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Old 08-08-2009   #1
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Julian Karswell
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Eroticism in supernatural horror

Arguably eroticism in strange fiction can either be cerebral or physical. Examples of the former can be found in the work of Robert Aickman; for example, overtly in 'The Swords' and 'Larger Than Oneself'. But can physical, arousing sexual eroticism occur in a genre dominated by spiritual horror or melancholic introspection?

A year or two ago I set out to write a sexually arousing short story. I drew upon my teenage experiences of reading Playboy, Henry Miller and Harold Robbins novels (which suggested formula) and a relatively quick dip into so called contemporary erotic fiction (I was unaware that Anne Rice had dabbled in this genre).

Modesty aside, I have to say that think I have authored a very neat and darkly subversive tale of contemporary eroticism which is genuinely sexually arousing. As with horror fiction, it is probably best to avoid cliches and references to dull repetitive actions, and instead focus upon the atmosphere and psychology of the situation. (I also steered well clear of referring to body parts in clumsy and ugly terms.) However, my attempts to end the tale with a supernatural tale were futile. The best and most suitable solution involved the murder of one of the central characters, in a subtle Hitchcockian twist.

I fell to thinking about eroticism in the ghostly weird tale. While there are numerous examples of sadistic behaviour (for example, H R Wakefield), or oblique references to disturbing sexual pecadilloes (ditto, M.R. James) - I deliberately avoid contemporary authors, and refer to the subtler contributions of the classicists - there are very few (if any) examples of intellectual horror stories which are sexually arousing in the physical sense.

Am I right, or an I horribly wrong?

Of course, few talented writers gravitate towards erotic fiction, so it isn't difficult to compose a short story of reasonable quality in this genre. Yet in writing my story ('The Reprimand') I realised that just as with horror fiction, atmosphere is of far more relevance than action. In many ways they are genres which co-exist like railway tracks, mirroring each other, without ever converging.

I quite enjoyed writing the erotic short but it was far less satisfying than a horror story because it's goal is simply to arouse (albeit via atmosphere). Horror stories often seek to make a deeper spiritual or social point, whereas tales of erotic escapades effectively fizzle out when sexual orgasm has been achieved. In fact that's why I added a Kraft-Ebing style murder to mine, to ensure that it possessed more gravitas than a sexual consumation.
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Old 08-09-2009   #2
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Re: Eroticism in supernatural horror

There isn't a very easy link between what is sexually arousing and what is frightening in a supernatural way. While many supernatural horror stories have a sexual aspect, there's no evocation of pleasure or arousal usually the reverse. The most impressive example of a weird tale that is erotic and disturbing at the same time is C.L. Moore's astonishing 'Shambleau', which presents as science fiction but has roots in folklore and myth. The same author's 'Black God's Kiss', though less overtly sexual, has strong erotic undertones. Both stories show an adult erotic sensibility that was unusual for Weird Tales magazine in the 1930s. The author, of course, was female; she later married SF writer Henry Kuttner.
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eroticism, horror, supernatural

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