We like to be pushed towards the edge.
Last night, I re-watched the amazing Riding Giants ('04). In the film's most stunning sequence, surfing legend Laird Hamilton somehow rides this mind-boggling wave in Tahiti.
This ride has not been equaled, and he's clearly a guy who pushes himself not just towards the edge, but beyond it.
Aside from some freaky diving incidents and a fondness for an unofficial "sport" that involves pressing myself flat against a rock moments before a wave pounds that rock, my extreme edge pushing is mostly confined to books and films.
Since I was six or seven, I have been the go-to guy for shocking images, shocking books, and shocking films, at least in my own neighborhood. When I was growing up, I pursued my love for and curiosity about the EXTREME with vigor and studious discipline.
I even attracted a handful of apostles, some of whom are still good friends today, but, back before the internet, it was rare for someone to come to me with something that I hadn't seen or would be shocked by.
Being the go-to guy for SHOCK is not a role without pressures. You are expected to perform. Your life becomes a non-stop version of "Show-and-Tell", a game I loved at primary school almost as much as Truth and Dare. It was an opportunity to show my fellow students and teachers exhibits from my growing collections of monster mags, horror paperbacks, deformed dolls, movie ad mats, and medical photographs of babies with hydrocephalus (Water on the Brain, which is, more accurately, excess spinal fluid).
The bottom line for this go-to guy was this: it was pre-internet, I had pocket money for income, and my sources of SHOCK were drying up.
It wasn't until I took a part time job as a Mcdonald's "chef" that I was finally able to enrich my collections somewhat.
Something changed in me when I started reading a lot of horror. Books like Denis Giford's Horror Movies provided images, and those images stimulated my imagination, allowing me to develop ridiculous expectations of how good these movies would be.
Horror books (literature), however, were about ideas, and while reading them and reading hundreds of books that weren't horror, I learned about "context".
dictionary.com, a trusted source of mine, defines context as a "set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc."
My awareness of context changed the way I looked at horror.
For me, next came "contrast" , which my source defines deftly as:
"opposition or juxtaposition of different forms, lines, or colors in a work of art to intensify each element's properties and produce a more dynamic expressiveness."
I discovered these elements of good art because I was becoming bored with non-stop bloodiness and frustrated by would-be apostles who expected me to have an orgasm every time they showed me a gory picture I'd seen a hundred million times.
I guess I was maturing, but I wasn't articulate enough to explain why gore and blood on its own was no longer doing it for me.
Instead, I opened myself up to something new...
When I was sixteen, I met a fellow fan through a letter I had published in Starlog magazine.
He was a Gerry Anderson fanatic. Already married at eighteen, his little home in the Melbourne suburb of Chadstone was filled with amazing GA toys such as Lady Penelope's FAB1, chauffeured by Parker...
... fantastic Captain Scarlet merchandise...
and a Joe 90 doll.
After months of GA-themed get-togethers, my new friend and his wife hit me with something I wasn't expecting one sunny Sunday arvo:
Keep in mind that XXX-rated films were only legally available in most states in Australia for a couple of years in the mid-80's.
Even now (yes, in 2009!), they are officially banned from sale in all states.
They are available by mail order from Canberra, the nation's political capital (why isn't that surprising?), and the Northern Territory (which is 99.9% desert, .1% people).
Back when my Gerry Anderson-loving buddy hit with with an impromptu showing of the film that made Linda Lovelace a household name (in some houses) and Bambi Woods a legend, VHS had just been born and hardcore was unseen in Australia. There were hardcore magazines available from companies like Color Climax, Seventeen, and Private, but there was nothing that moved. Moving AND having sex was illegal Down Under.
For almost three hours, I watched a lot of moving and shaking and grinding and oral intercourse.
I was excited, shocked, and changed by the experience.
That the films, in hindsight, were not diamond examples of X-rated filmmaking was of no import.
Finally, SOMEONE had shown ME something that pushed me beyond my edge, and for that I was eternally grateful.
Which brings me almost full circle to Samuel R. Delany's Hogg. And context. And contrast.
Nobody thrust Hogg at me, but I started to hear about it.
Whenever I stumbled upon or cyber-hunted lists of Most Shocking Novels or Books That Ought To Be Banned, this Hogg book would always show up. Throw an on-line Perversion Party and Hogg would always RSVP. Was this a sign? Were I required to take action?
Tracking down a mint copy of Hogg was a challenge a couple of years ago; it seems to be less so now.
The on-line reviews were very mixed. Was it extreme? There was a chorus of agreement there. Was it art? Divided. Was it well written? No consensus on that. Should it exist? Some thought not.
I read Hogg. Not in one sitting. It took me several days. That was because I had not stop along the way to confront nausea. I had never confronted that while reading before, so it was a strange but wonderful experience. It's not like I hadn't read some potentially stomach churning stuff. I'd gotten through most of Peter Sotos's work, Jim Goad's three volume Answer Me collection, and some of Dennis Cooper's raw, literary ejaculations. I read the Marquis De Sade's most popular works before I turned eighteen, and I've seen underground films I wish to God I could unsee.
Still, Hogg got to me. It's supposed to.
Set in the early 60's, it is about a revolting rapist/pedophile named Franklin Hargus ("Hogg") who takes an eleven year old boy, the narrator, under his wing, and subjects him to a deviant lifestyle that both brutalizes and excites the boy.
Hogg himself personifies the far extremes of perversion, if that is possible to imagine. His pig-like behavior includes urinating and defecating in his pants, which he never changes. He engages in rape, necrophilia, sexual torture, and gross humiliation of his victims.
The book is a tour de force of human darkness -- an unforgettable experience for the reader/accomplice, and heaven and hell for its characters.
What it does lacks is contrast. It is all black and no white. The non-stop incidents of gross sexual perversion form a nauseous chain that does become repetitive after a while. I know that's part of the point, but it does retard the reading experience.
Is this perversion without context?
Absolutely not. What happens is fully contextualized by the novel's milieu. Zelany drags us through a world of extreme human desire that doesn't feel like it is outside of possibility.
Most of the sexual activity is male to male, although there is an occasional incident of abuse with a female.
Originally written in '69, then personally revised a few years later, it was not published until '95 because no publisher wanted to touch it.
It is quite an extraordinary novel, and one you should read at least once, if only to test your repulsion parameters.
If you take some of the book's many sexual excesses out of context, you will find that contemporary fetish pornography has finally caught up with Hogg.
These titles, from a leading European fetish distributor, capture some of Hogg's anarchic, almost psychotic sexuality.
Of course, they do it less artfully, but no less honestly (which explains the high repulsion factor).
Samuel Ray Delaney is best known as a leading science fiction writer. His 20-plus novels, which include Einstein Intersection, Empire Star, and Triton have been highly acclaimed.
Hogg is certainly his most confronting work.
Some (those who find it objectionable) have called it "pornography" in an effort to reduce its status as literature.
Of course, that label assumes that pornography is a bad thing; the label is also predictably condescending.
So is it pornography? Does it turn the reader on?
It didn't turn me on sexually, but it fried my brain like few books have.
Its power has remained with me long after I turned the final page.
After Hogg, where to now?
SHOCK LITERATURE is going in one direction...
...and becoming more mainstream, while SHOCK PORNOGRAPHY continues to push the international envelope...
In the first category, you can pray for context and contrast, and sometimes you'll get it. JF Gonzalez's Survivor (2004) is Leisure Books' most extreme title so far, and very highly recommended.
In the second category, I'm sure you'll get your dose of SHOCK and some gentle edge pushing right here... Bring your own bone, though.