The Golden Age of Dirty Talk
Published on October 27, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at The Awl, Lili Loofbourow bemoans "the sorry state of sexual expression."

She writes:

"When did we forget how to talk dirty? Sexting transcripts are criminally boring. Craigslist ads read like chimp-generated remixes of the same five words. Is it the Internet? Why are Americans so bad at writing and speaking the thing they love thinking about and doing? You can measure a civilization's cultural capital by how it encodes its basest operations. By that yardstick, we're broke.

So, what would good bad language look like? Luckily, there was plenty of it in early modern London, where vulgarity had a vast vocabulary and even indecent proposals were decently couched. For an example of the latter we can look to a cheeky little pamphlet written in 1656 called the Academy of Pleasure. Author unknown (he knew better than to sign his name), it's an etiquette book for the morally flexible. What it offers is a) practical guidance in the art of preying on others (and, pretty broad-mindedly, how to avoid being preyed on) and b) criminal panache. If a 17th-century Londoner tried to scam you, he'd do it by announcing (grandly, irresistibly): “I have a task worthy the pregnancy of your spirit.”

I have a task worthy the pregnancy of your spirit: Save the slangforest. Breed dirty words. Bring synonyms back. Or just enroll in the Academy of Pleasure."

She adds:

"When Anthony Weiner writhed in the public eye, I watched, doubly dismayed—at his dishonesty on the one hand and the mundanity of his dirty talk on the other. Whatever his faults, Weiner has a long record as an articulate jokester; how could he have penned those uninspired, sub-literate half-sentences? Was it a lack of effort? A lack of interest? Or (and I think the truth lives here) is it that he's never considered applying the high standards he has for political performance to other kinds of wordplay?

Why does language get tepid and ugly just when it should be doing the most sensory kind of work? Shouldn't sexting be a petri dish of future Shakespeares, all dying to persuade, trying with words to transform bodies? It's a kind of alchemy, after all; straw into gold, words into wood.

In The History of Sexuality, Foucault speculated that those who write about sex acquire some kind of revolutionary halo. If mentioning the unmentionable transgresses, those who do so 'ardently conjure away the present and appeal to the future, whose day will be hastened by the contribution we believe we are making. Something that smacks of revolt, of promised freedom, of the coming age of a different law. Tomorrow,' Foucault says, 'sex will be good again.'

He was right, but that moment came and went. These days, there's no revolutionary halo inherited from obscenity, no promised freedom. The taboo limps along, not too relevantly, while millions of Dicks and Janes gabble about their genitals and porn habits and preferred positions with all the panache of misbehaving first-graders. I don't know whether sex will be good again tomorrow, but wouldn't it be great if one day, our way of talking about sex, and bodies generally, and other things too, was good again?"

As someone who found Weiner's sexts almost unbelievably pathetic, I enjoyed Loofbourow's piece, and believe it makes a pretty convincing (and eloquent) argument.

Click here to read the whole thing.


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