Since it is the holiday season and because so many people have assured me that I am “shrill”, “aggressive”, “in need of a good fuck”, et al &ndash none of which I accept, by the way – I thought I would give those who feel victimised by the matter of white privilege and racism a break and share my other passion with them instead – which is none other than the pleasures of the text, the pleasure of the body and the right of all human beings to access and experience that pleasure.
I recently had the pleasure of conducting an interview with Nawal El Saadawi, a dynamic 80-year-old revolutionary and author from Egypt. El Saadawi was on the forefront of the recent Egyptian revolution and was often seen on the news with fire in her eyes, her silver hair in two plaits, condemning the old regime and speaking for women’s rights in the sustained wave of civil disobedience, which she says she dreamed of when she was a child. We spoke politics before I asked the question that had been burning in my breast since hearing her talk about the “pleasure of writing” at the opening ceremony of the African Women’s Writers symposium held in Johannesburg last year.
“Is there such a thing as the orgasm of writing,” I asked her.
El Saadawi’s eyes lit up. “Ah the orgasm of writing … yes … writing is more pleasurable than sex or food. I’m telling you it is. When I am caught up in the writing process I forget about sex and food and all those other pleasures because the orgasm of writing is so much more pleasurable to me.”
I was delighted and relieved at her response because somehow, being privy to this orgasmic phenomenon comes with a sense of madness and any mention of it on a public forum is usually met with an embarrassed silence or outright derision from both male and female dissenters. I am not sure if there is a general silence around the topic of orgasm or if the notion of orgasm/mind just does not feature in mainstream thinking, other than as pornographic imagery. But for me writing is not simply typing on a keyboard. I do my best writing when I am lying in a hot bath in a sort of semi-trance where ideas and narratives proliferate at an alarming rate.
Sometimes when talking or walking or watching other people’s works I will enter a state of inner ecstasy as a fountain of creative ideas unleash themselves into my body. It is that rush of creativity that shoots through the spinal chord and out the top of my head, tickles my solar plexus, bubbles in my belly and electrifies my synapses. It is when my stomach fills itself with a rumbling mirth and I belly-laugh at my own offbeat thoughts. Sure it is not the thrusting, grinding, breath-of-fire type orgasm that great sex may bring on, or that joyous abandon that occurs when that tiny portal to pleasure, the clitoris, is being teased and cajoled and stroked orally with the precision to which she should be accustomed. Rather, the orgasm of writing is akin to that sensation that is concentrated in the 8 000 nerve endings contained within that blissful clitoral universe the goddess of play bestowed upon the fairer sex … only it dances all over the trinity of body, mind and soul.
It is the playful stimulation of the brain and is nothing less than the sensation of some sort of Tantric cunnilingus on the inside of my head. Excruciatingly delicious and yet endurable, it lasts a lot longer than the clitoral/penile orgasm. In fact, it is a way of life if you choose it to be.
As foreign to logic as this may be, it is entirely possible to live in this realm of play – a state that comes with plenty of perks too. For example, if you are able to sustain this generally orgasmic subsistence, dreary human foibles such as depression, anxiety and melancholy are simply evicted. They cannot endure all that happiness inside your head or that deep tickle in your being. They simply up and leave, and try as you might, it is impossible to get them to take up residence again. In my occasional darker moments I have sometimes bemoaned the fact that I can no longer access those long self-indulgent days of lying on the couch crying and writhing in divine angst, or staring mournfully out of the window wondering how one can be capable of such intense wretchedness. Those days are over. And this ecstatic state is not that type of euphoria that can take leave at any moment, plummeting me to the depths of a self-loathing hell. This is not a manic state of being. Rather it is a sustained-release state of being and yes, it is an orgasmic state of being.
Although embodied, it is a pleasure that is directly rooted in language in a way that subverts the symbolic order of logic. It is a revolutionary inspired and jouissant language that does not dwell in the duality between mind/logic and body/irrational. Literary theorist Roland Barthes expresses this sensual phenomenon in his seminal text A Lover’s Discourse when he writes, “Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire. The emotion derives from a double contact: on the one hand, a whole activity of discourse discreetly, indirectly focuses upon a single signified, which is ‘I desire you’, and releases, nourishes, ramifies it to the point of explosion (language experiences orgasm upon touching itself); on the other hand, I enwrap the other in my words, I caress, brush against, talk up this contact, I extend myself to make the commentary to which I submit the relation endure.”
Nawal El Saadawi’s lecture on women, creativity and dissidence.