Blank Spaces in Hogg

Posted by “Chip Delany”

The first section of Hogg leaps into descriptions of sexual actions between minors, incest, and murky—if not entirely absent—consent. Among the depictions of sexual acts including vaginal intercourse, fellatio (oral sex on men, colloquially blow jobs), cunnilingus (oral sex on women), and masturbation there is only one sexual act that occurs in this section that is not described: anal intercourse between two men. While Maria’s sexual encounters with her brother, her father, and the narrator are described in almost painful detail, down to the abrasiveness of genital hair, the two instances where the narrator might plausibly be about to participate in anal sex ends with an abrupt temporal shift in the narrative. The first time, the narrator goes from describing a partner saying, “Shit, come on and sit on this n*gger dick, white boy!” to an empty space on the page (Delany 13). No details are provided and a curtain is abruptly drawn on the action before the narrator actually “sits” on the penis. It comes across much like a scene switch in a movie. Readers are given a tantalizing glimpse at the sexual act through the remark of his sexual partner before switching to the next morning when, “The bikers woke us up about four in the morning” (13). The refusal to describe anal intercourse in particularly pointed since other vivid descriptions of sexual acts surround it. Prior to the command for the narrator to “sit on this…dick” he describes how “I held his wrist and licked his thumb and the back of his hand” to remove semen after oral sex (13). Following the abrupt break, he describes how a biker was “on his knees at the mattress, trying to eat out Maria’s pussy…” (13). Among these almost too vivid details, including positions of sex (on knees) and bodily fluids (semen), it comes across as a particularly odd act of self-censorship for the narrator to not include the scene of male-male anal sex.

Another instance where sexual acts with the narrator are not included in the narrative can be seen later in the first section. This act is less clearly defined. Instead of a clear command of how the narrator should interact with a sexual partner—“sit on this…dick”—the narrator is simply commanded to “Get it, cocksucker!” before there is a temporal shift (19). Contextually, this moment can again be read as a refusal to depict male-male anal sex. A few paragraphs before the “Get it, cocksucker!” assertion, one of the bikers seeking sexual services makes an aside that, “I think I’m gonna fuck this cocksucker!” (18). This alone does not indicate penetrative sex or even the kind of penetrative sex (oral versus anal) since it could colloquially refer to a situation in oral sex where the partner with the penis “fucks” the mouth of the narrator rather than the narrator’s anus. The continued description of how the man “slid his hands back down to his crotch” do firmly plant the suggestion of bodily interactions between his penis and the narrator in some way. One thing that distinguishes the “Get it, cocksucker!” from the earlier command of “…come on and sit on this n*gger dick, white boy!” is the amount of time that elapses following the command. While the first act has a shift of perhaps a few hours—from evening to early morning—the shift after “Get it” moves not only temporally but also spatially in the text. The narrator and Pedro both are in the process of leaving the basement to take a walk after this shift and this walk transforms their reality from dirty basements and semen-stained mattresses to a more idyllic space where the “sky was just going blue,” indicating at least early morning (19). This moment is not only differentiated by the movement outdoors, but also by the descriptors used by the narrator. The sun is “close enough to the horizon to drip gold on the sound,” it is “still warm,” and the river “lapped” beneath them. These three descriptions all indicate comfort and beauty, if not simply a more idyllic situation. “Lapping” and “warmth” apply to two different senses—hearing and touch—to pull out a feeling of stability. The river is not described in violent, aggressive terms of “rushing,” “pounding,” or “crashing,” which would oddly echo the violent sexual acts earlier, but instead uses the fairly passive, quiet term of “lapping.” The ground is not cold or hot, two temperatures that might indicate danger to young children while walking, but “warm.” Warmth indicates some manner of comfort since it does not fall into an extreme category of temperature. The narrator is no longer in the basement among adults acting out their sexual desires on children, no longer near a father sexually exploiting his teenage (underage) daughter, but is walking in a public area that is described in positive or neutral terms rather than aggressive terms. Likewise, the narrator is no longer forced to obey orders of adult men to “Get it” or “sit on this,” but is able in this space to part ways with Pedro without saying a word.

While the narrator ultimately removes himself from this sexual situation, his removal does not resolve the narrative choices for the physical space of the page. Refraining from describing sexual acts is not unheard of and has been seen frequently in other texts, such as in Madame Bovary, but this decision typically starts at a particular level of sexual explicitness. In other words, the authors will excise a certain level of detail, such as all sexual acts between partners beyond kissing. This section of Hogg, on the other hand, scatters explicit sexual details all throughout the written text. Readers are not spared from all of the explicit content in these two “blank spaces” nor are they spared from the taboo sexual acts of incest between siblings and between a father and daughter. Since these moments are not part of the written text, it is not possible to justify or argue the merits of some sexual depictions versus others. Alternatively, it is worth considering whether readers are moved away from these acts in an attempt to maintain some sense of sexual decency standards or, alternatively, if through these spaces readers are told a specific aspect of the narrator’s identity. These moments are some of the only times during the first section when the narrator is commanded to perform a sexual act by adult men who have some physical control over his eleven-year-old self. Other times the narrator does perform sexual acts, but either initiates them or responds to verbal and physical stimulation by other men. If it is the command that causes this break in narration, is this an indication of an emotional or psychological break? Is this an instance where the narrator blacks out during a sexual action? What does it mean to have a narrator who cannot or will not depict certain actions and does that make it possible for us to examine him in another way? It is important to pay attention to the few alterations in the format of Hogg, the few times when the narrator leaps ahead within his narrative if only because Delany is known for utilizing the form of his narrative with a skillful hand.

 

Word Count: 1211

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