(The second part of a short essay.)
So why would anyone get so much of a frisson out of Kitty Carroll and her many (but not enough) sisters in the world of erotic mad science? There’s a simplistic answer, which is that putting pretty, scantily (or un-) clad women in a situation that sets the adrenaline going (whether out of fear or anticipation or for whatever reason might not matter much) is something that my Male Gaze naturally wants to be directed towards. Well, that’s fine, but it doesn’t really help distinguish the Kitty Carroll from the Distressed Damsel, who is also scantily clad and in a situation that will get anyone’s heart pounding. Why go to the trouble to find (or the even greater trouble of creating) Kitty Carroll’s when there are so many Distressed Damsels?
I’ll venture an explanation, one which begins, rather counterintuitively, in pessimism, a sense that human existence isn’t really that good. Having reached full middle age I find that I cannot dispute George Orwell’s casual dictum that while most people get a fair amount fun out of life, on balance life is suffering and only the very young or very foolish think otherwise. I am more than half convinced by David Benatar‘s rigorous argument that coming into existence is always a harm and that it would have been better never to have been. But I have been, and am, and being in full middle age I’m embedded in a web of human relationships that I cannot countenance tearing myself out of, and so on things go.
Now I’m not so pessimistic as to think I’m helpless in the face of life’s suffering. We can’t abolish our suffering but we can always palliate it, and encounters with the erotic are splendid palliatives. Intense pleasure makes us forget about both life and death, so much so that even the contemplation thereof in fiction helps lighten our burden. This aspect of imaginative contemplation is a large part of the reason why I write and publish Tales of Gnosis College. It’s time and resource intensive, believe me, but it also does a lot to make my life bearable. A little pleasure from one’s hobbies does a lot to push back the day when one aches to reach for the Nembutal (I realize it’s not generally available, but you get the picture). And my publication efforts might provide others with a little pleasure, helping to push back their own dark thoughts and the dreadful sequelae thereto: if that’s not hedonic philanthropy then what could be?
As we contemplate pleasure enough, we dream.
Some of us dream of the possibility of pleasures such that no human has ever had them or probably ever could. It seems only sensible, somehow: since being human sucks why not imagine transcending human possibilities? Thus the appeal of the mad science, and thus the appeal of the scenario of the mad science embraced with enthusiastic consent and quivering anticipation rather than contemplated with fear.
But why women? Wouldn’t it be easier for this male author to identify with male characters? Why not Charlie Carrolls? I suppose that we could always think back to the Male Gaze, etc., but I suspect that something else is going on here. I have this belief, motivated perhaps in part by observation of multiorgasmic female partners in my own experience, and perhaps partly by science that suggests that women’s sexuality is more fluid than men’s, that the erotic possibilities of women are somehow just wider and deeper than those of men, that Tiresias of myth spoke truly when he told Zeus about sex that “of ten parts a man enjoys one only.”
I admit it’s possible that I’m full of shit in my belief about the superior erotic possibilities of women and, if so, I regret my epistemic failure. But there it is — the imagination doesn’t care whether the tributary beliefs that feed it are true or false, it just flows the way it does. And the way mine flows female characters make superior imaginative vehicles for reaching the wonderful weird of impossible erotic experience.
Hence the search for Kitty Carrolls.