Beautiful failures: why I write
fetish fiction

by Anne Tourney

This article is a companion to our interview with Anne Tourney (see page 76); together, they provide a rare glimpse into her motivations and inspirations. But, as valuable as these two pieces are, they do not convey the power of Anne’s fiction; her latest work of dark erotica, “Stepsister”, is, we shall say, quite something… It was written especially for SomethingDark, and heads our literature section on page 72.

Although I’ve never thought of myself primarily as a “fetish writer”, it’s significant that my first published story was a piece of fetish fiction. The fixation at the heart of this story was a black, cruelly sadistic corset the heroine wore under her clothes at her mundane office job. At the end of the story, she meets the designer of the corset and surrenders to her fixation with this form of hidden bondage, but the story of her obsession continues far beyond the “ending” of this short tale. How could this woman’s desires ever be completely fulfilled, unless she were to sacrifice her job (manager of a data entry pool), her apartment, the dull textures of her daily reality and give

herself over to the glorious, mad colours of her fantasy life?

Looking back at this early piece of work, I can see that I was drawn to the elements I still consider crucial to fetish writing: the obsession with a particular act, image, or object; the element of concealed longing; and the ultimate failure of the central character in the drama to fulfill her desire. For me, the beauty of fetish lies not in the obsession itself – although the obsession and the extremes to which the characters will go to consummate it are gorgeous in themselves – but in the failure of the hand to grasp its desired object. Deep in the psyche, a fetish begins with a loss, a reach that ends without a grasp, so that the inner hand is always left empty. Every now and then, the fingers touch the glistening object, and the visceral jolt of that touch gives the erotic imagination enough fuel to pursue its desire again and again.

That touch, though gut-wrenching, is never enough. If that brief contact were enough, the play would end, the drama would be played out, and the stage

would be darkened forever. It’s the tension of unfulfilled longing that draws me back to the fetish narrative after I’ve spent some time with other forms of fiction, writing stories with happily-ever-after endings and neatly tied conclusions. A fetish tale might end with physical gratification or emotional contentment, but it never ends with “ever after”. The desire and the object are perpetually separated. The tale isn’t linear; it’s shaped like a snake swallowing its own tail.

My favourite fetish stories are short, intense, and viscerally sensual. In the midst of a cloud of language, the central obsession takes shape with the vivid significance of an icon. Describing the object, and the hopeless desire of the person who craves it, is a plunge deep into the erotic imagination. At times, I’ve written about fetishes that I shared, but it interests me more to write about obsessions that are foreign to me. When I explore the nature of someone else’s fixation, I’m entering that person’s fantasies, her psyche, her memory, her heart at a level that I rarely, if ever, reach.

That failure, in itself, has its own beauty: the beauty of trying to recreate a deeply personal erotic fantasy with the clumsy tools of language. A fetish story has to be written and rewritten repeatedly because it’s never told in the way that soothes the fetishist’s feverish dream. Yet at the same time, the storyteller is powerless to write the

story any other way, so strong is her attachment to her own obsessive narrative and the vocabulary that describes its doomed arc. The corset, the shoe, the rope or the whip she describes will never match the glimmering vision that fuels the fetishist’s imagination. The fetish story is not told, but mis-told in such a way that the creative process becomes its own ritual.

In the flashy subculture of web porn, it’s easy to overlook the origin of the term “fetish”, an object imbued with supernatural power, an object of reverence used to embody the divine. Though classical concepts of the divine are often submerged in the colourful imagery of contemporary fetishism, the essential pursuit is not lost: the quest for something mysterious, the search to touch the immortal through the carnal.

Before I veer off into a private mysticism, I should add that I’ve always been drawn to the visual glamour of erotic fetishism: the unreal parabola of a corseted waist, the mysterious allure of a mouth wreathed in cigarette smoke, the insect-like gleam of latex. But the deepest attraction for me, in writing fetish fiction, is the beauty of failed desire. Desire is never more acute, more capable of capturing that arc between the tangible and the intangible, than when it reaches for, and falls short of, its glittering goal.