Friday, February 01, 2013

Pleasure and the romance novel

In his The Pleasure of the Text, Roland Barthes cites two kinds of experiences when it comes to reading. The first is plaisir or pleasure; the other, jouissance, translated as 'bliss' (though in Jacques Lacan's work, the word is untranslated because it goes beyond enjoyment; Wiki references orgasmic). According to Barthes, the text itself begins simply: letters, words, sentences. But as we read it, we start to connect it to different thoughts and emotions. We bring something else to the text.

The book of love is long and boring, Peter Gabriel sings

Reading Marla Miniano's From This Day Forward, for example, made me recall similar weddings, similar failed loves, and the smooth feel of a shapeless gold dress I had to wear the last time I was a bridesmaid. Reading Lauren Willig's The Mischief of the Mistletoe for the nth time never fails to bring that kilig feeling when I imagine how the characters look like and act towards each other. Or at least that's what I think it means when Barthes says that this is where the pleasure part comes in. The language is innocent and as readers, we bring something else to cover it. We attach something else to the text that we're reading. In a way it's also something that can be controlled. (Also, I'm probably simplifying this in ways that will make my Lit professors cringe.)

The jouissance part, or the bliss, that's the tricky one. It's an action, not just a state of mind. This is the text that unsettles you, the reading experience that becomes unbearable. Pleasure is for the masses; jouissance is undiluted, uncontrolled. When I read about jouissance in critical text, I always go hot damn, what was the last novel that made me feel that?

Anyway, this post really isn't about jouissance more than it is about the simple pleasures I feel when I read a good romance. I don't really mention this a lot, but I can hear a soundtrack in my head. Doesn't matter if it's anachronistic, like Snow Patrol's Signal Fire when I'm reading about Mau and Daphne in Terry Pratchett's Nation. Or seamlessly complement the narrative, like Red House Painter's Revelation Big Sur for Sweethearts. I know a lot of writers who write with music in the background or pick out playlists for their own books (check out Libba Bray's here). In a way, this connection with music is what triggers my pleasure centers and make me feel like this most of the time:

Happiness is contagious

This year, I believe, will be my year of pleasure and the romance novel: to make connections and attachments between words and images, whether I am a reader or a writer. May awareness and emotion visit us with every turn of the page.


Tin said...

Soundtracks are crucial in movies but I never really thought about it when it comes to books or reading. It's kind of cool that a soundtrack pops in your head as you read. I should give that a try. But it probably won't work if you do it consciously.:) Incidentally, I'm reading Sarah Dessen's This Lullaby. I can only imagine how the song: "This Lullaby" sounds.

At one point I got obsessed with Doctor Who (10th) and attached the song Stars by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals to it. I just can't believe how the song completely describes the relationship between The Doctor and his companions. And Distance by Perri and Mraz has Eponine and Marius written all over it.

Okay, too much random ranting. Haha. Not making much sense.:)But I get how music is such a moving factor but I never realized it's crucial too, for writers.

I should get Sweethearts. I haven't read anything of Sara Zarr's.

Jouissance is my word for the day. :D

dementedchris said...

Lovely that you should mention Doctor Who; my friend and I make FSTs (fan soundtracks) for that fandom. Some of my favorites include Sting's A Thousand Years and Better Than Ezra's Breathless. Thanks for the recommendations; now I have more songs to loop!

I adore Sweethearts but I don't think I've read anything else of Sara Zarr. Must be remedied! :)

dementedchris said...

(Oh, and The Planets Bend Between Us by Snow Patrol. All the feels.)

Tin said...

I only know of Snow Patrol's mainstream song, Chasing Cars. Love that song.

I too, have new (Doctor Who related) songs to listen to, now! Nyahaha. :D