Seducing The Demon
Writing For My Life

Erica Jong

Language matters because whoever controls the words controls the conversation, because whoever controls the conversation controls its outcome, because whoever frames the debate has already won it, because telling truth has become harder and harder to achieve in an America drowning in Orwellian Newspeak. p. 9

Suppose you see a canvas with a red slash across it and nothing more. You look at it and wonder what you think of it. Then suppose someone tells you that the artist cut off his right hand and made that crimson gash – does it change your view? p. 49

Wanting to breath life into their own dead babies


They scooped out her eyes to see how she saw
And bit away her tongue in tiny mouthfuls
To speak with her voice.
by Frieda Hughes. p. 58

Why did I hate their suicides with such vehemence? Because it seemed to me that every time a woman transgressed – whether in writing honestly or in embracing her sexuality – she had to punish herself. p. 61

I”m often asked what the difference is between pornography and literature? I have a simple distinction. If a piece of work is merely utilitarian, if it stimulates and facilitates only masturbation, it is pornography. If it illustrates human feelings, it is something more. That something more may not rise to the level of art but at least it aspires to it. p. 68

When [Henry Miller] was most broke in the thirties, his lover Anais Nin put him in touch with a rich connoisseur of the pornographic what was willing to pay handsomely and by the page. Henry Miller didn”t meet the connoisseur”s standards. Too much literature apparently distracted him from his tepid lust. Nin was able to do it. The Little Birds is the result of her commission. p. 68

Fantasy has always fueled my hottest encounters. Without fantasies, sex is not much more than friction. p. 70

The most promiscuous woman character in Sex And The City is rebuked with breast cancer. For all that Samantha bears it heroically, breast cancer is clearly a variant of the old dies-for-her-sins paradigm. p. 72

Young people never believe in the possibility of their own deaths. That”s why old men can send them to war. p. 76

She could do nothing. She could no longer harden and grip for her own satisfaction upon him. She could only wait, wait and moan in the spirit as she felt him withdrawing, withdrawing and contracting, coming to the terrible moment when we would slip out of her and be gone. Whilst all her womb was open and soft, and softly clamoring like a sea anemone under the tide, clamoring for him to come in again and make a fulfillment for her. She clung to him in unconscious passion and he never quite slipped from her, and she felt the soft bud of him within her stirring, and strange rhythmic growing motion, swelling and swelling until it filled all her cleaving consciousness, and then began the unspeakable motion that was not really motion, but pure deepening whirlpools of sensation swirling deeper and deeper through all her tissue and consciousness, till she was one perfect concentric fluid of feeling, and she lay there crying in inarticulate cries.

Lady Chatterley”s Lover by D.H. Lawrence. p. 77

The people who can drink moderately don”t have this problem, but they are probably not seekers of ecstasy, either. People who most crave ecstasy are probably least capable of moderation. p. 134

The Polish Jews waiting for the Holocaust at the end of Isaac Bashevis Singer”s great novel The Family Moskat tell each other sadly that perhaps death is the only Messiah they can hope for. p. 134

Better than the elixir is ritual and routine. Sometimes I start the day writing nonsense until it turns into sense. I scribble, never lifting the pen from the page and never giving in to self-criticism. I knock my mother and my grandmother off my shoulder. p. 136

Of course, the muse or demon lover is an aspect of self. I know damn well that when I am summoning this creature, I am really trying to connect with the part of myself that is free, imaginative and able to fly. p. 137

In my dreams, often I am writing what Henry Miller , in his Paris Review interview, called cadenzas.

The passages I refer to are tumultuous, the words fall over one another. I could go on indefinitely. Of course I think that is the way one should write all the time. You see here the whole difference, the great difference, between Western and Eastern thinking and behavior and discipline. If, say a Zen artist is going to do something, he”s had a long preparation of discipline and meditation, deep quiet thought about it and then no thought, silence, emptiness and son on – it might be for months, it might be for years. The, when he begins, it”s like lightning, just what he wants – it”s perfect. Well, this is the way all art should be done. But who does it? We all lead lives that are contrary to our profession.

