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Thread: Is the age of sensuality dead?

  1. #1
    The Poetic Warrior Dark Muse's Avatar
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    Is the age of sensuality dead?

    I have found that you can scarcely pick up a contemporary novel without discovering within it a rather vivid and graphic depiction of sex between characters. While I know a lot of people take offence or have a general dislike for such occurrences, I myself am not so prudish about it, and it does not truly bother me all that much, but it did bring a question to my mind.

    I have found in my reading of a classical works and perhaps this is more often the case in poetry, but it present in my novels as well, from the period of the 19th century to earlier, there is a very strong suggestiveness, and sensuality. In a time when it was not typical to lift the curtain in the bedroom, and where there were certain taboos about sexuality, authors found a variety of creative ways, elegant descriptions, metaphors, symbolism, to suggest desire and lust, without revealing it.

    When I reflect back to the contemporary novels I have read, and often enjoyed, it seems that the approaches to sex has taken a bit more of a crude note.

    Do you find that with the new open door policy on sex, sensuality (which can often be more tantalizing than a frank, hit you over the head with it approach) is dead in writing?

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. ~ Edgar Allan Poe

  2. #2
    biting writer
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    No and I know that is a short answer. Let me add two things: The implied metaphors of 19th and early 20th century realism have moved into modern films, like Chocolat, by Joanne Harris, or The Letter, where Tom Selleck shocked me by actually acting, for a change.

    What the modern novel has done to graphic sex, where that sex is not merely for gratification, is use it for thematic intent. I reviewed lots of this, actually quite demanding reading, when I was more active in the small presses.

    Love making is difficult to write well, really; it isn't just about knowing your anatomy.

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    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    I think it is basically dead. You had to be cleverer as a writer when things were banned but now you can write absolute filth. Normally there is no reason for most of the shocking content apart from to give the writer a little thrill as he reads over his work.

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    Cool There were some risque writers in the 17th and 18th centuries .....

    Henry Fielding was pretty graphic in Tom Jones and Joseph Adrews. Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders leaves little to the imagination. Fanny Hill is worse than Tropic of Cancer. But all of these are considered literature. Without being too graphic, Dumas has D'Artagnan have a married woman for a mistress, and he tricks Milady into a bedroom rendevous. Definitely not a children's novel.

    Good writing can be graphic and the writer can get away with it. Poor writing can be graphic but soon forgotten.

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    Asa Nisi Masa mayneverhave's Avatar
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    What's filthy about sex?

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    Quote Originally Posted by mayneverhave View Post
    What's filthy about sex?
    I'll side with this. Although at times subtlety and sensuality and taste are great things, just because something has graphic sex (and most sex in novels isn't even that graphic to me, although I guess people have different standards, although something like American Psycho I think all can agree is pretty graphic and disgusting) doesn't mean it can't be called great literature or sexy. There is room for both things in literature, just as a lot of classics like the Iliad have graphic scenes of blood and gore in them. But I do understand the cry not to forget about tasteful eroticism, which can be a lot sexier than actually cutting straight to the chase. But certainly there isn't anything wrong with sex--I'm not a Puritan like a lot of people seem to be in our society.

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    The Poetic Warrior Dark Muse's Avatar
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    I will say for myself that I really have no taboos about the appearance of sex in literature, and that I have never been disturbed or offended by it. I do not think there is anything in of itself that is wrong, or bad, but I do wonder reading the difference between counterpart novels and classical novels if the contemporary more graphic and direct approach to sex has been at the expense of some of the tantalizing, beautiful suggestiveness at a time when authors did have to be more clever in conveying physical desire.

    I am not so much bothered by the presence of the sex itself, but wonder if prose has suffered a bit from more modern openness, and the fact that I think (and perhaps not wrongly) people think in this day and age that sex really does sell.

    Though considering that in a lot of literary environments I do encounter complaints about the use of sex in today's literature, I wonder if not a more elegant approach to the subject could still co-exist with modern society.

    In a way are modern day authors actually lazier in their approach to sex? Because then can so blatantly just put it out there?

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. ~ Edgar Allan Poe

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    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    There is a problem though - what is the purpose of sex in fiction - is the graphic sex depicted depicted for a reason, and if so, how does the potrayal then add to the general understanding of the themes of the novel?

    Atwood, for instance, often has brutish sexuality in her works (that's an understatement), except you cannot separate the sexuality from the themes. Likewise, if the author is going to bother wasting lines on a sex scene, it definitely needs to prove a point, and not just be some sort of trivial scene - unless of course they are writing erotica, in which case, I need not even comment.

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    Asa Nisi Masa mayneverhave's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JBI View Post
    There is a problem though - what is the purpose of sex in fiction - is the graphic sex depicted depicted for a reason, and if so, how does the potrayal then add to the general understanding of the themes of the novel?
    That question can be directed towards literary every aspect of a work of fiction, not just sex.

