‘Deeper: An erotic anthology’: The writer as voyeur

In “Deeper”, we encounter the erotic as both pleasure and pain.

‘Deeper: An erotic anthology’: The writer as voyeur
Photo by Bálint Szabó / Unsplash

I am a voyeur. Eagerly devouring with ravenous eyes these stories, relishing the thrill of reading an erotic anthology for the first time. My curiosity aroused, my senses attuned, my mind ablaze, as I peel away the layers to uncover the deeper truths beneath the sensual surface.

As I eavesdrop on a man and woman arguing about what to order at a restaurant. As I look at a female bartender and the handsome stranger flirting with her, each trying to discover who the other really is. As I float outside a space station, watching a lone man talking to a woman who cannot possibly be there and who might not even exist.

What is it about sex that still makes us ashamed to talk about it freely even in the 21st century, whether in public or in the privacy of our own thoughts?

Why is desire intertwined with guilt? Perhaps because it took eating the forbidden fruit for Adam and Eve to become aware of their nakedness? Was that when sexual desire was born? Cursed to be the byproduct of the knowledge of good and evil?

In “Deeper”, we encounter the erotic as both pleasure and pain, as both prize and punishment. Perhaps both at the same time.

Objects take on new significance. A chair is not just a chair. An armoire is not just an armoire.

Sometimes ordinary people turn out to be gods. Sometimes gods turn out to be ordinary people. Sometimes you don’t know what is real and what is imagined.

And yet why should reality be important? What is real, anyway?

“What does it matter if I’m not real? Are memories real?” someone asks in one of these tales. “None of them are real. Nothing you experience is anything more than a series of sensations translated by your nervous system. They’re abstract. Sound. Flashes of imagery.”

What does it matter, if desire can be turned into reality? If your desire is reality?

“As she spoke into his ear, her dirty thoughts became real, and she pictured herself doing each thing she was describing.”

Fantasy exists because sometimes we dare not do the things we imagine. Perhaps it is true that a fine line divides literary erotica from pornography. But I say the difference lies in the power of literary erotica to satisfy the mind as well as the flesh, and to straddle both the carnal and the divine. Through seduction by words, we experience sex in all its incarnations — passionate, mechanical, triumphant, shameful, pleasurable, painful, liberating, tormenting.

“Deeper” allows us to encounter the Other and embrace who we are. Whether through a woman who finds herself waking up in the body of another to experience what she has denied herself. Or through a young sailor who must rescue his captain from the unforgiving sea. Or through a woman who might be a memory of events that have yet to take place.

Death also lurks in these pages. After all, isn’t the desire for sex so strong that we may be willing to risk everything? Even annihilation? As strong, perhaps, as our human, all too human desire to know the truth. To know a person, not just in the biblical sense. To know the true name of the unnamable.

“I want to know more than just her body, was the thought that floated about his mind as the lights outlined her from the top of the bar counter to the top of her high ponytail. She’d made a long-necked bottle of craft Engkanto Beer tumble artfully down her left arm, and caught it neatly, before uncapping it with the bottle opener in her right.”

Eros and Thanatos. Pleasure principle and death drive. Desire and death. Or perhaps desire and despair. Or perhaps desire beyond life and death.

“This is it. This is all I want. This is all I’ve ever desired.”

I am a voyeur putting into words what I have seen and heard. I have no choice. A writer must write. And describe the taste of the forbidden fruit.

This is a review of "Deeper: An erotic anthology" edited by Ioanna Arka, which was published last year on Valentine’s Day.

I received an advance reading copy of "Deeper", which includes a short story by Alma Anonas-Carpio, who is not only my friend but also one of the writers I really look up to. Of course, I also bought my own Kindle edition of the anthology, not only to support Alma but also because it’s a damn good read.