Incidental Acts of Spontaneous Cerebral Violence

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Emancipation through the back door lying at my front door

One of the great advantages of having resumed home delivery of the Sunday New York Times is the ability to find tidbits and stories that would generally escape my eye when simply perusing nytimes.com. Whether it's Andrew Moore's MOMA photographs in the Magazine, a "Heaven's Gate" timeline in Arts & Leisure, or Choire's take on The Guide, discovery upon the tangible page far surpasses the experience which comes via the ethereal interweb.

While I do receive the NYT's "Books Update" e-mail every Friday, I have neither the patience nor time to digest all of its content in one sitting. As a result, I often skip or altogether overlook everything but the featured reviews. Flipping through the Book Review on a Sunday morning while awaiting the 10 am kick-offs gives me the opportunity to revisit and rectify any glaring omissions. Thankfully, this giant photo on page 36 under the title "The Beauty of Submission" stopped me in my tracks long enough to read Zoe Heller's review of "The Surrender: An Erotic Memoir" [click on the keyhole] by former NYCB dancer Toni Bentley, which is described as "a manifesto for anal sex":
By giving herself up to "this forbidden pathway," Bentley writes, she has not only found her self, she has discovered "Paradise," she has experienced "eternity in a moment of real time," and she has gotten to know God "experientially." That's not all. She is also pretty sure that anal sex is responsible for piercing her yang, forcing her yin to the surface and releasing decades of anger stored in her lower intestine.

Bentley's inclination to various kinds of self-abasement found early expression in her childhood fascination with the lives of the saints, and later on in her career as a ballet dancer. (All that pain and discipline, all that bowing and scraping before the God-like Balanchine.) But neither these interests nor a busy history of sexual experimentation ever fully satisfied her masochistic yearnings. Only, she claims, when she met a man prepared to focus his attention on her neglected orifice did she enter the realm of bliss. For the just under three years that she and her sodomizer -- a man referred to throughout the book by the regrettable moniker "A-Man" -- enjoyed regular bouts of earth-moving sex, Bentley maintained a detailed journal of her experiences. She also kept a tally of how many times she was anally penetrated and made mathematical calculations about the average number of anal episodes she was having per year, week and day. She fetishized the accouterments of her sexual obsession -- dedicating herself to finding the best and most economical lubricants, the most sex-friendly boudoir-wear. In a manner befitting a woman who was experiencing a spiritual as well as sexual awakening, she also preserved her lover's used condoms, much as an acolyte might hoard religious relics. . . .

While Bentley certainly has the requisite pluck for the job, her prose, alas, proves incommensurate with her ambition. For much of her narrative, she resorts to the demotic language of contemporary pornography. While unbeautiful, this has the virtue of appropriateness. It is when she strives for a high, poetic style that she runs into problems. "I was now being given a second chance,'' she writes of her anal deflowering, "not on the well-trodden vaginal trail, but in a place entirely new to my consciousness -- and it quickly became the site of my consciousness."

The results of her laboriously facetious punning jags are hardly more pleasing: "This is the back story of a love story. A back story that is the whole story. A second hole story, to be entirely accurate. Love from inside my backside. . . . No hindsight for me in this great love but rather behind-sight -- cited from the eye of my behind."
And here I thought that the only books I needed to order from Amazon this past week were "America (The Book)", "The Plot Against America", "In the Shadow of No Towers", "Seconds of Pleasure" and "Confessions of an Heiress". Thank god for Judith Regan and The New York Times Book Review, without which I never would have happened upon "The Surrender", a latter day "Iliad" for the brown eye.



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