Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pat Califia on Dirty Words

Unfortunately, due to space limitations, Pat Califia's marvelous intro to the original Dirty Words had to be left on the cutting room floor of the new, Lethe Books, edition.

But here it is: a real treat from a great person and a fantastic writer:

Dirty Deeds For Dirty Boys (And Men)
Patrick Califia-Rice

It can be very damned awkward to have a good friend who is also a writer (or wants to be one). What do you do when someone approaches you for an introduction or a blurb for the back cover ... and you like their wicked smile or their spicy chicken marsala or their hospitable, fuzzy butt a whole lot more than you like their paragraphs, which are as graceful as a football tumbling down the stairs, mixed metaphors, and fuck scenes that could not be resurrected with a truckload of Viagra? Fortunately for me, M. Christian presents no such dilemma. Given our long and intimate acquaintance, I probably can’t be 100% objective about the book you are holding in your hot little hands. But I can honestly say that this is some of the best writing, period, that I’ve perused in the last year.

Be forewarned: Dirty Words is not a walk in the park on a sunny day. Like many quiet and unassuming people, M. Christian conceals a frightening intellect, a lurid imagination, and a Zen comprehension of the evil that men can do. In case you never have the privilege of meeting him or hearing him read, I’d like you to know that he’s a really nice guy. Honest. Sweet. Compassionate. But all of those virtues spring from doctoral-level study of the Shadow. His kindness is informed by a sad appraisal of all the self-interested alternatives. He chooses not to exploit others even though he gets exactly how thrilling it can be to push a weaker person down and suck them dry.

The best writing about sex is also about something else. The San Francisco writers I refer to as the Glamorous Nerd Pornographers are hand-crafting a renaissance of smart smut. Like Fanny Hill, My Secret Life, or Dangerous Liaisons (bet you didn’t know that was originally a very banned book), sexually-explicit work by Carol Queen, Thomas Roche, M. Christian, Bill Brent, Ian Philips, Kirk Read, and their fellow travelers creates a record of mores, manners, philosophy, fashion, controversy, politics, religion, and other keynotes that preserve the tenor of a given moment in human history. (As do a handful of great sex writers in other locales, like Tristan Taormino in, uh, what is that place, New York City?)

The themes that preoccupy M. Christian include (but are not restricted to) revenge (in “Chickenhawk” and “Counting” he details the way a pursuit of vengeance alters the agents of Nemesis as well as her object), the signifiers of masculinity (two badder-than-bad bikers in “The Harley” compete for possession of a dead bro’s hawg), the odd things that can cause one human being to bond with another (“What Ails You”), and the Crisco-slippery, razor-sharp twists that Fate loves to hand out to those who think they already know how their story is going to end (“Matches”). Oh, and cocksucking. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a writer who is more poetically obsessed with cocksucking than M. Christian. He is a bard of deep-throat, a lyrical celebrator of the profoundly transformative act of blowing a load all over somebody else’s tonsils. He’s a dab hand at describing ass fucking as well. But there’s a difference between the three-star restaurant and the one that gets four stars. M. Christian has paid his dues, watching the habits of the feral, big dick (his own and others) as assiduously as your maiden aunt noted various species of swallows in her bird-watching log, or monitored the ownership of cars parked after dark in other people’s driveways.

There’s a lot of pretty violent stuff in this book (see “Blue Boy” for a prime example). But even the most horrific acts become as jubilant and aesthetically pleasing as a machine-gun massacre in a Quentin Tarantino film. And there’s always a surprise. M. Christian does not take the easy way out. From the relentless way he works his readers’ nerves, one might almost suspect him of a certain amount of sadism. He’s also a surprisingly moral author√≥never preachy, but never slipping into the sort of gratuitous bloodshed that quickly becomes a big yawn. There’s no noir character more overworked than the vampire, but M. Christian puts a new spin on it with a melancholy artist who feels obligated to clean up the mistakes he makes when his loneliness becomes too much to bear (“Wet”).

The carefully choreographed pseudoviolence that’s called sadomasochism in the postindustrial West also figures heavily in these stories (“Spike” and “Puppy”). But these are not the hackneyed stories that make one fall asleep over most of the remaindered paperback product of Masquerade Books. “Spike” is a tour de force about narcissism that would make the most seasoned psychiatrist seek out his own psychoanalysis, and “Puppy” pokes good horny fun at every stereotype of the autocratic and omniscient Master.

