Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Confluence of Books on Desire

In one of those magical confluences the library has delivered to me a flood of words and ideas about women and desire. I often put books on my library list months ahead of their publication date and then delight when they appear and “surprise” me.

Yesterday I picked up my stash at the library and sitting back to back were two new books about women’s desire. The amazing thing is that one of them is a deeply personal and poetic book by a woman about her very specific (read blushing) desire for a specific man and his deeply specific body. The other is a book by a man that covers new research about “the science of women’s desire.”

Is one approach better or more true? I think not. We can be moved by—and learn from—both.

The “can’t put it down” book is called, “Unmastered: A Book on Desire. Most Difficult to Tell.” By Katherine Angel. Though no reviewer calls it this, her book is a long poem—or short poems—or statements from moments of desire. It is almost as if she holds words in her mouth during sex and then conveys them to the page before too much rationale thought can intrude. She is a super smarty and includes wonderful ideas and excerpts from Virginia Wolfe and Susan Sontag (OK, she had me at Wolfe, “Killing the Angel in the House” on how women subvert their intelligence and animal desire to make men more comfortable.)

I am sure that if enough people read “Unmastered” there will be debate and Angel bashing. I suspect controversy because what she writes includes language about a desire to be hit/hurt. Not that it happens but she lets us see/hear her mind during sex. And she writes so admiringly of his penis. We are so rarely “allowed” to do that anymore I wanted to applaud.

The second book is called, “What Do Women Want?” by Daniel Bergner. He too is presenting somewhat controversial information but in a researchy kind of way. His first provocative idea is that women may be less monogamous than men—though we have always thought otherwise. And –here he comes close to Angel’s rough ideas—“Are political gains—no means no—detrimental in the bedroom?”

Well, that’s going to make anxious public discussion and more likely great private girlfriend talk. And maybe these two books together are going to raise boy/girl issues: is it OK for Angel to say she likes to be held down and “forced” (is it force is you want it and ask for it?) and what does it mean when a male writer/researcher says that maybe No doesn’t always mean No?

“What do women want?” was, of course the famous question posed to Freud and we know where that led. Few people will admit that the true answer to that question is: A perfect black pencil skirt. But then, if we tell the truth, we know that a perfect black pencil skirt that just skims the knee and hugs the ass just so is, after all, ultimately about sex and desire.

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