by Chad Van Wagner
If, like me, you spent a distressing portion of your life thinking that people simply didn’t think about sex until modern times, then Classic Nasty is required reading.
Compiled from a nerve.com online column by one Jack Murninghan, Classic Nasty is exactly what the title implies: Old filth, from Illiad (huh?) to modern times. While this might sound like the kind of thing that seems like a good idea but falls flat upon execution, rest assured that Classic Nasty makes for an enlightening read.
Murnighan offers commentary before each and every selection, filling in little blanks as to how the pieces in question relate to the readers of today. Murninghan is a fine writer, fortunately: Many of his introductory pieces are considerably longer than the excerpts they introduce.
Now, it should be mentioned that “nasty” in this context is relative. Some of the passages could be comfortably read in the presence of one’s parents (unless you suffer from a particularly uptight family). That’s not to say that there isn’t some good, old-fashioned, toe-curling filth on display. John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester’s “The Debauchee,” from the seventeenth century, is hardly quaint (“I send for my whore, when for fear of a clap, I spend in her hand, and spew in her lap.” Yikes). That said, most of the passages certainly fall on the coy side, but are no less intriguing because of it.
Reading the whole thing as a piece (no pun intended) gives the sense that, while things might have been more sly and sheltered in regard to explicitness in the past, they were also more detailed and observant. Oddly, this makes the strongest case against modern pornography imaginable, illustrating just how dumbed-down most erotica is today. While the above assertion might not be exactly revelatory, Classic Nasty gives fresh, new insight to the idea.