Sex. The difficulty of writing about sex, for women, is that sex is best when not thought about, not analysed. Women deliberately choose not to think about technical sex. They get irritable when men talk technically, it’s out of self-preservation: they want to preserve the spontaneous emotion that is essential for their satisfaction.
Sex is essentially emotional for women. How many times has that been written? And yet there’s always a point even with the most perceptive and intelligent man, when a woman looks at him across a gulf: he hasn’t understood; she suddenly feels alone; hastens to forget the moment, because if she doesn’t she would have to think. Julia, myself and Bob sitting in her kitchen gossiping. Bob telling a story about the breakup of a marriage. He says: ‘The trouble was sex. Poor bastard, he’s got a prick the size of a needle.’ Julia: ‘I always thought she didn’t love him.’ Bob, thinking she hadn’t heard”
“heard: ‘No, it’s always worried him stiff, he’s just got a small one.’ Julia: ‘But she never did love him, anyone could see that just by looking at them together.’ Bob, a bit impatient now: ‘It’s not their fault, poor idiots, nature was against the whole thing from the start.’ Julia: ‘Of course it’s her fault. She should never have married him if she didn’t love him.’ Bob, irritated because of her stupidity, begins a long technical explanation, while she looks at me, sighs, smiles, and shrugs. A few minutes later, as he persists, she cuts him off short with a bad-tempered joke, won’t let him go on.
I started reading Lessing’s book after finishing Alasdair Gray’s novel Lanark. Gray’s novel was published in 1981 nineteen years after The Golden Notebook, but he was writing it for at least three decades before its publication, and the structural features of the two books are similar: both novels self-deconstruct, self-criticize, and rely on fragmentation and juxtaposition to evoke their themes. The themes are fairly different, I suppose, although not really. It’s all sex and death, yes?
So I shall, keeping one in each of my four pockets while one is in my mouth, describe five common methods by which sex gains an entrance into literature . . . as through French doors and jimmied windows thieves break in upon our dreams to rape our women, steal our power tools, and vandalize our dreams. The commonest, of course, is the most brazen: the direct depiction of sexual material— thoughts, acts, wishes; the second involves the use of sexual words of various sorts, and I shall pour one of each vile kind into the appropriate porches of your ears , for pronounc-ing and praising print to the ear is what the decently encouraged eye does happily. The third can be considered, in a sense, the very heart of indirection, and thus the essence of the artist’s art— displacement: the passage of the mind with all its blue elastic ditty bags and airline luggage f r o m steamy sexual scenes and sweaty bodies to bedrooms with their bedsteads, nightstands, water-glasses, manuals of instruction, thence to sheets and pillowcases, hence to dents in these, and creases, stains and other cries of passion which have left their prints , and finally to the painted chalk-white oriental face of amorously handled air and mountains,, lewdly entered lakes. The fourth I shall simply refer to now as the skyblue eye (somewhere, it seems to me, there should be a brief pinch of suspense), and the fifth, well, it’s really what I’m running into all my inks about, so I had better mention it: the use of language like a lover . . . not the language of love, but the love of language, not matter, but meaning, not what the tongue touches, but what it forms, not lips and nipples, but nouns and verbs.
From William H. Gass’s essay-novel On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry.
Henry walked home with his suit in a plastic bag. He had been washing the buildings. But something was stirring in him, a wrinkle in the groin. He was carrying his bucket too, and his ropes. But the wrinkle in his groin was monstrous. “Now it is necessary to court her, and win her, and put on this clean suit, and cut my various nails, and drink something that will kill the millions of germs in my mouth, and say something flattering, and be witty and bonny, and hale and kinky, and pay her a thousand dollars, all just to ease this wrinkle in the groin. It seems a high price.” Henry let his mind stray to his groin. Then he let his mind stray to her groin. Do girls have groins? The wrinkle was still there. “The remedy of Origen. That is still open to one. That door, at least, has not been shut.”
From Donald Barthelme’s novel Snow White.