

    I’m guessing that the term “erotic literature” has been co-opted so many times, and has too many banal connotations to be useful for your purposes, but I’m putting it out there in the spirit of Ginsburg’s putting his “queer shoulder to the wheel…” 😉

    Bottom line–Erotica is just another form of fiction. Literature is fiction that has depth. Thanks for continually plunging us (your readers) into the deep end with your works!

  11. July 18, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    In1848 Hunt, Millais and Rossetti, in reaction to ‘sloshy’, ‘scamped’ in its creation, commonplace and conventional art; created the Pre-Raphaelite Movement. The had a newsletter called ‘The Germ’ and they, amongst others painted what was meaningful for them. Their work was gorgeous, rich and harked back to a period that was not contemporary populist or ‘modernist’. You and I once sat and chatted about life, erotica and coffee in the cafe of the Tate Modern on the bank of the Thames, a short riverboat ride from the other Tate where the work of the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood is exhibited. They chose to be ‘pre Raphael’ because they blamed him for the sea change in art, bringing it to where they were then. I am getting to my point, honest!
    Perhaps there is a watershed writer, publisher, publication or company with a deleterious impact upon erotic writing that the work discussed here should be ‘pre’?
    I have no suggestions other than ‘Pre Amazon-PayPal Erotica….’
    (The only problem with the acronym PAPPE is that it means Cardboard in German! Cardboard school of Erotic Writing…..)
    I will shut up and go back to sleep. Good luck, I think we will need it.

  12. July 28, 2015 at 1:49 am

    I feel like what I write is often called “erotica” by others but I don’t think of it as that myself. I think of it as not pulling my punches about anything. The last review I read of the first book in my trilogy said it was deeply disturbing to read and yet the reviewer wanted to read the next book. I thought “Good, the world I created should disturb you.” Then I’ll get reviews about how my books don’t have enough sex in them or the “wrong” kind of sex and I think “I didn’t write what you think is erotica, I wrote a story/book about x subject and to cover that required y amount of sex in this way.”

    My agent says that my writing isn’t genre and this is one of our great difficulties…. but I can’t write this genre called “erotica” because I find it so boring to read and mindless to write. The books, stories, and authors I like to read seem happy to call what they do porn or erotica but I have never been completely comfortable with those categories…

    Just thought I’d share that and say “thank you for this article.”

  13. September 8, 2015 at 2:17 am

    //So, although I understand that people who call themselves erotica writers but whose aim is simply to produce something that enables a quicker wank…//

    Erotic literature, I think, has as its intent the expression of arousal as well as the intent to arouse. There’s an art to that that is, by definition perhapse, subversive. TS Eliot, caught up in the debate between free verse vs. traditional poetry, stated that he only wanted to know whether the poem was a ‘good poem’, and by that he meant that a good poem transcends the manner in which it’s written. I think the same can be said for the best erotica. My point being, I hesitate to dismiss writing meant to “enable a quicker wank”. There’s an art to that too, and just because the vast majority of such literature isn’t that good (if erotica is like every other genre), doesn’t mean that a particular sub-genre is innately flawed. It’s tempting to conclude as much. And I don’t know if you’re suggesting that.

    //Victorian erotic literature evolves in the context of four massive upheavals…//

    You’re more knowledgeable in regard to this period than I am. However, there’s an element of correlation equaling causation that makes me hesitate. (There have almost always been upheavals of one kind or another.) My literary expertise regards poetry and children’s literature. The thing to remember is the tremendous amount of erotic literature that has been lost to the world. It has been systematically destroyed and repeatedly so that any tradition or development in the genre has been all but impossible. Don’t forget Ovid, Marlowe and Shakespeare by the way. Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis was considered, at the time, erotica. It was banned from Universities but eagerly read under the covers. More to the point, take Chinese poetry. A third or more of it, a considerable amount of literature, was destroyed because it was considered too erotic or potentially embarrassing. Who wrote this poetry? Largely women. In 1896, Oxford grads Grenfell and Hunt, discovered a “mother lode” of 2,000 year old paper in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt. What had they discovered? A trash dump, literally, containing a thousand years worth of discarded trash. What was the most popular literary genre two thousand year ago―when Christ walked the earth and after? Erotica. I think that if one really wants to consider Erotic Literature historically, one can’t just consider the works that have survived. Much erotic literature was written, arguably, in the absence of societal upheavals. Societal upheavals were more apt to destroy erotic literature than inspire it.

