Sexuality and Literature - Dirty Talks and Their Meaning
Blame it on Freud!
- Freud invented psychoanalysis.
- Discovered the sexual potential of the human subconscious.
- Offered a completely new way of reading and interpreting literature.
Freud and Psychoanalysis
If it wasn't for Dr. Sigmund Freud and his publishing of The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900, literature would have had a school of interpretation in minus.
With psychoanalysis, Freud exposed his (sexual) ideas to a wider segment of people, including writers; in a nutshell, Freud explored the sexual potential of the subconscious, and demonstrated that we think about sex more often than we normally would or should. One of the most common example of male sexuality is the tall building, and to keep it in the urban environment, the sewer stands for female sexuality.
Departing from this point, tall buildings and sewers probably do not account for much in the context of psychoanalysis, however, in terms of literature and sex, they could yield some interesting interpretative results. A very important point that I would like to raise is that it becomes clear that "sex" is not particularly tied to explicit organs or acts.
Most likely, the discussion of literature and sexuality is not about the act in itself.
Chronologically speaking, the twentieth century brought about the fact that readers can decipher sexual innuendos in a text, while writers found new ways of "talking dirty" without being explicit at all.
Sexuality and Literature - a Bigger Context
Again, chronologically speaking, the discovery of sexuality and literature as a discipline in itself in the twentieth century didn't mean that the applications of this theory were limited to the contemporary works.
To prove this, let us take a knight story or a fairy tale.
The knight is usually a young man, who needs to prove himself (define his "manhood") by completing a quest. His sword/lance is, at best, a phallic symbol that will aid him when cutting down ogres and dragons. Even more, our knight is searching for the Holy Grail, a term commonly associated with the female sexuality; the empty vessel, waiting to be filled. And this whole ordeal of questing, and filling chalices is done under the spectrum of fertility.
Why is that? As we all know from our bedtime stories, the kingdom is a wasteland. The king is too old to go and search or destroy the object that makes/breaks, and so he sends this much younger, good looking person that will surely complete the task at hand. As a bonus, the king can offer his old sword/lance/horse to the protagonist for some extra support.
As you can see, it's not your cup of wild sex, but it clearly is about sex nevertheless.
Symbols of Female Sexuality
A Contemporary Example
One of the first writers that applied Freudian concepts to the letter was D.H. Lawrence. In his famous story "The Rocking-Horse Winner", published in 1932, a little boy wants to please his mother. His father fails in business, and as a consequence, his materialist wife is disappointed with him. The boy senses this hunger for money in the house as some voices whispered throughout the rooms "There must be more money! There must be more money!". The desperation is so big that his mother doesn't love him anymore, or anyone, for that matter. The son connects this lack of affection with the lack of money, and discovers that if he rides his rocking horse to the point of exhaustion, he somehow can tell which horse will be the winner in the upcoming race. The following quote is from "The Rocking-Horse Winner", and it is a great combination of literature and sexuality:
"The boy saw she did not believe him; or rather, that she paid no attention to his assertion. This angered him somewhere, and made him want to compel her attention.
He went off by himself, vaguely, in a childish way, seeking for the clue to 'luck'. Absorbed, taking no heed of other people, he went about with a sort of stealth, seeking inwardly for luck. He wanted luck, he wanted it, he wanted it. When the two girls were playing dolls in the nursery, he would sit on his big rocking-horse, charging madly into space, with a frenzy that made the little girls peer at him uneasily. Wildly the horse careered, the waving dark hair of the boy tossed, his eyes had a strange glare in them. The little girls dared not speak to him."
Feel the sexual charge yet?
I know that this example fails to be explicit on one hand, and being a sexually disappointment on the other, but it is a perfect oedipal conflict. The father fails to match mother's needs, the boy engages in a secret and rhythmic activity.
The son proves himself and his sexuality through the rocking horse. Because his father cannot provide, the boy tries to compete for his mother's affection. However, the way in which he competes causes concern among the elder members of the family.
The story has a tragic ending; the son dies while winning the sum of eighty thousand pounds:
"Do you think I'm lucky, mother? I knew Malabar, didn't I? Over eighty thousand pounds! I call that lucky, don't you, mother? Over eighty thousand pounds! I knew, didn't I know I knew? Malabar came in all right. If I ride my horse till I'm sure, then I tell you, Bassett, you can go as high as you like. Did you go for all you were worth, Bassett?"
As dirty minded as it may be, the psychoanalytic interpretation concerning sexuality and literature is valid.
Ludicrous Lawrence in his Prime
More on Symbolism and Literature
- The Role of Symbols in Literature - Definition, Meaning, and Purpose
Symbols and literature are two things strongly connected with each other. However, a text is so much more than the words on the paper! This article explores the symbol in literature in more depth.
Why Would You Do That?
Why would you rather suggest something sexual rather than saying it explicitly? The classical oedipal situation is when Oedipus kills his father, and marries his mother. In "The Rocking-Horse Winner", however, it would be a bit boring for the son to actually murder his father and satisfy his mother's financial desires, as sick and perverted it might sound.
It has to do with the symbol (and I discuss symbols in literature in the hub to the right). Symbol. That is the word. Also, try to think about the censorship. Would a 10-year-old be allowed to read such an sexually explicit story?
More on Sexuality and Sexual Behavior
Long Story Short - Sexuality and Literature
- Sex is not depicted as the actual physical act.
- It is transformed into a symbol.
- Opens numerous interpretations and debates.
- It is encoded and embedded within the text.
The Coding of Sex and Literature
The reason for why sexuality and literature are coded on multiple levels is that "the real thing" is not particularly complex. As literature tries to offer pluralities within meanings, allegories, and so on, the physical act becomes overused.
Furthermore, the encoding of sex and literature also shows the craftsmanship of the author; seeing "The Rocking-Horse Winner" as a sexually charged short story opens the much wider context of intentionality; did the author really meant that, or are we just a bunch of perverts who think and talk dirty all the time?
All jokes aside, even though we live in a relatively liberal sexual age, the depiction of sex in literature is not about the act itself; rather, it is dispersed or marginalized. The young knight who tries to prove his manhood has sexual issues, but at a symbolic level. His problems are not the actual sexual organs; he tries to restore fertility to the land.