8.12.2012

The Erotics of Writing

Here's a confession. When I was writing my dissertation, I'd rent a stack of pornos — VHS, mind you, as this was 1997 — plop a tape in to my VCR, turn my old beaten up TV towards the desk and, so poised, begin my writing. All around me were books stacked and sprawled and bent, a veritable orgy of text, as the TV offered a virtual orgy of carnality. To me, it was one continuous wash of bodies spurring me on to climaxes at once physical and intellectual. (Although, it's worth noting that my onanism rarely ended in orgasm: it was all about the process of moving through this space or, as Barthes says, the jouissance.)

Writing wasn't always like that for me. At first, I wrote lucid, expository essays: I made my argument, offered my evidence, and got the hell out of there. There was no teasing — of the words, ideas, or audience. There was no pleasure. Writing was a formal exercise, bereft of body — mine, the reader's, the text's.

This all changed after being baptized — old school style, my entire head and body submerged — in Foucault, Derrida, Merleau-Ponty. They had such fun, such abandon, as they wrote. They were never just trying to get their ideas across as efficiently and lucidly as possible. No, there was a complex milieu, if you will, of words, syntax, punctuation, ideas across time and space, an audience with expectations, desires, needs, histories. And these French writers frolicked in that space, made words do things I didn't know possible. They turned me on.

Writing, of course, is of the flesh just as our breath, hair, skin, piss, shit, and come are. Language streams through our bodies, our fingers and mouths and ears, those most knowing, most sensual modes of assuming the world. When we write, we inflect our bodies just so as we reach to inflect the bodies of others. Merleau-Ponty says we reach for a word as we reach for an itch, that we have language just as we have legs.

After all, when I shit, it's me making sense of the granola, grouper, and gin I've consumed. And when I write it's me making sense of the Foucault, Nietzsche, and Deleuze I've consumed. This is one reason students panic when they have a paper to submit: like the angst riddled potty training toddler, they can't let go of what they believe to be theirs. There's a reason we call a writer's output a body of work.

And writing, well, writing is the process of manipulating, massaging, this body. Which is to say, writing isn't an exposition as if language were simply a container of ideas and words. No, writing is an act of moving amongst words, syntax, ideas, beliefs, logics, concepts, semi colons, expectation. Writing is a give and take, an engagement, an act of making sense. I may brazenly reach for an apogee but grammar doesn't allow it just because I want it; I must work with its parameters, its desires, its body. Writing is a collaboration, a coitus of sorts, including the delicious foreplay.

When I can't find the word I need, the word I want, the word I crave, I lean back, lean forward, a davening rabbi with a hard on. I close my eyes, wiggle my fingers, my blood pumps erratically as I feel my way through the litany of words and figures. Sometimes, the word doesn't come and I fumble awkwardly like a teenager with a zipper. Where is it? How do I get this thing down?  Other times, the words flow like the fingers of a master masseuse across the lower back. Oh, yes, the process of writing is an intimate engagement that demands feeling and fumbling and fondling one's way across the page — and across the litany of attending bodies, from textual ghosts to neologisms to the unassuming period.  

A word is not a sign, a mark, of something else, a pale avatar of a resonant truth. No, a word is a gesture. It is dramatic. It is physical. A word is itself an act of gathering up and expressing ideas and affect, concept and mood. It is not a neutral delivery system. It is a flourish, a genuflection, a manner of being in the world. Yes, a word has a comportment just as my or your body does. This is why certain words piss us off, bind us to others, turn us on. A word takes up the world and then comes at us with it and we are informed, confounded, intrigued, angered.

Writing is an orgy as bodies of all sorts — the writer, reader, words, marks, ideas, moods — each with its own needs and desires conspire to create something resonant, something that tickles and prods: something that entices the world.

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