sexuality in literature

Here is a really great article about the value and meaning of sex. It nicely dovetails with what I’ve said here before.

The main point is that it is fashionable for contemporary writers to portray sex as a narcissistic and misguided attempt to escape the ennui of modern life. This trend, claims the author, is a puritanical condemnation of hopefulness.

This essay is really funny all the way through, but I’ll try to give some highlights.

In response to the charge that an obsession with the act of sex is narcissistic, the author writes

In this same essay, Wallace goes on to attack Updike and, in passing, Roth and Mailer [sexually explicit authors] for being narcissists. But does this mean that the new generation of novelists is not narcissistic? I would suspect, narcissism being about as common among male novelists as brown eyes in the general public, that it does not.

But really, the whole essay is summed up in this section, criticizing contemporary writers for their self indulgent relation to sex:

The younger writers are so self-­conscious, so steeped in a certain kind of liberal education, that their characters can’t condone even their own sexual impulses; they are, in short, too cool for sex. Even the mildest display of male aggression is a sign of being overly hopeful, overly earnest or politically un­toward. For a character to feel himself, even fleetingly, a conquering hero is somehow passé. More precisely, for a character to attach too much importance to sex, or aspiration to it, to believe that it might be a force that could change things, and possibly for the better, would be hopelessly retrograde. Passivity, a paralyzed sweetness, a deep ambivalence about sexual appetite, are somehow taken as signs of a complex and admirable inner life.

This does not mean though that some of authors from earlier in this century did not harbor misogynistic views about sex. They clearly did, the question though, is why we don’t look on these authors “with the same fondness as we do the inventors of the first, failed airplanes, who stood on the tarmac with their unwieldy, impossible machines, and looked up at the sky?”

What a great sentence. Damn.


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