Thursday, April 02, 2015

Romance XI: Erotic Romance, Erotica, and the Erotics of Vulnerability

Romance XI: Erotic Romance, Erotica, and the Erotics of Vulnerability

The Erotics of Vulnerability in African American Romance Fiction

(Conseula Francis, College of Charleston)

I will do two things in this presentation. First, I will offer a theory of romance that pays attention to its narrative preoccupations rather than its formal elements. In this presentation I am interested in romance fiction’s narrative preoccupation with the erotics of vulnerability. My theory of the erotics of vulnerability builds on Audre Lorde's "Uses of the Erotic" and Brene Brown's research on vulnerability. The second, and more important, thing I plan to do in this presentation is attempt to re-focus our critical attention on African American romance, which typically gets scant attention in romance scholarship. I will argue that romance fiction’s attention to the erotics of vulnerability sets the stage for the radical possibilities of black romance.

I will offer two brief readings to illustrate my argument. The first will focus on the Beverly Jenkins historical Something Like Love, in which the characters find themselves subject to myriad political, social, and sexual vulnerabilities and must learn the reward (and erotics) of risk. The second will focus on Maureen Smith's contemporary Recipe for Temptation. The characters in this novel are largely free of the kind of vulnerability that plagues the heroine and hero of Jenkins' novel (the racial landscape of 19th century and 21st century American are quite different). Yet these characters still exist in a world that posits black intimacy and sexuality, and the resulting vulnerability, as necessarily sites of profound and persistent degradation, humiliation, and oppression. Like Jenkins, Smith uses genre romance to de-center what I call narratives of despair and re-narrate black pleasure and desire.

Climax and Consent: The Emancipatory Potential of Erotica in Popular Romance Fiction

(Catherine Roach, The University of Alabama)

I have argued elsewhere that female sexual pleasure is central to the broad romance narrative and that the romance genre can be powerfully sex-positive (Roach, forthcoming 2015).  However, the erotic content in romance fiction, as is true of erotica in general, can serve to endlessly reproduce tired old stereotypes and oppressive master narratives.  The new wave of feminist and queer pornography proves that erotica can be a radical imaginative space of exploration and possibility; erotica can be a descriptive and prescriptive narrative for how sexuality can be lived for partners’ mutual pleasure, support, and emancipation.  How can the erotic aspect of romance story-telling reach this full potential for sex-positive, queer-friendly, feminist liberation?  What might such erotic content in the romance genre look like?  In this presentation, I explore these questions by focusing on two aspects of sexual relationship: consent and climax.  In the romance storyline, partners agree to engage in sexual activity (consent) and enjoy such activity (climax)—if not immediately, then by the story’s end; if not explicitly on-page, then implicitly off-page.  (The new asexuality movement represents an interesting counter-argument that I briefly pursue.)  The point about consent can be summarized as “the problem of the bodice ripper.”  Much discussion about romance fiction, both popular and academic/critical, has viewed as problematic “old school” scenes of non-consensual sex between main characters destined for true love.  I suggest that non-consensual sex has not gone away.  Contemporary BDSM romances represent a current form of the earlier bodice-ripper, a more politically correct version wherein partners negotiate consent in advance before engaging in scenes of force and bondage.  More widely, many romances grant such masterful powers of seduction to the hero that sex scenes are rape-like: the heroine’s initial “no” yields to “yes” in the hero’s magical embrace.  I argue the genre stages non-fully-consensual sex scenes to create a collective, woman-oriented imaginative space to work through complicated problems of assault, rape, consent, will, agency, and desire in sex.  The second problem of climax can be summarized, to borrow Wendell and Tan’s terms, as the problem of the hero’s “Wang of Mighty Lovin’” and the heroine’s “Magic Hoo Hoo.”  In short, women (and men) do not climax from intercourse in real life as easily and as often, with such pleasure and life-changing consequences, as in romance fiction. The point isn’t that sex needs to be realistic, but that it could be more varied and more in line with typical patterns of female sexual response.  The erotic in romance, as in wider media, could get beyond master narratives centered around penetrative, genital, orgasmic sexuality in order to realize the full goals of sex-positive culture.

The Lexicon of Love: An Analysis of Sexual Language in Lesbian Romance and Erotica

(Len Barot, Bold Strokes Books)

Until the last few decades, graphic sex scenes were uncommon in lesbian romance. In many instances the consummation of the love relationship occurred off-stage or was couched in euphemistic terms. Explicit depictions of sex between women was most often reserved for erotica, creating a divide in the form of sexual expression between romance and erotica and reinforcing the expectation of readers that “sex,” at least the sweaty, unbridled, wild kind, was not part of “romance” fiction. This parallels observations in non-same-sex romance as noted in a recent blog by Jane Little: “Prior to 2000, references to the penis would often be couched in terms such as “manroot” “stalk” and “pleasure rod”. The clitoris or vagina would be known in equally obscure terms. Now it’s not uncommon to see the use of “cock”, “cunt”, or “pussy” within many mainstream romances whether they be historical, contemporary or paranormal. Today the line between erotic romance and non erotic romance appears blurred, not just for readers but authors and publishers as well.” (1)

In the last decade, a merging of the erotic and romantic has become more common within the expanding field of lesbian romance. Erotic romance is recognized as a subgenre by authors and publishers and sought after by readers. This study looks at variations in sexual language usage in two different populations of contemporary lesbian romance novels: 1) romances written by self-identified erotic romance authors versus “sweet” romance authors, and 2) sex scenes written by authors who write both lesbian erotica and romance (thereby serving as their own controls in terms of language choices). Sex scenes are analyzed and compared by word count/phrase for pre-selected terms commonly associated with genitalia or descriptors of intercourse/sexual intimacy to determine the differences if any in sexual language based on genre dictates.


Love in the Xtreme: Publishing the Erotic Romance Novel

(John Markert, Cumberland University)

The romance novel has become increasingly erotic, but few mainstream publishers stray into the upper stratum of eroticism.  The mid-range, four-to-six level of eroticism, is where the heroines of mainstream romances tend to find love.  Some novels may venture into seven-level eroticism, but few step into the upper eight-to-ten level of the xrotic, where sexual escapades are graphically depicted and often occur outside a committed relationship; it is also, more-often-than-not, with multiple partners over the course of the novel.  It is obvious that mainstream publishers are not meeting the need of romance readers since their failure to depict sexual activity in any detail has given birth to a flourishing cottage industry of small digital xrotic publishers.  This paper explores the growth of these small presses in an attempt to explain their success and why mainstream publishers have failed to respond to the desire for the xrotica. 

No comments:

Post a Comment