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Anais Nin’s stories in Delta of Venus (Aus/US) were intended for a specific male client but it is possible to detect a feminine presence in the writing. Lynette Felber (1995) suggests that Nin called herself a feminine writer but nonetheless, wanted to grasp the male reader in her projects with Henry Miller and her erotic writings in Delta of Venus. As Nin expresses in the introduction to Delta of Venus, she was appalled at the client’s continual insistence on more straightforward sex scenes and less flourish. ‘I was sure the old man knew nothing about the beatitudes, ecstasies, dazzling reverberations of sexual encounters’ (Nin 2000, p. ix). The stories are thus an exploration between assumed notions of feminine and masculine sexuality. Assumed because while the client was a male and Nin a female, they are also determined by their individuality. Masculine sexuality is often criticised by feminism as being ‘inevitably rapacious’ (Horrocks 1997, p. 142) and feminine sexuality the polar opposite – passive and soft. While this argument places females as pure and wholesome, it also serves to victimise them, creating an empiricist cycle (Horrocks 1997). Feminist argument rejects this notion, stating that the woman can have just as much power as the man, and is entitled to show pleasure and desire without the appearance of vulgarity (Horrocks 1997). Considering these two arguments, it can be seen why writing such as Nin’s escapes the title of ‘pornography’ and is related to as ‘erotica’. Roger Horrocks notes that ‘[W]omen… can experiment with porn and S/M without necessarily falling victim to patriarchal categories. It is possible to play with such categories and subvert them, and not inevitably fall into a position of supine passivity towards them’ (1997, p. 141).

It is this kind of ‘play’ that we see in (among others) the story Lilith (Nin 2000) where a woman has no desire for her demeaning husband. He tricks her into taking ‘Spanish Fly’, and while the intention is to tease her as it is fake, she attends the cinema with a female friend and is subject to a placebo effect. She realises she does experience the normal hungers of sexual desire. In the end she decides to keep this from her husband. This story is a direct response to a micro-level patriarchal relationship, but other male representers of power and institution throughout the stories are also subverted. Some, like the Basque in The Basque and Bijou end up internally lonely and saddened due to a previous sexual obsession. Some, like the title character in Marcel have homosexual relations. Some get pleasure from the female gaze, like Manuel, thus subverting the objectification of the female body. Priests and Barons and other powers of patriarchal institution are cast in violent, often violating positions – ‘…I began to write tongue-in-cheek, to become outlandish, inventive, and so exaggerated that I thought he would realise I was caricaturing sexuality’ (Nin 2000, p. viii). Nin was frustrated that the client did not notice, and disturbed at this signification and confirmation of male sexuality as brutish, forceful and overtly base.

Nin’s writing technique is another way she asserts her feminine identity on sexual matters. ‘I had a feeling that Pandora’s box contained the mysteries of woman’s sexuality, so different from man’s and for which man’s language was inadequate’ (Nin 2000, p. x). Her language has been described as ‘lyrical’ (Felber 1995) and this once again places it into a set of binary characterisations. Female is lyrical, male is clinical. Female is confessional, male is symbolic (Felber 1995). Note the voice in the following passage from Artists and Models (Nin 2000, p. 41) ‘I felt desperate with desire to be a woman, to plunge into living. Why was I enslaved by this need of being in love first? Where would my life begin? I would enter each studio expecting a miracle which did not take place. It seemed to me that a great current was passing all around me and that I was left out.’

It is lyrical because it focuses on a character’s internalisations and is not a descriptor of action. The passage can also be read as a motif of Nin’s own struggle – the narrator is attempting to find a place between her emotional (soft, passive) being and the need to ‘plunge in’ to life (strength, active). Felber (1995, p. 323) calls Nin a ‘colossus of gendered discourse’ who ‘straddles the gap between masculine and feminine language’. Unfortunately as a writer this problematises her identity. By declaring herself a feminine writer she may exclude male readers, but by pleasing (even tongue-in-cheek) male readers she may exclude female ones who are not willing to embrace subjects as extreme as incest, bestiality, fetishism, sadomasochism and even necrophilia.

References

Felber, L 1995, ‘The three faces of June: Anais Nin’s appropriation of feminine writing’, Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 309-324, (online JSTOR).

