Wednesday, May 14, 2008
(12:30 AM) | Ray Davis:
Wednesday Sex: A Pornstructuralist ReaderSome years ago, I sampled a selection of pornographic fiction. As you might expect, it tended either toward the episodic or toward something not much like porn. Alexander Trocchi wrote the exceptions. Although his ambitious works sloshed like bags in a stagnant river, hacking out smut roused an otherwise dormant gift for long narrative: 1955's White Thighs and 1956's Thongs are built like novels.
In terms of genre, the one is dom/sub; the other's S&M. But White Thighs' perky dungeon is a far cry from Pat Califia's pragmatic naturalism and a closer cry to the fantasy scenes of 8 1/2, and I think we can agree that Fellini's neighborhood, distressing as it is, is best labeled vanilla male heterosexuality.
More abstractly, the two novels differ by the merest shift in motive force. Lust generates story by making us stupid. From that rich bubbling crude of gloryhallastoopid, White Thighs slightly emphasizes coupling's imperious loss of will:
"They have no more problems. They don't exist. Each day they become more like the animals they always longed to be.... no wonder they love you, Saul!"
Whereas Thongs slightly emphasizes the more solipsistic telescoping loss of proportion:
"Once the leap out of the self has been made, it is an anticlimax to go back."
1955 was a good year for wicked books. Like sibling Lolita, White Thighs roots its perversion in childhood ecstasy-trauma; like The Talented Mr. Ripley, its hero ascends consequence-free on wings of amorality. But don't let those comparisons or Trocchi's "poet"-studded blurbs mislead you. While he's capable of a telling image, here he mostly coasts by on rampant members and pulsing bellies. In his rush, the author once even seems to lose track of just whose implement he's tracking: "the one who was ever present in my belly like a dark pencil of lust."
The virtue (you should pardon the expression) of White Thighs lies not on its verbal skin but in its architectonics. Trocchi's coasting accelerates consumption as well as production; the weighty hyperfocus of a Marco Vassi would have slowed and finally fractured the book. Desire's absurd muddle of control and abandon — we want the other to want that we want that they want that this that was — is here split into an efficient cycle of surrender, disappointment, and manipulation that drives the story steadily upwards — I picture a rotary engine surrounded by flaps of sticky plastic — to a shaggy-dog punchline. I almost never draw the book from its shelf without finishing it; I almost never put it back without a smirk.
Thongs is another story, more ornately worked and ranging farther. After the traditional "John Ray Jr" prologue, it launches from a grotesque Glasgow slum with a thoroughly anti-erotic razor battle between a thug and his son; it bumps down onto a Spanish estate on the way to a new Golgotha.
Masochism-unto-death (with a female protagonist, ça va sans dire) is a common enough conceit for artsy porn, and the Black Mass and other parodies of Catholic ritual are common enough ornaments, but Trocchi elaborates and entwines them to uncommon extremes:
"Each Pain Cardinal has six Grand Painmasters under him, and they in turn have each twelve Painmasters or Painmistresses under them. Thus, you see that you are one of eight hundred and sixty-four Painmasters or Painmistresses.... If you were chosen as a Grand Painmistress while I was still in your service, you would have the choice of taking me with you as your secretary or of accepting the secretary of the ex-Grand Painmistress. In one sense his services would be an advantage since he would be already acquainted with all the customary forms pertaining to his master's office, but that can be learned and I don't suppose it's necessary to point out to you that a man who has risen with you is likely to prove more loyal."
From those elements, he builds an up-from-the-gutter success-with-regrets story, a reworking of the ancient struggle between orthodox hierarchy and mystic saint (with a Last Temptation-like twist in the tail), and an enduring stroke book for those who seek strokes. Not restricted to the three-chord riff that drives White Thighs home, Thongs' varied transitions all recircle to its fixed idea of consummation — an idea fixed in the reader's mind long before the heroine's, thanks to that prologue. If I finally find I have less to say about the later novel, that may be because it's more articulate on its own behalf.
He buried his face in my neck. What a child! Should I mother him? Is that what he really desires?
I thought not.