Is erotica dead?

The provincial local library, particularly one as brilliant as mine, can certainly throw up some surprises. I could not believe it when I found a collection of hardcore erotic stories wedged neatly in amongst all the innocuous volumes. However, upon reading it, I was left somewhat cold and unimpressed. This seems to be a recurring theme with modern erotica for me- is the genre dead?

Throughout the annals of history, x-rated literature has proved to be a rewarding genre. The Marquis De Sade remains the master of it; sometimes regarded as a great philosopher of phenomenological transcendence. John Cleland’s “Fanny Hill” uses language so coarse that even the modern reader, far more desensitised to sex, finds their eyes widening. “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” may be far from DH Lawrence’s greatest work, but it is still hugely entertaining. So why is modern erotica suffering so much?

It could be said that it is not the quality of the writing which is the problem, but us, desensitised to sex and further more to deviance – courtesy of the internet, the deviant can now become quite mainstream, with every need catered for. Pornographic literature used to be society’s only means of gratification. This is another issue – is such literature just used for gratification these days, or simply as reading material? I still feel that literature has a place in the bedroom. Reading aloud from the uncensored edition of Charles Baudelaire’s controversial nineteenth century poetry collection “Fleur De Mal” is such a huge part of our foreplay that we wore a copy out and I had some of his words tattooed on me. I cannot imagine people treating modern erotica with this kind of twisted affection.

This disappointing collection I have just read was desperate to be relevant, in a world populated with internet chatrooms and computing in general; the world of erotic restraint was being painted as an outlet of release for busy professionals. Maybe the writers think that this makes it more credible as fantasy. But it doesn’t work – if we are going to fantasise, we might as well do it properly, retreating into other worlds.

Language is another factor in the suffering of the genre. It has always leant heavily on being coarse and crude – otherwise it would not be pornography. But these days it seems to rely solely on this, something which once again makes it struggle to be credible as fantasy. After a while intimate descriptions of body parts in detail some as medical as they arousing, and the reader is left wondering if they are reading a gynealogicists manual or a piece of fiction. Classic erotica usually has a layer of substance there to – for example the Marquis De Sade’s “120 Days of Sodom” may just seem like a list of sexual escapades, but the setting has the dark background of the “libertines school” being a dividend of the spoils of the expansionist wars. It also remains the most sexually shocking book ever written – the modern erotica writers so concerned with shock would struggle hugely to write anything as taboo breaking as this. “Reading this book is almost a game” wrote critic John Phillips, “if we don’t finish it, we lose. And if we do, we somehow still do.”

Well, a modern erotica collection is certainly easier to finish than the likes of De Sade ever could be- and this, time, you know you’ve lost. In the same way that I wonder if there will ever be any new fairy stories, I wonder if there will ever be any more classic erotica. I am hopeful – my breath is held…

Amy Britton