There is really no need for a layman like myself to remind you that some folk aren’t content with the Missionary Position. The curious researcher in the byways of human sexuality can easily discover perfectly reputable volumes of scholarship that furnish details of those who ‘love to devour the scabs taken off persons suffering from smallpox’, or inserting a glass decanter up their ano-rectal conduit and breaking the neck off with a blow from a fire-shovel.
To his eternal credit, Dr Roy Eskapa mentions neither of these foibles in his selective but nonetheless well-intentioned study. Given the eye-catching title that it enjoys, I shall be so amazed if it does not sell several million copies that I will eat my Filofax, tiède, in a puddle of blackberry coulis (only kidding, of course: truth is, I haven’t got one. Promise.) Before we get silly about this, it has to be said that his book contains much that is serious, if not exactly new, and though it is insistently anti-Freudian and struttingly pro-feminist – ‘Since pre-biblical times, Eve and her sisters have suffered immeasurably’ – there are some salutary reminders about sexual exploitation in death camps and the Third world, and some interesting summaries of how sexual deviants may be treated.
What constitutes ‘bizarre’ is, the author would be the first to admit, a highly subjective matter. Some of the stuff here about Menstruation and Birth Control is merely mundane, and the topic of Homosexuality is included by virtue of the fact that the prejudice about it is in itself bizarre. Hmmm. If Adultery and Fornication fall within the scope of this book, then it might have been worth considering whether Monogamy is not one of the zaniest sexual predilection of the human race, but quite possibly that’s not going to pull in the punters. Besides, there is plenty else on offer; oh, dear me, yes.
I enjoyed the entry under Gerbillophilia. Apparently, the rage started somewhere in Texas, when there was a run at the local pet-store on these furry rodents. Once suitably ensconced in your rectum they can be a source of intense pleasure, though despite being burrowing creatures, they seldom survive. Under Theories of Rape we learn that ‘a child who damages a prize cabbage by poking it in the middle is viewed as attempting to hurt his mother’s nipples’ (we’re not told with what he pokes the cabbage, but presumably he is not just playing with his food). On a more disgusting note, it is reported that one gentleman was advertising in a Danish magazine for used tampons; now that is kind of weird, hein?
So long as you avoid the graphic description of infibulation with an unsterilised carving-knife you should make it to the section where the joys of the washing-machine as sex-aid are enumerated. Solitary American housewives apparently find the vibrations of some assistance during auto-erotic sessions, the splendid appliance of science. The crafty admen almost caught on, and you can see it now: How to tumble your Drier! For your personal experience of the Sexual Revolution, select the programmed marked Menstrual Cycle! – God save us all.
And now I fear I have got to grumble; if I were the author I would be extremely miffed at how badly this book has been edited. For one thing, the text is prone to repeating itself in places. ‘Massage parlours are to sex what McDonald’s is to food: fast’ we are told, only to learn later that ‘Tearoom sex or cottaging is, to sex, what McDonalds™ is to fast food.’ Quite why one reference should merit the trademark detail, and not the other, escapes me, but it could have been tidied up, and the standard of proof-reading elsewhere is abysmal. ‘Chauvenism’ will not really do, nor will ‘chauvanism’ (will it, Roy?), and it’s a pity the printer couldn’t even spell your own mother’s Christian name on page 82. But, all the best with your chosen subject: Heaven knows, the world needs therapists like you.
It could just be me, but I found it almost impossible to make head or tail of the latest volume by the ubiquitious Colin Wilson, though the ostensible topic looked promising enough. Any book that purports to examine the exotic private lives of characters like Swinburne or dear old Havelock Ellis must have quite a lot going for it, especially when you chuck in de Sade and Krafft-Ebing to boot, as it were. But the trouble is the author has attempted to apply to these colourful case-histories a rather eccentric touchstone, and the result is a book that loses any overall focus, and disappears, in a welter of enthusiasm, up its own backside.
After publishing one of his works about sexual impulse, Wilson began to receive correspondence from a lady known as Dr Charlotte Bach, a Hungarian emigrée who enclosed massive instalments of a work in progress: concerning the nature of man’s evolutionary destiny. The key to the whole thing was transvestism, which she saw as the paradigm of the essential tension between male and female elements within every human being, an opposition which, when mastered, gave rise to the highest forms of genius and artistic expression.
From what he tells us of her theories, it is plain that she was a nutcase, but it came as a surprise to Wilson (as it surely could not to any but the most witless of his own readers) that Charlotte was at her death revealed to be a male transvestite, whose real name was Carl Hajdu, a man with a chequered past and a streak of pathological criminality. Our author, however, is nothing if not loyal, and he proceeds to apply this person’s contentions to his study, concluding that, whilst they are in substance untenable, he/she is nonetheless ‘one of the most rewarding thinkers of the late twentieth century.’
It’s all down to the novelist Richardson, you have to understand. Before him (who ‘may be regarded as the father of pornography’) the European mind was imaginatively impoverished, and human potential for sexual fantasy extremely limited. With the coming of the Romantic Age, though, a new interest in the Imagination ushered in fresh thoughts about deviation that were denied to previous generations. One example will have to serve to illustrate this conviction; on the famous night in 1816 when Frankenstein was being cooked up, Shelley was so affected by the supernatural mood that he imagined ‘Mary’s nipples had turned into eyes – an interesting example of the power of the imagination. (Such a thing would have been unthinkable in 1716.)’
Well, of course this is bosh. To start with, there is no sure way of establishing what was passing through the imagination, sexual or otherwise, of previous writers except in so far as they committed such images to paper. And it is quite simple to go back almost precisely a century before this event, to The Rape of the Lock, to read ample proof, in Pope’s immortal Cave of Spleen, of infinitely more startling in stances of sexual imaginings, without needing to cite the Metaphysical poets or the writings of Catullus and Martial.
But Wilson pursues his line with the air of one who will not be deterred. Byron and Pushkin, Gogol and Lawrence are all caught up in the sweep of his thesis, and I suspect it would be useless to point out to him the inherent absurdity of such statements as ‘England’s first sex murder occurred … in 1867’. No-one is disputing the fact that a pronounced shift in sensibility occurred in the post-Richardsonian era on which he is so intent, nor that, for various reasons, an increase in printed pornography and the incidence of reported sex-crimes coincided with it, but Sexual Outsiders have surely always existed. In accommodating Yukio Mishima and the ten-spined stickleback, Wilson expects us to overlook his dismissal of characters such as Gilles de Rais, but this will not do.
At the heart of his psychology, our author is concerned with that capacity for mental displacement which sets the human apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. This is more than the Imagination, it is what Pierre Janet call s ‘the reality function’, something we uniquely can bring to bear on the phenomenal world. He expresses it thus: ‘In short, before we can feel really alive, the mind needs to add a dimension of reality to the world of the senses. If there is such a thing as the “great secret” of human existence, this is it.’ And there you have it, and so do Uncle Tom Cobbley and all.