Horrocks, R 1997, An introduction to the study of sexuality, Palgrave Macmillan, Houndmills. Nin, A 2000, Delta of Venus, Penguin Classics, London.
 
See more of my writing on ‘literary sex’ in the Sex Mook by Vignette Press.

9780470114605, Wiley, 2007. (Aus ebook, US, pb/Kindle)

The Simpsons is written by intelligent individuals who generally come from educated backgrounds. This is evident in the subversive satirical elements of the show, but as Paul Halpern points out in What’s Science Ever Done For Us?, it also means they know a lot about ‘physics, robots, life and the universe’. Regular writers like David X Cohen, Ken Keeler, Bill Odenkirk, Al Jean and Jeff Westbrook have a range of science-based degrees – from physics, mathematics and chemistry to computer science. Halpern explores the wealth of scientific information (and misinformation) in the show. He enjoyably recaps favourite episodes and then brings real research and evidence into play, utilising the show’s characters to metaphorically explain difficult theories.

The book allows us to see the multi-dimensionality of meaning in this cartoon that has shaped opinion and identity (and made us laugh) for eighteen years. Parents could use the book as a discussion point with their children. Inclusive themes are ‘nature vs. nurture’, as explored in the episode where Lisa despairs that she may have the ‘Simpson gene’, evolutionary theory, nuclear physics, the history and properties of radium, genetic engineering, invention, thermodynamics, robotics, chaos theory, the space-time continuum, the shape of the universe (is it a donut?) and so much more. While it might sound heavygoing, Halpern injects every explanation with relevance and humour. Much still floats over the head of the literary-minded individual, but I was pleased to learn that the toilets here ‘down-under’ do not flush all that different from the ones in the northern hemisphere! And no, we don’t ride kangaroos to school either. He mentions a favourite episode of mine ‘Lisa the Sceptic’ where Lisa uncovers what appears to be the skeleton of an angel. The angel turns out to be a cheap publicity stunt for a new shopping mall. The reason I have always enjoyed the episode is due to the brilliant satire on rampant and blind consumerism, following on from blind religious faith – both enemies to scientific rationality. Lisa’s reasoning leads her to attempt to dispel the myth of the angel. Halpern informs us that the guest scientist that stars in the episode is Stephen Jay Gould. Halpern tells us all about fossil history, Darwinism, and radiometric dating techniques, revealing that there is even more to the episode that I already enjoyed for its cleverness and validity.

What’s Science Ever Done For Us? is highly recommended for any Simpsons fan due to its ability to recreate the joy of viewing well-known episodes and putting a scientific spin on them. It’s suitable for curious kids and adults alike. It closes with a humorous and handy checklist so one can explore a scientific viewing of The Simpsons Movie. As I was going through Season 1 of Futurama whilst reading the book, I noticed the high proliferation of (often irrational) science in the show, and I hope Paul tackles it next!

Links:
Paul Halpern’s MySpace
Respected scientist Stephen Hawking on why he appeared on The Simpsons –

 

Humbert Humbert deceptively narrates a journey of self in Lolita (Nabokov 2006) attempting to justify actions that the reader may find morally problematic. He is both aware of the societally placed reader, whom he often refers to as judge or juror (eg. on the very first page) and he weaves a seductive lyrical web to entice them to his justifications. At rare times, though, Humbert seems to have sincere insight into his ability to harm Dolores, particularly at the end of the novel after the murder of his ‘double’ Quilty (Moore 2001). 

The main justification Humbert uses is his explanation of ‘nymphets’ and of Dolores being the epitome of this classification – ‘…the slightly feline outline of a cheekbone, the slenderness of a downy limb…’ (Nabokov 2006, p. 16). The nymphet is an idealised and youthful female (between the ages of 9-14) who is recognisable to those who seek her and is apart from other girls her age due to a certain look and manner of comeliness. Humbert makes many elaborate references to Dolores’ youthfulness throughout the novel, but the best example of his obsession is the comparative explanations of non-youthful females – ‘… a large, puffy, short-legged, big breasted and practically brainless baba’ (p. 26). More disturbing is his incestuous imaginings of a ‘second Lolita’ (p. 197), the fruit of his and Delores’ loins, when she comes into that magic age of nymphetism.

