Posted by: gdevi | November 26, 2011

Uncut and Unsubtle

Improbable science has its IgNobel Prize awards where living and working scientists identify the most improbable, oftentimes useless but humorous research projects of the year and present awards to them. In a gala ceremony at Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre, the mix of professional scientists, science Nobel laureates, science faculty and students, and eccentric community audience gather together to felicitate science research that makes you “laugh before it makes you think.” Oftentimes a Nobel laureate presents the IgNobel awards to the bashful winners who are really not sure what to make of this recognition. Is it to discourage them from undertaking such research in the future?

For instance, the 2011 Chemistry IgNobel went to a team of researchers in Japan “for determining the ideal density of airborne wasabi (pungent horseradish) to awaken sleeping people in case of a fire or other emergency, and for applying this knowledge to invent the wasabi alarm.” The team has a US patent pending for the wasabi alarm. The IgNobel for research in Psychology went to Karl Teigen of the University of Oslo, Norway, for his attempts to understand why, in everyday life, people sigh. His research findings “Sighs as Emotional Signals and Responses to a Difficult Task,” was published in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, where it attracted the eager attention of the IgNobel awards committee. The Biology IgNobel went to a team of scientists from Canada, Australia, the UK and the US who discovered that a certain type of beetle mates with a certain type of Australian beer bottle. Their research “Beetles on the Bottle: Male Buprestids mistake Stubbies for Females (Coleoptera)” was published in the Australian Journal of the Entomological Society and Antenna: A Proceedings of the Royal Entomological Society London. Yet another reason to recycle those Stubbies properly, isn’t it?

The mating rituals of the Australian beetle is apt segue to the Bad Sex Writing Awards given out by the London Literary Review each year. Much like the IgNobel Prize for Sciences, given only to real science research published in real, peer-reviewed and scholarly scientific journals, the Bad Sex Writing awards is a real literary award given only to literary books, not to pornography or erotica. The Bad Sex Writing awards judges pore through thousands of pages of published novels by well-known, critically acclaimed novelists to find that one passage or passages that make you say out aloud to yourself, “Really? He did what?”  For instance, here is one particularly kooky and cock-eyed passage from Haruki Murakami, one of the contenders, from his novel IQ84:

“In the next second, Tengo realized that he was ejaculating. The violent spasm went on for several seconds, releasing a great deal of semen in a powerful surge. Where is my semen going? Tengo’s garbled mind wondered. Ejaculating like this after school in a grade school classroom was not an appropriate thing to do. He could be in trouble if someone saw him. But this was not a grade school classroom anymore. Now he realized that he was inside Fuka-Eri, ejaculating toward her uterus. This was not something that he wanted to be doing. But he could not stop himself. Everything was happening beyond his control.”

I have not read this book yet, and I think I will take a pass, but the Guardian excerpt, which you can read here, seems profound: “where is my semen going”? Now this is a novel that was described as “intellectual heft to make it enjoyable for anyone with a taste for moving representations of modern consciousness in the magical realist mode” by Alan Cheuse on NPR. Consciousness has to start somewhere; questioning where your semen is going is as good a place to start, as any. I can see those little sperms, walking slowly along the curb with a little green tin suitcase  on their way to somewhere.  . .

When you come across a book pretentiously entitled Final Testament of the Holy Bible even if it is by that literary suspect James Frey you want to read it, especially if it is a contender for the Bad Sex Writing award. Will this also be the final word on sex writing, for instance? We plough through a long passage of sexual intercourse written in mystical mumbo-jumbo to find that God is nothing more than an orgasm.

“It was the greatest second of my life. Really the greatest, and I knew in that one second I was experiencing God. The real God. The true God. The eternal God. The God that can’t be in a book or in a church or on a Sunday TV show or on a cross or a star. The God that can’t be explained or described or written about or taught or preached. The God that can’t be forced upon people or used to damn them. And I loved that God, that perfect amazing unbelievable true God. And I knew that none of the other Gods meant anything.”

James Frey, correct yourself, this is a God that can be in a book. You just put him in a book yourself. You might even win the bad sex writing award.

I read as much as I could of these fruity extracts. In general, imagination is a good thing, but what is striking about the bad sex writing this year, is that the writers–most of them male–there are only 2 female novelists nominated this year–seem to be attempting to put their own conception of the male orgasm as god, as poetry, as literature, as the great seventeen-syllable haiku. This is no different than the Men’s Health and GQ magazines that we find in dentist’s offices that ask this existential question on its glossy black and red cover: Is there anything greater than the male orgasm? Bad sex writing starts as soon as you think this is a real question.


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