Erotic literature enjoys unprecedented exhibition these days. The phenomenal success of 50 Shades of Grey was the trigger which enabled the literary eroticism to come out of its Inferno. Exit the cruel time when those who dared to combine sex and literature were thrown into prison without even being tried. Behind this sudden passion for sensuality, new talents are appearing, among which we find Sasha Grey, our muse, long gone porn actress and protean artist. I met her in Paris while she was promoting The Juliette Society, her first novel.
Actress, photographer, musician and now novelist. What is the limit of your total artistic experience?
I would hope that I’d never have to limit myself. I don’t think there is a limit to how I can express myself. Maybe limits are placed on me by other people. But I never put limits on myself. And I think that’s the most important thing. There’s always a struggle between fulfilling one’s artistic desires and also trying to make a living. I’m in a really special place because of the Internet. Really. If I had started my career the way I did 10-15 years ago, it wouldn’t have worked the same way. Normally a person like me would be part of subculture. I’ve had opportunities to express myself to the masses in such a great way. When I first started porn I had people telling me: « You shouldn’t be doing these things… You should be softer… Maybe just start with girls, etc » that wasn’t what I was interested in. I’m trying, first and foremost, to stay true to myself when I take on a project. Without the passion and the drive it becomes somebody else’s project and I’m not interested in that.
Is there any new field that you’re going to develop or do you want to focus on one of those you’ve explored?
I think my main focus is acting and writing. Since I quit porn I wanted those two things to be the most important things in my life. My hands are pretty full at the moment. I’ve been writing screenplays since I was 16, with my mentor. We’ve never been able to get our screenplays into a film. And now here I am, I’ve had the opportunity to publish a novel. That’s huge. Things have a certain way of working themselves out. Hopefully now because I’ve published The Juliette Society, people will see this, understand it and possibly take me more seriously as a screenwriter. Maybe I’ll be able to get one of my films made. I don’t know, nobody’s certain. All we can do is try.
Is there anything you miss from your porn days?
The one thing is miss about porn is the sense of security. The sense of being and having a place to go to. And with writing and traditional acting it’s the exact opposite. It’s like living in a world that’s chaos. I feel like now – I quit porn 4 years ago – I’m finally starting to feel somewhat grounded, insecure. That’s a good feeling but that’s also scary.
Your writing is imbued with provocation and a sociological approach of modern phenomenon such as pornography, militantism and global urban decadence. To me it’s definitely reminiscent of a certain legacy of trash culture authors such as Chuck Palahniuk and the French Virginie Despentes. Do you think you belong to this current of literature?
That’s a nice compliment actually. I don’t know if I belong but of course I feel close because there’s a sense of independence and fearlessness with this genre that I can heavily relate to for many reasons that are quite obvious. Socially speaking, I really wanted to make something that was also an homage to The 120 days of Sodom and Jean-Baptiste de Boyer’s Thérèse Philosophe. While they are classic works, there are also reflections of society at that time. It was really important for me to have that in The Juliette Society and hopefully make people laugh. I wanted to make my book current, to make it topical.
Why did you choose to approach literature in such a brutal way?
(laughs) I don’t think it’s brutal. But why did I write this specifically? It goes back to the constant struggle of trying to find happiness and also make a living. It goes back to that feeling I have, like I said I’ve never been able to made one of my screenplays made into a film and I’ve had a lot of female fans asking me to write erotica very early in my porn career. 5 years ago, one of my agents asked me to do this and I didn’t think it was a good idea at that time. And now, well, erotic literature is a full part of pop culture in a way that it never has been. It’s always been sold, it’s always been a good business but it had never been a part of pop culture. I saw a really great opportunity to create something and use my experience. I thought about it a lot, and it was the right time to really use myself and my experience to create something different, bring an authenticity to a genre that lacks authenticity.