The reason behind Humbert’s youthful obsessions can be attributed to the tale he tells about his first dramatic sexual encounters with Annabel (p. 10-14). The events are emphasised as being severely devastating to his young self, and thus may have contributed to his ‘fixation’ with pre-pubescent females. The sexual instinct has found its sexual object, as in Freud’s theories that explain neuroses and perversions (Horrocks 1997). But as Marcus (2005) notes, this may just be another aspect of either self-deception or other-deception by the narrator in order to create some empathy in the reader for his story and his plight. Moore (2001), however, believes that the very descriptiveness of the narrative actually acts to warn the reader of Humbert’s deceptive qualities. The more flourishing the narrative, the more it seems like an act, the more it seems intentioned. As he describes it: 

‘While Humbert deludes himself that he assimilates us in his solipsism, our judgements are honed, not blunted, by his verbal pressure, and we bring sharper vigilance and creativity into play’ (p. 74). 

This interactivity with the reader created by the metafictional format highlight why it is a joy to read (even with the moral challenges involved, or perhaps even because of them). 

The last chapters of the novel, from when Humbert receives Dolores’ letter, show a humbler and more responsible-seeming narrator. Despite the fact that he hints at intending to murder either Dolores and/or her husband, there is the fact that he decides he loves her and wants to be with her, despite her departure from nyphethood (she is now 17). There are the first signs of his recognising her as a person and not an aesthetic object, such as his recollection of seeing her look of sadness in the mirror (Nabokov 2006, p. 323) and ignoring it at the time. While there are hints throughout the narrative that he is aware of his dominance and hurtfulness (eg. describing himself in a predatory fashion) he prefers to see himself as fatherly protector (p. 168) or victim of her seduction (p. 140), until these last chapters of the novel. But, as Moore (2001) notes, these may be merely last minute appeals to the reader to empathise with him as he closes his narrative. 

Humbert’s attraction and idealisation of his Lolita may be caused by an unfulfilled sexual desire at a critical period, leading to fixation. But due to an unreliable narrator using seductive language the reader cannot pinpoint facts from imaginings in Humbert’s journey, and thus, is challenged in their moral interpretation of the novel. 

References

Horrocks, R 1997, An introduction to the study of sexuality, Palgrave Macmillan, Houndsmills. 

Marcus, A 2005, ‘The self-deceptive and the other-deceptive narrating character: the case of Lolita’, Style, vol. 39, no. 2, pp. 187-208, (online ProQuest). 

Moore, A R 2001, ‘How unreliable is Humbert in Lolita?’, Journal of Modern Literature, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 71-82, (online ProQuest). 

Nabokov, V 2006, Lolita, Penguin Red Classics, London. 

For more of my writings on ‘literary sex’ see The Sex Mook – by Vignette Press.  

  

 

Self-indulgence

Sep 7, 2007

5 comments

I have been tagged by The Uncanny Broadcasting Brain.

The Rules of this tag:

1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.
2. List eight (8) random facts about yourself.
3. Tag eight people at the end of your post and list their names (linking to them).
4. Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving them a comment on their blogs.

(LiteraryMinded adds – I’m not going to get offended if you don’t carry on 🙂 I’m just interested in the concept)

LiteraryMinded’s random facts:

1. My unread book collection near my bed includes Utopia – Thomas More, Jacques Lacan – Anika Lemaire, The System of Objects – Jean Baudrillard, Hollywood Babylon – Kenneth Anger, Faithless – Joyce Carol Oates, Journey to the Stone Country – Alex Miller, Wren Lines – Billy Jones, and the current Southerly among 30-odd others.

2. My sister and I still remember a dance we made up to Michael Jackson’s Ghosts when we were about 10 and 8.

 

3. One of the books that transported me the most as a child was James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl.

4. I exercise every day.

5. My two novel manuscripts are titled You Can Make Music by Banging on Cages and Smoke & Dancing. The main characters are Jean (Jean Genie!), Deb, and Rowan.

