Le Petit Mort: An explanation of what's sexual in literature
For three days I went back and forth, bickering with myself on exactly which short story I considered "ultra sexual". At first, I figured I should go with something that would personify the arched back, glowing skin, lip biting fantasy that most people expect. Which would have been fun, expected, but it wouldn't have been me.
When every syllable moves along with precise order, molding and shaping the rising action, the path to the climax is where I want to be. I’ve spent the majority of my life ducking my head in and out of books. For the most part they tend to be more interesting, easier to understand & less complex than almost anyone I have ever met. Books, unlike people are stable, exciting and mostly they are harmless.
I love the magnificence procured within the delicate weaving of words working steadily to produce a neat and tidy conclusion. Still, it’s the stories that have shocked and scared me which inspire me the most. What I’ve been looking for is a story with the sheer sexual excitement of imminent death, a sort of Le Petit Mort, the French term for orgasm and exactly translated to The Tiny Death in English.
After slowly sifting through my options I narrowed it down to Joyce Carol Oates’s short story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” It’s a foreboding ode to young girls, warning them of the world’s wicked ways. Oates dedicates this short story to Bob Dylan and the sordid sort of fairytales depicted in his songs like “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” The cautionary tales imbedded in his lyrics inspired Oates to write “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”
It’s the story of Connie, a beautiful girl lost within the far reaching effects of her own splendor, adolescence and budding sexuality. The same characteristics that compel, Arnold Friend, a daunting young man to arrive at her home with perverse plans of his own. Oates’s fantastic use of language and imagery carefully carve suspense in the latent dialogue between Connie and Arnold. What’s really compelling is the fact that absolutely nothing going on is blatantly sexual. As the reader becomes engrossed in the events occurring we realize Arnold plans to violently rape Connie while he confesses his “love” for her:
“Yes, I'm your lover. You don't know what that is but you will," he said. "I know that too. I know all about you. But look: it's real nice and you couldn't ask for nobody better than me, or more polite. I always keep my word. I'll tell you how it is, I'm always nice at first, the first time. I'll hold you so tight you won't think you have to try to get away or pretend anything because you'll know you can't. And I'll come inside you where it's all secret and you'll give in to me and you'll love me.”
Arnold says he’s going to rescue Connie away from the simplicity of her life and give her a real adventure—the very thing she complained about earlier in the story. It would be the adventure of a lifetime, Connie’s final voyage, the deliverance of her final moments and very last breath.
A cautionary tale, it begins as Connie’s mother says to be wary of trouble. Connie daftly quips that she isn’t a “dope” like some other local girls. Her false sense of pride leads to her utter demise. She feels that her physical appearance will deliver her from the mundane aspects of her life, and in a way, it does. Her youth and good looks are as much a curse as it is a blessing. And for poor Connie it attracts the psychotic nature of Arnold Friend, local rapist; while she is off cavorting with older boys during a summer evening in town. Just like Little Red Riding Hood, Connie is devoured whole by Arnold, the wolf in menacing sunglasses.
Arnold comes to her house and gives her the choice to join him willingly becoming his lover, or to resist his “love” and allow her family to become subject to his wrath. The stories events crescendo as Connie painstakingly weighs her options, wiping away tears and succumbing to Arnold’s desires, exiting her house and falling into the grasp of Arnold Friend. Call me crazy, but as an escapist, the ambiguity of the story’s ending, the struggle between Connie and Arnold, & the general foreboding nature of this piece makes me swoon like a Chinese hooker when confronted with the chance of gaining citizenship.
I adore this story because it highlights every poor decision I’ve ever made with any man I have ever been with. Reminding me as strong and brazen as I am, I’m can be as vulnerable as Connie, bellowing in the kitchen while hopes of the future dwindle to unwritten memories. The “Arnold Friend’s” of the world show up, fuck you savagely, ripping and tearing at your heart, mind and cunt. And when it is over, you are older, wiser & better versed in the games of all men, not just the Arnold’s. It’s an affair highlighted by the excitement of the action, as it rises and complicates and I spin wildly out of control, dancing in the devils playground. It’s the deliberately made bad decisions that haunt my cerebral cortex and prevent me from making progress. And mostly, it is the feeling of being alive mostly when you are so close to death, but even closer to immortality, the complex heightening pinnacle of your total being, the orgasm in life and literature.