The Eros of Reading and Writing

/ by Vladimir Arsenić

At the end of the romantic period of my life, when I turned eighteen and the war broke out in former Yugoslavia, the British band The Sundays released the album titled Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. It was hard to relate these three operations we learn in the first grades of the primary school with rock and roll, especially because the music that I was listening to at the time was full of deep and sometimes dark eroticism. But still, when I hear songs from the album it brings back that feeling of the world standing in front of me, waiting to be consumed. It never happened to the extent I dreamt about, but that does not mean that I have not lived and felt and suffered and rejoiced through texts, through reading and writing.

I could always, instinctively, understand that reading was somewhat erotic. Diving into different worlds, fighting with rhythm and sound and meaning in poetry, but also in the prose of South American writers (Marques, Llosa, Sabato, Borges), which I swallowed in that period, and discovering beat poets and novelists, Ginsberg’s Howl, Kerouac’s On the Road and Burroughs’ Naked Lunch were at the same time so divine, distant, and spiritual and yet so palpable, bodily, present. Salinger and Bukowski, two sides of the same story (The Catcher In The Rye/Ham On The Rye), the posh and rich and spoiled, but nonetheless sad and true Holden Caufield, the poor and fighting and oppressed, but still true and joyful Henri Chinaski, the things that made my hair stand on end, discoveries that changed my life. Every subsequent reading is somehow connected to these beginnings, the feeling of plaisir du texte, to quote Barthes, that which is always piercing, stabbing straight to the core of the being, which brings up that same erotic sway, that passion, that shiver. I am well aware of the shortcomings of language, but how can one describe love and longing, if not through imperfect metaphors, through bodily expressions of inner chemistry?

And then, I discovered writing. Everything that was exciting about reading, and still is, gets doubled when it comes to writing. All one has to do is to let oneself into the abyss. Writing is an extreme bodily experience: Excessive sweating, nausea, diarrhoea, incontrollable tears and/or laughter, even sexual arousal. And all of that through merely sitting in front of the screen, or a sheet of paper and typing or writing freehand. Maybe the most enjoyable thing about writing is losing one's head, meaning that no matter how much one has planned and outlined the text, it will always bear some traces of physicality. It is extremely hard to control our body in the process of writing.

It does not have to be related to use or abuse of artificial paradises (to quote Baudelaire). Some of my writer friends use alcohol or marijuana to stimulate the imagination, but when I refer to the physicality of writing, I do not think of that. Stimulation of any kind is quite tolerable while inscribing, typing, inserting the text, but it is very unhelpful when the text is edited. While ‘high’ one can find harmony and excitement in ordinary things, which means the morning after decides the text.

Bodily writing is something completely different. It is the inner eros of writing. It is the projection of one’s own Eros onto the text. It is ever-present in a piece of work. One cannot hide it, not even by additional editing, not by blurring authorial personality, not by false attribution. I am aware that I sound a bit mystical, but the reading process discovers it and identifies with it and the stronger the identification, the better the literary artwork.

Our language(s) is or are incomplete. Derrida and deconstructivism showed that in a very convincing manner. The eros of writing is exactly that – our connection with our inner being without full awareness of that connection. While writing, we could try to be deliberately funny, or pathetic, or intelligent, but without the presence of the inexplicable, we will not convince our readers that exactly our text, and not the other one, is worth reading. So that is why there is no fraud in literature. One could try it, people have tried it through the ages, but the real presence of Eros is impossible to fake. It echoes in the readers and takes them to catharsis, to joy and pleasure. And that is why we love literature so much.

Vladimir Arsenić

graduated in comparative literature from the Tel Aviv University (master degree). He is a regular critic of the internet portal and He published texts for the Think Tank, Beton, Quorum,, He was a mentor on the project Criticize this! with Srdjan Srdić, he teaches creative writing in Hila workshop. He is a regular contributor to literary festival Cum grano salis in Tuzla, BiH. His texts are translated into albanian and slovenian. He translates from English and Hebrew. With friends, he edits a literary magazine Ulaznica that is published in Zrenjanin. He supports Tottenham Hotspur FC.