One body bumping against another: in this act, lives are made, minds are derailed, souls are bared and human beings are exposed at their most animal--and thus most human. Nine out of ten bipeds surveyed will tell you it's the most fun thing in the world, but sex still remains a mystery, the thing we will do the most in our lives without ever having a solid grasp of what it means.
If consciousness is the defining characteristic of humanity, then those things that elude our minds' grasp allow us to see our limits, help us understand who we are. Sex, by denying comprehension, catches us in its mirror, if we bother to look. For the fiction writer seeking to represent human experience as we know it, the challenge to depict and delimit sex is as alluring as it is daunting.
Few writers make the attempt--those who do find themselves at the end of language's tether, seeking to find words and phrases to circumvent the pat clichés of erotica and pornography. You are unlikely to think that English is short on adjectives until you start trying to describe what sweat on skin tastes like, or what is seen in the flash of emotions as you enter someone or someone enters you. A million components of sex are taken for granted; when you try to recover them in language, their immediacy becomes distant, their familiarity strange. The pen falters.
What's more, most every relationship has a sexual dynamic, and the relationship affects the sex no less than the sex affects the relationship. And thus the problem with both erotica and pornography: They remove sex from its real human context and, in doing so, erase much of what makes the sexual experience what it is. Both genres idealize our positions and performance (in different ways, of course), but in their attention to physiology they tend to leave out the psychology. Like playing notes without chords, they make a kind of melody, but miss much of the poignancy and resonance of music.
The authors in Full Frontal Fiction
play both sad and happy songs. Some address sex head-on, bringing bodies into visible and poignant collision; others approach it obliquely, exploring the impact of sexuality on characters caught in its throes. Though each of the stories may be erotic, there is no sugarcoating of experience: in one, a Siamese twin helps set up her other half; in another, a man gets a call from his girlfriend's husband; in a third, two mentally handicapped men have a covert wedding. This is not sex writing as we normally think of it, not what I expected to find when I signed on as editor of Nerve
. This is sex seen as a microcosm for life as a whole, painted in the full spectrum of its complexity. I often say that a Nerve
story should be stimulating above and below the neck; the reality is that, working in unison, each half helps facilitate the other.
"I am never inclined to fault those who look for sex in literature; looking for sex, they may find something else."
--Anthony BurgessFrom the Trade Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Full Frontal Fiction by Edited by Jack Murnighan and Genevieve Field. Copyright © 2000 by Edited by Jack Murnighan and Genevieve Field. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.