    Sex, in and of itself, is a positive, life continuing force. Most people take part in it, and all of us are the product of it, but this association of sex with violence and putting sex on a morally worse level than violence is ridiculous.

    I don't want to debate morality, but if rape is evil, it is because it is violent and forceful, but that doesn't make sex necessarily violent and forceful.
    Last edited by mayneverhave; 10-01-2009 at 12:26 AM.

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    Registered User AmericanEagle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JBI View Post
    Likewise, if the author is going to bother wasting lines on a sex scene, it definitely needs to prove a point, and not just be some sort of trivial scene
    Have you read The Time Traveler's Wife? It was basically Henry and Clare having sex on every other page. I fail to see why these scenes are significant.
    The world is waiting for you - Phil Keoghan

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    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mayneverhave View Post
    That question can be directed towards literary every aspect of a work of fiction, not just sex.

    Sex, in and of itself, is a positive, life continuing force. Most people take part in it, and all of us are the product of it, but this association of sex with violence and putting sex on a morally worse level than violence is ridiculous.

    I don't want to debate morality, but if rape is evil, it is because it is violent and forceful, but that doesn't make sex necessarily violent and forceful.
    Oh, of course one can do this with every aspect of a novel, and that is my point - we question the depictions of sexuality, therefore we can question how our understanding of sexuality, in both the discourse of literature, and in broader cultural frames has changed. When you see changes in themes and depictions, it is possible to then make statements about patterns.

    Not that I agree with the original post - I think the sexual depictions in, for instance, Japanese mythology (which was first written down in 680 AD) are far more graphic, violent, and course than anything we find today in serious literature.

    If we look at, for instance, even Shakespearean literature we see a sort of frankness toward sexuality which is beyond our understanding (look at all the sexually provocative language used throughout Romeo and Juliet, for instance).

    This of course, is my opinion - but I feel by comparing trends we see different patterns - we question why such things are in books, and then we can deconstruct the cultures around the text and the text itself.

    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanEagle View Post
    Have you read The Time Traveler's Wife? It was basically Henry and Clare having sex on every other page. I fail to see why these scenes are significant.
    They are significant because that was what people wanted to buy - the actual book, so I am told, is kind of crappy, so I have avoided it, but from what I know about it, it functions on sentimentality, with the theme of time central - sex then functions as the idea of the "idealized moment" perhaps, when the couple are together, but also perhaps creates an escape for the novels readers to get absorbed into.

    Was it at least sexy?

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    Registered User AmericanEagle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JBI View Post
    Was it at least sexy?
    Well, I didn't think so. I found them to be bizarre and irrelevant.

    Henry and Clare even discuss whether it's normal to have so much sex.
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    The Poetic Warrior Dark Muse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JBI View Post
    If we look at, for instance, even Shakespearean literature we see a sort of frankness toward sexuality which is beyond our understanding (look at all the sexually provocative language used throughout Romeo and Juliet, for instance).
    It might have very frank language about sex but there isn't a near to pornographic love scene between Romeo and Juliet describing in vivid detail their making out as one would find if the story was written today.

    And I am not trying to make any judgements against such things, as I have stated before, I don't truly have a problem with the presence of sex, I am just questioning the use of prose and language used within literature and how sensuality may indeed have a stronger affect than sexuality.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. ~ Edgar Allan Poe

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    Asa Nisi Masa mayneverhave's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JBI View Post
    If we look at, for instance, even Shakespearean literature we see a sort of frankness toward sexuality which is beyond our understanding (look at all the sexually provocative language used throughout Romeo and Juliet, for instance).

    This of course, is my opinion - but I feel by comparing trends we see different patterns - we question why such things are in books, and then we can deconstruct the cultures around the text and the text itself.
    Shakespeare is a good example, because sex, whether explicit or implicitly mentioned permeates throughout his entire work - and therefore to ignore these aspects of his work (i.e. when teaching it in, say, an elementary level class) is to miss a major motif in his work.

    Look at the constant and vehement reactions to female sexuality in Hamlet and King Lear (the recurring "nothing"), and the ever present anxiety in Shakespeare of female infidelity - i.e. a song in As You Like It:
    Take thou no scorn to wear the horn;
    It was a crest ere thou wast born:
    Thy father's father wore it,
    And thy father bore it:
    The horn, the horn, the lusty horn
    Is not a thing to laugh to scorn.
    or even the multilayered puns of Falstaff:

    Well, he may sleep in security;
    for he hath the horn of abundance, and the lightness
    of his wife shines through it: and yet cannot he
    see, though he have his own lanthorn to light him.

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    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanEagle View Post
    Well, I didn't think so. I found them to be bizarre and irrelevant.

    Henry and Clare even discuss whether it's normal to have so much sex.
    Same here! The sex scenes were just so...boring. It was like reading an instruction manual.

    Yeah, there's lots of sex in Shakespeare's stuff. A copy of Titus Andronicus I read explained in the footnotes what the line 'I have done your mother' meant. Who writes these footnotes?! I was 13 and I knew what that meant.

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