Book Review: Exquisite Corpse
Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is repulsive, no question, and yet Brite can still be defended as an artful poet of murder and obsession.
The title, Exquisite Corpse, refers to a unique literary style originated by the surrealist school of writing. This machination is used to describe a method of writing through collaboration where each writer will tack on their narrative to the end of the last, without necessarily knowing what came before. This particular story was not written in that way by multiple authors, instead the title gives a glimpse into the storytelling style itself, where the narratives of these four distinct men build onto one another to the most horrific and ferocious ending imaginable.
Brite has described it as "a necrophilic, cannibalistic, serial killer love story that explores the seamy politics of victimhood and disease.”
Brite’s ultraviolent tales generally focus on gay and transgender characters living in the south. He himself grew up in Kentucky and describes himself as a, “gay man that happens to have been born in a female body." Some have even deemed his work as horror-erotica. Yet, this does little to convey the essence of Brite’s vision, which is both intricately complex and extremely disturbing.
There has always been a kind of pervasive association of homosexuality with mortality and the ongoing association of gay sex with impending peril has generated a profound loss of perceived intimacy among gay men.
Freud’s insights into the psychic registering of loss and the desire for the lost object
become valuably descriptive here of the desires evoked (but never, of course, fulfilled) by bareback video.
Bareback porn is usually shot in a manner closer to documentary realism than the more theatrical and stylized productions of mainstream porn. After ejaculation, the top often either digitally or orally extracts the semen as visible proof of the fluid transmission. Overall, the scenes come across as heavily ritualistic, often reverent, with an air of religiosity.
Bareback porn, either straight or homosexual, provides a fantasy space in which viewers can access an image of fullness and completion, however vicarious or metaphorical. The nature of desire, after all, is its inability to be fulfilled; the condomless video becomes a dream screen whereby desire is glimpsed and renewed.
Casey Mckittrick, in an essay entitled, Brothers Milk: the erotic and the lethal in bareback pornography, argues that, “Semen operates as the fundamental lost object in post AIDS gay male sexuality. It becomes, in essence, the mother’s milk that, once denied to the child, shatters a sense of original plenitude and belonging. The exchange of semen signifies a fantasy of restored intimacy, of essential sharing of the self with another. Just as the advent of AIDS installed a radical sense of alienation and displacement in the gay psyche, the condom becomes a barrier to this intimacy, a place where feelings of separation and radical incompletion are cathected.”
Lee Edelman, in his book No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive, delineates a pathologizing tendency in mainstream American culture concerning homosexuality. Edelman maintains that the Symbolic order is supported and naturalized through the valorization of a procreative sexuality that guarantees the social and biological reproduction of the same. Legitimate subjecthood, he argues, is assumed through taking on the mandatory cultural labor of reproduction. This procreative identity ensures the stability of the subject through the fantasmatic marriage of identity to futurity. Queer sexuality, in its non-compliance with this political futurity, registers as outside the Symbolic order, as a deathly shadow of the stable subject. In short, queer sexuality reads as the death of the subject, the end of a name and a bloodline.
Jonathon Dollimore, in his book Death, Desire, and Loss in Western Culture, echoes Freud in his pithy remark: “Death inhabits sexuality: perversely, lethally, ecstatically.”
There are no boundaries for Brite. Nothing is taboo. Scenes of an erotic nature are not simply presented alongside the carnage, but rather intertwined until the devouring of intestines becomes sexual and a shared kiss becomes gore.
Slavoj Zizek said, “You cannot do the game of erotic seduction in politically correct terms. There is a moment of violence, when you say: ‘I love you, I want you.’ In no way can you bypass this violent aspect.”
This is a gritty and filthy novel which has more in common with smut than speculative fiction.
Nevertheless for those who desire a unique and grotesque experience, there is really nothing else quite like it.