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Award-winning novelist talks about eroticism in PH literature

Jameela I. Mendoza | News Writer

LITERARY PIECES centered on eroticism or sex faced a backlash in 1930s to 1950s due to Philippine conservatives, said Palanca-awardee, Ian Casocot, during the Albert Faurot Lecture series for Culture and the Arts last Jan. 22.

“(Angela Manalang-Gloria) was supposed to win the Philippine Commonwealth Literary Award in 1940, but it was taken away from her because her poem (“Revolt From Hymen”) was considered pornographic,” he said.

He added that even National Artist for literature Jose Garcia Villa was expelled from the University of the Philippines for writing erotic poems like “Coconut Poem,” which likened the coconut to a woman’s breast.

He also shared the story of Estrella Alfon who was almost jailed in 1955 when the Catholic Women’s League took Alfon to court for her short story “Fairy Tale for the City.”

The story talks about a young man’s initiation into sex.

As a result, Casocot said that there is a lack of eroticism in Philippine Literature.

“No Filipino has made a name for himself or herself in the (erotica) genre,” said Casocot.

In the confusion of distinction between erotica and pornography, he said the two can be distinguished but can also overlap.

“The shadiness of that overlap frightens many writers and readers… But if you think about it, both erotica and pornography are exercises in dealing with the human body,” Casocot said.

However, he said most people believe that what makes erotica stand apart is its “insistence on beauty” of the physical and emotional aspect of sex.

“If you have beauty in your literary piece, then that is erotica, not exactly pornography,” he added.

Psychologist Leon Seltzer, said Casocot, further defined the line between erotica and pornography when Seltzer said pornography’s aim is to gain profit from immediate arousal.

Casocot co-authored “Don’t Tell Anyone,” a collection of erotic short stories about gay and lesbian lives published last 2017, with Shakira Sison.

One of the challenges in writing erotica, he added, is balancing “titillating prose and the need to propel a good story.”

While the stories in the book are sexually explicit, Casocot said: “The best of literary smut are ultimately tales about
loving and about desiring, about being human, about connecting and about losing. Most of all, these are testaments to beautiful heartbreak.”

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