Unreal Sex: pertinent quotes

The introductory lectures to this section of the course relied on specific passages from various critics. As the AV equipment issue meant I didn’t have time to set up the overhead, I wasn’t able to give you the quotes in their entirety, so I reproduce them here for reference. You are, of course, encouraged to go forth and read the rest of the chapters from which these quotes are taken, their arguments are interesting.

I contextualised the intersection of eroticism and the unreal by using Rosemary Jackson’s comments on fantasy and desire. She addresses the issues of cultural constraint and desire as absence, and her comments on desire plug straight into the argument I was making about symbolic expression as a safe space for the lateral representation of forbidden desires. She says:

A more extensive treatment would relate texts to … the particular constraints against which fantasy protests and from which it is generated, for fantasy characteristically attempts to compensate for a lack resulting from cultural constraints: it is a literature of desire, which seeks that which is experienced as absence and loss.
In expressing desire, fantasy can operate in two ways … it can tell of, manifest or show desire … or it can expel desire, when this desire is a disturbing element which threatens cultural order and continuity … (Rosemary Jackson, 1981: 3)

The lectures also relied heavily on Italo Calvino’s essay on the erotic, in which he plays interesting mind-games with the notion of representation and the inexpressibility of the sexual act. The most pertinent passage is as follows:

The thick symbolic armour beneath which Eros hides is no other than a system of conscious or unconscious shields that separate desire from the representation of it. From this point of view all literature is erotic… (Italo Calvino, 1982)

And, finally, Angela Carter is incredibly useful as a slightly explosive deconstruction of the sexual symbolic, and the reductive dangers of symbolic representation. Keywords from the lecture: symbols naturalise their own assumptions and are out to seduce you into ignoring the cultural baggage which is packed into them. Keywords from Angela Carter, which I’ll return to in later lectures, but which you can see fit neatly into both Jackson and Calvino’s arguments:

Pornography involves an abstraction of human intercourse in which the self is reduced to its formal elements. In its most basic form, these elements are represented by the probe and the fringed hole, the twin signs of male and female in graffiti, the biological symbols scrawled on the subway poster and the urinal wall, the simplest expression of stark and ineradicable sexual differentiation, a universal pictorial language of lust … (Angela Carter, 1979: 4)

Our flesh arrives to us out of history, like everything else does. We may believe we fuck stripped of social artifice: in bed, we even feel we touch the bedrock of human nature itself. But we are deceived. Flesh is not an irreducible human universal. …We do not go to bed in simple pairs; even if we choose not to refer to them, we still drag there with us the cultural impedimenta of our social class, our parent’s lives, our bank balances, our sexual and emotional expectations, our whole biographies…. (Angela Carter, 1979: 9)

Symbols are powerful things. Be very, very suspicious of symbols.

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