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Miserable Sex

More stolen from from Moorishgirl. Critic John Powers writes a book review of Sexual Life of Catherine M., by Parisian art critic Catherine Millet. Really great writing here by John Powers; great sentences:

While the American vision of sex seems forever bound to questions of personal morality, the French view inclines toward the philosophic. Steeped in Sade and Bataille, Millet cares less about taking us inside herself or her lovers (most of whom are just anonymous dicks, anyhow) than about putting her hyperbolic personal history into an intellectual framework. The book’s four chapters are titled “Numbers,” “Space,” “Confined Space” and “Details,” and this sense of abstraction carries over to the alienated descriptions of her physical encounters. This is one of the least-sensual memoirs ever written about sex, and it will take a more avid reader than I to be turned on by Millet’s rhetoric — the “antlike determination” of the men bonking her, the “assembly line of pleasure” inside her “shell of a body,” her way of looking at her own flesh “as a puppeteer does a puppet.” You can look long and hard for the merest whisper of genuine enjoyment or jouissance. Her book makes The Story of O feel as winsome as Annie Hall…

Perhaps reacting to a mainstream that sells jejune ideas of sexuality — intercourse with fruit pies! — many of today’s artists seem stuck in the clich?s of transgression. Whether it’s Storytelling’s black prof viciously screwing a white student, Baise-Moi’s run-amok chicks banging and murdering men, or the Korean teens in Yellow Hair trying to fuck a man to death, today’s “subversive” works merely tar our sexual lives with a reflexive, dead-end negativity that too often feels defeatist: In Catherine Breillat’s brainy Romance, the heroine imagines a dream world in which her face can be kissed by the particular man she adores while her nether regions are pleasurably plundered by some guy who turns her on. For her, life’s tragedy is that the body and the head have no prayer of getting in sync….

Given all this grimness, you see the appeal of Almod?var films, Nerve magazine and especially Sex and the City. Sure, the show is frivolous, consumerist and sometimes excruciating — I’m constantly embarrassed for unsinkable Kim Cattrall and her obligatory randiness — but it has the life-affirming hopefulness of great pop-culture junk. Carrie and her friends inhabit a magical Manhattan where women spend their lives lunching with friends, shopping for shoes, sleeping with attractive guys (who have subtle names like Mr. Big) and then talking about their adventures as freely as gay men. Naturally, this is the purest zipless fantasy, but that’s the whole point and the whole pleasure (which is why the last season’s more “serious” episodes were so dull). In an era when the dream of sexual freedom is routinely viewed with disdain or disapproval, Sex and the City offers something positive: a lighthearted glimpse of erotic utopia.

More articles by John Powers.

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