Porn is the secret of my future success

I've spent years writing books. Novels, no less. And for what? I'm turning my hand to the one thing that pays. Sex

Published May 8, 2016 11:29PM (EDT)

Lydia Millet   (Jade Beall)
Lydia Millet (Jade Beall)

It seems to me that the time for subtlety, in our American life, has passed. Do we look for subtlety in news media nowadays? In pop music? In fashion? In TV, movies? Even in visual art, is subtlety what we seek out and richly reward? Do we seek delicate phraseology in politics or other forms of public life?

We do not.

Why, then, is literary fiction, that boutique culture where I’ve set up my modest shop, such a stubborn holdout? One thing: sheer arrogance! We offer no popcorn, no concessions of any kind, not the Raisinets, not the sour gummy worms, not the Junior Mints. We offer no booming sound system. We offer no beautiful actors. We offer no dance performances and only the most minimal costuming. We certainly don’t offer libations. Not even wine or beer. Much less cocktails. Strictly BYOB.

Black words on a white page. We figure we can get away with that. Laughable. Honestly. No wonder only a handful of us carve out a living from this activity. Give us a few years, we’ll have to cast our lot in with the poets. Those poor saps. No one bothered to tell them about Elvis. Aretha Franklin. The Beatles. David Bowie or Prince, RIP. Man, even Taylor Swift! Guys, newsflash. These people took your jobs. You’re done. Go start a commune in Saskatchewan. Grow mung beans. Do something useful. Jesus.

Sometimes the folks in Hollywood will make a movie from one of our books, or say a TV show. And most times, when this happens, they remove the subtlety — that shit doesn’t make bank. They buy the book, cut out the subtlety in a swift, surgical strike, and there you go. Movie. Sometimes they make that work. Hallelujah! Then people give us some respect. Money, also. At parties, strangers are finally impressed. You write books? Uh huh. Anything I would’ve…they made a movie out of it? Shit! What did you say your name was? Hey, I really like your shirt. That’s nice, the contrast stitching there, over the…was that your husband you came in with? No? Is he your boyfriend?

But that’s a long shot, the movies. We don’t hold our breath waiting for Hollywood, or we’d be dead.

Wait, reader. Dear reader, don’t go away! There was “porn” in the header, I haven’t forgotten that teaser. Kneeling between her splayed-out legs, face buried in her juicy twat, he slowly stroked his wide shaft. That’s just a sample. It’ll get better, way better. Please, read on.

So we’ve got the unmoving words on the page. That’s the first black mark against us. Second: do we get to the point? How soon? Here’s the answer: no. We don’t get to the point, not for 200 pages at least. Sometimes 3,600, if we’re Knausgaard. At writing workshops they taught us to show not tell — well, showing takes time. We paint a slow picture. You can see the brushstrokes. We don’t get to the point, and sometimes when we do our readers don’t notice, in fact. It’s so couched in nuance it can fly right over a person’s head. What was that you said? I couldn’t quite make it out.

Third, sound bites. We don’t have them. No pull quotes. No celebrity names. Few if any pictures. The list of what we don’t have is a long one. Our tools for captivation are few, and often ungainly.

Which is why I’ve settled on porn, come to a decision that my next book after this one will be devoted to relentless, often hardcore pornography. I can’t give you an exact preview here on the pages of Salon, of course: this is a decent website. Plus that would be a spoiler.

It’s true that male porn consumers, especially, prefer photographs, indeed may wish to seek out moving images, but hey: there is a place for all porn under the sun. Of that we can be certain, in our American life. We used to read Penthouse Forum at horse-riding camp, when I was a teenager. We sure did. Good times. There were also some hijinks with manure in sleeping bags, as I recall…and once I worked at Hustler — sure, only as a copy editor, dealing with grammar, spelling and semi-colons — but you get some of the skills by osmosis. For instance: Kneeling between her splayed-out legs, face buried in her juicy twat, he slowly stroked his wide shaft; while lapping thirstily, he reached out one heavy, muscled arm and twiddled her nipple. We wouldn’t have said twiddled, OK, that’s not so hot, but the semicolon is correct.

Porn is an honest living. No one can say it’s not. It’s partly a prison service, those guys in prison read serious volumes of porn, and we’ve got lots of guys in jail these days. More than 2 million, if I remember the figure, in this American country. That’s a decent-sized readership. And porn speaks to the human condition. It’s about sex, first off, and most of us are pro-sex. A solid majority. So what it says about the human condition is: we’re human, and we like sex. That’s an important point to make.

It’s also about exploitation, even brutal objectification. And that’s another salient comment. We like to objectify, because it’s a turn-on. If you’re thinking with empathy — a so-called “value” of a boatload of literary fiction — you’re not thinking let’s fuck. Empathy’s like pity. Or generosity. Or even a kind of charity. It is, in a sense, for wusses, and our American life is not for wusses. If it ever was, which I for one wouldn’t bet on, it’s not anymore.

Kneeling between her splayed-out legs, face buried in her juicy twat, he slowly stroked his wide shaft. Then he flipped her over, heaved her up onto all fours and thrust in from behind.

Like, where’s the empathy in doggy style? Nowhere.

Finally, in literary fiction there’s the chronic problem of subtlety, which doesn’t rear its head in porn. In porn, not only is subtlety not, you know, there, but no one says it should be. No one says, Oh, that porn you wrote is lacking in nuance, that porn is way too on the nose, can you just go a little lighter on the hairy cunts and spurting jizz? No one critiques you for missing the mark with a metaphor, for example, or for inconsistency of character.

Let’s say you have a fireman, right? He’s dressed for a four-alarm fire, he’s got the fiberglass helmet, the pull-on boots and high-vis yellow jacket. He goes to a woman’s front door, rings the bell. She lets him in, wearing an apron. He instantly removes his pants. No one says, Hey, a fireman wouldn’t do that! You haven’t earned that moment! Back to the drawing board!

I’m going to ask a poet friend of mine to join me in my new American endeavor. He’s a really good poet and he needs the cash. He recently traveled to the Czech Republic, where people still like poetry — I’m not sure how that works, but maybe they don’t have access to iTunes or Spotify — and yeah, he mostly slept in the homes of well-meaning strangers or sometimes in barns or the beds of trucks, plus ate potato soup, but still it broke the bank. He’ll walk with me down this new path, I think. We’ll go together, hand in hand. For us the future’s shining bright.

By Lydia Millet

Lydia Millet is the author of the novels Sweet Lamb of Heaven, Mermaids in Paradise, Ghost Lights (a New York Times Notable Book), Magnificence (finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize), and six other novels. Her story collection Love in Infant Monkeys was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. She lives outside Tucson, Arizona.

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