The Thistle In The Kiss

by | March 13, 2013 | General | 7 comments

Roland Barthes: Total Perv & Handsome Devil

The title of this post comes from the Dylan Thomas poem “If I Were Tickled By the Rub of Love“.  I went looking for it again, after many years, because I’ve been spending a lot of time these days thinking about language – its imperfections and the way it resists us when we need it most.

When I was in secondary school, I had the most marvelous English teacher. He was obliged to take us through Hamlet and the Merchant of Venice, Pride and Prejudice, and all sorts of poems which are undoubtedly wasted on anyone under about 35. We had to read T.S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas and, of course, most of the poems made fuck-all sense to us at the time. It wasn’t until I got older that I understood that most of the great poetry of the 20th century requires a hefty dollop of life-experience on the part of the reader, before it really communicates anything to you. Nonetheless, my teacher gave me a gift: a gift that would make little sense until I unwrapped it as an adult. He said, “Look, don’t try to reach for the poem. There’s no ‘getting’ a poem. There’s only absorbing it.”

Thirty-five years later, it was the assonance of the title I would remember. Not its message – because, with a good poem, the meaning changes subtly each time you read it – but the liquidity of the language. Its hidden whisperings between the cracks of the words and its sting of ear and heart. Its ‘thistle in the kiss’.

In his book “The Pleasure of the Text,” Roland Barthes talks about the pure hedonistic bliss of reading certain books. He differentiates between ‘texts of pleasure’ and ‘texts of bliss.’ When you read ‘texts of pleasure,’ he says, you are aware you are reading. You might stop and think how clever the writer is, how witty, how wise, but you are still dwelling in the culturally dominated world while your enjoying the book. With ‘texts of bliss’ you get so utterly lost in the process of reading, you are kidnapped, ravished, metaphorically fucked. Of course, it’s fair to point out that Barthes was French and the French can be relied upon to find the eroticism in practically anything. But when in doubt, I always feel it’s wise to take things on face value. When it comes to reading erotic fiction, there are texts of pleasure and texts of bliss. And the irony is, that for me, as a reader, some of the most blissful texts have not been the most explicit. 

For me, two things contribute to offering a text of bliss. One is a story that disorients me. Being constantly reminded of wealth, physical buffness, and name brand products anchors me in the order of the everyday. Characters who have jobs that are alluded to – he’s a stock broker, she’s writes ad copy – but never actually take you deep enough into the world of what they do to overwhelm your assumptions, can never offer me more than pleasure. They can’t transport me. For bliss, I need enough detail to shake me from my rational moorings of what I assume a stockbroker does, to a place where he’s seeing patterns in the data or feeling the almost genital thrill of watching a stock price suddenly take off and go crazy. (Yeah, I know, you’re sneering at my choice of example, but I assure you, I’ve chosen it on purpose). But what I’m trying to express is that everyone’s life, when examined in detail, is a foreign land –  a place of disorientation. It is only when we’re forced to assume generalities that we feel grounded and safe.

The second element that offers me bliss is language. We use language on so many levels. Despite what Derrida says, its worked for us very well as an everyday tool to get information across from one person to another with surprising levels of accuracy. Read any newspaper article: there is a very definite structure to them. What, where, when, who…sometimes how and why.  And yes, we get it – it’s factual.

At five o’clock on Thursday, September 5th, in the city of Buenos Aires, three diplomats were seen masturbating each other in a public cafe.
(Okay, so I got carried away there). 

 Then, of course, there is narrative language, which carries an perspective and subjectivities with it.

It took Melissa a moment to realize what she was witnessing. Three men in suits, all seated around the marble-topped cafe table, nonchalantly stroked each others’ exposed cocks. Did the laws of Argentina allow this sort of thing? Was this the Buenos Aires version of the Cocktail Hour?

It’s more engaging. I could take pleasure from this text, but I’m still situated in the everyday world. Melissa’s reaction is civilized. The scandalous nature of what is happening is pointed out to me, so I can agree. My feet are still firmly on the ground here.

