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Life Force celebrated in words and pictures
on October 4, 2009
UK editors Charlotte M. Hill and William Wallace have produced a delightfully naughty sampling of tasteful highlights in erotic art and writing through the ages. (A short version of the longer Carroll and Graf 1992, '93, `96 three volume set: Erotica.) If you paid attention in art appreciation 101 and you like history--and you're sex positive to boot--you'll want to own this book. It brings together two thousand classical years of art and literature on all maters of the body and love and human sexuality. Sidebars are filled with images and poetry and clips that entertain, inspire and inform.
The anthology offers tidbits and highlights like the impact of the censorship trials (Lawrence-Lady Chatterley; Cleland-Fanny Hill; Miller-Tropic of Cancer) and our move from a day when you could not find a single title on erotic anything at Barnes and Noble. Now there's a full floor to ceiling section in every bookstore devoted to erotica. So, the life force is getting some air time. Good. And, as to context, I've always had a love for the stories behind banned books.
Not much is written about editors Wallace and Hill of the UK. Mysteriously few reviews are out there either on their collected 2007 anthology or the earlier work. Yet their book goes a long way to help us embrace a broader scope of the human mind, soul, heart and sex, all being somehow wired together in a divine human mystery. Acknowledged as well is our dark side.
But will you be brave enough to leave the book on your coffee table at home? Hard to say. Seems to me sex and religion and politics are the first things we should discuss at dinner parties. But then, I don't get invited out much. As to risk taking, I think I'm better for the exposure courtesy of Hill and Wallace. I've read at least one book I learned about through their sidebars. (I'm richer for meeting Frank Harris on the written page. My Life and Loves, a 1925 autobiography and erotic classic, once banned in the US and UK and the first purchase you'd make when you'd step off the boat back then once arriving in Paris on business.)
Anais Nin, Miller, Parisian postcards, Erica Jong--Anthony Comstock would not be pleased here. You might ask, "Is this stuff porn?" Heavens no. Porn is what your neighbor reads because he doesn't have a college education. This is erotica.
But who cares about labels? Eros has now been invited into the mainstream, touching us where we live and read and make love: in theology, (Confessions), philosophy (Symposium), psychology ("Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar") and the art we consume with our eyes. We just can't afford to be prudes and brush off erotic books and art anymore. They mean something. A big something evidently.
So, you want for your library just one single inspiring, libido and brain teasing book; one thinking man and thinking woman's volume to put on your lamp stand to shock your mother in law? Or as a Valentine Day gift to your beloved? This is it. Seriously partnered couples could use this as a discussion starter or motor starter. God knows we need both. Coffee table is best, if you can risk the delightful Gilles Berquet nude on the cover. In two months time I've not yet been able to tire of the image. What a beautiful behind; life force indeed.
This is a book about celebrating 2,000 plus years of what moves us forward and what it means to still be doing it and doing it with all our artsy hearts and gasping intentions. Warning: Your church people friends might not like this book. Place it on the coffee table anyway. To quote Nietzsche, "The problem with heaven is that none of the interesting people are there." You just might help them become, well, interesting.