Caustic Acts of Word Porn

Some readers like to roll around with a book, press the print to their crotch, and rub the words over their genitals while moaning lines from its pages. They savor the syllables as if the glistening lips of a lover. They experience a tingling, like a feather across the scalp, as their eyes transform a flurry of letters into a fragrant, pulsating world.

Fuck dat.

I want to be entertained, bitch.

Okay, okay… I know those need not be mutually exclusive. As a matter of fact, last night I enjoyed both an episode of Cosmos AND scenes from Naughty Bookworms 25. Both had their… uh… merits.

But there is a real and important difference between enjoyment of words — the medium, the mechanical act of reading — and the enjoyment of the thing those words deliver, the story.

I have never finished Moby Dick. Ever. I have tried, multiple times. And there’s no question that Melville was a master of word porn. His is one of the few works of fiction that has to be read with a pencil in hand so you can underline those sterling passages, ones like:

But being paid,–what will compare with it? The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvelous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!

But HOLY LOQUACITY, BATMAN I can only take so much. First of all, those passages are seashells scattered across a horizon shore and unearthing them always feels like the grab bag from your grade school carnival — a lot more exciting as a mystery.

Literature is a kind of philosophy-like poetry, as beautiful and important as a puppet king. If one wanted to truly grapple with life, to struggle against its sweaty skin as it crushes you in its embrace (the way Abraham wrestled God), versus just giving it a Coke and a smile, personally I would send you to the fragments of Heraclitus, or the ramblings of Foucalt, or even Nietzsche. It’s not so much that any of them are beautifully right or true as the opposite: they’re fat and ugly and bloodied from standing squarely in the ring.

So invariably I lose interest around page 150 or so. I tell myself I’ll pick it up later. But I never do. Apparently I don’t have much in common with 19th Century seamen. Go figure.

Okay, you say. So some people want to snort the lines of a book like cocaine. So what?

This is the part that’s going to get me in trouble. I think there is a certain paucity of imagination in word porn, just as with the regular kind. It seems nonsensical at first, given that imagination is the paint to the book’s canvas. But it’s true.

Porn feeds something in the lizard part of our brain. It lays bare the most intimate act. As many, many other authors before me have noted, porn is not particularly erotic given that which is most erotic is also that which leaves most to the imagination, and really good porn leaves nothing to the imagination.

Ooooh yeah, baby. Fuck that ass.

I like porn. (Surprise!) I don’t think most porn is pornographic. But I personally can’t sit and watch it for hours at a time. It’s exciting, but very superficially so. It doesn’t engage the imagination, so it gets quickly tedious.

I find word porn tedious in the same way. Some description is necessary — there would be no story without it — but much more than the minimum is not only a bore, it’s constraining. I feel the author’s hand in my head twisting the spontaneous image I created.

My imagination runs wild. It explodes from the tiniest particles, as grains of dry pigment explode on wet paper. Show me the characters interacting, give me their dialogue, and provide a simple hook — one or two key attributes: a mouth like a tick, the stoop of old age, the creases of the eye that hint at a decades-old smile — and then blow some shit up. Or shoot somebody in the face.

If more than a few lines of description is necessary, spread it through the passage so as not to impede the action. I am a Special Forces reader. Give me a hand-scrawled map and a Bowie knife and keep the story coming. I can do the rest. In fact, I prefer it.

I only bring it up because a periodical just panned one of my projects — not my writing, but the works of others that I curated. (I won’t send them any web traffic by naming names.) The stories were too lean, she said. Not enough girth to sink her teeth into. Not enough marbling of fat to give them flavor. She couldn’t envision anything. The stories left a sparse world in her mind. &tc. &tc.

She chalked this up to inexperience and pilloried our claim that the book is different. (The first four words of the preface are, “This book is different.”) She said it was no such thing.

But that’s the funny thing about being different.

The establishment always interprets a minority assertion as an attack on its hegemony. (Uppity fuckers.) I don’t care what you read, or if you read at all. If you want to dry-humpThe Collected Works of John Donne while tongue-diddling King Lear, be my guest. In fact, if you filmed it, I’d probably watch. (Free books for life to whoever actually does that.)

Just remember this. What you like reveals your interests, but what you dislike reveals your character. And always, always, always end with a money shot.

SPLOOGE

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