So I live with a ravine between my wishes and reality. Most days I sit at the machine or the yellow pad, doodling and feeling like an abject failure. Ecstasy eludes me. Even clarity and simplicity elude me. Then one day the cadenzas come. But they only come because of the days of doodling. p. 141

I know a writer who writes two books a year, drives a Rolls, has several yachts and planes and houses and lives like a WASP rajah.

How do you write so fast? I ask him.

By lowering my standards. You could write faster if you lowered your standards too. p. 141

And I seize my pen again and begin the dangerous, deceptive game anew, seeking to capture with my flexible, double-pointed nib the sparking, fugitive words! It is merely a brief crisis, the itching of a scar.

The itching of a scar. What a perfect description of the urge to write. p. 170

The idea of escaping into a book and running away with the author or the characters is something we”ve all felt. We find the fantasy in Peter Pan, in Mary Poppins, in The Wizard of Oz, in fairy tales like The Twelve Dancing Princesses. What if we could enter that magical world, come back, and the only sign of our trespass into the magic was worn shoe leather or a scarf carelessly left in the scene on the mantelpiece plate? We all want to move between dream and reality with such ease.

I certainly do. If I could go to sleep one night, wake up in Renaissance Venice and have an affair with William Shakespeare… well, at least I could write a book about it. Is the desire to write very close to the desire to escape? Is that why the compulsion is so strong? The world we live in is appalling. Can there be a better one somewhere?


That is why being a writer has meant forays into the realm of demons. That”s why it”s such a dangerous profession. In order to make the world of fantasy real, you have to believe in it yourself – at least for the time you”re writing the book. p. 193-4

I”ve always thought that the idea of genre was a blot on the soul of literature. Categories like novel, memoir, biography have no value when you”re writing – however much value they may have to librarians or bookstores. p. 201

There are three rules for writing novels, Somerset Maugham said; unfortunately, nobody knows what they are. p. 235

If you want to be a nice person, don”t write. There”s no way to do it without grinding up your loved ones and making them into raw hamburger. It”s hard to do it and keep a social schedule. The essential chapter will sometimes arrive on the night of a dinner party. Your job is to be always ready. Writing is not a life. It is, as Graham Greene said in the title of his autobiography, a sort of life.

6 Responses to “SEDUCING THE DEMON…”

  1. Christine says:

    Young people never believe in the possibility of their own deaths. That’s why old men can send them to war. p. 76

    Amen to that.

  2. Christine says:

    When the Amazons went to war, one warrior was chosen from each of the opposing sides. Whoever won, that was the deciding victor and the defeated accepted their fate instead of the best two out of three, best three out of four that comes with the patriarchal system.

  3. Jeff Hess says:

    Shalom Christine,

    I’m reminded of an episode of the ’70s television show The Waltons. Pa Walton had served in The Great War. And when his sons enlisted to fight in World War II, he took them aside to tell them for the first time the horrors of what he had experience.

    My experience is that it is very hard for those who served in combat to speak at all about what happened to them. Perhaps if we could find a way for more young people to hear first hand, old men would have less sway.

    This is the reason I gave my oldest nephew a copy of Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun on his 18th birthday.



  4. Christine says:

    You are so right about veterans not wanting to speak about their experiences. My father, who served in the Korean War, has never said a thing except once, when prompted by the movie ‘Good Morning, Vietnam’. Turns out the old man used to do the war news, movies to be shown, etc. over the camp loudspeaker system. He did break down and tell us about his renditions of some of the movies. The Andrews Sisters in Six Tits in a Row. He did mention seeing Marilyn Monroe. That’s it. I think you are absolutely right. If young men heard the stories of war, they might think twice about agreeing to it. Reminds me of that movie with Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman (can’t remember the title) where Denzel questions the order to launch a nuclear attack – and blinks. Thank God for rebels (being a Sagittarius, I can relate).

  5. Jeff Hess says:

    Shalom Christine,

    Sadly, such a system requires a sense of honor among the leadership; a value sorely lacking in the 21st century.



  6. Jeff Hess says:

    Shalom Christine,

    The movie was Crimson Tide.



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