No Man’s Land
Is ‘Rape of the Sleeping Woman’ an ode or a rant?
Rape of the Sleeping Woman
By D. K. Torteras
Occidental: Nine Muses Press, 1995; $14.95
Reviewed by Gretchen Giles
“Man, you can’t have art unless you offend somebody,” D. K. Torteras says, leaning forward over his cold, empty coffee cup. Shaking his shaggy head as he sits at the table of a small Sebastopol café, he continues: “Art itself is blasphemy, because it rearranges what God created.”
We must be talking art, then, because Torteras has offended plenty of somebodies with his latest book. His 1995 novel about the dissolution of a love relationship, Rape of the Sleeping Woman has caused a small stir among supporters and detractors alike. Rape‘s editor–poet David Bromige–has seized the chance to get in his licks on those critics who have, according to Bromige, “launched a narrow-minded campaign” against this book similar to the one waged against Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
D. H. Lawrence this ain’t. Told from the confessional point of view of a man incarcerated for literally invading his wife’s dreams and raping her in her sleep because she was too tired to make love during regular diurnal hours, Rape of the Sleeping Woman is the type of story that would cast a merry glow on the mantel were it flaming up in any feminist’s fireplace.
But is this novel really just the misogynist crow of a poor, misbegotten male or have times changed too rapidly for the sensibilities of this novel and its author to catch up?
At age 60, Torteras still carries the rustic overlay of his political and cultural upbringing on the Greek island of Corfu over the American accent of his adult experience. Torteras trained as a classics scholar and attended law school before casting aside those disciplines to immerse himself in the discipline of the flamenco guitar. A progressive radical forged by the fire of the ’60s, he spent a good part of the ’70s touring college campuses with a homemade gas chamber–drawn up from actual state blueprints and partially funded by the late biochemist and Nobel laureate Linus Pauling–as an exercise in protest against capital punishment.
A professional musician whose intellectual life has been in pursuit and definition of the absurd, Torteras freely admits that Rape‘s protagonist, James Tadley, is based upon himself. But Torteras, a prodigal talker whose references range from Aristo-phanes to the French linguistic structuralist Jacques Lacan, is far more sympathetic in person than his character is on paper.
“James Tadley is a musician because I’ve spent most of my life on stage,” he avers, adding that the situations themselves that Tadley experiences are meant to be seen through the realm of the absurd. “But the activities that James Tadley has are anecdotal; I’ve never experienced all of them.” When Tadley meets and woos beautiful Nomi, a woman with a healthy sexual appetite, everything goes swimmingly until she gets a job. Their love founders as her energy wanes at the end of each day, causing her to yawn flagrantly at his erotic exertions.
“She’s dead,” Torteras says emphatically. “There’s no soul left in her anymore. Our spirits are dying. I mean, Tadley’s spirit never died. He kept his spirit alive, he was used to that loneliness. He just wanted love, man. But she couldn’t give him love anymore, because the system sucked it out of her.”
If Nomi is in fact “dead” to Tadley, why does he continue to obsessively pursue her? Is she merely a passive and maddening muse or does he really love her?
Torteras smiles. “Can we love as human beings? It may be that poetic love is outmoded, man. It may be that we can’t read Byron or Keats or Shelley anymore.
“Look, this is a work about Tadley and his emptiness, and Tadley’s mismanagement of the romantic in modern times. Because Tadley’s a romantic, and what he’s fallen into is a world that has forgotten about the romantic,” Torteras says with some sadness. “Can’t you see it from his point of view? He stumbles through things, just stumbles, in a world that’s going to hell.
“He himself is being raped because there is no place left for that guy, man. And there is no place left for me, other than on the stage. I can’t fit in anywhere.
“All that Tadley can be accused of, the poor bastard, is that he’s got a soul and he’s confused.”
From the Feb. 15-21, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent
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