6. I love to eat muesli for afternoon tea.

7. My boyfriend has a brilliant Pink Floyd tattoo.

8. I would love to go to New York.

LiteraryMinded’s tags –

Emilie Zoey Baker, James Ross-Edwards, Freyja Griffin, Paperback Writer, Writing True, Nothing Much But All Okay, Wishful Writer, Laconic Harangue

LiteraryMinded adds – Richard Dawkins on what is a ‘meme’ –
‘Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passed it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain… When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme’s propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell. And this isn’t just a way of talking — the meme for, say, “belief in life after death” is actually realized physically, millions of times over, as a structure in the nervous systems of individual men the world over.’

Read more

 

August 2007, Penguin, 9780713998153. (Aus, US/Kindle)

At the beginning of the 20th Century, nuclear weapons were the stuff of science-fiction. Writers like HG Wells imagined a future where the incredible power of the atom could be unleashed to great destruction, and thus create no need for warfare. He, and other writers, artists and visionary scientists, imagined a utopia powered by this endless energy. There would be no point starting wars if it were known what havoc the atomic weapons could wreak.

Before WW1 it was considered barbaric to kill civilians in the name of nationalism. But then came new technologies. The terror of chemical weapons in the trenches and the use of planes signalled a new era. At the beginning of the century a new element was also discovered which made headlines around the world – radium. Scientists were also baffled by the Rontgen’s (quite accidental) discovery of the X-Ray – a beam that enabled you to see the very bones in your hand.

The thirst for knowledge and modernity inspired the creative minds of the era. What PD Smith presents is a world where literature itself created a discourse of ideas that inspired the public, and hence, the scientists themselves, onto new discoveries. ‘The atomic bomb owed its existence to this technophile culture, with its saviour scientists and superweapons, as much as it did to the individual genius of its scientists and engineers’, he says.

One protagonist of the book is Leo Szilard, and each of his moments and revelations are explored poignantly by Smith, particularly when he realises (while crossing the street) that a nuclear chain reaction is possible. Szilard was always in moral conflict with other scientists and even himself. He dreamed the utopian dream but realised the gravity of what was possible. He was also the one who posited that a cobalt bomb would have mighty destructive power, on live radio. He knew that humankind was possibly too juvenile as a collective to wield this knowledge and power, and many times he predicted the end.

Szilard is only partly one of the ‘doomsday men’ of the title. Others include fellow scientists and military personnel who worked on the ‘Manhattan Project’ (building the bombs that were eventually trialled on Hiroshima and Nagasaki). Szilard had brought the idea to America presuming they would be attempting to build it before the Nazis. When it was discovered that the Nazis were far from complete on their bomb project, it was decided to annihilate Japanese citizens, as revenge for Pearl Harbor, and to show the American might to the Soviets. No one heeded Szilard’s suggestion that they could display power by exploding the bomb in a demonstrative fashion in an uninhabited area. Of course, after WW2, the race with the Soviets began – atomic bombs to hydrogen bombs, and perhaps to the ultimate weapon – the cobalt bomb.

Besides the array of literature that inspired the scientific imaginary, Smith also explores the proliferation of cold war literature and film. Looking at novels like Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, or even the monster films of the era, enable us to see (or remember) what the climate was like. Smith takes you inside the narratives of great writers and inside the narratives of history. He enmeshes them so that you realise just how science-fiction-like the world has become. You are present and nervous with Leo Szilard when the first nuclear reactor is tested in the University of Chicago football stadium. You witness Marie and Pierre Curie holding up a vial of ‘luminous’ radium. You experience a terrifying eyewitness account of Hiroshima. Smith gets right into the conflicts of these people, allowing you to relate to their situations, and be appalled at the attitude of some of the Strangelovean characters eg. Fritz Haber, Edward Teller and Robert Oppenheimer.

The book is descriptive, well-written and infinitely interesting. It is also incredibly frightening. Smith essentially offers us a warning, because the collective anxiety over the bomb seems to have disappeared. Yes, we have enough on our hands worrying about global warming, but nobody remembers to take a stand. He notes: ‘The nuclear weapons are still there, of course, in their bomb bays and silos. They could yet start falling, this year or next. For now, at least, there are no global wars, but the sciences of mass destruction continue to spread around the world. As is clear from the last century, knowledge knows no borders’. Doomsday Men is a step forward to awareness, is highly readable, and is also a perfect reference text for doomsday-related literature and film.

PD Smith’s informative blog – Kafka’s Mouse