    //Maybe this was our sin: erotic literature IS NOT BY ITS NATURE accommodating to the marketplace or the mainstream. //

    Possibly. The marketplace certainly hasn’t been nice to ‘me’. The thing is this: The marketplace rarely accommodates the art, music or literature that is ‘ahead of its times’. I’m not sure that this is limited to the erotic genre (and I’m not sure you’re suggesting this). To that extent, I suppose one could argue that all great literature is subversive in that it challenges the mediocrities of the era. To judge my history, the riskiest sign that one is mediocre is success in ones own lifetime, especially when young. An audience likes best what it is familiar with. So, as you say, it comes as no surprise that FSOG is marketplace success. All this is to say: I wholeheartedly agree with your advice: “Let us write freely and courageously into the underbelly of our culture…”

    • September 9, 2015 at 4:06 pm

      You’ve made a lot of points here, Will, and I’m going to try and address them as thoroughly as I can:

      1. “I hesitate to dismiss writing meant to “enable a quicker wank”.”
      If you interpreted my stance as dismissive of stroke fiction, then either I have not expressed myself with enough clarity or you have misread me. There is nothing easy or dismissible about writing good stroke fiction. My point is that it can hardly be represented as transgressive in a time when access to a plethora of visual and textual masturbatory aides are literally at the click of a mouse.

      2. “there’s an element of correlation equaling causation that makes me hesitate
      The essay speaks about the context in which work is being written – if a description of context reads to you as implying causation, then again, either I have been careless in my writing or you are misreading it. However, to suggest that context has no influence on art is, to me and most cultural critics since Hegel, fairly unsupportable position.

      • September 10, 2015 at 8:20 am

        Thanks RG. When we write posts in this medium there’s always much that’s unsaid—misreadings, and sometimes misunderstandings, fill the gaps.

        I’ll have to consider your demarcation concerning what qualifies as transgressive. To me, the very fact that writing erotica remains a largely anonymous act argues against your assertion; but then maybe I’m applying a different criteria. I’m going to assume I don’t fully grasp your argument. I’m just getting started being more involved in the community. 🙂

        • September 11, 2015 at 12:10 am

          Pen names are used in many many genres for many years, for various reasons – women writing as men, men writing as women, authors in one genre worried about their reputation in another, even, as in the case of Iain M Banks – just to distinguish which genre the author is working in. Can you honestly say that, in an age where an ‘erotica’ novel sells more than 100 million copies and sells the film rights, that writing erotica is still a transgression?

          No. Perhaps what is transgressive is being financially unsuccessful at it.

  14. Donna
    October 30, 2015 at 4:41 pm

    I apologise if in the comments above this has already been mentioned. I would love to read stories based on Nancy Friday’s writing on women’s sexual fantasies. I would be happy to purchase erotic writing, especially if it was in a beautiful hard back book.

    • November 1, 2015 at 10:25 pm

      Hmmmm. Perhaps that would be a good thing to propose to an editor! Sadly, it’s very hard to produce hardbacks anymore. I don’t know anyone who’s producing them for erotica.

      Sadly, I’m not really the author for you. Nancy Friday’s work was on women’s fantasies. Fantasies tend to be wholly positive narratives with little or no conflict – which is great for masturbation but doesn’t make for a terribly compelling story. But there are erotica writers who do more of the fantasy thing than I do. Many of them!

  15. January 11, 2016 at 11:28 am

    What a beautiful article! Thank you for sharing it. So glad I stumbled across a fellow lover of the truly erotic!

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