Talking Dirty, from Song of Songs to FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL…

Posted by administrator | September 10, 2012

In FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL…, Katie (Ari Graynor) and Lauren (Lauren Anne Miller) create a booming phone-sex business as well as – and perhaps more importantly – a solid friendship. As one sexy operator, Katie teaches Lauren how to keep the conversation stimulating and up, while Lauren brings a freshness and naiveté to the discussion. Of course, talking dirty is, while perhaps not the oldest profession, a time-honored form of discourse. In classic texts, the act of suggestive, seductive speech provides real drama and sizzle. We look at a few examples across history, from verses in the Bible to modern tales of naughty talk.

The Good Book: Song of Songs

Perhaps the most secular of the books of the Bible, the Song of Songs recounts the relationship of a man and woman in very floral, often very suggestive verse. Believed to be written around 900 BC, the verses are often cited as a high watermark of Hebrew poetry. But the apparent lack of divine presence in the passages has also created consternation for and complicated exegesis by Biblical scholars. Many have looked past the literal seduction to see the Song of Songs as an allegory of man’s relationship to God. It also works perfectly well as a sexy story. Writing for Slate, David Plotz (who dubs the book Last Tango in Judah) ranks the various parts of Songs of Songs in order of their sexiness. Ranking Chapter 5 “the hottest passage in the song,” Plotz highlights how the woman describes the man: “His hair is black like a raven's. His cheeks "are like beds of spices … his lips are lilies … his arms are rounded gold … his legs are alabaster columns. …" Is it any wonder the lady digs him?”

The First Hands-On Manual: The Kama Sutra

Like many ancient texts, there is no clear author for the Kama Sutra, generally considered the world’s first sex manual. Many scholars suggest that the book was compiled from existing sources by Vatsyayana, a celibate monk, around the 4th century. The book, whose title loosely means “a treatise on pleasure,” was intended to provide a philosophy of life and not just a list of sexual positions. While the book had fallen from favor, it found a renaissance in the 19th century when the British explorer and orientalist Sir Richard Burton spearheaded a translation of the text into English. In recent decades, interest in the Kama Sutra has exploded, creating not only many translations of the original book, but recordings, films, tapes, etc., as well as specialized versions -- including The Gay Kama Sutra and The Lesbian Kama Sutra – not to mention the infinite number of lotions, creams, clothing and accessories that bear the name Kama Sutra.

From the Isle of Lesbos: Sappho’s poetry

Born on the isle of Lesbos in the 6th century BC, Sappho has become known as for much for her poetry as for her retroactive embodiment of lesbianism. While only fragments of her work remain, her reputation was already well established by her contemporaries, who heralded the power and beauty of her work. An epigram ascribed to Plato read: “Some say the Muses are nine: how careless!/ Look, there's Sappho too, from Lesbos, the tenth.” While none of her work is explicitly sexual, there’s lot of sweet suggestion in her words. In fragment 31 (translated by Gregory Nagy), Sappho describes the effect of seeing a female lover facing her husband and the loss she feels:

“Sweat pours down me and a trembling
seizes all of me; paler than grass
am I, and a little short of death
do I appear to me.”

Roman Numbers: Ovid’s Amores

One of the most significant works of the Roman poet Ovid was his Amores, which comprised three books of love poetry primarily describing the poet’s relationship with his beloved Corinna. Published about 15-16 BC, the work cemented Ovid’s reputation as one of Rome’s great poets of love and desire. However, the erotic quality was less appreciated in later years, as the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1599 ordered that his love poems be publicly burned. In recent years, Ovid’s erotic work has gained more interest. The last lines of Book I, Elegy V provide a telling example of Ovid’s unique style – amorous, playful, slightly humorous. Here he describes – or better doesn’t describe – what happens when the poet encounters Corinna one afternoon:

“How soft and smooth her skin beneath her lovely breasts, how divine her figure, how firm and plump her thighs. But wherefore should I here tell o’er the number of her charms? Nought did I see that was not perfect, nor was there aught, how thin soe'er, between her lovely body and my own. Need I tell the rest? Wearied, we rested from our toil. May many an afternoon be thus sped by.” - Trans. by J. Lewis May (1930)

