Monday, 12 February 2007

Delta of Venus

Stropps of Stroppyblog fame has a gripe. While it appears socialist women are happy to blog about issues of sex and sexuality, socialist men (with the noted exception of Jim Jay) aren’t. I’m not immune either. For instance I had no hesitation composing a silly post about the living dead, and yet I had to really think twice before contributing my few thoughts on Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus. Is there something about our socialist culture inhibiting me and other (straight) lefty men from addressing sex and sexuality politically? Or is it just me? Do I need to be conscious of my inner prude? I’ll try and explore this more fully in a future post, hopefully redressing the balance identified by Stropps at least where AVPS is concerned.

One consequence of not regularly talking about sex politically is the difficulty of how to muse about Delta of Venus. I’ve never written anything about erotic fiction or erotica except the odd two-penneth on UKLN debates around porn and prostitution. Neither am I particularly acquainted with the field of erotic literature; a book each by Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer) and Melissa P (One Hundred Strokes of the Brush Before Bed) are about it. If the latter and the celebrity of Abby Lee’s blog and book are anything to go by, (young) women’s sexual autobiography is where the action’s at, if you pardon the clumsy pun.

Judging from my limited knowledge of the field, I’d stick my neck out and say a “return” to Delta of Venus is timely. Nin’s book has been rightly celebrated not just for the quality of her writing, but for being a pioneer who was among the first to place female desire at the centre of the work. Nin’s scenarios are incredibly evocative and compelling. The narrative is strongest where it is based among the literati of early 20th century Paris. As an intimate of the scene the encounters she plays out - prostitution, threesomes, gay and lesbian relationships, kinky sex – are stunningly realised and utterly believable. If the aim of Orwell’s writing was to be as clear as a pane of glass, Nin's words leap from the page and immerses you in the feast of flesh. It is for this reason some of her vignettes dealing with abuse, incest and rape (‘The Hungarian Adventurer’, ‘The Boarding School’) can be quite uncomfortable.

Nin was paid a dollar a page to write what became Delta of Venus by a mysterious collector of erotica. He demanded nothing but clinical descriptions of sex expunged of all emotion and “poetry”. It is ironic that despite the artistic blow for women’s sexual freedom the work represents, it was the culmination of what Nin herself characterised as her period of literary prostitution; a period where she was forced to sell her (literary) labour power to support herself and her lover, Henry Miller. While many of the erotic adventures were ground breaking because it was a woman distilling her own sexual experiences and fantasies through the medium of her characters, the necessary surrendering of her artistic autonomy and demands of the patron meant the ideological division between romantic love and sex is, for the most part, perpetuated throughout. At the very moment Delta was appropriated by feminists and wielded as a weapon against the patriarchal regulation of women’s bodies, it nevertheless affirmed one of its chief devices.

But ultimately contradictions between the conditions a work of art is produced in, the motivations of the author, the issues and questions suggested by the content, and how it is received is what makes art something worth talking about. Given the few funny looks I got reading Delta on the bus, the reception Nin’s opus provokes suggests the conversation about it is far from over.

19 comments:

Jim Denham said...

I'll come back to you once I've had a wank.

stroppybird said...

"Stropps of Stroppyblog fame has a gripe."

I think I mentioned this on Jims post on spanking.

"Is there something about our socialist culture inhibiting me and other (straight) lefty men from addressing sex and sexuality politically"

I would be interested in that post. There is much debate at the moment about 'raunch culture' or the prostitution debate but it still does not really address sexuality but whther it should be banned. No one really looks at the nature of sexuality now under capitalism and how it would differ under socialism. The debate gets side tracked on to whether the Respect campaign re 'dens of iniquity' is playing to religious sensibilities etc rather than what does that language say about our views and own experiences of sexuality. Its framed in the negative about exploitiation (which of course exists) rather than how we live our lives now and what we would want to create, a more positive approach.

Just thinking about those bad sex awards for writing. Perhaps I should do a stroppyblog award for sex posts :-)

Oh and Jim, I now have an image in my head that could take years of therapy to displace :-)

Louisefeminista said...

Well done Jim. What more can one say after that prosaic comment...?

I have read Nin and think she deserves rehabilitation. Read Tropic of Cancer many years ago as well. I think the left in general is pretty much quiet on the issue of sexuality and sex and not just men. That for me reflects how weak the feminist movement and the left is in general. Also coupled with a repressed attitude to sex in general within this society.

Nin's literary style though obv. different to the millennium Abby Lee, is much better, imaginative and creative. I found Abby Lee's book just a conveyor belt of fucking. There was no kinda animal passion or sweaty encounters it was pure stage managed and devoid of anything physical. I actually found the conclusion of her bk moralistic and predictable (i.e. she wants a boyfriend really and be able to settle down...). I was hoping she would transgress from that still acceptable behaviour.

I think Nin is a more liberatory modern writer say than these Abby Lee's of today.

I'd just say finally that it is about time we put sex and sexuality back on the agenda as it is about liberation for both sexes. I would also like to see a woman's movement (in the early days it did) to discuss sex and sexuality in an open and frank way. Not critical of what women get up to in the bedroom and who we fuck unlike the moralism which gets chucked at women who indulge in activities which is not in the radical feminist manual ("Thou Shalt Not.....")..

But I do hope, Phil, your post drags leftie blokes and cause some debate.

Good to see you blogging mate....

stroppybird said...

