Katie Roiphe writes in the New York Times with great pining of the glorious past when sex was the same as misogyny and when only the men in the books were Real People whose quest to defeat death by doing violence on faceless cunts was new, exciting and virile. I'm not making that up. The New York Times has allowed Roiphe The Younger to work out her parental conflicts with Roiphe The Older on the august pages of NYT's book reviews.
Katie identifies with the penis-as-a-knife, for whatever reason, and not with cunt-as-anonymous-meat, in her yearning for a past when sex was equated with male-sex-with-violence-and-loathing-of-women:
Saul Bellow shared Updike's interest in sexual adventuring, in a great, splashy, colorful comic-book war between men and women. Moses Herzog, he writes, "will never understand what women want. What do they want? They eat green salad and drink human blood." Bellow's novels are populated with dark, voluptuous, generous, maybe foreign Renatas and Ramonas, who are mistresses; and then there are the wives, shrewish, smart, treacherous, angular. While his sex scenes are generally more gentlemanly than those of Roth et al., he manages to get across something of his tussle with these big, fleshy, larger-than-life ladies: "Ramona had not learned those erotic monkey-shines in a manual, but in adventure, in confusion, and at times probably with a sinking heart, in brutal and often alien embraces."
In his disordered, sprawling novels, Mailer takes a hopped-up, quasi-religious view of sex, with flights of D. H. Lawrence-inspired mysticism and a special interest in sodomy. In "An American Dream," he describes a woman's genitals: "It was no graveyard now, no warehouse, no, more like a chapel now, a modest decent place, but its walls were snug, its odor was green, there was a sweetness in the chapel."
Mailer's most controversial obsession is the violence in sex, the urge toward domination in its extreme. A sampling: "I wounded her, I knew it, she thrashed beneath me like a trapped little animal, making not a sound." "He must subdue her, absorb her, rip her apart and consume her." It is part of Mailer's existentialism, his singular, loopy philosophy, that violence is good, natural and healthy, and it is this in his sex scenes that provokes. As in many of Mailer's ventures, like his famous campaign for mayor of New York, it's not entirely clear how much he means it and how much is for fun, for the virile show.
It would be too simple to call the explicit interludes of this new literature pornographic, as pornography has one purpose: to arouse. These passages are after several things at once — sadness, titillation, beauty, fear, comedy, disappointment, aspiration. The writers were interested in showing not just the triumphs of sexual conquest, but also its loneliness, its failures of connection. In his unruly defense of sexually explicit male literature in "The Prisoner of Sex," Mailer wrote: "He has spent his literary life exploring the watershed of sex from that uncharted side which goes by the name of lust and it is an epic work for any man. . . . Lust exhibits all the attributes of junk. It dominates the mind and other habits, it appropriates loyalties, generalizes character, leaches character out, rides on the fuel of almost any emotional gas — whether hatred, affection, curiosity, even the pressures of boredom — yet it is never definable because it can alter to love or be as suddenly sealed from love."
In the intervening decades, the feminists objected; the public consumed; the novelists themselves were much decorated.
What do I learn from this? That discussing the violence in literary sex is perfectly acceptable as long as one takes the perpetrator's point of view, as long as one sees all this loathing as struggle against the forces of death and as long as one asks no questions about those who act the receptacle roles in the great sexual adventures.
I learn how women should write to be accepted as relevant! This links to our earlier conversation about the reasons why chicks can't write! But they can, if they just accept their own desire to be raped by Norman Mailer. Or Katie Roiphe's desire to be treated in such a manner.
Astonishingly, enough, I also learn that it's feminism which has blocked all those wonderful male books about sexual pillaging. This is astonishing because in my reality feminists are scarcer than hen's teeth at the New York Times! Or in any mainstream media.
The odd shadow-boxing of women who write for patriarchy is pretty funny, in fact. They are fighting that humongous shadow of the all-powerful-feminists when most people couldn't name a total of five feminist writers in all of the major newspapers.
How many have actually read Kate Millet's Sexual Politics? Yet all this the Times swallows like the dainty lady she is:
After reading a sex scene in Philip Roth's latest novel, "The Humbling," someone I know threw the book into the trash on a subway platform. It was not exactly feminist rage that motivated her. We have internalized the feminist critique pioneered by Kate Millett in "Sexual Politics" so completely that, as one of my students put it, "we can do the math ourselves." Instead my acquaintance threw the book away on the grounds that the scene was disgusting, dated, redundant. But why, I kept wondering, did she have to throw it out? Did it perhaps retain a little of the provocative fire its author might have hoped for?
Now THAT's how a woman can write to be relevant for the mainstream canon or cannon.
Dear New York Times: It takes no courage at all to let Katie Roiphe write about her desire to be ravished by old literary guys. It only angers women and that's irrelevant by definition.