The Lure of the Forbidden

‘I am a forest, and a night of dark trees.’

― Friedrich Nietzsche (Thus Spoke Zarathustra

 

I am a different person by night.

I breathe more deeply.

What I thirst for is not the reflection in the mirror but something beyond and behind, only visible when there is no light: a realisation of my shadow side.

Thoughts of revenge, debasement, danger, fear, pain and violence, is this my ‘real’ self?

It is, although other selves exist too. They have the daylight.

All are mine: dark and light.

As Jung said: ‘How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole.’

My self beyond the mirror desires what cannot be spoken, and what cannot be attained. This ache may be soothed but it cannot be satisfied. Whatever I imagine, it will never be enough, for my desire is always to want more: to grasp at what is out of reach.

I walk a balancing act between light and shade, between my ‘civilised’ self and that which flickers and dissolves at the edges.

‘I am terrified by this dark thing

That sleeps in me;

All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.’

― Sylvia Plath (Ariel)

In Joseph Kessel’s Belle de Jour (1928), Séverine knows well that her indulgence of her ‘dark’ self – which wishes to lose its conventional, public identity and surrender only to desire and sensation, without thought of consequences – endangers her ‘social’ self.

Belle de Jour film poster

The story is best known through Catherine Deneuve’s portrayal of the icily beautiful housewife, in Luis Bunuel’s film (1967). Compelled by desires she cannot articulate, let alone share with her husband, Pierre, she is drawn into an alternate sexual world, choosing to spend each afternoon working at a brothel.

The greater her revulsion with her clients, the greater her satisfaction, yet she seeks continually, without finding true fulfillment. She experiences little ‘conscious’ choice, driven almost mad by her need to act out fantasies of masochism and debasement: to be forcefully subdued, to ‘lose’ her usual sense of self.

Her desires make no sense to her; she only knows that she must serve them.

The story’s tension lies not in her compulsions but in her knowledge that they are incompatible with her ‘other life’ and her love for Pierre. For him to discover the truth is inconceivable. She sends one of her lovers, Marcel, to murder the man she thinks will betray her and it is upon this moment that Fate twists the course of the story, turning the blade towards Pierre.belle de jour

The shock of almost losing him drives Séverine to renounce her sexual yearnings and devote herself to the long-term care of her terribly injured husband.

The final tragedy is that her desire, and her shame, live on sufficiently to drive her to confess all and, in so doing, bring to pass the very reaction she most feared: Pierre’s revulsion and his repudiation of her. In the closing lines of the story, we are told that he refuses ever after to speak to her.

Stanley Kubrick’s film Eyes Wide Shut, based on Arthur Schnitzler’s Dream Story, also examines ‘unbridled’ desires, including concealment of the truth and feelings of guilt. A woman tormented by relentless dark fantasies involving a man she encounters briefly, reveals the details to her husband: a scene intimately constructed in the film, whereby Nicole Kidman whispers her confession of her ‘raw self’ to Tom Cruise.

Eyes Wide Shut - promotional film posterAroused and resentful, he allows himself his own act of transgression by entering a twilight world: attending a secret, orgiastic gathering, at which he is an intruder. It is for this segment that the film is best known: its glitteringly dark, dream-like depiction of a sinister, masquerade sex party. Much is left unexplained, elevating the sense of danger.

What these books (and the resulting films) share is their portrayal of the lure of the forbidden. However much we experience and possess and taste, it is never quite enough, because our imagination always craves more.

We feel, almost instinctively, the seduction of what lies on the darker side of the mirror, where the norms of social behaviour no longer apply.

George Bataille (in Guilty) wrote: ‘Eroticism is the brink of the abyss. We’re brought to the edge by uncontrolled ecstasy. This is the stage of rupture, of letting go of things.’

Similarly, he said: ‘The need to go astray, to be destroyed, is an extremely private, distant, passionate, turbulent truth.’

And here it is. In fiction, we seek both to ‘escape’ and to ‘find’ ourselves. We seek an echo of our nature within the pages, while hoping also to set aside the constraints of ‘reality’: to ‘lose’ ourselves, as we do in ultimate moments of sexual arousal.

We want danger.

We want extremes.

We want the duality of pleasure and pain.

We want the forbidden.

In Japan, diners delight at the tingle of poison on their lips from the carefully prepared puffer fish, knowing how close they are to danger, to death.

So it can be with our erotic nature.

What greater triumph is there than to feel your mortality and to conquer it?

In reaching a heightened sexual state, we are of the flesh and beyond the flesh: we are corporeal and spiritual. We feel our mortality and we transcend it. At that moment of sublime ecstasy, we ‘defy’ death, becoming more than bone and blood.

We see beyond the mirror.

We see the hidden self.

 

Bibliography

Joseph Kessel: Belle de Jour (1928)

Arthur Schnitzler: Dream Story (1926)

 

To taste my own darkly erotic pen, visit my Amazon page.

 

F. Leonora Solomon kindly first hosted this article as a guest blog on her site.

Many thanks Leonora xxx

Wanted: Intelligent Smut

 

 

Yes, yes YES!!!

Such is the battle-cry of millions of insatiable readers in the erotic-romance genre: currently worth around $1.5 billion Dollars annually (more than any other).

Yes, women have sex drives (as do men).

Yes, women have fantasies (as do men).

Yes, women sometimes just want to get down and dirty (need I say more).

Fear of Flying - erotic fiction

It’s clear that the popularity of e-readers and tablets has aided sales of erotic fiction, offering as they do the chance to enjoy any amount of knee-trembling ‘naughtiness’ with anonymity.

