Monday, January 4, 2010

The Boys Consider the State of Contemporary Literary Sex Scenes

Readers, perhaps you read Katie Roiphe's fascinating piece in the NY-Times Book Review yesterday, "The Naked and the Conflicted," which considers the relative lack of explicit sex in the work of contemporary (often hipster) writers such as Jonathan Safran Foer and Michael Chabon as compared to the frequent, graphic sexuality of mid-century male novelists such as Updike, Roth, and Bellow. Speaking of Updike et al, Roiphe writes: "It has become popular to denounce those authors, and more particularly to deride the sex scenes in their novels." (Indeed, when Richard recently taught one of Updike's Rabbit novels, an opening day question from an astute--female--student was: "Why does he need to use the word 'cunt' so much?").

Roiphe's piece ultimately serves as a defense of these often-derided authors: "In contrast to their cautious, entangled, ambivalent, endlessly ironic heirs, there is something almost romantic in the old guard’s view of sex: it has a mystery and a power, at least. It makes things happen."

Roiphe offers numerous examples to illustrate that today's "younger writers are so self-­conscious, so steeped in a certain kind of liberal education, that their characters can’t condone even their own sexual impulses; they are, in short, too cool for sex": "Prototypical is a scene in Dave Eggers’s road trip novel, “You Shall Know Our Velocity,” where the hero leaves a disco with a woman and she undresses and climbs on top of him, and they just lie there: “Her weight was the ideal weight and I was warm and wanted her to be warm."

What do the boys' think?

Chip: "This proves once and for all that hipsters can make anything boring, even fucking. Still, there's something tender in the Eggers' passage that gives me a mild boner."

Richard: "I'm totally using this article in my Intro to Fiction course."

Read it here:


A Fucking Unhipster said...

I'll have to read the article, but my gut reaction is that the commentator is right, but it's just part of the way things go. In the mid-century, sex was a revolutionary act, a breaking-free of the shackles of society. But now every aspect of pop culture is clambering over itself to be sexier than everything else, so in a sense sex itself has become sort of boring and not a lot of fun. I think this is why there's so much of a tendency to look back at pin-ups and sexual art of an earlier day, because it captured more of what is sexy about sex than most contemporary pop-culture attempts.

And I think this is what contemporary novelists are trying to do: find and restore what makes sex sexy, as opposed to what makes it boring, mass-produced, airbrushed, and homogenized.

Anonymous said...

Dave Eggers is boring and sucks whether he's talking about sex or any thing else humans do...maybe that's what the article really needs to say.

eggers said...

I'll have you know my newest book, Zeitoun, was chosen as the #1 book of the year by Entertainment Weekly.

Also, there's no sex in it!