Gillian Schutte
Gillian Schutte

O is for Orgasm

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.”

Read Reviews for Gillian Schutte’s novel, After just now, here:

Nawal El Saadawi’s lecture on women, creativity and dissidence.

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    • suntosh

      A deliciously decedent piece that really untangles the sensuality of the cerebral.

    • Judith

      Wow Gillian – you have just set my experience into words! Especially when I was in my late teens and early twenties. However the same stirs when I do presentations and write really good postings. Yes – success is orgasmic

    • Dave Harris

      Phew! Gillian, I needed a cigarette after reading this blog! 😉
      There’s nothing more threatening to that elite members-only club, “those who feel victimised by the matter of white privilege and racism ” than a strong women with the freedom of self expression – that are part of the backbone of the struggle against opression throughout the world.
      Keep up the excellent, thought-provoking writing!

    • Stephen

      Say whaaat?

    • Momma Cyndi

      Thank you
      That explains a lot

    • KMS

      I love writing too. You seem like a lovely and attractive person and I was excited by the title. Being male might be a handicap, because I still prefer the more orthodox route!! Although reading some well written world is often better than visual mode

      As for the cruel people…rather associate with folk that understand you.

    • Benzo

      I agree, an orgasm is always better than no orgasm.
      How and where you get it from is immaterial.
      Just enjoy it while it lasts :-))

    • Jan Ciechanowski

      I am writing this note from Mauritius and as I am a “habitual” reader of this publication I came already across several of your articles. They are better than good and I would like to thank you for all I already read hoping that there are others to come. I am an old man by all standards and wish all to enjoy your company, intellectually speaking of course for some longer. Hope to not take all of your time as the end of year festivities are certainly in the full swing around so to end up let me wish you many happy returns and best of luck in your work. Yet, above all: have fun please!!! Best Regards

      Jan Ciechanowski
      [email protected]
      Box 27, Quatre Bornes

    • mumble

      “in need of a good fuck” is a matter for sympathy, but preferably not empathy; “aggressive” means “got being assertive wrong”; “shrill” means “alienated your target audience by going on too long” and “foreign to logic” means “delightfully feminine”.

      “seminal”? Goodness me.

    • Lennon

      The closest I could get to understanding a literary orgasm is in the writings of J. Robert King when he authored a few of the “Magic: The Gathering” novels. Oddly, and to the disgust of many I’m sure, what kept me glued to his books were the battles which took place in all of them. King has a knack for describing in dramatic detail anything from a single axe-swing to an massive airship crashing into an army and it is, quite frankly, salivating. I would even go so far as to say that no film adaptation would be able to capture any of his battles in quite the same way.

      This isn’t the sole reason for my being a fan of King’s writing. I’ve found that his characters are always well constructed and explained – especially their thoughts and none of the books that he has written for the “Magic” series ever stagnate, not even during what would be considered the most boring and / or slow-paced chapters.

    • Bert

      The woman writer who has come closest to providing ‘orgasmic’ reading, for me, is Antonia (A.S.) Byatt – especially her Frederica-quartet, rather than her best-known novel, Possession. Her short stories, too, are sometimes orgasmic, as far as reader-reception is concerned. But you are talking about writing being orgasmic, here. I can identify with that, with the qualification that it is not with every single writing-activity that these heights or peaks are reached, metaphorically speaking. Some are better than others, as indeed in the realm where your metaphor is rooted.

    • Lisa

      An orgasm was never more boring for me than reading this piece.

      Sorry but you just lost me again.

    • Belle

      I really enjoyed this piece. It provides a fresh perspective on the diversity of the need for writing and the boundless joys it can make you experience.

    • Benzo

      @Bert: “The woman writer who has come closest to providing ‘orgasmic’ reading, for me, is Antonia (A.S.) Byatt – especially her Frederica-quartet, …….”

      Having expereinced the real thing, I cannot believe any really “orgasmic reading” exists. Unless you are lazy :-))

    • Gavin Foster

      Good grief! You must be doing something very wrong in the sack. Writing can be deeply satisfying, but orgasmic? Only if you’re filled with your own self importance.

      Carry on beating the race drum rather.

    • Maria

      Gillian, I assume you are familiar with Roland Barthes’s The Pleasure of the Text, which is probably the classic text on orgasmic and pleasurable literature, respectively, the two being dissimilar. Which is not quite the same thing you are talking about here, having more directly to do with texts and text reception than with the experience of writing (a distinction Bert also alludes to, above), but it is closely related to your piece nevertheless.

    • Gillian Schutte

      @Maria I quote Barthes in the piece at the end – so yes I am familiar with his work. In the case of reading – well Barthes also writes about the reade being the author and in fact writing the text – so reading and writing and the pleasures of the text are indivisible.

      @Gavin – that is a one-dimensional view on orgasm and has nothing to do with a short squirty male orgasm – women’s ability to orgasm on many levels is one of the mysterious holy grails of the world – pushed underground by a monolithic male view – singular.

      I’ll continue to beat the race drum and reveal the multidimensional sexuality of the feminine.

    • Trevor Sturgess

      “A males short squirty orgasm-” Haha! Yes, its an intense release inside the female. A short feeling of happiness. The love that goes before and after the “short squirt” isn’t something you could possibly claim to call the same for all men. To help protect and jointly provide for. To hold and encourage each other. A written orgasm. Indeed. Males have the capacity to feel more than an ejaculation.

    • Michel

      @ Gavin – score one to you sir!

    • http://[email protected] malutiman

      Eish! You’re not perhaps confusing literaty orgasm with literary masturbation, accepting of course that the former is a function of the latter.

    • Marie Nadine Pierre

      One love. I loved this piece. It will be in my files of favorite writings. Are you familiar with belle hooks aka Gloria Watkins? She has written quite a few books many about erotici live and passion. Shes a questionning post modernist. I really enjoyed reading the works of Roland Barthes and I have loved listening and watching Nawal the elder feminist from Egypt. I love this piece and it helps me to grow I read in the area of erotic literature and one anthology that has caught my attention recently is the feminist pornography which has been reviewed well by various well known acadwmics. I am looking forward to participating in their conference this Spring in Toronto. Blessings.