Monday, 2 January 2017


The Erotic Essay Not Written
Geneviève Robichaud

“ pleasure never felt done – even when I came, there were parts stuck inside.
Pleasure clung to my stomach, it swelled up my throat.” (Tamara Faith Berger, Lie with me)

I think it is not you I desire but how your mouth feels as I say yes.

I find myself thinking, again, of the kind of erotic essay I’d write. What kind of essay that would be. Perhaps because of this, I am rehearsing the part where one body theoretically kisses the other body. There are several versions of this, each one marked by subtle variations: a spot on the neck where moans slip out of open mouths, lips pressing into lips, bones pressing into flesh. The form isn’t logical or argumentative but associative: one part links or leads to another. I have this image of you. You are leaning in. Your outline is soft. I am thinking that because method also means path, kissing is a kind of pathology: I imagine kissing you and where it might lead.

 In different texts, I find myself writing then erasing a kiss should resemble nothing. In older notebooks, there are places where the paper is thin and worn and pilling from the tiny eraser at the top of my pencil. In those places, a kiss should resemble nothing is very soft, almost transparent.

There is very little that is actually transparent, especially not words, those parts stuck inside. Even the invisible ones. It makes me wonder if longing alone makes them exist, or if needing them, the way one needs them written down, is a way of making them slip onto the skin, glistening. Se mettre à fleur de peau. In this I seem to have transmuted the task of the essayist into pure obsessional desire, which is arguably the work of poetry.

Lately, each time I sit down to write, I stumble into words I had not meant to put on paper. They appear there like old lovers who, walking in a city none of them properly belong to, happen on each other at some street corner. Do you know I’ve been looking for you? If I hadn’t called out you wouldn’t have recognized me. You haven’t changed.

I find the words bifurcating into two performances, not necessarily simultaneous: here the essay carries something outward – its fantasy is that of the caesura, of a deep and audible breath / a withdrawal / each time thinking the arrival will claim a new departure; meanwhile, there is always the hope that the end will make everything that preceded it meaningful.

The writing was more monastic than erotic. I woke up early each morning to write under the measure of a few devotional hours. That part was easy until the darkness of the winter months arrived. I sacrificed many words in favour of sleep. I have not measured this against any feelings of regret even though, as a perfectionist, I tended to think of sleep as a word-eater. At night I struggled to keep my eyes open long enough to catch the end of a film, only to then lie wide awake. It was as though in not starting my day with words I was somehow unable to end my nights.

Every day was different of course. Some mornings the words came easy. Other days, I had to face my impotence and my whole body wringing itself out to put one word in front of the other. Sometimes, if I were home, I would take books from the shelves in the dining room; if already seated in the library, I would wander into the stacks. This seemed a form of recompense for not racing to the end of a line but allowing my thoughts to float as though the contrast between the air in the room and the texture of the books, as I skimmed through them or ran my fingers over their spine, would reveal which questions to ask next.

Does it make it cinematic to imagine it happening to somebody else?

There’s one book in particular. The End of the Story. I keep coming back to it. The constancy of my return resembles something of a love affair. The novel welcomes this. It is itself about the measure of desire, the measure of writing. I cannot tell if it’s because I am deeply infatuated with the writing, but I often find myself thinking it is a perfect novel. I admire the way Davis’s sentences seem to work toward a vanishing point. Like they’re assembled around an empty middle, a husk or sheath or shell, which is not really empty – more like what language cannot carry.

When I go to a reading, I find myself distracted and imagining a lively dialogue between us. You are saying something like what are you doing, only you are saying it in French. Je pense au roman érotique que je vais écrire. Mais pourquoi en anglais? Autrement ça risque d’être trop sentimental. Tu ne trouves pas que l’érotisme se marie bien à la sentimentalité? Non, je ne trouve pas. De toute façon en écrivant en anglais je me tromperai moi-même. Ça sera un moi à côté d’un autre. Il me viendra plus facilement de m’imaginer une double vie, même d’écrire contre mes propres expériences. Quand je dirai je ce ne sera pas tout à fait vrai, et je le ferai si bien que personne ne pourra dire que je n’ai jamais fait l’amour en anglais.

Does it show that I want you? That I am writing around the parataxis I’ve made of your body: a form of writing like kissing where the mouth is its own kind husk or sheath with words inside. At least that is my fantasy.

We kissed each other for a long time. The simile dissolving.

I wanted to mark, to write down a great deal more than what I’ve offered up here. This is not the essay I imagined. I had wanted to make this, this text (except perhaps not the one you are presently engaged in reading), a gift to all the others that have moved me in some way. An essay that writes through and bows to what is not mine. A writing alongside of. A lover’s essay. It was not a grand gesture. I wanted the essay to be about love. I’ve been thinking of Renée Gladman’s sentences a lot. Especially Calamities. I have begun reading each essay out loud, mouthing the words so that it takes time.

Geneviève Robichaud is a PhD candidate in the Département de littératures et de langues du monde at the Université de Montréal. Her chapbook, Exit Text, was recently published by Anstruther Press.

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