The language of bliss is not something any writer – or any reader. for that matter – can tolerate for long stretches. It is disorienting, uncomfortable, disruptive. It intrudes on the structure of our ordered minds.  It lies to us, misleads us, sets up irreconcilable polarities.  It sequesters us to a place of otherness, just for a moment, while somehow making it all about that moment.

Antonio’s soft, spitslick mandarin’s hand tightened around my cock. Hot, fat fingers muffled the sounds of the cafe. Each downward stroke sloughed away another layer of the world until the singular pleasure of the tug was the universe entire. A cockfisted climb towards the airless void. All the way up, I fed on shutter-clipped mental images: the arterial spray that would scald my face and spatter the wall if the bastard dared to stop stroking before I came.

I’m not suggesting this is a brilliant example. Just having a go at it myself.

Remittance Girl

Remittance Girl lives in exile in Ho Chi Minh City where she writes and grows orchids. Her erotic stories have been published in Cream: The Best of the Erotica Readers and Writers Association, Garden of the Perverse: Fairy Tales for Twisted Adults, and Lessons in Love: Erotic Interludes 3. Her stories have also appeared on the ERWA website.


  1. Kathleen Bradean

    RG – every time I read one of your posts I want to drop everything to write.

  2. Donna

    "Texts of pleasure" and "texts of bliss"–what more viscerally touching way to describe the difference? Although your examples indeed provided a more blissful experience!

    One observation about my own process from the writing versus the reading side is that it's "easier" to get lost in a sexual fantasy, even the character's fantasy while having sex or having sex that is like a fantasy, than a more realistic description of body parts. In other words, I need to connect with my own bliss with words to even begin to pull it off.

    Thought-provoking as always!

  3. Jean Roberta

    Oh, RG, you are such a tease. Now I want to read the rest of the "blissful" scenario, impossible as it is for me (as an actual female reader) to imagine myself in the scene as anyone other than the extraneous Melissa.

  4. Remittance Girl

    Hi Kathleen:
    Well, if my posts do that, then I'm bloody proud of them. *grin*

    Hi Donna:
    I think that's pretty fundamental challenge in erotica. If it doesn't produce self-bliss, it's very hard to even imagine it producing bliss in others.

    Unfortunately, as you can tell from my last paragraph, my 'bliss' is not entirely comfy. This is probably why I'm never going to be a terribly successful writer. Hehe.

    Hi Jean Roberta,
    No. You have to make it up for yourself. It's actually interesting that you bring the question of gender and reader identity up, because I've just had some pretty amazing moments of textual bliss reading Jonathan Kemp's 26 – which is all gay male eroticism. Not M/M for females. I found it astonishingly easy, thrilling and somewhat frightening how easy it was to get lost in the text, to lose my sense of gender, even. Now that, in my mind, is the mark of a writer producing real texts of bliss. So clearly, the last para wasn't successful for you. *grin*

  5. Garceus

    Hi RG!

    I identify especially with the two points you;ve made about wanting a story to shake up your comfort zone (something Gaijin certainly) and the joy of language. Have you ever read Alberto Manguel's two door stop thick anthologies "The Gates of Paradise"? Those are, so far, my favorite erotic anthologies of all time. They represent the stories I aspire to write someday. Also the language in some of these stories is often soaring. That's why I love Angela Carter and Isabel Allende so much. Theirs stories are so thick with lush language. I like to just chew on their sentences like chocolate. I think all erotica writers should study poetry just to learn to think that way.


  6. Lisabet Sarai

    Yes! I want a story that takes me away, that makes me totally forget everything but the scene that is playing out in my head.

    Somehow I doubt, however, that it is possible to deliberately create a "text of bliss". Bliss comes to the page as an echo of the author's present experience.

  7. Remittance Girl

    No, you're probably right Lisabet. However, I am unable to resist the temptation to try. And fail.

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