I've recently read a work in progress from Remittance Girl (her site is a wonderful source of well written stories - visit it here). The work is called "Splinter" and is about a young woman, with a desire to become a nun, who expresses her devotion to God through self-chastisement (meaning she flogs herself until she overwhelmed by the pain). You can find the story here.
When rg (Remittance Girl) shared the story on ERWA, she asked whether or not is was erotic.
Most of what I write is labelled as erotic but it seems to me that the meaning of the word has leached away, like a poster that has been too long in the rain, so I decided to offer a definition of eroticism.
Eroticism is not about sex or arousal, it is about sexual desire.
Currently, gratification is all the rage: sex on the first date and no later than the third; porn that presses all the buttons to get the minimum time between stiff and sticky with the maximum bang.
Gratification is not inherently erotic.
Desire is as much about anticipation, about restraint and constraint as it is about release. Release may be a consequence of desire but it does not measure its strength. The strength of a desire is better measured by the persistence of the erotic impulse.
Ecstatics have the ability to focus completely on the source of their desire - whether that is God or music - and transcend everything except the experience - the rapture -provoked by their sustained concentration on the object of their desire.
This rapture is an intensely physical experience. It has been suggested that ecstactics are “wired” differently to the rest of us – their Autonomic Nervous System, the ANS, responds to certain stimuli and produces a mood changing chemicals that provide a truly overwhelming experience. (see here)
rg's story walks an interesting line - whether what is being experienced is religious ecstasy or an addiction to an erotic desire for pain.
The ecstasy is physically the same. The source of the desire is different.
I think that rg’s story only engages with the erotic in part 2. The Main Character believes that something was taken from her. She is no longer able to perceive her own motives for inflicting pain on herself as pure. Therefore the ecstasy she experiences has lost its innocence. It has been eroticised.
The strength of the desire and the experience of the rapture have not changed. What has altered is the perception of the object of desire. Appropriately enough in this Catholic setting, rg manages to associate the erotic with the sinful. At the point that the desire is eroticised it also becomes sinful – the Main Character literally acquire carnal knowledge.
If rg’s story is labelled as erotica, then one could argue that it engages the reader in the erotic in part one as well as part two. This is not a first person account. The fact that the Main Character doesn’t acknowledge the erotic nature of her desire until part 2 doesn’t prevent the rest of us from seeing the erotic (and the sinful) in her actions in part 1.
Rg chooses to set her story in a halfway house - halfway perhaps between impulse and gratification. She has a priest who shares the same erotic impulse as the Main Character. In part 2 of the story he restrains the Main Character
from acting on her impulse while at the same time experiencing sexual arousal.
As any Catholic will know, sin is matter of thought, word or deed. Even if no action is taken on the impulse, the presence of the impulse is sinful. The same applies to eroticism. The impulse is erotic whether or not it is acted upon. The sustained experience of the impulse, even when the opportunity to act upon it is denied, actually increases the erotic charge. One has to wonder whether the priest's arousal stems from the external evidence of the Main Character's actions (the blood) or from the recognition of the strength of her erotic impulse.
I recommend her story to you (part 3 is now on her site).