Screwing With Our Minds: Vinnie Tesla, The Erotofluidic Age, and the moral duty of a pornographer

“Eleanor, he gasped, “your kisses make me quite giddy.
“Come, Dewey, she answered, taking him firmly by the hand, “let us waste no time in renewing our friendship. “ Vinnie Tesla, The Erotofluidic Age

Vinnie Tesla’s first single-author ebook from Circlet Press is The Erotofluidic Age, a collection of steampunk erotica. One reader described Tesla’s writing this way: “The author’s style delightfully combines the formal style of late-19th-century writers with a modern sense of humor and hot, explicit sex.

Everything about Vinnie Tesla is clever, even his name. As he explains on his website , “The pseudonym is a pun on the New England restaurant chain VinnyT’s (formerly Vinny Testas) and the Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla, perhaps best known for inventing the Tesla Coil.

I had the opportunity to ask Tesla about the thinking that goes into his erotica.* What he told me was as provocative as one would expect from the author of The Erotofluidic Age.

Tesla says he spent years reading voraciously before he finally built up the nerve to write and post something in the usenet group. Then just a bit of positive feedback was all it took to keep him writing.

He says, “My skill, confidence, and ambition have grown a bit since then, but I started late, and I started slow. I am not a very young man anymore, but I am still a very young writer. I get kind of sad when I think of how much better I would be now if, like Stephen King, I had been putting together zines to sell to my classmates in junior high. Still, I’m very pleased and proud to be where I am, and excited to see where I can get from here.

He certainly has something to be pleased about. The Erotfluidic Age is a well written collection, featuring a surprisingly diverse array of erotic scenarios. The characters and their couplings (and triplings and . . .) often represent resistance to normative images of sexuality and desire. About this Tesla says, “I do think that there is a lot of value in declaring, “This is what I like, this is what turns me on” in a culture that has such an absurdly narrow model of who may be considered attractive, or even just *looked at.*”

One can tell from the text that a lot of thought has gone into it, but ask Tesla just the right question and he’ll make that thought visible. Elsewhere Tesla has written about real Victorian smut, noticing,

Rape is not just eroticized; it’s pretty much mandatory, in a rather appalling–albeit thoroughly stylized–way. A female character, no matter how debauched and horny randy, must pretend to resist in her first sex scene with any new male partner. The ice having been broken, the sky is then the limit in their subsequent enthusiastic debauches.

So I asked him, “In what ways does your writing respond to the eroticization of rape in Victorian erotica? Do you think that writers of erotica have a responsibility to approach rape or rape fantasies in a particular way?

I’m going to give you his full answer, because to quote just part of it would do violence to the complete thought process. These are Tesla’s words:

I don’t have a neat and final answer to what the ethical duties of a pornographer are, and not for lack of wrestling with the question. I can talk about my thought process, though, and where it’s taken me.

* I believe that there is no such thing as an immoral desire. People whose fantasies feature rape, or cannibalism, or pedophilia are doing nothing shameful or immoral by feeling those desires or fantasizing about those acts. Less extremely, people who are only or primarily attracted to women with blond hair or men with Irish accents are doing nothing wrong by feeling that way.

* Further, I think people have a right to create and consume material that expresses their fantasies. So, on the simplest level, no. I do not think creating erotic material about rape, or any other taboo subject, is inherently and inevitably immoral.

The brilliant pornographer, essayist, and SF novelist Samuel Delany points out that most arguments against pornography are predicated on a postulated susceptible reader. In other words, the anti-porn crusader asserts, “I know the effect that work will have on *other* readers, though it did not have it on me.” Delany calls this lunatic mode, which gives you an idea of how much respect he has for the position.

That doesn’t mean that I think all writing is morally neutral, though.

By and large, the fetish payload of stories is not what worries me. Instead it is implicit assumptions and sincere misapprehensions that strike me as having far more potential to do any real harm in the world. I’ll give two examples that I’ve encountered often on ASSTR. One is a story about how it is the duty of any loving husband to discipline his wife when she makes mistakes. Another is a story in which it is indicated that the kindest way to introduce someone to anal sex is to penetrate her (I’ve never seen this particular meme in stories where men are penetrated, though it may well be out there) rapidly at first, ignoring her screams of pain, and then allow her acclimate to the experience afterwards.

I don’t think a story like either one of these is harmful, per se, but I do worry that a *steady diet* of such material, without anything to challenge tbe assumptions that underlie them, can potentially do harm.

Thus, I think the primary moral duty of a pornographer is to examine her own received assumptions skeptically and deeply. The bad news is that this is a really hard, never-ending task. The good news is that it’s not just a civic good; it’s good for your art. Scrutinizing this stuff doesn’t restrict your freedom-it gives you degrees of freedom that were previously invisible, and makes your work more your own.

Let me repeat here that it’s an unending process. I’m not trying to claim any specially enlightened position for myself.

To reemphasize: To the extent that porn can potentially do harm by teaching false models of sexuality, the most effective thing to do against that is not to try to stop the ‘bad’ stuff, but to have open, lively discussion around sex and porn. The discussion here when I criticized stories that treat cervical penetration as both possible and erotic shows some interesting stuff. Among the responses were “Oh wow, I didn’t know that,” “cervical penetration is totally cool, but only because my dick is so exceptionally big,” and “it’s not an attempt at realism–it’s fetish material.”

I propose that that kind of scrutiny and discussion does a great deal more good in the world than any attempt (by who?) to get rid of or avoid cervical penetration scenes would have.

Got all that? But that’s what he thinks about before he begins to write. The Erotfluidic Age, while erudite, is not pedantic, and Tesla is careful to keep it from reading as a fable. More often than not it’s just plain fun and often funny, probably because Tesla has so much fun with what he calls, “the sentence-by-sentence pleasure of saying something in a way that I find elegant and funny.” According to Tesla, “I’m a very language-driven writer, and the sudden lure of an irresistable line can derail all my careful plotting, as I gallumph off in pursuit of
the shiny. It is totally worth it.” You’ll have to read the book yourself to see what he means.

* This is the first in what I hope will be a series of conversations with people in various professions who think and write about sex. I’m tentatively calling it Screwing With Our Minds. Watch for future interviews! And if you know or are someone who thinks too much about sex and might like to be interviewed about your work, please drop me a line.

Sarah Whedon

Sarah W. Whedon earned her Ph.D. in Religious Studies with an emphasis in Women's Studies from UCSB. She teaches in the Department of Theology and Religious History at Cherry Hill Seminary and is the founding editor of Pagan Families: Resources for Pagan Pregnancy and Birth. Sarah's teaching, research, and advocacy work center around topics of spirituality, feminism, and reproduction.

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