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Framing Erotica

byCal Y. Pygia©

The aim of erotic literature is to excite its reader sexually. Its goal is to cause male readers to attain and maintain a penile erection. Its intent is to cause female readers' vaginas to lubricate themselves and/or to cause women to attain and maintain a clitoral erection. More than most--perhaps all--other forms of literature, erotica demonstrates the physiological effects of fiction upon readers.

One--and perhaps the primary--way by which writers accomplish this feat is to frame their subjects. Framing draws attention to the subject. By including certain features while excluding others, framing isolates a subject, showcasing it. In the process, framing the subject can also provide it with a context according to which the subject should be interpreted, layer one's narrative (providing a literal foreground, as it were, that is set against a symbolic or figurative background), focus the reader upon the writer's intended theme, and enrich the depth of the composition itself, as a whole.

Framing a subject accomplishes more than these technical feats, however. Framing a subject also values its subject while devaluing those elements that it elects not to include. By collecting elements to be included in the narrative, the writer suggests that these features are preferred to those which he or she has, as it were, rejected by having chosen to exclude them. Selection is election; in nominating, the writer approves, imparting value to the items that are chosen for inclusion. Exclusion is dismissal; in opting not to nominate, the writer disapproves, devaluing the elements that he or she has chosen to ignore.

Alternatively, something or someone (a woman, for instance) can be rejected by being replaced with something or someone else (a man or a shemale, for example). By attributing to a man or a shemale the attributes that are normally associated with a woman, these characteristics are, as it were, transferred to the substitute woman, whether "she" is a male or a shemale. In either case, the female is thereby rejected; she is excluded. Therefore, she is devalued. All stories in which two males or a male and a shemale, rather than a male and a female, form a couple (or merely couple) are tacit rejections-by-exclusion of the female. Erotic stories involving homosexual or a male-to-female transsexual and a male partner devalue women by excluding them from consideration.

But let us return to an earlier point. Framing, by including some details while excluding others, also focuses the reader's attention where the writer wants it to be, thereby valuing those elements or features of the story's subject (as well as the subject him- or herself) over others which, by virtue of their having been excluded, are devalued. Often, in heterosexual erotica, what is ignored, or rejected, is the personality of the female character. Often, she is rendered as an object--a sex object--or as a barely human persona. The treatment that female (and, sometimes, shemale) characters receives is summed up, visually (and in an exaggerated fashion), by cartoons which purport to depict the "perfect woman."

In one such cartoon, she is depicted as two headless and armless pairs of legs and buttocks, complete with a pair of vaginas. While one pair of legs kneels, the connected pair, knees bent, rest upon their buttocks and the soles of their feet. Nothing is left of the rest of the woman: no brain, no vocal cords, and no arms are necessary in this view of the "perfect woman." The essence of women, the cartoon suggests, is comprised of the features that are included in the drawing; those parts that are excluded are unimportant. In a similar cartoon, a Baubo-like figure (see my novel, Baubo) is presented as exemplifying the ideal woman. She consists of a pair of legs which end in a truncated torso which consists of breasts in front, under which is a vagina, and buttocks in the rear. There is no back, stomach, arms, neck, or head. The point that these cartoons make seems pretty clear. The "perfect woman" is a sex object, without need of a mind, a heart, or a soul. As long as she has the essential features of womanhood--tits, cunt, and ass--she is "perfect."

Erotica--especially the stories that men write--are only slightly less guilty than such cartoons are of dehumanizing and objectifying women, of reducing them to the level of things rather than portraying them as human beings, a criticism that many feminists have argued concerning erotic literature, or "pornography," as they are wont to call fiction that concerns itself with sexual conduct and themes. It seems clear that such critics have some valid points in this regard. All men are Pygmalion who want women to be their Galatea. However, on a broader scale, such reification seems inevitable, both in erotica and all other genres of literature. It is impossible, after all, to write of all persons, places, things, qualities, and ideas at the same time. To write at all, one must be selective, and to be selective is to include, to prefer, to elect, to nominate, to appoint, and to value, just as it is also to reject, to ignore or to replace, and to devalue.

