In The Sexual Life of Catherine M., celebrated French intellectual Catherine Millet gives us pornography that is both high-brow and profound, as well as literature that is both exciting and filthy. Millet writes with the cool, discerning eye of the art critic that she is, examining her orgiastic adventures, fantasies, blowjobs, anal probings and orgasms, as she might a series of sculptures or paintings.
My favorite parts describe the gangbangs. One woman and thirty men sounds like good odds to me. The venues are also exciting: the Bois de Boulogne, a French Villa, various parks and parking lots. Millet is not the first woman to enjoy having sex with several men (and a few women) at once. Many ladies enjoy and excel at group action: the swinger chick, the town slut, the cheerleader that sucks off the football team, the porn starlet who wins the consensual gangbang contest. However, such women tend not to talk about their experiences much, for a variety of reasons. For one, their mouths are filled with cock.
Even though Millet maintains, in her feminine way, that she is not a feminist, her book is an eloquent celebration of women’s sexual power. No man can do this. A man may have a harem with 100 women in it, but he can’t fuck all of them in one night. Whereas Catherine fucks 100 men in a night with some regularity, and with little difficulty except a bit of soreness between the thighs. Then, you realize why men have guarded, enslaved and punished women for millenia. Because every woman can do this.
Not that it takes any great physical ability. And certainly no mental talent. Of course, it takes stamina. But just about any reasonably healthy young or middle-aged woman can plunk herself down on a coffee table or park bench and spread her legs for numerous men to fuck her as she strokes and sucks and plays with the various cocks that surround her.
And yet it is an achievement. Even a great achievement. Because, though every woman can do this, most women don’t–for fear of being labeled a slut, or because no one asks them, or because they are so indoctrinated into the idea of one man per woman, that it doesn’t even occur to them.
Thus, very few women write about it, even fewer writing about it well enough for respectable people to read. The Sexual Life of Catherine M. serves up an art critic’s detailed, almost dispassionate perspective of being in the center of a gigantic gangbang. The book makes you feel that this is, in a way, what women’s bodies are built for, to lie like an egg, waiting to be fertilized by millions of sperm, penetrated by dozens of cocks, fucked by dozens of men, all vying politely to get inside. Or, as Millet herself alludes, like a spider in her very sticky web.
My least favorite parts of the book are the ones about dirt. This is not just “dirty” in a spiritual sense, as in “talking dirty,” although Millet covers that subject pretty well too. This is dirt in the sense of real, physical grime, crud (human and otherwise) and lack of a shower. We Americans already tend to think that the French don’t bathe enough (thus, the fabulous perfumes), and Catherine M. confirms all our worst fears about this aspect of the French. She’s constantly having sex in filth with dirty disgusting men with rotten teeth and foul smells. It’s a wonder she hasn’t picked up a lot more than just “the clap” along the way. She calls it raising herself “above prejudice.” I call it yucky.
But she does seem to know what she’s doing. The Sexual Life of Catherine M. solidifies a belief that Americans already have, that is, that Frenchwomen KNOW about sex, dirty and otherwise. Other Frenchwomen who wrote about sex from “the woman’s point of view,” shocking the cultures of their time, include Colette, whose novels of the pleasures and pains of love foreshadow Millet with their exact evocation of sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and colors, and Anaïs Nin who wasn’t actually French, but lived in Paris when she wrote her famous Delta of Venus and House of Incest. Then there’s Simone de Beauvoir, she of The Second Sex, and, Pauline Reage of The Story of O. Now we have Catherine Millet, gangbang aesthete.
It makes you wonder: Is there something about being French or living in France that gives women the talent to be their sexual selves, and then to describe female sexuality in such a way that captures the imagination of an international generation? Is it thejoie de vivre? Le plaisir? La Cuisine? La Liberté? The art that is everywhere you turn?
Part of the excitement of The Sexual Life of Catherine M. is that Catherine Millet is a celebrity in France, and she is not a sex celebrity, but a famous, distinguished art critic. That makes it all the more exciting. She is a highly respectable person talking about something not at all respectable.
The other day, I was interviewed for “The Good News,” a new show on France’s Canal+ TV, about whether I thought the American publication of The Sexual Life of Catherine M. might set off some kind of sexual revolution here. It’s true that the French have been helping us Americans with our revolutions ever since the Revolutionary War that gained our so-called independence from the Brits. “Will Millet’s sex memoirs, already on the NY Times Bestseller list, as it has graced the bestseller lists of many European journals, revolutionize Americans?” Canal+ wanted to know.
Well, we already have consensual gangbangs. We also have quite a few intellectuals writing porn, from Camille Paglia to Carol Queen, not to mention Nicholson Baker. Of course, Americans don’t celebrate female intellectuals like the French do. And Madonna did her SEX book a decade ago.
Though The Sexual Life of Catherine M. probably won’t set off an American revolution, at least not on its own, it may well encourage a lot more intellectuals, artists, writers and celebrities to write their sex memoirs. Hopefully, this will be a good thing for those of us who appreciate literature and/or porn. Hopefully, we won’t be saying “Oh no, not another erotic memoir by a celebrated intellectual!” in a couple of years.
The Canal+ folks asked me if I thought Catherine M. was shocking Americans. I don’t think it shocks us to see that the French are writing about sex. Isn’t that what they specialize in, besides crêpes suzettes?
But what about an American celebrity? I’ve been fantasizing about which respected female American celebrity might shock us to our all-American cores with a book of sex memoirs. Maybe Barbara Walters? The Sexual Life of Barbara W? Or how about Julia R? Tina B? Hillary Rodham C? Who will it be?