Saturday, October 29, 2011

My Dark Garden

Guest Post by Remittance Girl

I'm guessing that most writers can point, at least in the abstract, to 'barren acres' that prompted them to write stories or novels that, to one extent or another, could be viewed as success. (Hey - just finishing a novel represents success for me. )

But I do have my own quite specific barren acre. I have harboured fantasies of non-consensual sex as early as I can recall. For a long time, I found this very disturbing. Not just because I consider myself a feminist and this fantasy of disempowering myself seemed at odds with that, but because I have experienced rape in reality.

First, I think there the word rape gets thrown around a lot. And there's a propensity for society to conceive of rape as a certain kind of crime – heinous, deplorable, inexcusable and unforgivable. So I want to be careful to be careful about how I use the word in the context of my experience. My experience of rape wasn't particularly violent and my age, and the youth of the person who perpetrated it, were such as to mitigate the circumstances. I was pretending to be a lot older and worldlier that I really was, and he was too young to realize that. I was not traumatized in any deep or long-lasting way. Nonetheless, the realization that things were happening outside my control and without my permission – that feeling of helplessness and anger – stayed with me.

I want to be clear here: my puzzlement and, at a baser level, my disgust with my own fantasies were far more traumatizing, in the long run, than the incident of the rape itself. My barren acre was not the rape, but of my fantasies in juxtaposition to the event.

It has puzzled me why I would have such persistent and vivid sexual fantasies about being forced. It has remained an unreconciled paradox in my understanding of self. And questions of consent and power have, I think, been a consistent theme through a lot of my erotic writing because of it.

However, when I embarked on the writing of Gaijin, I did so with the aim to consciously and unreservedly give myself permission to explore unfettered the eroticism of these fantasies. Until that time, I had been very aware of the sensitivity of writing non-consensual erotica. I had, in fact, practiced self-censorship and the guidelines of my writer's group and of the vast majority of erotica publishers made it easy to do so. But I decided that if there was ever a way to really explore the paradox between my fantasies and the person I believed myself to be, then the best and safest way to do that would be in fictional writing.

I believe this resulted in three successes. To begin with, Gaijin was the first large work I ever published. Not quite a novel, it was nonetheless accepted for publication by Republica Press in 2010. And to this day, it remains my best selling work.

The second success is that its publication allowed me to legitimately enter into the debate on the limits of what is 'acceptable' subject matter for eroticization in fiction.

But for me, by far the most significant success originating from this 'barren acre' of mine was that it did offer me some insight, if not outright reconciliation, of my personal paradox.

Strangely, it wasn't until long after I wrote the book. Through twitter, I had the great pleasure of getting to know an extraordinary woman named Jane Princep. Jane lived through an experience of rape that was orders of magnitude more harrowing than mine. She has been courageous enough to participate in a series of extremely explicit interviews on the event and the long-term effects it had on her life (http://janeprinsep.com/2010/08/14/why-not-me-a-series-of-intimate-conversations/) as part of The Dialogue Project, directed by Karl James. http://thedialogueproject.com/ )I experienced a great deal of anxiety about Jane reading any of my stories and I warned her off them.

Getting to know Jane better, we began to discuss the phenomenon of the non-consensual fantasy. It was really in the context of my concern for her reaction to my writing (and her assurance that she actively sought them out and read my non-con stories because she found them very erotic), that I began to conceive of these types of stories, not as a re-visitation of the rape or a breaking open of an old wound, but as a vehicle by which the real loss of power, of dignity, of control might be overlaid by the repeated re-writing, editing, embellishment and repurposing of the event.

This bad experience, once imposed upon me by someone else, becomes mine. And in making it mine, I can then go on to over-write the parts I find distasteful to me, and replace those with parts I like better. And the more I do it, the more this new, better, more vivid, more pleasurable telling begins to eclipse the original event. In essence, I am rewriting memory.

For a while, I thought this was just a fuzzy, crackpot explanation I'd come up with until I saw this TED Lecture: The Riddle of Experience and Memory (http://blog.ted.com/2010/03/01/the_riddle_of_e/ ) by Dr. Daniel Kahneman on the construction of experience and memory. When we remember an event, what we are really doing is constructing a narrative remediation of that event. And we are not particularly precise about the way we do it at the best of times. It is perfectly possible for someone to be recorded experiencing an event, and remember it in an entirely different light. Memory is to some extent self-storytelling.

I'm not a psychologist or a neurologist or a psychiatrist, but the conclusions that I have come to ring very true to me. My non-consensual fantasies are the way by which I have in the arena of memory and narrative transferred power from my rapist to me. And my barren acre has become my riotously fertile, always filthy and sometimes savage dark garden.

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4 comments:

  1. Hello, RG,

    Welcome back to the Grip, and thanks for a typically thought provoking post.

    First of all, I definitely agree with the notion of memory as story telling. There's significant experimental evidence to support that position.

    Of course, fiction goes beyond memory. At least part of the selection, revision, emphasis and de-emphasis is conscious (though some is not). In writing erotica, we ratchet up the emotional intensity while playing down the details that don't quite fit with being aroused.

    I've never been raped (or even close), but I sometimes have non-consensual fantasies. There has to be a compelling reason why they are so common. Perhaps it is a way of being able lose control in a safe way.

    (BTW you should add a link to your story "Dark Garden", which makes a fine counterpoint to this post.)

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  2. Wonderful post, and one that, for me, fills in some areas I'd speculated about.

    I do agree that memory is about stories. One aspect that I've found fascinating is to watch how the stories change. My college roommate married my wife's cousin, so we've been connected for 25 years. He'll tell stories about stuff we did way back then and not only does his story not match my own memories, but his stories don't match the way he told them even a few years ago.

    Ultimately, I think that's a blessing. If we can 'write over' the stories of our past, there's nothing to prevent us from improving them.

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  3. Hi RG! Welcome back!

    This wasa very thought provoking post in so many ways. You hit on a mystery I've been thinking a lot about these days. First its amazing that so many ladies around here have been raped. Those two here that i know of, and now you. Is this so common among women I wonder, or is this genre we work in one that attracts women who have been through this for the reasons you explain, regarding writing as a kind of therapy.

    I'v been reading a book called "A Billion Wicked Thoughts" which is a study about human sexuality and the Internet. It seems that women are wired for submission, and men for dominance, as expressed through love making even as expressed through passive and active positions people take up when copulating. Not only humans but most mammals in general. The male is active, the women receives. So I think this maybe expresses itself in the fantasies of submission women experience, as straight women are universally attracted to strong or dominant males, and the fantasies of men, including me to some extent, that involve the domination of women by one means or another. In the NAncy Friday books chronicling women's fantasies, rape is almost universal, or as in many of Lisabet's stories, extreme consensual submission. What's strange to me, as written about Melissa Febo's autobiography of her days as a pro dominatrix, men's craving for extreme domination by a woman.

    I went right away to the links for Jane Princep but it didn't work. Is there another link?

    Garce

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  4. Thank you for this post, RG. I knew you would write something meaty.

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