Going for Secundus: The Kisses

Perhaps one of the hottest books to come out of the Renaissance was a slim volume of poetry by a young Dutch writer called Johannes  Secundus. Although he died when he was just 24, he left behind a number of books, essays, and poems. His Liber Basiorum (Book of Kisses), published in 1541, contained 19 poems that explored the theme of kissing. While his book gained some popularity, many of the poems had a longer life when they were later adapted into madrigals. An example of his poignant prose is found in “Kiss V” (translated by Walter Kelly):

“When you, Neaera, clasp me in your gentle arms, and hang upon my shoulder, leaning over me with your whole neck and bosom, and lascivious face; when putting your lips to mine, you bite me and complain of being bitten again; and dart your tremulous tongue here and there, and sip with your querulous tongue here and there, breathing on me delicious breath, ….”

Fanny Hill

In 1748, John Cleland published Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (more commonly called Fanny Hill), a novel which would become infamous in the history of dirty talk. Published in two parts, the novel is composed of a series of letters, written between Frances “Fanny” Hill and an unknown woman, in which Fanny relates her sexual education and escapades in lurid details. While the book was quickly suppressed in Britain, it went on in England and America to find readership in underground editions. The book, which often reads like an early version of Penthouse letters, includes Fanny initiating young men into sex, as in this section from Part V:

“I smiled, and put out my hand towards him, which he kneeled down to (a politeness taught him by love alone, that great master of it) and greedily kiss'd. After exchanging a few confused questions and answers, I ask'd him if he would come to bed to me, for the little time I could venture to detain him. This was just asking a person, dying with hunger, to feast upon the dish on earth the most to his palate. Accordingly, without further reflection, his cloaths were off in an instant; when, blushing still more at his new liberty, he got under the bed-cloaths I held up to receive him, and was now in bed with a woman for the first time in his life.”

Dirty Talk Gets Punished

In the 18th century, with an explosion of publishing houses in England, came a rise in “dirty books.”  One of the most notorious publishers, Edmund Curll, who became a target of ridicule and satire by poets such as Alexander Pope, was also an opportunistic businessman when it came to promoting off-color material. With titles like Eunuchism Display'd, or A Treatise of the Use of Flogging in Venereal Affairs, Curll promoted the most lurid material under the guise of scientific inquiry. However, in 1724, when Curl published a translation of Venus in the Cloister (or The Nun in her Smock), a piece of French erotic literature that included a steamy dialogue between two nuns, the authorities arrested him. The Whitehall Evening Post reported that Curll was charged for publishing “obscene Books and Pamphlets, tending to encourage Vice and Immorality." The punishment was barely a slap on the wrist: a small fine and the command that Curll stand in the pillory for an hour. Accounts noted that after a short time in a public pillory, “Curll was hoisted up on the shoulders of a couple of his strongest supporters and taken off to a nearby pub for a few pints.” For Curll, this conviction was a mere inconvenience. Indeed he would go on to publish even more scandalous work, including his very popular “Merryland” series, a collection of books in which the body was explored in geographical language, such as with Charles Cotton’s Erotopolis: The Present State of Bettyland. However, his conviction set the legal precedent that lead the way to modern obscenity laws, including the powerful Obscene Publications Act of 1857.

Dirty Talk Goes Gay: Teleny

Erotic literature became a hot item in the 19th century, with various novels doing a healthy underground business. By the end of the century, gay male fiction began to appear with books like Teleny, or The Reverse of the Medal (published in 1893). The novel recounts the relationship between a young Frenchman, Camille de Grieux, and mysterious Hungarian pianist René Teleny. Overwhelmed by Teleny’s seductive power, de Grieux is slowly pulled into a strange homosexual underworld, where he first finds passion, then tragedy. In addition to being considered one of the earliest examples of gay pornography, Teleny has also be attributed to Oscar Wilde, or at least partially to Wilde. Anecdotal evidence suggested that the book was written as a collaboration between various men, since the original manuscripts appear to have been written by different hands. In any case, whatever scandal the book might have brought Wilde was overshadowed two years later, in 1895, when Wilde was arrested and convicted of sodomy and gross indecency.

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