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On the Grey

September 16, 2012

A friend of mine had a post accepted by the Elephant. Her topic was the mystical in 50 Shades of Grey and the creativity that comes from diving into the murk.  (I haven’t read any of the Grey trilogy, but, it’s on my “must-read” list.)

I found her position intriguing.  In this instance, the definition of “murk” was erotica. Interestingly and ironically, the ultimate act of creation for humans is at the culmination of sex. The cataloging or fictionalizing of it, however, is seen by some as filth. Granted that’s a very controversial topic, which I’m not talking about here; this isn’t about porn or any product that objectifies, harms, victimizes, or exploits the unwilling, innocent, ignorant or downtrodden. That’s how erotica is different in my mind; it doesn’t do any of those things.

One of my meetup groups about a month ago had “Does sex belong in science fiction/fantasy?” as its monthly topic. (Of course, the attendance for that meeting was off the charts…!) My position was “it depends on if it fits with the character and the story/plot.” I’ve seen authors in the throes of adolescent self-indulgence when it comes to fictionalized sex. For me, the problem was that it was inconsistent with the character and the relationship between the two engaged in sexual activity — or it ignored the story/plot entirely.

One example is a story I read in the magazine, Science Fiction and Fantasy. If the protagonist had perpetrated the acts on me that he (42-year-old pirate) did on the 18-year-old female character — ripping off the cargo, unintentionally disabling the ship, robbing her and her family of their last means of making money to survive, putting her life in jeopardy — not only would I (as an 18-year-old woman) have said “No” but “Hell, no!” to his sexual overture.  Was the writer being creative? In more ways than he intended — thus my “self-indulgent” charge. Because it was so self-indulgent, it threw me out of the story. At least, to this reader, his words didn’t ring true, so I couldn’t suspend my disbelief.  From where I sat, it didn’t contain the divine spark.  Whether it did when he was writing it, that’s his story to tell.

I’m still intrigued by Vera’s idea of finding the divine in the murk. Is erotica the only murk? I don’t think so. I think we might also find the murk in depression, anger, rage, anxiety, frustation, etc., and all their aftermaths. Think of all the celebrated artists who created from there: Monet, Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton…the list is endless since madness sometimes sits thigh-to-thigh with human creativity.

“You do not do, you do not do/ Anymore black shoe/ In which I have lived like a foot/ For thirty years ….”  Sylvia Plath’s poem, Daddy, is an excellent example of creation shining through murk.

Sylvia Plath

Her rage reaches all who read it, causing tremors to the mind’s mental ground as readers walk through her words. The poem has lived long past her because its power, utter truth and dark beauty are clear. Is it pretty? Is it kind? Romantic? Uplifting? No. But the creative spark shines bright in it. Is it self-indulgent? That argument might be made, but the poem’s resounding honesty belies it.

Are all murky works worthy of being called art? Hard to say, it depends on the creative and what’s behind the effort. But, murky emotions made manifest through the creative spark — when they’re honest and powerful — can rock our inner worlds…or at least mine.

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