"I would also like to see a woman's movement (in the early days it did) to discuss sex and sexuality in an open and frank way. Not critical of what women get up to in the bedroom and who we fuck unlike the moralism which gets chucked at women who indulge in activities which is not in the radical feminist manual ("Thou Shalt Not.....").."

I agree Louise. We now of course have the 'puritanical left' joining in with the debate on modesty, raunch culture and dressing it up as being about liberation.

stroppybird said...

One other point re the eraly days. My experince back in the 80s was there was a lot of criticism from rad fems of what women did . I suppose thats why I tended to spend more time politically with LGBT people who had more open views on sex.
Of course not all feminists then, as now, were rad fems, but they were very judgemental .

Louisefeminista said...

PS: I think the other issue left out of this is the role of patriarchy (the fact that many on the left ignore this and take the "it is all about capitalism innit" line)and the way it functions under capitalism. The power relationships which exist between men and women reflects this.

Some of the best stuff I have read by a bloke on sex and sexuality (capitalism and socialism) is by Gregor Gall (if you get a chance Phil have a look at Frontline and his book on Sex Work is good)

Louisefeminista said...

The other thing which has struck me is that the comments so far have been from women (Stroppybird and myself) and the only other comment is from Jim about having a wank (comrade, it is a healthy past time and it certainly doesn't send you blind unlike reading Sean Matgamna).

Doesn't that sum up the left or am i being unfair...?

Well, I am off to buy batteries for my vibrator (the charger one is far too expensive for a poorly paid public sector worker like myself...)

AN said...

BTW - we should clarify perhaps that when Louise wrote: "Some of the best stuff I have read by a bloke on sex and sexuality (capitalism and socialism) is by Gregor Gall (if you get a chance Phil have a look at Frontline and his book on Sex Work is good)"

I think L means that it is the book that is good, and Gregor's book is not called "Sex work is good" :o)

personally, I am quite happy for there to be very little disussion about this! This isn't prudishness, just that I like privacy, and I don't really want to know about Jim Jepp's views on spanking or Denham's wanking.

i would much rather they just did wnat they want to do, and if they feel an urge to talk about that then keep it to close friends, and not include thier political acquaintances.

Louisefeminista said...

Ha! Yeah, yeah, ok, I missed out a comma but maybe that's what Gregor's next book should be called.... Someone pitch it to him.

Phil said...

Worry ye not Andy, I'm not going to be remarketing as Abby Lee with a dinkle. Just interested why the left, and particularly socialist blokes tend to avoid sex as a political issue.

Whether I'll post on it tonight or not is hard to say as Life on Mars is back and will demand at least a post. Question is, will Louise or Stropps beat me to it?

Louisefeminista said...

Oh Phil........ You too are a fan of Life on Mars......

I am soooo glad I am not alone. I loved the first series and think John Simm is a fantastic actor and so is Philip Glenister and it is a clever little storyline and the 1970s music as well (Bowie and Bolan and so on...). Was very pleased when it was announced they would make a 2nd series.

Abby Lee with a dinkle. It that what you gonna call your post?

Are you a Sopranos fan btw Phil?

Jim Jay said...

It's not necessary to make personal revelations to talk about sex in a more human way than Marxist androids are capable of.

For example my recent post on spanking makes no revelations about my personal life yet it still discusses the flavours of human experience, not just the statisitics.

I liked your review - although I've never read the book, but this sentance made it sound quite repelent "He demanded nothing but clinical descriptions of sex expunged of all emotion and “poetry”. "

But sex is not expunged of emotion, even when disfunctional. I think there can be a tendency among the left to think that emotions and subjective factors are not real or imortant - and I believe that's quite wrong. This sounds more like a fetishisation of sex (in the Marxist sense) cutting it away from its real context that would enable a better and more rounded understanding.

Phil said...

Louise: no, but if there are aspiring male comrades who feel the need to blog about their sexual experiences they're more than welcome to use the title ;)

Btw, not a Soprano's fan, never even watched it. There's very few programmes I sit down, usually it's News 24 and MTV all the way. If you're on yahoo messenger perhaps we ought to have a crap TV chat sometime.

Jim: The artificiality demanded by Nin's patron does make DoV sound less sensuous than it actually is. The writing is deeply, deeply evocative and she does get away with bringing emotion into it in some of her vignettes. That the patron continued shelling out for her wares indicates he didn't mind too much. But yes, your comments on the fetishisation of sex are spot on, which IMHO is what so-called raunch culture is all about.

stroppybird said...

"Question is, will Louise or Stropps beat me to it? "

Or perhaps Mr Denham...

Jim Jay said...

Phil: if I get the chance I'll have a look - although my pile of unread books is getting dangerously high at the moment

AN said...

Jim wrote:; "For example my recent post on spanking makes no revelations about my personal life "

phew what a relief!

John Angliss said...

Why do I not talk about sex? Stroppy, Jim, JimJay and Louise always beat me to it... And they always have so much more insight - I can measure it in quantitative and qualitative terms but purple prose is not my forté. And Denham might start commenting like the above :o

voltaires_priest said...

Denham: put it away man, you don't know where it's been.

Stroppy: I don't have any particular reason for not blogging about sex. I'm certainly not against it. I guess it's more about the reason why people come to a particular blog - they come to they come to mine when they want to get a hard-on from the sense of anti-imperialist indignation that they feel when their norms are questioned. So I guess I give 'em sex without talking about it! :p

stroppybird said...

"they come to they come to mine when they want to get a hard-on from the sense of anti-imperialist indignation that they feel when their norms are questioned. So I guess I give 'em sex without talking about it! :p "

All specialist tastes catered for then ;-)