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  • “Concentrate on sex. Leave out the poetry.”
  • Judith Roof (bio)

In recounting her experiences with a collector of pornography who paid a dollar per page, Anaïs Nin recalls how the munificent smut prince would offer terse telephone critiques. “Less poetry. Be specific,” he would bark. Her agent remarked that “He likes it better when it is a narrative, just storytelling, no analysis, no philosophy” (ix). “Leave out . . . descriptions of anything but sex” (ix). “More matter with less art,” a pandering Gertrude exhorted a too expansive Polonius. If sex is matter, then what is art? If sex is narrative, what are analysis, philosophy, poetry? If, as Robert Scholes declares, “the archetype of all fiction is the sexual act” (26), what expressive forms do sexualities take? 1

The interrelation of sex, sexualities, and narrative has been at issue ever since Sigmund Freud divined that “normal” sexuality occurs when a “normal” sexual aim (coitus) corresponds with a “normal” heterosexual, human object. Freud’s discussion of sexuality in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality situates sex and sexuality as elements in an extended developmental trajectory remarkably analogous to contemporary understandings of narrative. “Perversions” threaten to derail the story, introducing inappropriate aims in relation to inappropriate objects just as Vladimir Propp’s “interdictions” and “testers,” Peter [End Page 429] Brooks’s “bad object choices,” or Teresa de Lauretis’s liminal “monsters” supply barriers, attractive but deadly alternatives, or circuitous routes to less “satisfying” narrative ends.

The omnipresence of the perverse endangers good narrative, providing so many delightful attractions and distractions on the way to narrative completion. It is not, however, that the perverse is decoration to narrative’s direction. The perverse is an intrinsic part of narrative; as Freud points out, the perverse and the normal are intricated, the perverse being necessary to get us to the proper end. Without the perverse—without activity that has something inappropriate as its immediate aim or object—we would never get to the correct and satisfying end where all the parts come together in a reassuring productivity. Without the perverse—without the art, poetry, storytelling, analysis, and philosophy—narrative would be unbelievably fleeting and terrifyingly direct like the no frills pornography Nin’s collector special orders. Together the perverse and the “normal” produce a narrative of joinder and production ending in marriage, a child, victory, death, or even—and especially—another narrative. “The narrative,” Tzvetan Todorov reminds us, “will always be the story of another narrative” (164).

It might be fair to say that sex is narrative and narrative sex and sexuality the art of both. But art, Todorov asserts, “is not the reproduction of a ‘reality’” (168). Sexuality is neither the ornament nor the condition of sex, but its alibi, something of a different order, belonging to the imaginary and representation instead of to the physical and the real, if we even understand sex to be either physical or real. But sexuality is not representation in relation to some real of sex; sexuality trades through and around the “normative” aim/object as sex is transformed by and transforms narrative. Sexuality, then, is the companion to sex, conditioning, elaborating, side-tracking, even denying the narrative impetus of sex and the sexual impetus of narrative.

The example of Nin’s porn collector raises a spate of questions. Can one narrate sex without also narrating a sexuality? Is it possible to omit the poetry and produce a bare narrative of sex, which if Scholes is right, would already be doubly sexual—the sexual story of sex? If sex is both narrative’s content and its pattern, then doesn’t sex automatically become sexuality—sex’s art—the moment one attempts to represent sex? What transpositions and transliterations, implications and [End Page 430] connotations are necessary to denote sex/sexuality? What permutations of aim and object, form and content, form’s content, and content’s form can convey multiple, varying, “normative,” “perverse,” interstitial, and/or asexual sexualities? Is it possible to narrate one kind of sex in the form of another? And how strong is the ideological/formal normative current against which the expression of sexualities other than the “normal” must battle?

Freud’s narrative exposition of the interrelation...

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pp. 429-435
Launched on MUSE
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