It will no doubt become apparent to you before you’ve flipped very many of these pages, pumped the bottle of Sex Grease a few times, and dug out a clean (or at least cleaner) cum rag that M. Christian is a talented writer of horror as well as science fiction, mythology, and porn. This synthesis of horrorerotica reaches a peak, in this book, in “Echoes.” I’m not sure I wanted to know this much about necrophilia, but now that I do, it is probably building my character, even as I type this introduction.

But my favorite stories in Dirty Words feature that irrepressible trickster god who is probably the patron saint of queers. I am talking about Coyote himself, blood brother of Loki, Set, and Elegba. In “Coyote and the Less-than-Perfect Cougar” and “How Coyote Stole the Sun,” M. Christian perfectly captures the cringing and fawning facade of this master thief and Back Door Man. Coyote has his priorities straight. He’s not afraid to flatter the pants off you, as long as he gets those drawers down around your ankles.

You can shoot Coyote. You can poison him. You can trap him and hang him and throw him off the cliff or lock him up in jail, blow him up, starve him, and flatten him with a steamroller. But he’ll always pull himself together and be back tomorrow night or in a fortnight, making good use of the intelligence he gathered during his fatal foray at your defenses. Sooner or later he will walk off with your cherry, your cash, your car keys, your boyfriend’s virtue, and your most cherished illusions. When you’ve been [literally] fucked over by Coyote, you emerge a sadder but wiser person, and not really all that sore, considering that you’ve just been banged by the sacred phallus of the Father of Lies.

Coyote represents the persistence and survival of the downtrodden, the not-particularly-deserving poor. He is able to take joy in life even when the conditions around him are unbelievably bleak. He is ingenious, creative, fun-loving, and apparently irresistible. Coyote knows what’s behind propriety (and chances are, has been in that behind). He knows who is unfaithful, who sleeps with the stone of a guilty conscience in his bed, who harbors “unnatural” desires. To Coyote this is all grist for the mill. Because he is free of the normal prohibitions that regulate right-thinking mortals and gods, he always keeps his mobility. The most severe punishment cannot turn Coyote aside from his pursuit of carnal pleasure, comfort, and advantage over others. He teaches us to respect the aspects of ourselves that we would much rather disown. Because when we pretend to be obedient and righteous, all that repression and self-delusion distracts us from the here-and-now. We leave the chicken coop unlocked, and Coyote gets a free meal. Or we forget to satisfy our loved ones’ dirtiest impulses, and Coyote gets a quick and shabby but ecstatic fuck on your clean sheets.

That brings us back to where we started, with some high-faluting talk about the Shadow. Jungian psychologists believe that when we are most cut off from these disavowed and dangerous emotions and actions, we become depressed, impotent, and unable to do any real good. We may be frightened or disgusted by the faces of the bastard children of our own spirits, but they are often the most energetic, vivid, and real parts of ourselves. Pornography exists to keep the Shadow of a monotheistic and ransacked world alive. As long as one person can write about or film ribald acts that flaunt the status quo, and somebody else can read or watch this heresy and beat off hard enough to take off like a helicopter, magic will be kept alive, and along with it our best hope of salvation. (Which we achieve, paradoxically enough, only when we abandon the gloss of being pure or holy.)

Pornographers are thus the fitting heirs of the trickster archetype. It’s no surprise that this genre of entertainment is banned as often for its political satire, attacks on the church, or lampooning of other sacred cows as it is for being too plainspoken about the Old In and Out. In Dirty Words, M. Christian has a prolonged romp at the expense of homophobia, several flavors of People of the Book, butch iconography, pacifism, pulling out before you cum, selfishness, prudery, bullying, virginity, and monogamy. Put your ear closer to this page and you will hear an outraged mooing. Then go get your reading glasses and your poppers or whatever accessories you require to luxuriate in a good dirty book, and savor, relish, enjoy, get it up and get it off, and laugh yourself sick and sane.


polly said...

What a beautiful tribute! And a wonderful acknowledgment of DIRTY WORDS! I'm going to order my copy right now!

Catherine said...

"Glamorous Nerd Pornographers." I so want that on a T-shirt.