The Sporadic Beaver

Let Us Now Praise Smutty Filth

August 8, 2011

Tags: Nicholson Baker, House of Holes, The New York Times, Charles McGrath, Beaver Street, filth, smut


"Hysterical Filth"?

Was I reading about Beaver Street in Bizarre? No, I was reading about House of Holes in The New York Times.

This is how the paper described Nicholson Baker's latest pornographic opus on the cover of their Sunday magazine section—probably the first time in its history the upstanding media organ has used "filth" as a term of praise.

Set in a sexual theme park and scheduled to be published tomorrow by Simon & Schuster, “A Book of Raunch,” as Baker’s novel is subtitled, has given the Times license to use language that they’d normally consider inappropriate.

Their profile of Baker’s quiet life in Maine, by Charles McGrath, titled “The Mad Scientist of Smut,” makes me wonder if I was hasty in insisting that Headpress refrain from labeling Beaver Street “smut,” lest we offend the delicate sensibilities of certain critics who need to believe that only they possess the ability to distinguish art from filth.

“Nicholson Baker does not look like a dirty-book writer,” McGrath’s piece begins. “His color is good. His gaze is direct, with none of the sidelong furtiveness of the compulsive masturbator.” Towards the end of the article, he describes a scene in the book “in which a woman who has been magically miniaturized finds herself trapped inside a man’s penis and can be released only by ejaculation.”

This from a newspaper that in 2002, apparently fearful of double entendres, refused to print the title Beaver Street in an article about the porn industry

The Times take on pornography is always fascinating—for the insight it provides into their schizophrenic editorial psyche and the ever-changing standards they arbitrarily apply to whatever they might be publishing. And Nicholson Baker is, indeed, one of the few living American authors who can write a dirty book and get this kind of coverage. (Philip Roth may be the only other one.)

Baker’s ability to inject his filth deep inside mainstream America with one powerful thrust humbles me, and I bow to him.

Great Moments in Porn Writing

August 4, 2011

Tags: Nicholson Baker, The Fermata, Beaver Street, High Society, Swank, D-Cup, Bizarre, Ben Myers, Canadian censorship, Chip Goodman

"Is there any piece of porn writing you're most proud of?" Ben Myers asked when he interviewed me about Beaver Street for Bizarre magazine. Due to space limitations, my answer wasn't published. Here it is now:

High Society and Swank Publications hired a lot of good writers to crank out mindless, disposable filth. But good writing was actively discouraged. At HS the editor occasionally threatened to do an issue with no words at all, just to prove how unnecessary writers were. At Swank, Chip Goodman, the publisher, explicitly told me not to write the kind of articles that would make people want to keep the magazines. He wanted his readers to throw out each issue and buy the new one.

But every year, as a matter of professional pride, I made it a point to write and publish at least one good story. An essay I wrote for D-Cup about The Fermata, by Nicholson Baker, comes to mind. It’s a novel about a man who has the power to stop time, and he uses this power to undress women in public places and occasionally masturbate. In the course of writing the piece, I ran into all kinds of problems with Canadian censorship—undressing women when they don’t know they’re being undressed is considered rape and degradation in Canada, even if the context is satiric literature.

What started out as a straightforward review evolved into an essay on the absurdity of Canadian censorship regulations. The illustration that I commissioned for the story was a picture of Baker sitting on a subway train with an enormous erection, jerking off while looking at a naked, large-breasted woman.

A few weeks later I went to see him give a reading at Barnes & Noble and I brought the mag with me. He’s signing everybody’s copy of The Fermata, and when it’s my turn I drop the picture of him jerking off on the table. He does a double take and breaks up laughing. But he signs it, gives me his address, and asks me to send him a copy.

Note: House of Holes: A Book of Raunch, Nicholson Baker’s latest pornographic opus, will be published on August 9.