Like you said, erotica has become mainstream, mainly because of 50 shades of Grey. Your work is often being compared to this successful trilogy, even if the comparison is irrelevant. What’s your opinion on 50 shades and the current mommy porn trend?
I think that mommy porn is one of the most ridiculous catchphrases anybody has ever come up with and it is belittling to women. That being said, I think it’s a great thing that female sexuality is at the forefront of the mainstream, I think it’s really important. I hope it’s not just a fad, I hope people actually learnt something from this and try to grow and to accept female sexuality a bit more. Socially speaking, we still have a lot of problems with slut shaming and young women committing suicide, and I think these things are created because of ignorance. We don’t teach women how to be confident in themselves and to be proud of their sexuality, and that causes a lot of problems, it’s just like if you teach a child that the world is great and full of rainbows and mommy loves you, daddy loves you, you’re perfect the way you are: that’s not the real fucking world! That’s not the world we live in.
What could be the solution to this problem?
Education as prevention, instead of education to overcome horrific experience you had. We don’t educate or tell the truth when it comes to female sexuality because it’s such a taboo thing to talk about. And with the way technology is, more and more kids are going to see porn and they’re gonna see girls naked on Instagram, the thing is we’re not socially growing with technology in terms of our sexuality. We’re staying stuck, and the technology’s moving so fast that we haven’t learnt how to adapt to that. I would feel the same way if I were a parent, I don’t wanna think about my young daughter having sex with some guy, fucking her that’s a scary thing. And you see 12 year old girls walking down the street and from far away you’re all « Wow look at her legs » and you drive up and it’s a girl on a miniskirt with full make up on her face and hair curled like she’s going on her first date. If that’s the way the world has started to become and people are maturing faster than before we need to educate because that’s why there’s slut shaming happening.
France and its culture seems to play a great role in your intellectual background, I can see so many references to French authors, directors in your book. How did you get in touch with French culture and what does it represents for you?
It represents romance and freedom, in a way. At least for a young American girl (laughs). Well, first of all I was attracted to the French language when I was a really little kid, and I don’t know why, I don’t have any French blood or roots. I think Paris is globally a city that is romanticized in the imagery. Once I really started to get into cinema, the first film I saw that made me understand the power of cinema, and what it can do is Fahrenheit 451. My mentor who was my acting coach told our class that we should be watching minimum one film per week. To me that was great. I could go back home and tell my mom « You have to get me a film one time per week because my teacher said so! » (laughs) Most of the films on the list my mentor gave were either French or American independent films. I think that’s sort of how it all began. I don’t know why, I think certain people are driven to certain cultures, for me it’s always been France. But now being here and actually spending a lot of time here I’ve never realized how much it rains (laughs) so that was a little disappointing.
Talking about French culture, I was quite surprised to discover your Spotify playlist for The Juliette Society cause it featured a Johnny Hallyday song… It’s quite old fashioned here, and I’ve been wondering how you know Johnny. Is it a tongue-in-cheek reference or are you a Johnny fan?
My agent knows Johnny personally and told me about him. I’m not a huge fan of Johnny anyway but I do enjoy his music because I’m a nostalgic person. I think I appreciate it but if I had lived during that time I probably wouldn’t have. It’s a strange thing, just I like disco, if I had lived during that time, I would have fucking hated disco, absolutely.
What would be your current recommendations in term of music and literature?
The last book I bought is really old. In English it’s called The Children of Pleasure (L’enfant de volupté by Gabriele D’Annunzio). It was really hard to find, some very small publishing house somehow got their hands on it and released it. I spend a lot of time in Lake Garda, in Italy and that’s where he lived and wrote his stories, I found it really fascinating. I just got House of Incest by Anaïs Nin. Musically speaking, there’s this awesome band called The Skins, they’re super young, the music style’s punk but the singing isn’t, that’s a fresh sound And of course, the new David Bowie and Depeche Mode albums, on repeat.
Photos by Guilhem Malissen