Angela Carter, who in her novels writes about the “mistresses of the whip,” of female slaves and sadistic pleasures, shrewdly observes, “I believe that people find many different things erotic, and I find it difficult to generalize … Perhaps one characteristic of erotic literature, if I had to try to define it as a genre, is that of not taking sex for granted.” Eroticism, generally speaking, “problematizes sex,” while in pornography “sex is everywhere, in every form, is a consumer product that loses its value.”
Erotic literature, on the other hand, is precisely the exploration of the boundaries between the obscene and the erotic, between pornography and erotic art, between the great temptation and the great challenge. This play of stereotypes within the genre—what is masculine, what is feminine, what belongs to men, what to women—is conducted along a very fine edge and is always dangerously balanced between convention and transgression. […]
Eroticism is a form of knowledge that writers and philosophers have from time to time tied to an idea of loss and of suffering, a feeling of dissipation, and a “strong” concept of power from which there is no escape. The erotic experience, wedded in this way to mystical experience, destroys reality at the very moment in which it discovers it. In his introduction to a well-known work of Georges Bataille, Alberto Moravia writes, “The sexual relation, like Attila, leaves no grass on the ground over which it passes. It creates desert around itself and calls that desert ‘reality’.” Since it projects man outside of the world, the erotic experience is a devaluation and rejection of the world itself. And no return is ever possible, as Moravia writes: “The bridges are burned; the real world is lost forever.”
This grandiosely tragic vision of the power of sex is by no means unfamiliar to women. But there is a difference, the difference that for women, return is always possible. The cancellation of the world is never total, never definitive. Destructiveness is not an obsession. Alina Reyes, who achieved success in France with her first published work, an erotic tale, has explained with great simplicity: “Male eroticism is too enslaved to its ghosts, its stereotypical and repetitive fantasies, voyeuristic imaginings; at bottom, to abstractions. Women, instead, are more tied to the concrete experience of the flesh, to matter.”
From the Introduction to In the Forbidden City: An Anthology of Erotic Fiction by Italian Women, edited by Maria Rosa Cutrufelli, translated by Vincent J. Bertolini (University of Chicago Press, 2000). Posted by kind permission of Maria Rosa Cutrufelli.
 Nicole Brossard, The Aerial Letter, trans. Marlene Wildeman (Toronto: The Women’s Press, 1988), 83
1 Angela Carter, interviewed by Paola Bono, Tuttestorie, vol. 1 no. 0 (March 1990).
 Georges Bataille, Storia dell’occhio (Rome: Gremese, 1991), preface by Alberto Moravia.
 Alina Reyes, interviewed by Marisa Rusconi in Tuttestorie, vol. 1 no. 0 (March 1990).