Kinkonomics and the Science of the Pseudonym

The Daily Beast had a recent article on what the author, Tracy Quan, termed Kinkonomics: the growing number of women turning to freelance dominatrix work as the economy tanks. In New York dungeons, such as Le Salon DeSade and Rebecca’s Hidden Chamber, there’s good money to be made:

Jessica, a pro-domme in her late twenties, apprenticed at a dungeon before striking out on her own. In Manhattan dungeons, she says, the typical cut on a $200 session is 60-40 in the dungeon’s favor. To people who make their entire living in the sex industry—professional escorts who get $500 an hour, for instance—such rates can seem abusive. But freelancers see it differently. “If you’re making $8 an hour at your day job, $80 is awesome,” says Jessica. “There’s no shortage of women willing to work at those rates.”

It’s a cyclical thing, apparently – the current situation a replay of the 2002 technology bust – but it brought to mind those authors who also turn to the seamy side during tough times. Sphere has just released In Bed With…, a collection of erotica for women by a collection of household-name women writers, including Adele Parks, Ali Smith, Chris Manby, Daisy Waugh, Kathy Lette and Maggie Alderson.

The kicker is that, while the authors are listed in the front of the book, the stories themselves are unattributed. Is this titillation, or shame? Are these authors proud of their filth, or afraid to be associated with it? Like the dominatrixes of New York, do they wear masks to heighten the mystery – or to make it easier to return to the straight world when the tough times are over?

Pseudonyms, unattributed works, a renunciations have always been a part of dirty fiction. The author of Bookkake’s own Memoirs of a Young Rakehell, Guillaume Apollinaire, began his life as Wilhelm Albert Włodzimierz Apolinary de Wąż-Kostrowicki, but it’s by his pseudonym that he has become much better known. He was first translated into English by one ‘Oscar Mole’ – in fact, a psudonym of Alexander Trocchi (who Bookkake’s wanted to publish for some time – see our introduction by Stewart Home).

Trocchi himself wrote under a number of pseudonyms: the delicious White Thighs and Helen and Desire appeared under the pen-name “Frances Lengel”, while Thongs bore the name of the enticing-sounding “Carmenicita de Las Lunas”. All of these first appeared from Maurice Girodias’ legendary Olympia Press, whose Travellers Companions series was almost exclusively composed of anonymous and pseudonymous titles – look out for fine works by “William Talsman”, “Harriet Daimler” and “Keith Kerner”. Terry Southern’s wickedly funny collaboration with Mason Hoffenberg, Candy, also from Olympia, appeared authored by “Maxwell Kenton”.

John Cleland tried to renounce Fanny Hill to avoid prosecution, having first published it anonymously – as did “Walter”, the author of the seminal (but largely dull) Victorian erotic compendium My Secret Life, now widely, but not conclusively, believed to have been the sex-obsessed bibliographer Henry Spencer Ashbee. Auden refused ever to claim credit for the quite extraordinarily filthy The Platonic Blow – which luckily for us means it is not protected by copyright, and you can find on our 404 page.

The most famous dirty lit pseudonym is probably that of Dominique Aury who double-bluffed everyone with The Story of O, which appeared under the name of Pauline Reage but was widely assumed to have been by a man. Pseudonyms seemed to have had rather a comeback in recent years with the rise of the both the sex-bloggers (Girl With A One Track Mind, Belle De Jour – named for the original hard-times hooker) and the sex memoirists (the barely-disguised Melissa Ps and Catherine Ms), with a corresponding, increasing desire to unmask those behind them. If a pseudonym is what’s required before an author with something to get off their chest will let their work out into the world, long may they continue.

Fanny, or, More problems with the naughty filter

After our recent troubles with Facebook, our attempt to sign up with Google Books faces this unexpected hurdle:

In a previous editing life, I was once involved in a very, very long discussion with an American author about whether ‘fanny’ was appropriate in the UK edition of his work. In that case, it specifically referred to an older man touching the ‘fanny’ of a young girl. While fully aware of the term’s meaning in the US, we felt it might be rather more ambiguous to UK readers, and might be substituted without changing the meaning or the effect of the text. The author eventually overruled us.

In this case, it seems particularly egregious. What is Google hoping to avoid? Who put ‘fanny’ on the naughty list? And will they accept a tinyurl instead?

(To the last question, at least: Yes.)

Posted October 30, 2008 | Comments (1).

Banned Books

If you’re not aware already, this week is the American Library Association’s Banned Book Week, which seeks to draw attention to the freedom to read and “reminds Americans not to take this precious democratic freedom for granted.” Of course, this is a warning we should all heed – as the example of Bookkake’s Fanny Hill demonstrates.

Fanny Hill remains one of the most famous cases of censorship in British – and indeed American – history, and Sean Walsh details the beginnings of its troubles in his introduction to the book – alongside details of Jacobite sex clubs, and Eighteenth century sex panic and blood fixations. It was Fanny Hill that was at the centre of Memoirs v. Massachusetts, a landmark 1966 Supreme Court case that finally put the decade-old Roth ruling for obscenity to the test.

John Mark Ockerbloom has a great post on Why Banned Book Week Matters over at the Everybody’s Libraries blog, and the Guardian is also running a reasonably enlightening Banned Books Quiz to test your knowledge.

Image from florian.b’s Flickr stream, under Creative Commons.

Posted September 30, 2008 | Comments (2).

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