This week saw the release of Ben Lerner’s 10:04, which, beside being a truly remarkable book, happens to feature a hilarious scene of masturbation. Despite the fact that it has been dubbed by some “literature’s last taboo,” the onanist impulse crops up more than you’d think in novels, and often makes for some great — or at least greatly amusing — writing. After the jump, a few favorites from literature both classic and contemporary for you to giggle over.
10:04, Ben Lerner
Context: our hero is in a hospital to produce a sperm donation for his best friend. He has been told repeatedly to wash his hands carefully to avoid contaminating the sample and presented with a TV that provides access to several varieties of alphabetically organized porn.
After a few seconds of panicky deliberation, I just pressed play — which started Asian Anal Adventures, even though that’s not at all my thing; not choosing seemed less objectionable somehow than having to express a positive preference among the available categories — and put the remote control and the plastic container down and walked back to the sink and washed my hands. Then I returned to the screen and undid my jeans and was about to get the whole thing going when I realized my pants were even more potentially contaminating: I’d been on the subway for an hour; I couldn’t remember the last time I’d laundered the things. I shuffled back to the sink with my pants and underwear around my ankles and began to worry about how long I was taking, if there was a time limit, if the nurse was going to knock on the door at some point and ask me how it was going or tell me it was the next patient’s turn. I did the shuffle back to the screen and hurriedly donned the headphones, but then it occurred to me: contact with the headphones was no different than contact with the remote control. I thought about putting an end to this increasingly Beckettian drama and just trying to go on, but then I imagined getting the call that the sample wasn’t usable, and so again shuffled — now wearing the headphones, now hearing the shrieks and groans of the adventurers — back to the sink to wash my hands once more. Above the sink there was mercifully no mirror.