Identifying Desire: Experiencing Katherine Angel’s ‘Unmastered: A Book on Desire’

Don’t read Unmastered: A Book on Desire, unless you want to think critically about hot sex. Hot sex, that is, as described by author and scholar Katherine Angel’s in a series of lyrical, quietly erotic, thought-provoking moments.

One night, as an early morning light grew outside and we lay entangled, a blur of skin and limbs and mouths, I spoke dreamily of how I loved his big frame towering over me during sex; how much I loved his powerful arms around my neck while he came into me from behind; how I loved feeling the strength of him as he fucked me--yes as he fucked me, because,--let’s not be coy, or disingenuous,--that is definitely what was happening.

I trailed off in my reverie. He looked at me, shifting his head back as if to get a clearer view, and said, You’re not really a feminist, are you?

I laughed.

I didn’t explain why.

Katherine Angel’s book is really a series of vignettes, and although the work of non-fiction is infused with scholarly rumination, it reads almost like a book of poetry. Many of the scenes take place in bed with ‘The Man’ (as she calls him) with each meditation building like slow, masterful foreplay.

As the reader, I found myself recognizing each private moment as something familiar and almost painfully intimate. Reading about Angel falling in love with The Man is like emotional pornography; she’s masterful when it comes to describing those small delicious moments of a new relationship.

My happiness crystallizes. He kisses my shoulder blades tenderly when I am tipping over into sleep.

In the morning we wake and he says, Look at you there, all in your lovely naked skin.

Um, does he have a brother? It would almost be too much if there wasn’t so much intellectual analysis throughout Unmastered constantly keeping these idealistic moments in check. On one page, you may be reading what Susan Sontag had to to say about “the compulsion to be what the other person wants” in bed, and next, you’re back with The Man, as Angel tries to express what she herself wants.

While much of the book reads as hyper-realist fantasy of what really passionate (straight, gender-normative) sex could look like, Angel uses her love affair to explore the many confusing contradictions that arise when you’re a hyper-intellectual feminist...who’s also trying to lose herself during sex. The result is often a bundle of contradictory feelings.

Take, for example, a scene where The Man comments on Angel’s breasts offhand. “These are lovely,” he says, and Angel feels both vindicated and frightened.

The thrill to be reminded, in those three throwaway words, that he happens to like my breasts, but could not. The flicker of insecurity it triggers. We happen to be here, now--and right now he is admiring my breasts...The flickering shadow of appraisal, of the pornographic gaze; the feeling of disposability--replaceability. Do various parts of me please him? I am unsettled, discomforted, excited.

Taken out of context, Angel might seem neurotic. Instead, in the context of her beautifully unfolding work, she echos the most secret doubts, desires and contradictions many women feel when it comes to trying to understand our own sexuality.

Angel even addresses the particularly confusing, nearly maternal desire to fulfill a man’s sense of masculinity through sex. Angel’s reflexive cries of “Fuck me! Please Fuck me!” are fodder for further analysis.

Yes, you are my big man, fucking me. Yes, you’re so big, so hard. Yes, you are everything you feel under pressure to be. I am not disappointed! You know that deep well of fear that flickers in your eyes? I can see it, I can feel it, and I am telling you that it does not exist...In reassuring you, I am also reassuring myself, because sometimes I need to goad my desire along. And because sometimes I need to make you bigger...I lock him into his masculinity. I am anxious to protect it, for it pains my femininity to see it fragmented.

Can anyone else secretly relate? I know I could throughout.

Image: Stacey Yates

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