Phallobiography

Anthony Burgess (described by Benny Hill as ‘the greatest living expert on sex’), writes in his introduction to Frank Harris’s My Life and Loves (which Burgess calls a ‘phallobiography’):

‘Perhaps for the first time in English letters the author’s phallus marches forward in the vanguard of the author himself….

‘The essence of vulgarity is dissociation. It sees the human complex as capable of fission. Our television commercials concentrate on man solely as a consumer and appeal to his appetites. The intellect, the capacity for rational choice, the aesthetic instinct are rigidly omitted from the human image; greed alone is the object of appeal. The same selectiveness is at work in the contemporary fixation on physical allure and even physical health. The building of pectoral muscles and gratification of the clitoris with a vibrator are not immoral, but they are certainly vulgar. The vulgarity is emphasised by the use of homely abbreviations like “pecs” and “clit”, which reduce noble parts of the body to toys….

‘To call the female pudenda a “pussy”, as Harris frequently does, is as much an evasion as to call it, as the eighteenth-century pornographers did, “the bower of bliss”, but at least the more orotund term raises it to a paradisal level, while the other is a childish reduction, a nursery animalisation that is ignoble….

‘If you want the best vulgarity, the culture of the United States, which is both material and evangelical, will gladly provide it. Vulgarity of language, as much in the other sundered colonies as in the mother of revolution, is a rebuke to the stiff system of the homeland. Harris was against stiffness, except in a basic physical region….It is probably unfair to corroborate the vulgar, and near-illiterate, view of Frank Harris as an autopornographer….it was an aspect of his vulgarity, a vice that often touches hypocrisy, to excuse his revelations in terms of a salutary candour. We have heard from a best-selling dealer in sex and violence asseverations about the nobility of showing up the horrors of the world. This is best left to moral evangelists who are poorly paid; in rich purveyors of pulp fiction it has a hollow ring….sexual candour is ill served by the bald notation of sexual acts. Probably that plural is out of order….

‘Harris was embarrassingly vulgar….Even the most hardened of us cannot read him without a blush of shame….It is useful to compare Harris with his friend Oscar Wilde. Wilde was the victim of bitter, and highly hypocritical, sexual persecution, but he could not be arraigned on the ground of propagandising for the alleged vice. He kept his erotic life separate from his art. He was never vulgar…he execrated vulgarity as a mortal sin….

‘[Harris’s] arrogance is insufferable, and it has a sexual provenance. Men who do well with women like to think of themselves as world conquerors…he was coarse, quarrelsome, self-opinionated.’

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