Monday, October 10, 2016

Toni Bentley's The Surrender

Can finding G-d and anal sex be commensurate activities? Before reading Toni Bentley’s The Surrender, I would have paused.  But she makes a forceful and appealing case of how the flesh and the spirit (if we can even make such distinctions) are the same players on one team.  The sex act Bentley discovers,frees her from the physical and mental bonds which crushed her for years, giving her a broader, more universal view of life.  If that is not a religious experience, than what is?

Part of the appeal of this act for Bentley is, of course, its transgression.  It fits well with Bentley’s desire to be free of conventional encounters with men.  She says:  “If a man can possess a woman sexually -really possess- he won't need to control her ideas, her opinions, her clothes, her friends, even her other lovers.” 

The possession, and ultimately the surrender, is at the heart of this memoir.  When Bentley finds a man to engage in sodomy (a word she often uses, and seems to prefer) her voluntary act of submission is a catalyst toward a new found freedom.  So we get prose like this:

“I recognized it immediately the first time it happened... It is the sound of a woman who is caught inside the mystery of the universe, in the irony of the angst, in the place ego abhors. Bliss.”

Bentley is uniquely qualified to find bliss in this act.  As a former ballerina, she encounters beauty in the movement of a body which is often in pain.  For Bentley the discomfort is integral to the experience.  Just as in dance, where the body is flesh in beautiful motion -- while often subjectively uncomfortable for the dancer -- anal sex too carry some measure of the pain of motion and the trigger to transcend it. 

That said, large portions of the book read like conventional porn.  Bentley explains the act, its mechanics, prep, etc.  So, in that sense, there is nothing new here. The book is meant, in part, to arouse the reader.   On the other hand, it transcends porn.  This is an exploration of how we enter the Garden of Eden, and how we will inevitably lose it. From the first encounter with the man who brings her to this state, Bentley realizes that eventually this all will end.  There is no avoiding her expulsion for paradise.  She takes solace in writing down each encounter, like a holy person detailed her visions.  And ultimately those notes and journals produced this book.

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