A Tiny, Buzzing Hole
by KRISTINA BRAVO
It was in the fourth grade when I had my first accidental exposure to erotic literature (here the word is used slightly). My aunt, whom my family was living with at the time, had a room walled with Danielle Steel-type books that to my mother’s dismay were freely available for my perusal. Most of them were cheesy and tawdry romances, usually given away by their cheesy and tawdry covers. Narratives went along the lines of pre-middle age loves and heartbreaks, filling up summer break tee-hee afternoons that would have otherwise been spent in nap times.
Some days however, I stumbled upon highly-charged, sensual plot lines that would discombobulate any normal pre- adolescent mind. Questions involved: suction, functions of certain orifices, barbaric playthings, and multi-syllabic vocabulary words like “fornicator.”
In my aunt’s defense, this ten year old’s curiosity died without much fight from an adult’s staunch refusal to answer such questions. A witty, English lady came into the picture and the rest of the summer was wholesomely consumed by wizards and witches. It wouldn’t be until years later that as an adult I would revisit the forbidden genre by way of another female author: Anaïs Nin.
My rejection of a certain popular erotic fan fiction that spawned from a young adult series which, I regrettably did read (ensuring that I was never again to use the word “saga” cringe-free), had admittedly left a tiny, buzzing hole in my otherwise diverse bookshelf. Somehow, Sappho’s fragments just didn’t satisfy. It’s in this deprived spirit that I first picked up a slim volume of Nin’s work.
Written in the early 40s and published posthumously in 1979, Little Birds is a small collection of thirteen short stories. For a dollar a page, she, among other impecunious young writers and poets, produced sexual tales for food. In the preface, Nin writes, “Most of the erotica was written on empty stomachs. Now, hunger is very good for stimulating the imagination.”
Hungry she must have been in “The Chanchiquito.” The titular vermin is a folkloric, porcine creature that roamed the streets of Brazil. It had “a passion for running up the skirts of women and inserting his snout between their legs,” making it inadvisable to bend over and pick up wind-blown hats. The story within a story at once resembles a Twilight Zone episode and an Ovidian tale, tracing a theme out of artistry and throbbing sexuality overlain with a bizarre, mythopoeic tone. Like the charmingly outdated references to genitals as someone’s “sex” (“Jan darkened the hair around the sex, carefully, as if he were painting grass blade by blade, and added detail to the converging lines of the legs.”), it’s enough to inspire a tee-hee snicker from any misbehaving ten-year old reader.
Other tales are more serious, threading on thinly disguised biographical exploits. Famous for her lifelong, fortune-reversing diary, Nin was the literary equivalent of a socialite-cum-tabloid fodder.
In her diary, she is the reality star of her own highfalutin screenplay, a writer in the process of creating a character of herself. But in her dollar a page stories, plots are more bare-boned, moving on a conveyance of lurid experiences towards a titillating end product.
“Model” is the longest at twenty-five pages and is placed in the middle of the anthology:
The painter was carefully watching me, watching every expression of a pleasure I could not control, and now it increased so that I abandoned myself to the motion of the horse, let myself rub against the leather, until I felt the orgasm and I came, riding this way in front of him.
Suggestive of her early life as an artist’s model, it rings that age-old tale of artist/model symbiosis (this romantic pattern repeated itself throughout Nin’s affairs, a list that includes Tropic of Cancer author Henry Miller, Freud’s right-hand man, Otto Rank, and most disturbingly, her own father, who was a pianist and a composer).
There is a voyeuristic distance between participants in all of these stories. Someone is always watching someone else, who might as well be on a stage with a wand in one trembling hand and a top hat in the other. The reader has the same relationship with the author. Little Birds may not have the decorated language of her diaries, but here, Nin doesn’t cease to be the enticing performer that she naturally was.
“Lina is a liar who cannot bear her real face in the mirror,” opens the third story about a sexually repressed lesbian momentarily liberated in a Parisian three-way episode. Nin’s is a distinctly female voice in erotica, and appropriately, it is a cadenced voice of discontent. Whether it’s grievance from failed male performance, subdued urges or prostituting herself — sometimes quite literally, to get what she wants — there is a constant struggle for recompense in Nin’s narratives. She might have been performing for an audience, but her writing organically quivers and sighs with every discomfort and every wilting tumescence.
With its quirks, pulse and transparency, Little Birds above all else satisfies the sybaritic reader, and not just in a 1940’s sense. Sure the book is at times drifting, but remains crass and candid when it needs to be. Nin sure knew how to satiate an appetite. Her indelible images stays in one’s mind, where they make themselves known in sometimes inappropriate moments. Kind of like the amusing meanderings of a more irresponsible aunt — one who’d gladly answer questions you didn’t even know you had.
Kristina Bravo is contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. You can find her tumblr here.
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