Zhang XiaoUntitled from They series (2012)

The first and third time I read BarthesThe Pleasure of the Text, I was on a metric fuck ton of drugs.

I’m pretty sure the seed of the initial idea started the first time and then started to send up emerald shoots during the third.

And I guess because I am stoned now I’m willing to jump into this half-cocked and without any sort of safety net but it strikes me that there is an analogy between ‘a narrative’ and ‘the erotic’.

I am specifically avoiding the word ‘story’ due to the fact that a story can technically be X then Y then Z and a narrative entails some awareness of the relationship between the form the story takes and the iteration with which it unfolds.

A less abstract way of saying it might be conveyed in the deconstruction of the adage never tell where it is possible to show–a story tells; a narrative illustrates.

A great many things may draw the audience into a narrative. A story about a lesbian software engineer in love will have varying resonances with an IT systems admin vs. a single mother vs. a gender queer high school student.

Yet, what a successful narrative does is to encourage a suspension of disbelief. At the most basic level, even the illustration of events are by their very nature not the events themselves.

One element of the success of a narrative could be the degree to which disbelief is suspended in the audiences. (Of course, this is only one–and a relatively minor one, at that–metric.)

I feel that a similar correlation exists between erotica and arousal. (You can argue that arousal is the point of erotica–but couldn’t you say the same of the relationship between a narrative and suspension of disbelief?)

Let’s return to the matter of form. Whether one is preoccupied with the traditional five act structure or the Hollywood three act progression–the latter being a compression of the former, there is a rather unnerving parallelism with the experience of eroticism: exposition/background/context/et. al., inciting force, rising action, turning point (of no return), falling action, climax, catastrophe/denouement.

I really don’t like the formulaic. In literature, we talk about these structures to provide a gross framework for grappling with the mechanics of written fiction. Writing that uses these frameworks will never be great but it can be good–in the same way using a template to build a website at least keeps the designer from fouling things up too terribly.

So let’s consider a different analogue. How about physics? We know that an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by another force. And that an object in motion tends to stay in motion until acted upon by another force. We term these potential motion and inertia, respectively.

By and large, porn isn’t interested in the book hanging half off the bookshelf ledge. Ostensibly porn is interested in the book falling and hitting the floor.

Alternately, a narrative is going to be interested in the teenager who had a crap day at school and came home and picked up the latest bit of crime fiction she’s enjoying until her cell rings. Caller ID says its the girl in her class she has a crush on. So she puts the book down absently on the book shelf and answers the phone. The book hangs their for a second and then tips, crashing to floor scaring the kitten sleeping in the open window half out of its skin.

(Again I’m stoned as fuck so I’m not 100% sure this works but this sort of distinction might also be a means of better differentiating between erotica vs. art vs. porn–that that the three are or should be considered mutually exclusive.)

I would argue the above image is a narrative. It illustrative of a background–the poor illumination, the two beer bottles on the table to the left, the way the young woman is sitting barely propped upon the chair, her face flushed. There’s been a night of riotous drinking and she is perhaps too intoxicated at this point. There’s a sly expression of resignation, coy flirtation and expectation. (And as a just so we’re clear: someone who is visibly this blasted cannot give informed consent when it comes to sexy times.)

It seems clear that the photographer and this woman are likely to go home together. Whether they know each other is unclear. But that may not be the case–apparently these series was made from the photographer’s observations while working in Chongqing. (All the images were made with a Holga camera.)

Either way this is a veritable Cartier-Bresson-esque ‘decisive moment’ where the viewer is presented with a clear context for what has happened and is asked to imagine how things might have played out after the shutter clicked. (All the more impressive because so very much is communicated with startling lucidity with so very very little.

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