Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"I used up three silicon-lined vaginas..."

Norman Mailer has been posthumously awarded the 2007 Bad Sex In Fiction Award for this touching depiction of the incestuous conception of Adolf Hitler, as found in Mailer's final novel, The Incestuous Conception of Adolf Hitler:
'Are you all right?' she cried out as he lay beside her, his breath going in and out with a rasp that sounded as terrible as the last winds of their lost children.

'All right. Yes. No,' he said. Then she was on him. She did not know if this would resuscitate him or end him, but the same spite, sharp as a needle, that had come to her after Fanni's death was in her again. Fanni had told her once what to do. So Klara turned head to foot, and put her most unmentionable part down on his hard-breathing nose and mouth, and took his old battering ram into her lips. Uncle was now as soft as a coil of excrement. She sucked on him nonetheless with an avidity that could come only from the Evil One - that she knew. From there, the impulse had come. So now they both had their heads at the wrong end, and the Evil One was there. He had never been so close before.

The Hound began to come to life. Right in her mouth. It surprised her. Alois had been so limp. But now he was a man again! His mouth lathered with her sap, he turned around and embraced her face with all the passion of his own lips and face, ready at last to grind into her with the Hound, drive it into her piety.

Nothing like a Hound driving into your piety, eh ladies?

The stated purpose of the Bad Sex Award is to discourage "authors and publishers from including unconvincing, perfunctory, embarrassing or redundant passages of a sexual nature in otherwise sound literary novels." In fact, the award's real value is to give juvenile-minded sub-editors and lit bloggers the chance to roll out some obvious innuendo. I recommend "stiff competition", "between the covers" and, if you're desperate, wanton use of the phrase "offending passage".

The Bad Sex Award is good for a laugh an' all but it's a shame that the organisers can't be bothered doing it properly. So to speak. Tom Fleming, who helps run the thing, says, "It takes a reading of the whole novel to decide the winner - only then can the sex be seen in context." Yet the nominated selections lack any context whatsoever. Mailer's offending passage looks like bad sex writing to me, regardless of its context, but the same can't be said of Jeanette Winterson's nominated excerpt:
To calm myself down and appear in control I reverse the problem. 'Spike, you're a robot, but why are you such a drop-dead gorgeous robot? I mean, is it necessary to be the most sophisticated machine ever built and to look like a movie star?'

She answers simply: 'They thought I would be good for the boys on the mission.'

I am pondering the implications of this. Like a wartime pin-up? Like a live anti-depressant? Like truth is beauty, beauty truth? 'How good? I mean, I'm assuming you're not talking sexual services here.'

'What else is there to do in space for three years?'

'But inter-species sex is illegal.'

'Not on another planet it isn't. Not in space it isn't.' ...

'So you had sex with spacemen for three years?'

'Yes. I used up three silicon-lined vaginas.' ..
I haven't read The Stone Gods but I suspect this excerpt shows Winterson indulging in the ancient Japanese art of pisstaké. The BSA doesn't distinguish between deliberately tasteless or clumsy writing and writing that is tasteless or clumsy because its author has gotten carried away with his or her own magniloquence. (Paul "a demon eel thrashing in his loins" Theroux, I'm looking at you.) Have a look at the excerpt from Against the Day that made the 2006 shortlist. It's over the top and B.R. Myers would hate it but it's so obviously deliberate that even those unacquainted with Pynchon would surely get the joke, especially when he ends the scene with, "But here let us reluctantly leave them, for biomechanics is one thing but intimacy quite another, isn't it..."

It's ironic that the organisers of an ironic writing award can't seem to recognise ironic writing. While I enjoy chortling immaturely over such unlikely combinations of words as "She hadn't shaved, and her fanny looked like a tropical fish or a bit of old carpet", the BSA is, not unlike Uncle Alois' "battering ram", a bit soft and ultimately pointless.


TimT said...

Oh, great post. The annual Foot In Mouth Award by the 'Plain English Campaign' (an award given, apparently, for baffling statements by public figures) seems to make the same mistake.

The 2003 effort by Donald Rumsfeld (his infamous 'known unknowns' comment) was well worth the award, but lambasting Richard Gere for his frankly dumb 'if I think I am a giraffe' comment, or Alicia Silverstone for a daffy/pretentious comment about 'Clueless' seems lazy. You could come across better efforts every week in the Private Eye magazine regular column, Pseud's Corner.

And the 2004 winner, by Boris Johnson,

Boris Johnson MP for his remark on the BBC news quiz programme, 'Have I Got News For You'. "I could not fail to disagree with you less."

verges on pure poetry.

Tim said...

Yes, it's disappointing that the people that run these things aren't consistent. I realise the main idea is to get people talking and thereby get the publication or organisation some exposure, but surely they could still do it properly.