Thursday, September 20, 2007

Breached Space

Let me now propose to you an unconventional idea: that one of the central elements of eroticism is that of breached space. That it is the threat of invaded personal space that spices up so many erotic thrillers as well as much of the adventure pulps. Robert Scholes, in his comprehensive essay Science Fiction: History, Science, Vision (with Eric Rabkin, 1977) has counted as many as seventy-four attempted rapes in the Tarzan novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Obviously, it would not do to have the main heroine being effectively raped in a bunch of novels read by kids (although one can ask how many interior fires that menace have started), but it isn’t less true that it is precisely the implied menace that is so thrilling and exciting.

And one of the most effective ways to convey that menace is through the breaching of personal space. One does so in one of two instances: when one as a relation of affection with the person whose personal space is being invaded or shared (family, friends, a lover); and when exerting an act of aggression (when you have to literally step over the virtual line separating personal spaces). It can be argued that the breaching of the heroine’s personal space as a mean of sexual thrilling has much to do with the so-called phallocracy that purports the heroine as “territory” of the hero, thus making that invasion one of the personal space of the hero. But that doesn’t hold water in the cases of independent heroines such as Red Sonja, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Modesty Blaise, Brigitte Monfort, Ginger and so on, so I won’t consider it here.

One of the most exciting examples of breached space in pulp or erotic thrillers is that of the undercover heroine that must get inside a) a strip club b) a prostitution or white slavery ring c) any other similar situation where her maidenhood is in danger (and I say maidenhood not as a literal concept). Considerer Miss Temple in The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters (2006), Athena Massey in The Unspeakable (1996) or the young and naïve Clara in the most erotic novel of all times The Devil’s Advocate (1942).

In each of these cases the heroine has to infiltrate an inimical space, knowing that she may have to pay the correspondent cost of such invasion in terms of bodily currency. In the three examples above, Miss Temple (a Victorian maiden) escapes with her virginity intact, although she feels her fire stoked and is almost raped; Athena Massey is a cop, not a virgin, and must demean herself by stripping naked on the pole (her space is breached with the eyes); while Clara, almost a child in sexual matters, is progressively immersed in a web of depravation that will subject her to vaginal, oral and anal sex (and “between my breasts too”) in order to discover whatever happened to her sister Rita.

And, in each instance, whenever the personal space is breached, we know we’ll have: a) sex (the heroine will be raped or will have to forcefully consent to sexual advances); b) violence (the heroine will fight the assailant or the “hero” or some outside force will intervene).
It’s in those moments that precede the breaching, that stretch the undefined boundary between spaces, between force and consent, that we find the most sublime eroticism.


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