Looking back to the 1970s, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying was one of the first to gain international bestselling status, with the uninhibited ‘flying free’ of Isadora, on a wild journey of liberation and self-discovery. Nancy Friday’s taboo-shattering My Secret Garden (1973) not only sets out to show us that we are not alone in enjoying fantasies (the kind that nancy_friday  erotic literature still have women wondering if they are the only ‘bad’ girls thinking saucy thoughts) but that, whatever spice your imagination can conjure up, someone else is undoubtedly doing the same, and possibly adding quite a few jalapenos on top.

Although I grew up on the salacious 1980s offerings of Jackie Collins and Jilly Cooper, eating up each morsel like a dog falling upon a plate of fat sausages, these days, I much prefer my fiction without ‘hearts and roses’. Erotic literature is widely classified as exploring sexual themes for their own sake, viewing our humanity through the  lens of erotic desire. The development of a romantic relationship is not obligatory to the menu.

Classic examples come from the kinky pen of the late 18th-century’s much fanny-hill by-john-clelandimprisoned Marquis de Sade and John Cleland, whose Fanny Hill (1748) inspired over two centuries of obscenity trials and censorship. Brazen for its time, Theophile Gautier’s Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835) sees a woman use her beauty to captivate not only a young poet but, disguised as a man, his mistress! It oozes sexual deception and intrigue. Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (1899) similarly shocked readers by its Mademoiselle de Maupin heroine seeking out passion for its own sake, beyond the confines of her marriage. Also published in 1899, The Torture Garden, by Octave Mirbeau, follows desire and depravity to a shocking, sadistic paradise, where debauchery knows no bounds, its premise being that self-knowledge and fulfilment are only attainable by experiencing extremes. Reaching back even further into the annals of sexy literary history, there is The Perfumed Garden. Written in the 16th Century, it looks at the sexual customs and behaviour of Arabia in the Middle Ages (much as the Kama Sutra reflects ancient Hindu culture).

Henry Miller Tropic of Cancer Other storm raisers, banned from public consumption for decades, include D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (bawdy adventures in 1930s Paris) and Tropic of Capricorn (debauchery in Lady Chatterley's Lover  erotic fiction 1920s New York).

The question is, amidst a sea of erotica, how do you locate the more challenging, intelligent sauce? The sort that not only arouses at a visceral level, but inspires us to rethink sexual conventions: to challenge our minds as well as delivering a thwack to the groin.

In Delta of Venus, Anais Nin pens several provocative and elegantly Delta of Venus, Anais Nin - intelligent eroticastyled tales: a Hungarian adventurer seduces wealthy women then vanishes with their money; a veiled woman selects strangers from a chic restaurant for private trysts; and a Parisian milliner leaves her husband for a mini-break to the opium dens of Peru.

Another titillating collection is The Gates of Paradise: 35 stories exploring the infinite variety of erotic experience, by such authors as Tennessee Williams, Marguerite Duras and Isabel Allende. Ms. The Lover - Duras - erotic fiction Duras is best known for her poetically scribed The Lover.

Belle de Jour (1928), by Joseph Kessel, inspired Luis Buñuel’s film Belle-de-jour  Catherine Deneuve (starring the luscious Catherine Deneuve). A wealthy Parisian housewife seeks fulfilment of her own vivid, sadomasochistic fantasies via a brothel, where she submits to her customers, revelling in (yet also repulsed by) her ‘debasement’. Each evening, she returns home to her oblivious husband.

Another French novel better known as a film adaptation is Emmanuelle Arsan’s Emmanuelle (1959), whose protagonist embraces the full Emmanuelle - erotic fiction scope of her sexual nature. Served with a dollop of French philosophical reverie, it’s smut at its most stylish.

There is a wealth of contemporary erotic fiction for you to explore, covering every nuance of kink and desire. The more time you spend looking, the more likely you are to find a tantalising surprise. Standing on the sado-masochistic shoulders of Pauline Réage’s Story of O (1954) is Anne Rice’s 1980s Sleeping Beauty Trilogy Story of O - erotic fiction BDSM(written under her A.N. Roquelaure pseudonym). It has spawned a rich seam of fairy-tale inspired erotic tales. Meanwhile, Twilight has brought forth a host of alpha-male werewolves and lustful vampires.

My modern day recommendations are Tobsha Learner’s kaleidoscopic anthologies of short stories: Quiver, Tremble and Yearn. Highly original, provocative and Tobsha Learner - Quiver - erotic fiction often shocking (erotic encounters at the dentist’s and a disembodied penis providing endless nights of pleasure), they admirably challenge conventional notions. More a ‘wake-up’ call than overtly sexy, I find Tobsha a breath of fresh air.

For a dystopian erotica mash-up, treat yourself to a look at Steelwhisper’s masterfully written George. Disturbing, and infinitely touching, it is one of the most powerful pieces I’ve come across in the erotic genre.

For hauntingly beautiful, evocative and challenging short-stories, visit the sites of Malin James and Remittance Girl.

Indulge the paradox of sexual agony and ecstasy via Jonathan Kemp’s 26: ‘visions of excess’ burning brightly beyond the civility of language and manners, taking us on a journey of transcendence, of sexual gratification and drug-induced otherness.jonathan-kemp-26-erotic-fiction

Or venture into the radical sex writing of Patrick Califia; I recommend his gothic classic, Mortal Companion, as a great place to start.

We are in charge of our sexual choices: we don’t need ‘permission’ to bed as we please, and the same applies to what we choose to read. I say, dare to be as adventurous with your erotic reading as you would be with any other genre.

Make free to add your suggestions for reading below…

(you may like to visit my Author Page on Amazon to see where my pen has been tickling…)