Posted by Marie on Monday, June 16, 2014 in 1001 books, book discussion, miscellaneous, reading plan, tfg goodreads
One of my book clubs, The Filipino Groups at Goodreads, invited me to moderate a discussion this August. I'm quite honored to accept their invitation, especially since this is going to be my first time to host a book discussion with them. The TFG people has such refined taste in books (and no, I'm not brown-nosing or anything :-P ) so I'm really crossing my fingers they'll at least find my discussion interesting.
So anyway, TFG asked me to pick a theme and three books. Out of these three books, they're going to vote for the one they'll want to discuss in August. The theme I chose was erotica. But looking back at the books I chose, I think the better description would be "semi-autobiographies with some sex". The primary focus of erotica is, of course, eroticism - that is, to sexually arouse the readers, with some aspirations (or some say, pretensions) to look like high art. The foci of the three books go beyond eroticism, and their themes go beyond sex.
But rather than talk about each book in my own words, I rather go the pathetically easy (and a potential copyright violation) route, and quote entire entries from the book, "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die" (published by Cassell Illustrated, and edited by Peter Boxall).
(TFG peeps, this was going to be the one I would have shown you guys had I been free to attend last month's To The Lighthouse discussion.Sorry about that. :-P )
Key event: Tropic of Cancer is banned in the UK and United States
Henry Miller's depiction of his life in 1930s Paris ushered in a new way of writing about sex. Gone were the euphemism s and covert and peripheral references that had previously sufficed: now sex was a focus for discussion and a new language, direct and aggressive in tone, was evolving for the purpose.
This is a supremely misogynistic piece of writing and there is still something shockingly brutal about Miller's prose. His comments about his friend's wife Ida Verlaine are indicative of his: "I didn't give a fuck for her as a person, though I often wondered what she might be like as a piece of fuck, so to speak." This reductive and objectifying attitude is characteristic of the narcissistic and egotistical narrative voice that seems implicitly to be addressing a male reader. Women are described to be a little more than the facilitators of male desires, animalistic and available, and sunk in a base physicality without agency.
Although originally published in 1934, the novel was prohibited for decades in the United States and the UK. After its release in the United States in the 1960s, charges of obscenity were brought against the publishers, Grove Press. It went on to develop a cult following and was particularly influential for the Beat generation. Their eagerness to shun convention spawned a desire to experiment with extremes of experience and the licentious freedom of Miller's narrative appealed to this desire.
Despite the problematic gender politics, Henry Miller's work made an important contribution to the development of modernist fiction. With its experimental mixture of confessional autobiography and fiction, and passages where the narrative constitutes a "stream of consciousness", it was both innovative and dynamic. Juliet Wightman
Title: Tropic of Cancer
Author: Henry Miller (1891-1980)
Why It's Key: Tropic of Cancer was a landmark publication that tested the boundaries between erotica and pornography. In the 1960s it became the focus of a famous and influential obscenity case.
Key Passage: Fear of Flying
"My response... was not (not yet) to have an affair and not (not yet) to hit the open road, but to evolve my fantasy of the Zipless Fuck."
Erica Jong, young, beautiful, and blonde, appeared in her publicity photographs to be the antithesis of the 1970s feminist. In fact, Fear of Flying could with hindsight be read as the first "chick-lit" novel; at the height of the women's lib movement its cheerful raunchiness certainly came as a shock. But it is a book which is more serious than titillating. To those women who were coming of age at the time of its publication, taking the newly-available contraceptive pill, enjoying - if that's the right word - "free" love, and struggling to be granted the same respect and freedoms as men, Fear of Flying and its heroine, Isadora Wing, told it like it was.
Isadora, attending a conference abroad with her emotionally cold psychiatrist husband, muses on the situation of women, the drawbacks of marriage, the nuisance of mensuration, and books, politics, travel, and sex. John Updike compared the novel to Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint for its sexual honesty.
Jong defined the famous "Zipless Fuck" as "more than a fuck... Zipless, because when you came together zippers fell away like rose petals, underwear blew off in one breath like dandelion fluff... For the true, ultimate zipless A-1 fuck, it was necessary that you never get to know the man very well... anonymity made it even better."
The serious point of the book lies in its attempt to discover a post-liberation way of living with men, while managing to retain a separate identity. In fact it is worth reading if only as a social document which describes women's experiences in the 1960s and 1970s. Felicity Skelton
Author: Erica Jong
Why It's Key: Fear of Flying treated women's liberation with humor - a rarity at the time. It is also famous for the frankness of the descriptions of bodily functions, especially sex.
Key Book: The Lover
Marguerite Duras' semi-autobiographical novel offers subjective and impressionistic reflections upon a precocious childhood. At 15, the narrator has an intense sexual relationship with a wealthy 27-year old Chinese man. Set during the inter-war period in Sa Dec, French Indochina, their relationship is, on many levels, taboo. The intoxicating sensuality of their heady affair transcends and disturbs the boundaries of cultural acceptability, but even in its own terms, the relationship is transgressive and disturbing. It subverts traditional assumptions about the dynamics of sexual, racial, and onetary power, which is shown to be in a state of continual flux, endlessly subject to subtle realignment. Through this unorthodox love affair, and in her depiction of a family deeply troubled by a mother's divisive behavior, Duras provides a timely exploration of France's colonial past, and subjects the nebulous notion of "otherness" to renewed scrutiny.
The short novel is demonstrably a product of Duras' association with the Nouveau Roman, or "new novel", a French literary movement that sought to break the traditional dependence on plot, characterization, and conventional narrative modes. Critics have been divided on the novel's status as autobiography but she undoubtedly makes self-conscious use of the form, questioning the constructedness of memory, its luminescent quality, and the inevitable investments we all make, at both conscious and unconscious levels, in the process of remembering the past. The most commercially successful of Duras' works, it won the coveted Prix Goncort in 1984. Juliet Wightman
Author: Marguerite Duras (1914-96)
Why It's Key: Remarkable for the frankness with which one of France's most respected - but difficult and avant garde - writers offers access to a sensational aspect of her past, this novel catapulted Duras from left-wing intellectual to bestselling author.
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