Confession – last night I devoured the entire Delta of Venus, by Anais Nin. Erotic through and through, it contains several short stories, and some longer ones, about sexual escapades of all types. I’ve read erotic literature before, and a lot of erotic manga/comics, but I have to admit, this was an entirely different experience. There are a few things I really admired about her approach to sexuality and erotica.
As someone who has read a bunch of literature since my wee days of no television hippiehood, I’m used to reading from the male perspective. By this I mean that even if the character is female, the author is usually male. Therefore, my literary sexual self was often defined by male standards. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I identified quite easily with both the male and female characters in the books I read, and if they had erotic elements, I enjoyed and understood them. Even when I read female authors, they still somehow maintained that same male standard. However, that doesn’t mean these books described or enlightened me about all aspects of my personal sexual experience. Nor is that their responsibility. At the end of the day, you write about what you know – whether from personal experience or formulaic theory.
When I first started getting into manga (I read all types by the way, from the most childish to BL to martial arts to hentai), I became interested in it because I felt it deviated from the male-centric literary experience I had up to that point. I’m not saying it’s all good – the vast majority is not- but it’s different. It was only after reading manga for quite awhile that I learned most of the authors I read were female.
Picking up Nin, I wasn’t expecting anything earth shattering, and on one level it was just a good, sexy read. However, after reading the entire book and setting it down, I felt as though it was the first time that I had really read about a quintessentially female sexual experience. Perhaps it’s a bit overblown, but there really is something there. Beneath the flowery language use, the outrageous settings, Nin describes a hunger, a drive, an almost predatory need for sex that defies the usual female standard. In some ways, the descriptors I just utilized are saved for the male experience (drive, predatory, hunger), but she shows how different, yet the same, it is for women.
The worst, or perhaps best, part about it is that I can’t give you any concrete examples. There isn’t one passage where I can say, “There!! There it is! The female experience!” First of all, that would assume that all women experience sexuality the same – which would be utterly ridiculous to claim. Give this book to another woman, and they might not feel the same way at all. Also, none of the specific experiences are ones that I can necessarily point to and identify with. I haven’t, after all, gone to a masked party whose sole purpose is to have a massive orgy outside with strangers. It is something much more subtle and elusive. Is it in her withheld orgasm, just to be cruel and because she feels distant? Or perhaps it’s in the desire to be looked at, watched. Maybe it’s in the way she describes taking time to fully let each party ‘blossom’ into sexual desire, waiting for the orgasm that will shake them to the core.
I don’t know. I think it’s all of that and none of it.
Before I turn into a blush puddle on the floor, I think I’ll just tell you to go read it for yourselves. Of course, be prepared. This is smut, really, so perhaps don’t bring the book to work?