Whether his or her subjects are a man and a woman, two men, two women, a man and a shemale, a woman and a shemale, or some combination of these possibilities, individual or collective, the writer of erotica (like writers of literature in general) must further isolate them by inclusion and exclusion, in this paragraph describing breasts, for example, and in the next buttocks, before, in subsequent paragraphs, describing penises, testicles, vaginas, legs, and so forth. Both because erotic literature chooses sexual organs and sexual acts as its subject matter and because of the very nature of language itself as a process of revelation through the stringing together of syntactical elements in phrases, dependent clauses, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters, according to chronological sequence and grammatical requirements, erotic literature is reductive, dehumanizing, and objective. It can't be otherwise.

To provide depth and context to the description of bodies in collision, writers of erotica must employ the same set of tools that any other author uses to accomplish this feat: figures of speech (especially metaphor), analogy, symbolism, juxtaposition, and other poetic and rhetorical devices. Some--too many, by far--of these devices are built-in, as it were, to erotica. It is a rare story, indeed, for example, in which a penis is not described as a ramrod (which "rams"), a sword or a knife (which "thrusts," "penetrates," "pierces," or "stabs"), or, in ejaculation, as a volcano (which "erupts"), a bomb (which "explodes") or a gun (which "shoots" or "discharges"), or according to some other equally familiar metaphor. Attempts to add new tropes to erotica's storehouse of metaphorical images is difficult, and the author who succeeds in doing so is apt to accomplish this feat only infrequently and rarely. (I myself have added "column of flesh," for an erection, and "gum-drop-shaped" to describe the tip, or glans, of the penis. In addition, I have described breasts as "buoyant" and semen as "fecundating fluid." However, these and one or two other exceptions aside, I have, admittedly, added precious little to the treasury of erotic tropes.)

Unless new poetical and rhetorical figures can be created, the old ones will have to do. However, such images and figures of speech have already become clichés, and, as such, they simply reinforce the traditional ideas and feelings that readers and writers have already accumulated concerning sex and all things sexual, including women's bodies (and the substitute for women's bodies that are the physiques of shemales or, more often, feminized or effeminate males). Therefore, we shall continue to think of women in terms of natural objects, as having breasts like apples, pubic hair like forests or thickets, buttocks like mountains, hair like gold or dusk, and men (and the substitute for women's bodies that are the physiques of shemales or butch lesbians and dominatrix, or "phallic women") as technological devices, such as machines, engines, instruments, and tools.

Traditional erotica represents women as natural objects--as the earth, as fields, as fruits, or as ore--to be exploited by men, who plow, pluck, or mine their sexual resources, and to represent males as equally soulless mechanical men. If women are heartless, mindless features of the landscape, men are unfeeling, unthinking contraptions which farm or excavate or manufacture the natural resources of femininity and womanhood. Only by creating fresh metaphors, analogies, and other rhetorical and poetic figures can writers and readers begin to think of men and women anew, in new terms. Gay fiction sometimes attempts to portray some men as feminine, just as lesbian literature occasionally depicts some women as masculine, and a few writers (those, perhaps, with a bisexual or pansexual leaning) seek to represent both men and women alike as more-or-less androgynous figures who are willing to have sex with anyone, anywhere.

Sex and gender need not be represented as polarized opposites or in the natural and technological terms in which we have come to depict women and men, respectively, but framing depends upon the cultural, social, historical, environmental, and political milieu in which writers write and readers read. Not until we transcend ourselves--which may be an impossibility--can we transcend the limitations that result from framing subjects. Just to be aware of these limitations, however, is to something. At least with the knowledge that these limitations exist, we can use them to our best advantage as writers of erotica.

Perhaps, as climate change develops as a consequence of global warming, we can use the consequences of these (probably sometimes catastrophic) changes as a basis for developing a new paradigm of human sex and gender that allows us to move beyond the male-female dichotomy to a spectrum or continuum of sex-and-gender that includes continuous and inevitable change, transformation, and metamorphosis in which sex and gender become as fluid as nature itself has had to be, in times both past and present, simply to survive.

Maybe there is hope for men and women, after all; maybe we can evolve beyond mere masculinity and femininity and beyond even maleness and femaleness. Maybe we can all become chicks with dicks or dudes with boobs, both is a social and an emotional, as well as a sexual, sense. Even better, maybe transsexuals will be only the start of a new and endless evolution of human sex and gender, the forms of which are, today, unimaginable.

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byCal Y. Pygia© 0 comments/ 30691 views/ 0 favorites

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