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Sex and Fiction

The flow of the bottle led me to Jacques Barzun’s essay “Venus at Large: Sexuality and the Limits of Literature.” I was looking for a way to bolster my smudged pontifications on political mumbo-jumbo over a Manhattan on the porch and instead found Barzun’s sober judgment on an earler topic.

Discuss or not, it would be interesting to reconcile, a la the Catholic imagination, the following two quotes:

The student of literature is instinctively loath to set theoretical limits to the art he studies, and so, surely does the writer feel about he art he practices – unless he is a mere follower of convention. But in recognizing this axiomatic freedom, it is one thing to say that sexuality, like any other human power, deserves limitless literary expression; it is quite another to say that literature should find room for ever more detailed descriptions of the sex act. ….At first, then, sexuality, and, later, sex are literary devices to restore respect for instinct, to tap a source of power which can at once abate the disease of extreme self-consciousness and counteract the stupefying effect of the world of machines. For sex is in a curious way the most and the least personal of man’s activities. Used in the novel, it could rebuild the whole man and show his oneness with all men. Again, if literature was to criticize life and lead the revolt against convention, it needed a new element that was indeed elemental and yet was instantly felt as intimate and defining. That element was the sexual, and since in art what is novel in conception requires a striking embodiment, sexuality was bound to move steadily toward an ultimate form in the sex scene.” – Jacques Barzun, etc.

And our Grand Dame of the Grotesque in her 1957 essay “The Church and the Fiction Writer”:

“Part of the complexity of the problem for the Catholic fiction writer will be the presence of grace as it appears in nature, and what matters for him is that his faith not become detached from his dramatic sense and from his vision of what-is. No one in these days, however, would seem more anxious to have it become detached than those Catholics who demand that the writer limit, on the natural level, what he allows himself to see.”

Run, Rabbit, run!