Extra Credit Post: Reading Isn’t Sexy, But…

Ever seen one of those bright yellow mugs, t-shirts, or buttons that has “reading is sexy” typed across its front? One of the ones that features a woman seductively peering over the rim of her glasses? Now, I’m not entirely certain that this message contains much truth. I’ve certainly never held a book in my hands and thought, “wow, I feel sexy!” However, this class has led me to a somewhat similar conclusion; literature is sexy. To be honest, in the beginning of the semester, I was a bit taken aback by how often Professor Hensley made connections between our readings and sex (sorry, Professor Hensley). Now, I cannot for the life of me stop making them myself.

It started with Alice. I chose, in my first paper, to make the argument that Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland tells of a sexual awakening. Indeed, Alice is often described as “burning with curiosity” (10), while other characters are “pale (with passion)”, and speak in a “trembling voice” (23). There can be no doubt that Alice’s exploration of a queer world below ground carries strong sexual undertones. Dracula is even more overtly sexual than Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In his novel, Bram Stoker weaves together a tale of homoeroticism, polyamory, and perversion. Indeed, descriptions of stake-wielding men, arms rising and falling, driving their weapon “deeper and deeper” into the hearts of their victims (192) leave little to the reader’s imagination. Similarly, the image of Dracula “forcing [Mina’s] face on his bosom” (251) exudes forbidden sexuality.

Ok, so the novels we read were sexy. But there is no way that the numerous highly technical readings that were assigned to us over the course of the semester were sexy too, right? Wrong. Take Susan Sontag, for example – in her essay “Against Interpretation”, she argues for “an erotics of art” (10). Or Freud, who writes of dreams in which he peers down women’s throats. The title of Foucault’s volume “The History of Sexuality” speaks for itself. Other times sexual references are scattered throughout a work. Most recently, I was struck by a particularly sensual passage in Alexander Galloway’s “Essays on Algorithmic Culture”; he writes of a “masochistic fascination” with the video game Myst, adding that “one doesn’t play Myst so much as one submits to it” (18). Don’t try to tell me you hear the words “masochistic” and “submit” and don’t immediately think “kinky sex!”

Oscar Wilde famously said that “Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.”  I don’t know about the second part of that claim, nor can I attest to the validity of the word “everything” in the first, but I can say this: Much of literature, whether subtly or not, is about sex.

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