I know, I know, you’re tired of reading about E. L. James 50 Shades of Grey. I’m going to stop reading about it too, after I found this wonderful article on the Los Angeles Review of books. I mean, just read this:
What is interesting about erotic books is the reflection they create, the image in the mirror that can be glimpsed when so many come to drink from the same well at the same time. The image we get from E.L. James is an affirmation of the willingness of women to forgo cynicism when it comes to love.
Isn’t that lovely? Here’s the rest of Gioconda Belli’s fantastic article, The Illusion of Sex. While I don’t agree with everything she has to say, it’s great to read something with more than a visceral reaction to the text. I love how she compares modern day torture porn to the Marquis de Sade (two topics discussed in Maggie Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty, an excellent book).
The juxtaposition of the classics with work that couldn’t be more plebian is also incredibly appealing to me. I think we forget too easily how what we carry through history as Culture is actually Really Old Pop Culture. Or, to put it another way, operas are just kind of silly sometimes. The music is glorious, but I went to a production of Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers where somehow the two leads ended up center stage front dry humping. I think we were all a little embarrassed. Shakespeare is full of dirty jokes, and the people who do his comedies right are completely hamfisted about it. It’s more Family Guy than To be or not to be…
I digress. 50 Shades of Grey, right.
My two cents are that while you may think 50 Shades is some sexy beast like a puma or a wolf, it’s more of platypus. It’s got the window dressing of BDSM, like a platypus has a duckbill. It’s got a few fun bits, a little sting, and a lot of odd characteristics to recommend it (Belli is right when she says it captures that breathless nature of sexual anticipation). Much like the platypus oozes milk from its skin, 50 Shades oozes awkwardness. And also, like everyone has heard of a platypus, everyone has heard of 50 Shades. Like your mom, your sister—this brings us back to oozing awkwardness.
One thing 50 Shades has that a platypus doesn’t, is a contract. I’m surprised someone hasn’t coined the phrase “lawyer porn” in reference to all the discussion this contract gets. After all, it seems like most of the BDSM in the book centers around this document Christian wants Anastasia to sign.
And one last thing, a recommendation, a book I would like to nominate for part of the erotic canon: Marguerite Duras’ The Ravishing of Lol Stein. It popped into my mind reading Belli’s article, though there’s little in 50 Shades that resembles exhibitionism/voyeurism. Although I think there’s a bit with a maid.